Hendrik Wüst before the election in North Rhine-Westphalia: The “doer” has to deliver quickly

To analyse

Status: 10/27/2021 10:21 a.m.

Armin Laschet is history, the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia celebrates Hendrik Wüst as a bearer of hope. Now he is to be elected Prime Minister. However, he only has a few months until the state elections.

An analysis by Arne Hell, WDR

Hendrik Wüst was once what one calls a political whiz kid. At 15 he founded a local club of the Junge Union in his home in the Münsterland. In his mid-twenties he became the head of the youth organization. In his early 30s, he was Secretary General of the state CDU under the then Prime Minister Jürgen Rüttgers.

So it seems almost logical that he is now going to be head of government in North Rhine-Westphalia himself. However, the way there was not straightforward. Wüst’s political career was almost over by now. In 2010 he had to resign because of an affair about bookable sponsor appointments, known to this day as “Rent a Rüttgers”. Shortly afterwards, the CDU lost the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Many in the party resented him, as did the dashing, often gruff tone of voice at the time. Wüst, now 46 years old, had to gradually regain trust. “Many of you have seen me grow up here,” he humbly recalled last weekend at the CDU party conference in Bielefeld, “and also saw me stumble.” The message: I’ve learned my lesson.

Not a public argument

In fact, this has been well observed over the past week. He never publicly claimed to be Armin Laschet’s successor. Instead, he emphasized the team spirit in the CDU and did everything possible to avoid public disputes. He didn’t say a bad word about the loser Laschet. Also quite deliberately in contrast to the Union’s quarrels in the federal government. “We lost the general election, but we must not lose decency, behavior and poise,” he said at the state party conference,

His party has rewarded that. More than 98 percent of the state delegates voted him CDU boss in North Rhine-Westphalia. Although he was the top representative of the economic wing of the CDU for the past few years, the leaders of the workers’ camp also praise him as a “man of compromise”. His opponents kept quiet and lined up, including North Rhine-Westphalia Interior Minister Herbert Reul, who is now one of Wüst’s deputies in the party. Wüst also needs closed ranks in today’s vote in the state parliament: the black-yellow coalition only has a majority of one vote.

Laschet calls him a “doer”

He says he has a “desire to govern,” says Wüst. He has been a member of the state government as Minister of Transport since 2017. And even if the balance sheet doesn’t shine everywhere, he still has some successes to show for. He brought significantly more federal funds for roads and rails into the country than his predecessors. This enabled him to significantly increase spending on rail traffic and cycle paths. He likes efficient, pragmatic solutions. Laschet calls him a “doer”.

However, the challenges that await him now are enormous. Elections will take place in NRW in May 2022. The CDU is clearly behind in the polls. The corona pandemic is not over yet and parts of North Rhine-Westphalia are suffering severely from the consequences of the flood disaster in July. Reconstruction is a matter of the country. A lot can go wrong with distributing the billions of dollars in aid. The responsible minister, Ina Scharrenbach, also belongs to the top of the CDU.

Climate, housing, education

In addition, Wüst has to make it clear how he wants to tackle the country’s major problems. He called the climate crisis the “greatest challenge of our time” – with the addition that one shouldn’t endanger one’s own prosperity on the way to climate neutrality, because: “Otherwise nobody in the world will imitate us.” But NRW has a lot of catching up to do here. Just over 17 percent of the country’s electricity is generated from renewable energies. Nevertheless, the black and yellow state government made it difficult to build new wind turbines.

Wüst has also announced solutions for problems for which the CDU could not previously be relied on in the eyes of many voters. For example, to provide affordable housing or better educational opportunities for children. Wüst believes that the CDU must provide “new answers” here. Above all, in order to win again in the political center – in other words, where you lost particularly heavily to the SPD and the Greens in the federal elections. There will be no “shift to the right” that some in the Union would like to see with Wüst.

State-supporting instead of flippant

And finally, the 46-year-old has to work on his appearance and find his role. In terms of his nature, he likes to be flippant, some also describe him as gockel-like. He is trying to avoid all of this and instead act in a way that supports the state. That can quickly appear artificial. At Laschet, Wüst experienced what happens when people don’t take a role from someone.

If Wüst is successful, then he has every chance of winning the state elections for the CDU in seven months. He knows that the current polls are still overshadowed by the messed up federal election campaign. But if Wüst fails because of the challenges, then he should go down in the history of North Rhine-Westphalia as the Prime Minister with the shortest term of office.

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