Trade

I agree with the chancellor. German leadership hopeful sees no need to change course

DÜSSELDORF, Germany — Armin Laschet, the premier of Germanys largest state and a leading contender to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, called for a pragmatic approach to relations with China and Russia, saying Europe needed to strike a balance between standing up for “unalienable” human rights and furthering commercial ties.

“One cant only pursue trade relations with countries that follow our societal model,” Laschet told POLITICO in an interview, adding that Europe has long relied on energy from states that dont embrace the standards of liberal democracy.

A former MEP who became regional leader of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017, Laschet is one of three candidates vying to lead Germanys Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in a party election slated for early December. Victory would make him the conservatives presumptive candidate for chancellor. With the Christian Democrats ahead by a wide margin in national polls, whoever tops the conservative ticket is likely to become the next chancellor.

Though he has fallen back in the polls recently, Laschets camp is confident he has an edge over the competition when it comes to the 1,001 convention delegates who will decide.

He also has one particularly powerful backer: Merkel.

By clinging to Merkels coattails, Laschet has branded himself as the safe, status quo candidate. In a conservative party like the CDU, thats a powerful argument — provided Merkels popularity holds until election day next fall.

“China is today a world power that we must confront with realism and self-confidence” — Armin Laschet

Like the chancellor, Laschet prefers as a soft-shoe approach to foreign relations, especially where Germanys vital interests are concerned.

As the leader of North Rhine-Westphalia — Germanys industrial heartland, accounting for more than 20 percent of the countrys economic output — Laschet, 59, oversees a region that depends on both imported natural gas for industry and trade with China.

At a time when the coronavirus pandemic has taken a major toll on both his region and the rest of Europe, Laschet warned against losing sight of fundamental economic and political realities.

“China is today a world power that we must confront with realism and self-confidence,” he said in a lengthy interview in his office overlooking the Rhine.

Laschets comments suggest that his strategy for dealing with difficult partners such as China, Germanys largest trading partner, and Russia would be to maintain Merkels modus operandi: a diplomatic dialogue on human rights that does not jeopardize commercial ties.

Its a softer approach than his competitors for the CDU job advocate and also contrasts with the more forceful stance pushed by the U.S., particularly on China, which Washington regards as a major threat.

Laschet made it clear that he saw no reason for Germany to veer away from Merkels foreign policy course.

On the question of how to respond to the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Laschet said it was important not to rush to judgment, saying there should be a “thorough investigation” after which the EU and NATO should decide how to respond.

He cautioned against focusing too much attention on Nord Stream 2, the nearly completed Baltic gas pipeline linking Russia and Germany that critics are urging Berlin to halt.

“The question of the energy relationship between Russia and the EU is much broader than Nord Stream 2,” he said. “We should avoid rash decisions and consider which steps would be the most effective. I agree with the chancellor.”

Merkel, who has defended the project in the past, signaled after it came to light that Navalny was poisoned with a Russian nerve agent that she was reconsidering her position, but has yet to announce a decision. Some of the German compRead More – Source