North Rhine-Westphalia's State Premier and head of Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party Armin Laschet gives a news conference at the CDU headquarters in Berlin, Germany April 20, 2021. Tobias Schwarz/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
He’s premier of Germany’s most populous state and chairman of its biggest party, but across the country and even in his home town Armin Laschet is struggling to convince voters he is the man to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor.
After a week-long feud, Germany’s conservatives on Tuesday(20 April) opted to back Laschet, a cautious centrist, instead of his more popular Bavarian rival, Markus Soeder, as their candidate to succeed Merkel in a September national election.
In Laschet's home town of Aachen, near the Belgian and Dutch borders in Germany's far west, voters appeared uninspired by the possibility of their man becoming chancellor.
"He's tried very hard," said Moya Kaukner, walking through the city centre. "Personally, I see him better in state politics than in federal politics."
Herbert Quaken, speaking near to Aachen Cathedral, where German kings were traditionally crowned, said: "As an Aachener, one naturally stands by Mr. Laschet. But on the other hand, he always has bad opinion poll ratings."
Shortly after Tuesday’s decision by conservative grandees to back the 60-year-old Laschet, a new poll showed the ecologist Greens had jumped 5 points to 28%, overtaking the conservatives who slumped 7 points to 21%.
The Forsa poll of 3,505 voters for broadcasters RTL/ntv was conducted largely before the conservative candidacy was settled and another survey, by pollster INSA, also released on Tuesday put the conservatives on 27%, ahead of the Greens on 22%.
But many voters clearly feel the public tussle between Laschet and Soeder did little to help the conservative bloc, dubbed the 'Union', which has already been hurt by the government's messy handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The Union has not done itself any favours with this," Elisabeth Heinen said in Aachen. "And maybe others have an advantage from it. I wouldn't find that bad."
Many in the Union of Laschet's Christian Democrats (CDU) and Soeder's Bavarian CSU are nervous about their chances of holding onto power in September without Merkel, who has led them to four consecutive victories but is stepping down after the election.
The conservatives' public power struggle was in stark contrast to the ecologist Greens, who, with no wrangling, named their co-leader Annalena Baerbock on Monday as their first candidate for chancellor in the party's 40-year history.
Laschet’s biggest selling point is his experience as leader of North Rhine-Westphalia, where he has ruled since 2017 with the liberal Free Democrats, the preferred coalition partner at federal level for the CDU/CSU alliance.
Baerbock sought to sell her relative lack of experience as a plus on Monday, saying: “I stand for renewal. Others stand for the status quo.”
Baerbock's message didn't convince Ursula Oberhaus in Aachen, who responded simply: "She doesn't have as much experience as Mr. Laschet."
But in the centre of cosmopolitan Berlin, Katja Wein, 34, out to make a 'click and collect' purchase, found the conservatives' internal wrangling a turn-off and was pleased with the Greens' choice of candidate.
“It’s great that they’ve chosen a lady,” she said.
Police and protesters clash during May Day rallies in Berlin
Around 30,000 protesters took to the streets during May Day rallies in Berlin on Saturday (1 May), police said, adding nearly 100 officers were injured when some of the demonstrations turned violent.
Police made around 354 arrests during the demonstrations, which they said were for physical assaults and trespassing.
"The violent riots that occurred is something that I very much regret," Berlin's head of police Barbara Slowik told local broadcaster rbb24.
Some of the injuries occurred after some demonstrators threw fireworks, bottles and rocks during protests over social inequality. About 5,600 police were deployed, and some responded with pepper spray.
The demonstrations were the second May Day protests since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Turnout was much higher than last year, even though social distancing requirements remain in place.
Protests hit other European capitals too, most notably Paris, where police made 46 arrests as garbage bins were set on fire and the windows of a bank branch were smashed. read more
In Berlin, police used water cannon to extinguish fires as protesters set ablaze waste bins, barricades and cars.
Demonstrations also took place in several other German cities, including Hamburg and Leipzig, despite Europe's largest economy grappling with a third wave of the pandemic.
On Sunday, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 16,290 to 3,416,822. Read more
German minister sees possible downward COVID-19 trend
The number of German coronavirus infections seems to be turning down, Health Minister Jens Spahn (pictured) said on Thursday (29 April), but the decline is not yet enough to be sure the third wave of the pandemic has been broken. "The figures must not only stagnate, they must go down," Spahn told a news conference, noting that the faster vaccination campaign was helping but there were still too many people being treated in intensive care wards.
Recovery and Resilience Facility: Germany and Greece submit official recovery and resilience plans
The Commission has received official recovery and resilience plans from Germany and Greece. These plans set out the reforms and public investment projects that each member state plans to implement with the support of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF).
The RRF is the key instrument at the heart of NextGenerationEU, the EU's plan for emerging stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic. It will provide up to €672.5 billion to support investments and reforms (in 2018 prices). This breaks down into grants worth a total of €312.5bn and €360bn in loans. The RRF will play a crucial role in helping Europe emerge stronger from the crisis, and securing the green and digital transitions.
The presentation of these plans follows intensive dialogue between the Commission and the national authorities of these member states over the past number of months.
The Commission will assess the plans within the next two months based on the eleven criteria set out in the Regulation and translate its content into legally binding acts.
The Commission has now received a total of three recovery and resilience plans, from Germany, Greece and Portugal. It will continue to engage intensively with the remaining member states to help them deliver high quality plans.
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