27 Oct 2021, 16:14
Benjamin Wehrmann

“Conservative poster boy” Wüst voted new premier of industry state North Rhine-Westphalia

WDR / Clean Energy Wire / Die Zeit

Conservative CDU politician Hendrik Wüst has been voted in as new state premier of Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). The state’s parliament, where a coalition between the CDU and the Freed Democrats (FDP) has a slim majority, voted for Wüst as new premier on Wednesday, after the state's CDU already picked him as new party leader over the weekend, regional broadcaster WDR reported. Wüst, who until now has served as NRW’s transport minister, takes over from Armin Laschet, who becomes a regular MP in the federal parliament in Berlin after his bid for becoming German chancellor resulted in the CDU's worst-ever election result. In his acceptance speech, the new state premier said rebuilding the regions devastated by deadly floods in July and improving climate policy to “preserve the Creation” would be among his most urgent tasks now. The 46-year old, who has been labelled a “conservative poster boy” by newspaper Die Zeit, is set to lead the coal mining state and industrial powerhouse until at least May 2022, when the current government coalition faces a tough election against a resurgent Social Democratic Party (SPD), which currently leads the polls ahead of the conservatives.

Notable policies regarding climate action during Wüst’s term as transport minister in NRW include a novel “bike law,” which aims to increase the share of bicycles in the transport mix to 25 percent by expanding infrastructure and allowing for more flexibility for cyclists when using public transport. Environmental association BUND said at the time the law would fall short of delivering the promised progress, as “Wüst didn’t dare” to challenge car drivers in the scramble for space in urban traffic. In 2010, Wüst had to step down as secretary general of the state’s CDU after it emerged that the party had sent out invitations to meet then-state premier Jürgen Rüttgers to paying customers interested in private conversations with the industry state’s head of government.

The German conservative CDU/CSU alliance is going through a phase of introspection and restructuring after September’s election debacle, with the national CDU already announcing a complete change of leadership for later this year. Meanwhile, the SPD, the Green Party and the FDP have entered into formal negotiations to form a three-party coalition, and aim to install the SPD's Olaf Scholz as new chancellor by early December.

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