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German leadership candidates apologise for inappropriate behaviour

Two of Germany’s leading candidates for Chancellor have faced strong criticism for their behaviour, just two months ahead of the Federal elections.

Armin Laschet, the conservative bloc candidate to succeed Angela Merkel, has apologised again for laughing in public last week while visiting a German town devastated by recent floods.

Meanwhile, the Green Party’s candidate, Annalena Baerbock, has expressed regret for using the N-word during a recent interview.

The gestures could result in serious damage to the public image of both candidates, as Germany prepares for life without Chancellor Merkel for the first time since 2005.

According to Europe Elects, Laschet’s conservatives remain 10 points ahead of the Greens in the polls, but both parties have suffered losses in the last month.

‘Stupid and ‘inappropriate’ laugh

Laschet, the leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and governor of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, is seen as the front-runner to succeed Merkel as Chancellor in September.

But during a visit to the western town of Erfstadt last Saturday, he was seen laughing, while German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivered a statement on the region’s devastating floods, which have killed at least 180 people.

The incident spawned anger on social media, with some users sharing the hashtag #laschetlacht (#Laschetlaughs).

The secretary-general of Germany’s opposition Social Democrats described Laschet’s behaviour as “lacking in decency and appalling”.

On Sunday, the CDU candidate reiterated an apology for his actions in an interview with ZDF television.

“It was stupid and shouldn’t have happened and I regret it,” he said, “I am sorry, I can’t say much more.” In an earlier tweet, Laschet had also acknowledged that his actions were “inappropriate”.

“The fate of those affected, which we heard about in many conversations, is important to us. So I regret all the more the impression that arose from a conversational situation.”

‘Wrong’ to use N-word

Laschet’s main rival in September’s election has also apologised for comments made during an interview on Sunday.

Baerbock, co-chairperson of the German Green party, said she used the N-word while retelling a story to the Central Council of Jews.

The story, Baerbock said, was about a local schoolchild who had refused to complete a worksheet containing the racial slur.

Baerbock praised the pupil for his anti-racist stance, but said her use of the word was “wrong” and that she was “sorry”.

“I know about the racist origin of this word and the injuries that Black people experience through it, among other things,” Baerbock wrote on Twitter.

“Of course, we have mooted the N-word here. For me, it is clear: we must always and everywhere take action against racism.”

Baerbock has also faced recent criticism after she was accused of plagiarism in a book she wrote.

Germany divided over vaccine health passes

German politicians were deeply divided over a warning by Chancellor Merkel’s chief of staff that restrictions for unvaccinated people may be necessary.

Laschet said on Sunday that he opposes any formal or informal vaccine requirements for the time being.

“I don’t believe in compulsory vaccinations and I don’t believe we should put indirect pressure on people to get vaccinated,” he told ZDF, “in a free country there are rights to freedom, not just for specific groups.”

If Germany’s vaccination rates remain too low by the Autumn, other options could be considered, Laschet added.

More than 60% of the German population has received at least one dose while over 49% are fully vaccinated.

The Baden-Württemberg governor Winfried Kretschmann, a member of the Greens, has also said that the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19 could make vaccine requirements more attractive down the line.

Reference