German elections: child journalists leave leading CDU candidate fumbling for words in interview

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 ( Late Night Berlin/YouTube)
( Late Night Berlin/YouTube)

Armin Laschet has had a hard enough time convincing German voters that he is the right candidate to lead the country for the next four years. Indeed the 60-year-old, who is trailing badly in opinion polls ahead of the September 26 elections, even got badly tripped up while trying to give answers to some surprisingly pointed questions from two young children in an awkward television interview on Tuesday evening.

The interview is another example of pro-active young German journalists taking on senior politicians after a 12-year-old reporter successfully grilled the far-right AfD candidate, Tino Chrupalla yesterday, catching him out on his lack of knowledge of German nationalist poetry.

Appearing visibly uncomfortable and completely out of place during most of the awkward 10-minute chat with Romeo and Pauline that went viral on social media, Laschet was pummelled with unexpectedly sharp questions from the two youngsters about some of his campaign blunders such as laughing in the background at a ceremony for flood victims. He twice tried to cut the public grilling by the duo short by saying “so, if you don’t have any more questions…” before Romeo and Pauline knocked him off balance again and again with further interrogation.

The interview on the commercial Pro-7 network epitomized Laschet’s blunder-filled campaign to succeed his party ally Angela Merkel, who is retiring at 67, as chancellor. Polls show the centre-left Social Democrats about five points ahead of the conservatives, who have ruled for the last 16 straight years and 52 of the country’s 72 post-war years.

“I saw some pictures of you smoking cigarellos, don’t you want to quit?” asked Pauline, early in the interview as he sat twitching on a tiny child-size chair in front of a giant stuffed teddy bear. Embarrassed that she had mentioned his habit of occasional smoking that he has for the most part concealed from the media, Laschet stared sheepishly straight ahead in silence for a moment while grappling to come up with an answer. Romeo chimed in to break the silence with: “they’re very unhealthy, you know?”

“Yes, that’s right but so many things are unhealthy,” Laschet said, trying to fake a smile. “But I don’t really inhale.”

It went downhill from there as the two children put Laschet on the spot for decisions his state government in North Rhine-Westphalia made to forcibly remove protesters from treehouses in a forest it wanted cleared for an open-pit mine, for his earlier opposition to same-sex marriages that are now legal, and for being pictured laughing in the background while President Frank-Walter Steinmeier made a solemn speech to survivors of July’s devastating floods. The well-informed – or well-coached -- children also challenged Laschet for allowing a far-right politician whom they labelled a “Nazi” to run for parliament under his Christian Democratic party banner.

Laschet tried at first to calmly explain that the forest had to be cleared due to fire hazards from the protestors installing ovens in their treehouses. He then denied that Hans-Georg Maasen is a Nazi even though the controversial former head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has been endorsed by neo-Nazis and far-right voters.

Laschet at first remained collected while saying that he was not opposed to same-sex marriages. But when Romeo challenged him on that assertion, the candidate became agitated.

“No, that’s not true,” Laschet snapped before Romeo replied by citing an interview that Laschet gave to the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel. “Oh, so you read Der Spiegel so many years ago? Wow, that’s great that you can do that.” Romeo replied he only found the article on a google search. “Oh okay, you googled it? Obviously men marry each other now and that’s the law now.”

Laschet also appeared flustered by Romeo’s questions about Maassen and his far-right sympathies. “Oh so you know him?” Laschet said sarcastically. Romeo said he did. “And then why are you calling him a right-winger?” Laschet demanded of the 10-year-old interlocutor. “I’m asking you that,” Romeo retorted. Moments later, without an answer, the interview was over and Laschet said a friendly “see you round” as he walked quickly out of the tent – seemingly in need of a cigarillo.

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