Armin Laschet, who will seek in September to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor of Germany, said Europe needs to insist on the rule of law while remaining strong together.
“We need all 27 member states, also Hungary and Poland, if we want to further develop Europe. At the same time, one needs to insist on the rule of law," the 60-year-old governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, said in an interview with the Associated Press.
"Everybody who joined the EU has to accept the position of the European Court of Justice, and if somebody violates European law that will lead to sanctions and consequences, for example, when it comes to the allocation of funds,” he warned.
Laschet grew up in Aachen on Germany's western border with Belgium and then Netherlands and continues to live there. He married his childhood sweetheart, Susanne, and the devout Catholics have three adult children.
He said that growing up in the heart of the continent made him a true European.
“Many people live in one country and work in the other, for shopping one goes across the border ... and the idea of the classic nation-state has long been overcome because one knows that many problems can only be solved transnationally,” Laschet said.
Laschet earned a law degree and worked as a journalist before joining Germany's parliament as a lawmaker with the CDU in 1994. He was a member of the European parliament from 1999-2005 and became governor of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017.
Laschet was his state's minister for the integration of immigrants in the late 2000s.
Well before other German states, he stressed the importance of language fluency, stronger women's rights in immigrant communities, an easier path to citizenship and a need to bring Islamic religious teaching out of storefront mosques and into classrooms, with teachers raised and educated in Germany.
The fight against growing antisemitism in Germany is also close to his heart. He strengthened high school exchanges between Germans and Israelis, and, like Merkel, is a strong supporter of Israel.
“I think every young person should have visited Auschwitz once to get a sense of the place, of the horror that happened there, to understand what the Holocaust meant as a crime against humanity,” he said.
Laschet on foreign policy
In his interview with the AP, Laschet expressed relief that US President Joe Biden has returned the US to international agreements.
“It is good that the new American administration has returned to multilateral agreements and has rejoined the Paris climate accord,” Laschet said.
“I have big hopes that under the leadership of the U.S., which has dedicated itself to this goal politically, economically and also financially, we will manage to bring about a big push forward.”
He is more reserved about Biden's assertive stance on China, stating that Germany should continue to foster economic relations with China.
“China is a partner, but a systemic rival, and that means we have to keep our principles up, continue to remind China about them, but at the same time foster our economic relations to China," he said.
“Wherever countries have a model of society that is different from ours, we need to win them over to join us — whether it is Russia, China or the Arab world.”