Armin Laschet is CDU leader, Merz is history

After months of wrangling, the party finally chose a chairman at an online conference. But we're no closer to knowing who will run for chancellor in November.

Armin Laschet, new leader of the CDU.
Armin Laschet, new leader of the CDU.

Berlin-So, Friedrich Merz won't become CDU party leader - that was the big news at Saturday's online party conference. Instead, the North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Armin Laschet got his act together in the second round of voting and ended up taking the top spot; in the first round he was still five votes behind Merz.

After Norbert Röttgen was eliminated with a respectable result in the first round, most of his supporters voted - as expected - for Laschet, who seemed more relieved than excited about his win. The digital vote is not legally binding. The result still has to be confirmed officially with a postal ballot. The final result will not be announced until next Friday, but it will surely go in Laschet's favour.

Unfortunately, apart from the HR issue of who now heads the party, not much has been clarified about the CDU's power structure. The new leader displayed plenty of ambiguity in his speech, in which he talked about the importance of compromise and "the centre" - and told the delegates they could place their trust in him. But by pointing out that he was perhaps not the man to make a big splash, he made himself appear small. For the delegates who voted for him, the candidate's assurance that anyone in the party could shine may have been enough. In the coming power struggle for the chancellorship, this will surely be the wrong approach.

Besides Markus Söder of the CSU, Laschet's designated deputy, health minister Jens Spahn, might make a more suitable CDU chancellor candidate in next September's election. Spahn acted like Laschet's telephone joker by popping up unexpectedly and advertising his ally during the question and answer session after the candidates' speeches. A serious faux pas that was all the more conspicuous because obviously few other delegates seemed motivated to speak out. The CDU clearly still has a lot to learn about how to conduct a debate - especially online.

What happens now within the CDU is up in the air. The defeated Röttgen explicitly assured Laschet of his cooperation. Merz did not, which of course immediately attracted attention. A short time later, Merz suggested he join Angela Merkel's cabinet immediately as economy minister. Merkel has turned the offer down. Everyone copes with defeat differently. It looks like the CDU still needs to work a little on unity.