Trouble for EU? Merkel ally’s victory risks fuelling anti-Brussels sentiment in Germany

Hans-Olaf Henkel, who stepped down from the European Parliament in 2019, lamented the narrow defeat in Saturday’s CDU leadership contest of , describing him as the only senior German figure who understands what a colossal loss  represents to the EU. , Prime Minister of the North Rhine Westphalia region, defeated Mr Merz, a former member of the Bundestag who has since forged a successful business career, in the second round of voting by 521 votes to 466 in a ballot of 1,001 CDU delegates, with Norbert Roettgen having been knocked out after the first ballot.

However, Mr Merkel warned it would be far from plain sailing despite his victory.

Mr Henkel, who has been highly critical of Brussels’ intransigence when it comes to Brexit ever since the 2016 referendum, told “It is very funny, but it was Laschet who brought Merz back into politics some three years ago.

“Merz was still with Blackstone when Laschet offered him the Brexit coordinator for North Rhine Westphalia.

“In fact as Germany’s official coordinator for the German-Franco Relations, Laschet is definitely more francophile than anglophile.

“It is not an accident that Macron was among the first to signal his satisfaction with the outcome of the party‘s vote last weekend.”

Mr Henkel, who was a member of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party before quitting after it moved sharply to the right, said it was highly unlikely that a Germany led by Mr Laschet would address festering resentments which fuelled anti-EU sentiment.

Mrs Merkel is due to stand down later this year, and as CDU leader Mr Laschet would appear to be in pole position to replace her as Germany’s leader – although the popularity of Markus Soeder, leader of longtime coalition partners the Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU) means he is regarded by many as ideally suited to the unifying role of Chancellor.

Mr Henkel said: “Merkel will support Laschet as much as possible as he is the best guarantor to avoid a serious discussion about her mistakes.

“I might add another negative result of her chancellorship: never has the CDU had a serious competitor to her right (AfD) and never had the CDU so few votes as after the last federal elections.”

After his defeat, Mr Merz immediately signalled his willingness to accept a cabinet position, something Mr Henkel said had been an error on his part.

He explained: “Merz made a huge mistake by asking Laschet to get him the cabinet Job of Minister of the Economy.

“He wanted to get into today‘s cabinet of Merkel, not in tomorrow’s cabinet of Laschet.

“Being her arch-enemy, that request was completely off. No wonder, Merkel immediately rejected that idea.

“Minister of Economy is in fact not a powerful Job at all. Finance Minister is. Countries like Great Britain, USA, Canada or Australia do not have Ministers of Economy for good reasons. They only have Ministers of Trade, for example, Ministers with the responsibility for external trade issues.”

After his remarks about a cabinet post, Mr Merz has had since written an open letter calling for the party to rally round Mr Laschet while apologising for any irritation caused.

In it, he wrote: “A year ago, the leadership of the CDU proposed to me that I should contribute very tangibly.

“I was and still am open to this thought. At the same time, I very much regret that irritations around my person arose over the weekend in this context.

“Let me be clear: Even without a ministry, I will keep my promise to continue to work for the party.”