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Germany

Press review: Von Beust lost touch with voters

German newspapers agree that the once-popular Ole von Beust lost touch with Hamburg voters. His resignation brings great insecurity to the Hamburg coalition, and worsens Chancellor Merkel's already precarious position.

Von Beust announcing his resignation

Von Beust leaves Hamburg politics in a lurch

Hamburg's mayor of nine years, Ole von Beust, announced his resignation Sunday, making him the sixth Christian Democrat government leader at state level to leave his post in the last ten months. Von Beust stepped down hours before a referendum blocked his coalition government's planned reforms of the northern city-state's school system.

German newspapers agree that the once-popular von Beust, who managed to unite two disparate parties, had lost touch with Hamburg voters. Having once brought together his own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Greens in the first such state coalition in Germany, von Beust's cross-party appeal was unique within the CDU. The German press sees his resignation as bringing great insecurity to the Hamburg coalition, and only worsening the already precarious position of CDU party leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Die Zeit referred to von Beust as the "master of imposible coalitions," implying that the coalition and von Beust's cross-party appeal were doomed right from the start.

"For Chancellor Merkel this is just one more opportunity to stick to her particular caution in formulating political goals," the paper added, taking a sideswipe at Merkel's CDU, which is shedding political leaders on a regular basis: Merkel "cannot keep a seat in her cabinet – or the presidential Bellevue Palace – for every state premier who has sunk into listlessness," the paper concluded, referring to Christian Democrat Roland Koch - who has announced his resignation as Hesse's premier - and Juergen Ruettgers who already renounced the same title in the state of North Rhine-Westfalia in June.

Merkel and von Beust

Merkel can no longer count on von Beust's cross-party appeal in Hamburg

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung posited that Beust's school reforms dealt his career a death blow, writing "von Beust must now recognize that the entire Hamburg population has felt betrayed by his government – and not just the so-called Gucci-faction in the city's posh suburbs." The paper stated that a plan to limit the time spent by students at university preparatory schools in favor of lengthening primary school was tantamount to "political suicide," adding that, "unlike politics concerning universities, politics concerning schools can decide elections. The Hamburg coalition will now experience that firsthand."

Tageszeitung called the mayor "close to the people" and yet reserved as befits a Hamburg politician. "A political chameleon with an ice-cold instinct for power," he had "ensured his power within the CDU through skilled tactics within the party, but more through his high poll ratings, which were always percentage points higher than the ratings of his party." In the last few months, however, "shattered state finances, an initiative against the school reforms that were forwarded by CDU supporters and early ruptures in the CDU-Green coalition" marred his governance.

Berliner Morgenpost stated that the now instable Hamburg coalition had been a "test run." With von Beust's resignation "the pilot, guarantor and stabilizer has left the ship of Hamburg's CDU-Green coalition." The paper concluded that "von Beust had pushed forward his coalition's controversial plans (for school reform) without involving his own party base. That was a grave error, one he has paid for."

von Beust

Rumors long held that von Beust wanted out

The paper added that, though the mayor left his successor much to be done, he could be confident in the knowledge that he reanimated Hamburg's politics after a half-century of Free Democrat rule.

The regional newspaper Westfalenblatt wrote of von Beust having a "special role within the CDU," explaining that "without his cross-party appeal, a Green-CDU coalition would never have been possible."

"Vote Ole" was his slogan in his successful 2004 election, a sign of von Beust's popularity and the familiarity present between the politician and his city. Slowly he lost the support of Hamburg's CDU voters and felt less and less liked. "The quirky timing of his announcement of resignation does not indicate that such issues were still important to von Beust," the paper wrote.

Author: David Levitz

Editor: Rob Turner

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