The new CDU chairman has shown a soft-heartedness for autocratic regimes
Well ahead of any of the member-states in the sclerotic and inefficient European Union, the United Kingdom has established itself as one of the leading countries in terms of providing Covid-19 vaccinations to its citizens. Free to pursue an independent vaccination acquisition and provision policy, the benefits of Brexit for the UK are already coming to the fore.
And Saturday provided yet another feather in the Brexiteer cap. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Germany has elected Armin Laschet, premier of the populous state of North-Rhine Westphalia, as its new leader. Laschet is now well positioned to succeed Angela Merkel when she steps down as the Chancellor of Germany in September. Laschet is not guaranteed to be the CDU’s candidate for chancellor in Germany’s September elections, with health minister Jens Spahn and Markus Sӧder — leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) — tipped to throw their hat in the ring ahead of the final decision in the Spring. But his rise in German politics to chair of the country’s leading party, will raise eyebrows in London.
Laschet has shown a certain soft-heartedness for autocratic regimes and a readiness for entertaining authoritarians. He has previously warned against “anti-Putin populism” over the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea. Despite ever-growing evidence of Russian-state interference in the political, legal, and economic systems of liberal democratic societies, Laschet has form in casting doubt over Moscow’s involvement in election meddling, disinformation campaigns, and malicious cyberattacks. Following the Salisbury poisoning of former intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, Laschet publicly questioned the UK — a fellow NATO member — over pitting the blame for the attack at the door of the Kremlin.
While the UK is exploring the construction of liberal-democratic alliances which reduce collective strategic dependence on China, Laschet has championed his state’s economic ties with Chinese corporations and supports a deepening of Berlin-Beijing relations. He adopted a clear economics-over-security position on the presence of Chinese telecommunications company Huawei in Germany’s 5G infrastructure, arguing that the exclusion of Huawei would be detrimental to German business interests and the country’s technological development.
The prospect of Kanzler Laschet is far from desired in Britain’s foreign-policy and intelligence communities. It is certainly worth noting that recently-appointed MI5 Director General, Ken McCallum, pinpointed both Russian- and Chinese-state espionage when discussing the growing severity of foreign state-sponsored threats to British national security. It is difficult to consider a foreign politician of Laschet’s ilk as a trusted ally when it comes to confronting the CCP’s nefarious influence and the revisionist ambitions of Putin’s Russia.
The election of Laschet as chair of the CDU only serves to widen UK-German fault-lines over Russia and China. And if his political rise in the EU’s dominant member-state, results in a broader softening of the EU’s relations with the CCP and the Kremlin, then Brexit will have been a necessary course of foreign-policy action for the UK.
Dr Rakib Ehsan is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society.