Wednesday

22nd Sep 2021

Analysis

What do new CDU chief's pro-Russia views mean for Europe?

  • Armin Laschet, the premier of North-Rhine Westphalia met with EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen - who also hails from the CDU party that he was elected to lead over the weekend - in January 2020 (Photo: European Commission)

Armin Laschet, the premier of North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, was elected to be the new leader the country's governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party on Saturday (16 January).

He is seen as a political heir to Angela Merkel, who will end her 16-year tenure as Germany's chancellor after the general election in September.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It remains to be seen if Laschet will be the CDU's candidate for the chancellery, but some of his foreign policy views have raised eyebrows in the past.

Laschet, in recent years, argued for supporting Syrian strongman Bashar Al-Assad instead of Syrian rebels, some of whom were often associated with Islamist groups, saying in an interview with Die Zeit in 2018 that the greatest threat to world peace was the "Islamic State".

As the leader of the German state with one of the closest trade ties to China, he has argued for deepening economic ties with Beijing.

Laschet also warned against demonising Russian president Vladimir Putin, and according to a Der Spiegel report in 2014 he warned against what he called "anti-Putin populism" over Russia's annexation of Crimea.

After the poisoning of a former spy, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, in the UK in 2018, Laschet, in a tweet, also questioned Britain's blaming of Russia for the crime.

Status quo

Born in Aachen, fluent in French, Laschet also served in the European Parliament as an MEP, as part of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), and sat on the foreign affairs and budget committees.

In a debate in 2005, a year after several post-communist countries joined the EU, he advocated for a pragmatic approach to Russia.

"While drawing attention to violations of human rights or developments in democracy that we regard as undesirable, we should refrain from itemising what is going on in Russia and passing didactic judgment on each individual item," Laschet said in a report on EU-Russia relations, pointing out that Russia is not an EU-candidate country, so it should be held to different standards.

Laschet's view, however, is not far from the Berlin status quo.

Germany has, for years, defended its construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Russia, despite complaints by the US and several fellow EU countries.

"Laschet has minimal foreign policy experience, and it is far from certain that he would be chancellor. The economic-based pragmatic approach to Russia that defines German foreign policy: he represents it too," said Daniel Hegedus, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund think-tank in Berlin.

"Laschet is in some ways much like Merkel, for example on China he is more economy over security, same on Russia," Jana Puglierin, the head of Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank also said in a conversation on Sunday.

Puglierin added that "he [Laschet] is very pro-EU, and knows how the EU works", but also noted that Laschet is not an "experienced foreign policy expert".

Laschet, like several other German politicians, sees little upside in confrontation with Russia.

"Every CDU candidate, then later chancellor, is also standing for a lot of continuity, very pro-transatlanticism and very pro-EU, that is how Germany works and functions," Puglierin said.

And any future German foreign policy direction also depends on who will be the coalition partner to the CDU in the likely case that the party will win the elections in September and form a coalition.

French open

Laschet's accommodating view on Russia might be welcomed by Paris, as the EU struggles with how to handle the Kremlin.

French president Emmanuel Macron has, in recent years, argued for Europe to cooperate with Russia to help resolve global and regional crises.

Macron's Russia rapprochement also came in reaction to concerns that the US led by Donald Trump would no longer defend Europe.

"The European continent will never be stable, will never be in security, if we don't pacify and clarify our relations with Russia," Macron said in 2019.

The French rapprochement was made harder when the Kremlin poisoned its main critic, Alexei Navalny, last year, which angered Macron and other EU leaders.

Navalny was also arrested on Monday after returning to Moscow.

EU debate

But for the EU itself, there will be little change for now.

"He [Laschet] will not get involved for a long time on these issues, he won't expose himself," a source in the EPP group said, adding that Russia-policy remained Merkel's prerogative in Berlin until the elections.

The EPP also has strong Baltic and Polish delegations, who would not take kindly to a U-turn on Russia sanctions.

Partly on the EPP's call, the parliament on Tuesday will debate the arrest of Navalny with EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, and adopt a resolution.

Merkel and Macron offer Belarus mediation, help for Navalny

French president Emmanuel Macron and Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel offered EU mediation to Belarus, while also offered health care and asylum to Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny who is suspected of being poisioned.

Merkel and party chief clash over Covid-19 measures

Chancellor Angela Merkel said if German regions do not impose stricter measures, she would have to think about overriding state regulations "in the very foreseeable future". A sensitive post-war issue in the federal republic.

EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map

The European Commission has proposed additional measures to limit non-essential travel within and to the European Union - amid fears over more transmissible mutations triggering a new surge in cases across the bloc.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. French MEPs lead bogus EU monitoring of Russia vote
  2. Europeans think new 'Cold War' is here - but not for them
  3. Spain wants energy price discussion at next EU summit
  4. Trust in Dutch government drops, but not for Rutte
  5. Long ago, there was another Angela Merkel
  6. The first anniversary of the Abraham Accords
  7. First refugee deaths confirmed on Belarus-EU border
  8. EU kept in dark on ex-commissioner's new lobby job

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us