Armin Laschet and Hendrik Wüst initiate an important change in the NRW-CDU
Hendrik Wüst will be the new Prime Minister, CDU regional leader and top candidate in North Rhine-Westphalia. The 46-year-old from a conservative, economically liberal background should embody a new starting point and defend black-and-yellow government power. There is criticism from the party.
ANls Armin Laschet and his future successor of Hendrik Wüst stepped in front of the cameras on Tuesday evening, surrounded by the clapping members of the CDU state faction, the contrast between the two was already visible visually. Wüst towers almost a head height above 60-year-old Laschet and is 14 years younger. Politically, too, the difference could hardly be greater: Wüst is characterized by a conservative and economically liberal background, in stark contrast to the liberal Laschet. The outgoing prime minister described the successor solution in the current legislature as “continuity” of the black-and-yellow state government. With Wüst, however, an important change is initiated in the CDU North Rhine-Westphalia.
Wüst succeeds Laschet in three positions: as CDU head of state at a party congress on October 23, as prime minister on October 27 in the state parliament and as top candidate for the state elections on May 15, 2022. The 46-year-old Münsterländer, who died a few months ago has recently become a father of a daughter, has just over six months to distinguish himself as a successor and to earn an office bonus. There is very little time, and that was mainly because of Laschet. In the downward pull of the federal CDU trend, Wüst has to defend the black-and-yellow government power in North Rhine-Westphalia. Even in the most populous state, the SPD is again ahead of the Christian Democrats.
CDU party leader Laschet should have arranged his successor in North Rhine-Westphalia, at the latest after he ran for the chancellor at the end of April. But Laschet hesitated, probably also because he wanted to keep NRW’s option open if he didn’t make it to the Bundestag. Laschet has now understood that the political time for him in North Rhine-Westphalia is finally over, regardless of whether he succeeds in building a coalition in Berlin.
There was resentment about Laschet’s delaying tactics in the NRW CDU, but Wüst remained faithful. He hasn’t prodded or pushed because he knows nothing has been decided against Laschet’s will yet. Wüst felt a sense of security because, in a sense, the succession was running towards him. He is one of the few CDU members of the government who also has a mandate in the state parliament. In North Rhine-Westphalia there is a constitutional peculiarity: the prime minister is elected from the members of the state parliament. External candidates are not allowed. Wüst also held many confidential talks in the party and managed to win over the leading Christian Democrats.
Wüst emphasizes the team spirit
Despite these obvious advantages, Wüst remained cautious in public. The fully qualified lawyer and fighter wants to avoid breaking old gaps in the state association with the largest number of members, so he repeatedly emphasizes the team spirit and also wants to involve internal party competitors such as NRW Construction Minister Ina Scharrenbach and NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul. “The CDU NRW is a strong team, and it remains a strong team,” Wüst promised on Tuesday evening. He sounds like Laschet, who attaches great importance to taking into account different movements in the party and opponents.
Wüst is aware that there is criticism of him from the party. This is also due to past mistakes. In February 2010, Wüst had to take responsibility for explosive letters from the CDU party headquarters in North Rhine-Westphalia to sponsors, giving the impression that exclusive talks with then Prime Minister Jürgen Rüttgers (CDU) were being offered in exchange for donations. The scandal became known under the slogan “Rent a Rüttgers”. Wüst was also accused at the time of having acted harshly and unfairly against then-SPD challenger Hannelore Kraft. The young, sturdy general resigned, was badly damaged politically and his career with the CDU seemed to be coming to an end.
But Wüst was able to regenerate and rehabilitate. Today he emphasizes that he has become more aware and wants to show that he has grown up. He owes his political comeback to Prime Minister Laschet, who appointed him Minister of Transport in North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017. It is a difficult position in the traditional congestion area of North Rhine-Westphalia, where highways are closed and trains are full every day. The corona pandemic with the long work-from-home phases made work easier for Wüst. In addition, he constantly travels across the country, delivering financing messages and paving the way for new bridges and roads. Laschet praised him as a “doer” on Tuesday evening.
Wüst is also intensively involved in new cycle paths, he even shows himself in the recumbent bike and thereby deals with a green topic, of all people, Wüst, who was re-elected head of state of the Mittelstands- und Wirtschaftsunion in North Rhine-Westphalia (MIT) in the CDU last weekend. “We have to trust again that we are not only following the zeitgeist, but also shaping it,” said Wüst in his job application speech. He belongs to a young guard of economically liberal Christian Democrats who can look back on a long political experience and who aspire to the future. He is in close contact with MIT’s head of state, Carsten Linnemann, and with federal health minister Jens Spahn, who, like Wüst, is from the Borken district.
But it is also clear to Wüst that he needs to expand his political profile. On Tuesday evening, he emphasized the “diversity” of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and mentioned climate protection, “progress and prosperity through education” and a “safe home” as important tasks. The future prime minister must now quickly transform himself into a political generalist. Here too he learned a lot from Laschet.