HERRENCHIEMSEE, Germany (Reuters) – Angela Merkel, on a visit to a leading candidate to succeed her when she steps down as German chancellor, praised Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder as a strong leader, but declined to be drawn into giving an endorsement ahead of a 2021 federal vote.
Merkel’s decision to attend a meeting of Bavaria’s cabinet was widely seen as a coronation of her successor after the wealthy southern state’s aggressive management of the coronavirus crisis raised Soeder’s profile nationally.
“You will not hear me comment on the issue of who will succeed me in any form or in any forum,” she said. “All I can say is that Bavaria has a good premier and he invited me today.”
Soeder was among the first of Germany’s 16 powerful state premiers to impose lockdowns and roll out mass testing programmes as the virus swept into Germany.
Bavaria’s success, underlined by Soeder’s repeated assertive national television appearances, contrasts with that of North Rhine-Westphalia, whose premier Armin Laschet is the other front-runner for the conservative nomination.
Laschet, whose Netherlands-sized state is Germany’s most populous, has had a tougher time mastering the pandemic, with a series of outbreaks, most recently in a slaughterhouse in Guetersloh, infecting thousands.
Some interpreted Soeder’s decision to invite Merkel to Herrenchiemsee, a castle on an island in a lake where Germany’s constitution was drafted in 1948, as a calculated move to present him as a national, rather than merely Bavarian leader.
Merkel declined to be any more specific, however, adding in response to further questioning that she would always accept invitations from state premiers.
(Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Michelle Martin)