Merkel heir turns to former rival Merz to reverse poll slump

North Rhine-Westphalia's State Premier and Germany's conservative Christian Democratic Union's (CDU) chancellor candidate Armin Laschet, right, stands on the stage with CDU politician Friedrich Merz as they present their party's so-called "Zukunftsteam" election campaign support team at the CDU headquartrs in Berlin, Germany, on Sept 3, 2021. (JOHN MACDOUGALL / AFP)

Armin Laschet sought to revive his faltering campaign to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor by flanking himself with a team cobbled together to show the bloc’s expertise, including former rival Friedrich Merz.

Armin Laschet, chairman of the Christian Democratic party, named eight allies – evenly split between men and women – to become the face for issues such as climate, security, digitalization and social policy

With just over three weeks before the Sept 26 election, the chairman of the Christian Democratic party on Friday named eight allies – evenly split between men and women – to become the face for issues such as climate, security, digitalization and social policy.

Merz, who narrowly lost two bids to head the CDU, will be in charge of finance and the economy. The Merkel antagonist is still favored by a large swath of the party base and his appointment is an overture to conservatives who’ve turned away from the moderate Laschet.

ALSO READ: Merkel's candidate struggles to revive flagging fortunes

At the presentation in Berlin, Merz said he’d promote balanced budgets, a “stable euro” and adherence to Germany’s constitutional debt restrictions.

Merkel’s conservatives have slumped to record lows in the latest polls, burdened by Laschet’s weak approval ratings. Critics have blamed the gaffe-prone premier of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia for failing to find his footing with voters. 

The presentation followed a disappointing debate performance on Sunday, which cemented Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the Social Democrats’ candidate, as the front-runner.

Aside from Merz, the members of the team – which include Joe Chialo, a Black candidate for parliament from Berlin – are relatively unknown on the national stage. It’s unclear what role they’ll play in the campaign, and their presentation is an unusual step at this late stage.

READ MORE: Germany's Social Democrats overtake Merkel's bloc in poll

Senior members of the SPD – including Labor Minister Hubertus Heil – quickly countered on Twitter, posting that the party’s team consists of 400,000 members.

Recent polling has been dire for the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. The bloc, which views itself as the natural party of government in Germany, is trailing the SPD by as much as five points in several polls.