Two of Germany’s leading candidates for chancellor have faced strong criticism for their behavior, just two months before the federal elections.
Armin Laschet, the conservative bloc candidate to succeed Angela Merkel, has again apologized for laughing in public last week while visiting a German city devastated by recent floods.
Meanwhile, Green Party 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 choosesLaschet’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, leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Germany and governor of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, is considered the favorite to succeed Merkel as chancellor in September.
But during a visit to the western city of Erfstadt last Saturday, he was seen laughing, while German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivered a statement about the devastating floods in the region, which have killed at least 180 people.
The incident sparked anger on social media, with some users sharing the hashtag #laschetlacht (#Laschetlaughs).
The secretary general of Germany’s Social Democratic opposition described Laschet’s behavior 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 it shouldn’t have happened and I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m sorry, I can’t say much more.” In a previous tweet, Laschet had also acknowledged that his actions were “inappropriate.”
“The fate of those affected, which we hear about in many conversations, is important to us. That is why I regret even more the impression that arose from a conversational situation.”
‘Incorrect’ to use N-word
Laschet’s main rival in the September elections also apologized for comments made during an interview on Sunday.
Baerbock, co-chair of the German Green Party, said she used the N word while relating a story to the Central Council of Jews.
The story, Baerbock said, was about a local schoolboy who had refused to complete a worksheet that contained the racial slur.
Baerbock praised the student for his anti-racist stance, but said his use of the word was “wrong” and he was “sorry.”
“I know about the racist origin of this word and the injuries suffered by blacks through it, among other things,” Baerbock wrote on Twitter.
“Of course, we have discussed the N-word here. To me, it is clear: we must always and everywhere act against racism.”
Baerbock has also faced recent criticism after she was accused of plagiarism in a book she wrote.
Germany divided on health passes for vaccines
German politicians were deeply divided over a warning from Chancellor Merkel’s chief of staff that restrictions for unvaccinated people may be necessary.
Laschet said Sunday that he opposes any formal or informal vaccine requirements for now.
“I don’t believe in mandatory vaccinations and I don’t think we should indirectly pressure 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 for the fall, other options could be considered, Laschet added.
More than 60% of the German population have received at least one dose, while more than 49% are fully vaccinated.
The Governor of Baden-Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, a member of the Greens, has also said that the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19 could make the vaccine requirements more attractive in the future.