Kurt Beck has announced he will quit as state premier of Rhineland-Palatinate at the end of the year. The 63-year-old, who has been under some pressure of late, cited health problems. He has held the post since 1994.
Kurt Beck has been at the top of regional politics in Rhineland-Palatinate since 1994, the year Chancellor Angela Merkel was named environment minister. He is the longest-serving state premier in Germany.
The 63-year-old Social Democrat (SDP) figurehead, formerly a leader of the party on the national level, announced on Friday in Mainz that he would be quitting his post at the end of the year.
"Since a hospital visit last year I know that I have considerable problems with my pancreas," Beck told reporters at the state capital. "This is really serious."
The state's social minister, 51-year-old Malu Dreyer, is to take over as premier at the beginning of 2013. However she will not take over the chairmanship of the SPD at the state level, owing to a plan not to overburden her health - she suffers from multiple sclerosis.
"I feel both powerful and in good health," Dreyer said when asked after her own medical ailment.
Nürburgring? 'On the contrary'
Beck had previously said he intended to see out his term until 2016, providing he remained in good health. The state premier has come under intense pressure of late over the renovation of the state-owned Nürburgring racetrack, which filed for insolvency in July. Beck survived a no-confidence motion in the state parliament on August 30 put forward by the opposition Christian Democrats in light of the Nürburgring project.
"On the contrary," Beck said when asked if the circuit's plight was a factor in his decision, "because I do not tend to pass on to other people projects which I cannot complete myself."
An ambitious 2007 plan to build a leisure complex around the circuit was billed as a private-public venture that would put the mildly unprofitable circuit back into the black. Private investment never materialized, leaving Beck's government to carry the can, and the new additions have piled further debts on the circuit and met with considerable local criticism.
Opposition Christian Democrat state leader Julia Klöckner said Beck's resignation wouldn't help Rhineland-Palatinate.
"This doesn't clear up the state government's problems, and above all the problems of the state, the many unanswered questions," Klöckner said, talking about a "Beck system" that was made up of many leading figures in the stable state setup.
Rhineland-Palatinate has been governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens since 1991. At the last state election in 2011 a marked Green party upswing helped mask an almost 10-percent drop in Social Democrat popularity.
msh/pfd (AFP, dapd, dpa)