World Frontrunner to succeed Merkel on back foot after floods
Merkel visits White House in swan song
Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the White House in her diplomatic swan song Thursday, underlining how important the veteran German leader has been to the transatlantic relationship, but also highlighting the unanswered questions she leaves behind. The White House insists this is "very much a working visit," rather than a ceremonial farewell for the woman widely seen as Europe's steadiest leader during almost 16 years at the helm of the continent's biggest economy. She and Biden will discuss climate change, Covid-19 vaccine distribution, and the future of Afghanistan now that US, German and other foreign troops are leaving.
From criticism of his climate policy to a woefully ill-timed bout of laughter, the deadly floods in western Germany have exposed weaknesses of frontrunner Armin Laschet in his bid to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.
As the death toll from the flooding has risen to more than 170 in Germany, Laschet's response has revived a longstanding debate over his suitability to fill fellow conservative Merkel's shoes when she retires after September's election.
In a recent poll by the Civey institute for Spiegel magazine, only 26 percent of 5,000 respondents said they considered Laschet to be a good crisis-manager.
Flash Floods Crush Buildings in Europe, 1,300 Missing in One District
At least six houses in Germany reportedly collapsed amid crushing rains, while another 25 buildings were being monitored due to an immediate risk of collapsing. A majority of the confirmed deaths in Germany have occurred in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, the state where the Ahrweiler district is located. More rain was forecast in the area for Friday."[It is] a day that is characterized by fear, by despair, by suffering," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a joint press conference with President Joe Biden at the White House.
Laschet, who is currently state premier in Germany's most populous state North-Rhine Westphalia, had already faced criticism for his hesitant, u-turn-prone handling of the pandemic.
And with his own state one of the worst-hit regions by last week's deluge, he is now under fire for his gaffe-marred response to the disaster.
- 'Communications disaster' -
"Laschet took some time to find the right tone" after the floods hit, Hans Vorlaender, political scientist at Dresden's Technical University, told AFP.
He pointed to a "communications disaster" over images that emerged last week.
The 60-year-old candidate was caught on camera convulsed in laughter with local officials as German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the foreground paid homage to the flood victims.
'Many still in danger': At least 100 dead across Germany and Belgium after floods amid warning dam could burst
At least 100 people have been killed and dozens are missing after catastrophic flooding across Germany and Belgium, which has left several villages cut off and sparked fears that a dam could burst. Officials have warned communities in both countries "are still in danger" following Thursday's catastrophe, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel expecting "many" more deaths amid further rainstorm warnings for Friday.The total number killed in Germany alone has risen to at least 103, according to Reuters news agency, citing officials, with communities across the North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate states affected.
Though he later apologised for his "mistake", Laschet faced fierce criticism online and in the German media.
"Does the supremely self-controlled Merkel really trust this man, who has shown no self-control, with her job?" demanded Der Spiegel weekly.
Video: At German flood site, Merkel pledges financial aid (Reuters)
"It is no laughing matter! If Laschet wants to be chancellor, he has to be able to manage crises. This would not have happened to Merkel," wrote Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel.
While the veteran leader has long been praised for her steely nerves under fire, Laschet has often shown "a lack of determination", Vorlaender told AFP.
"In general, politicians show what they are capable of in times of crisis," he said, pointing not only to Merkel, but also to her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder, who impressed voters with his hands-on response to floods ahead of his re-election in 2002.
Floods in Germany: The drama shakes the succession of Merkel
© Ina Fassbender, AFP Desolation images in Bad Münsteifel, in western Germany. The deadly floods that have just hit the west of Germany further accentuate the issue of climate emergency for Angela Merkel's succession candidates. At two months of the legislative, the conservative right abruptly breeds his speech. Not so old, the images immediately returned to the German .
In a survey this week for the Forsa institute, meanwhile, Laschet and Merkel's CDU/CSU alliance was polling two points lower than the previous week on 28 percent.
By Friday, however, a poll for public broadcaster ARD showed the conservatives up a point to 29 percent.
- Climate debate -
With a lead of around 10 points ahead of the opposition Greens party in second place, Laschet is still the strong favourite to succeed Merkel.
In recent months, he has benefited from a collapse in support for the Greens, whose initially strong campaign was hit hard with a series of missteps by co-leader and candidate Annalena Baerbock.
Yet the floods have slowed his march to victory and returned climate policy to the top of the agenda just two months before the election.
The ARD poll showed 81 percent of Germans seeing a need for stronger action to protect the climate.
"The floods have shown the urgent need for climate policies," wrote Der Tagesspiegel, while Merkel herself called for "speeding up" the fight against climate change as she leaves the stage.
"Laschet needs to set clear goals and go beyond what is in the conservatives' manifesto," Vorlaender said, as natural disasters become more frequent due to global warming.
Merkel's ruling right-left coalition tightened its emissions targets in May to put the country on course for carbon neutrality by 2045.
Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder, who mounted a fierce challenge against Laschet for the conservative candidacy in the spring, has increased the pressure by setting an ambitious goal of phasing out coal by 2030 -- eight years ahead of deadline set by the federal government.
As premier of a coal-dominated region, Laschet has been considerably more cautious on climate issues.
And that has not been lost on voters. In a Civey poll on Wednesday, just 26 percent said they believed Laschet would provide effective climate protection policies.
No beautiful legacy of supposed climate chancellor .
Berlin. Angela Merkel was once celebrated as the "Climate Chancellor" internationally. The outgoing Chancellor was never glad about this title - did she suspect that she would not meet him? If there is a blemish of your chancellor, then it. © Wolfgang Rattay Chancellor Angela Merkel and NRW Prime Minister Armin Laschet (both CDU) this Tuesday during their visit to Bad Münstereifel, which is severely affected by the flood. The era Merkel was an era of prosperity.