The frontrunner in the race to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor sparked fury after he was caught laughing during a visit to a town devastated by flooding.
Armin Laschet was filmed joking with colleagues behind President Frank-Walter Steinmeier as he expressed sympathies with flood victims in hard-hit Erftstadt.
At one point, the 60-year-old leader of Merkel’s CDU party can be seen breaking into laughter for several seconds.
Armin Laschet, leader of Germany’s CDU party and frontrunner to succeed Merkel, was caught laughing in background as senior ministers visited a flood-ravaged town
Laschet spoke with members of the emergency services during his visit to Erftstadt on Saturday, but it was his antics with colleagues that drew the most attention
‘Laschet laughs while the country cries,’ the best-selling Bild daily said on its website.
Commentators and politicians were quick to condemn Laschet on social media.
‘I’m speechless,’ tweeted Lars Klingbeil, secretary general of the centre-left Social Democrats, who govern together with the CDU/CSU bloc.
‘This is all apparently a big joke to (Laschet),’ wrote Maximilian Reimers from the far-left Die Linke opposition party. ‘How could he be a chancellor?’
There was no immediate comment from Laschet’s spokespeople contacted by AFP.
The controversy comes just days after Laschet was widely panned for admonishing a female reporter and calling her ‘young lady’ during a tense back and forth about the link between the deadly floods and climate change.
Erftstadt is among the worst-hit regions of Germany after the flooding, with dozens killed and hundreds still missing four days after the flood disaster struck
Part of the town of Blessem, in the Erftstadt region, was destroyed after waterlogged ground collapsed into a nearby gravel pit (pictured)
Crossed and gravestones are barely visible above floodwaters that inundated a cemetery in Erftstadt following torrential downpours earlier this week
‘Excuse me, young lady, you don’t change policies just because of one day like this,’ said Laschet, who is the premier of North-Rhine Westphalia state (NRW), one of the two German regions hit hardest by the worst flooding in living memory.
The unfolding weather disaster has killed at least 160 people across Germany and Belgium in some of the deadliest flooding to hit the continent in decades.
Erftstadt in NRW has seen some of the worst devastation after the extreme rainfall triggered a landslide in the town, destroying several houses and streets.
‘I grew up in Erftstadt,’ tweeted Olav Waschkies. ‘The behaviour of our state premier is unacceptable and unforgivable.’
Dozens of homes have been destroyed across the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate with hundreds of people still missing.
While nobody has yet been able to put a cost on the damage, one German official said this week that the final bill will certainly be in the ‘billions’.