Brussels (Brussels Morning) Christian Democratic Union’s (CDU) leader and the party’s chancellor-candidate, Armin Laschet, has become a target for outrage and ridicule after being filmed laughing during a visit to a flood-hit town of Erftstadt.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s successor as head of the ruling party, who also aspires to succeed her as chancellor in the September federal elections, was visiting parts of Germany most affected by deadly floods in recent days, along with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
As Steinmeier was giving a statement to German public broadcaster on Saturday, expressing sympathy for the flood victims, Laschet could be seen in the background chatting and joking with his entourage, at one point bursting into laughter for several seconds.
The country’s most read newspaper, Bild, published an image of the chancellor-candidate with the caption “Laschet laughs while the country cries”. More than 150 people have died in Germany in the past few days, in unprecedented summer flooding, which growing numbers of scientists are attributing to climate change.
Laschet’s behaviour was severely condemned by the general public and other parties on social media. The Secretary General of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), Lars Klingbeil, shared the video with the comment “I am really speechless”. The SPD is currently a junior partner in the ruling coalition. However, the party is working hard to distance itself from the CDU ahead of the elections.
The fallout against Laschet is especially serious since he is also the Premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state, one of the two German states hardest hit by the flooding. His latest gaffe follows a recent incident in which he was dismissively patronising of a female reporter who had pressed him on the links between the flooding and climate change. Addressing the reporter as “young lady”, Laschet told her that “one doesn’t change policies just because of one day like this”.
Green policy is shaping up to be one of the key issues in the coming federal elections. The Greens have been surging in the polls in recent months, at one point even overtaking the CDU by several points. Current polls indicate that it will be next to impossible to form the next government without support from the Greens.