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Germany

Raising Hopes in a Jobless Desert

The Candidate, as Edmund Stoiber has become known, began his first tour through the former East Germany this week, a crucial region to this year's elections.

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A man of the people. Stoiber with East German workers this week.

Edmund Stoiber, the premier of the prosperous state of Bavaria, flew into Neubrandenburg keen to emphasise his credentials as an economic reformer to the east Germans.

While only five of Germany's 16 states are in the east, they are expected to prove vital in deciding who holds the balance of power after the Sept. 22 elections. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder too, has made high-profile visits to the states in recent years.

Unemployment rages at levels of around 20 percent and trust in politicians from the wealthy west is waning in this most barren of places for a Bavarian politician.

Stoiber, who flew in to Neubrandenburg by helicopter on Wednesday, promised an "enterprise offensive" should he be elected. He did not say how that would work. But he did accuse Schröder's Social Democratic Party and their ruling coalition partner, the Green Party, for the high levels of unemployment in Neubrandenburg. At 24.5 percent it is the highest in the country.

Stoiber reckons the government needs to boost small industry to encourage entrepreneurship in eastern Germany and stanch the flow of young people who are leaving the region by the thousands.

The people should be given a greater incentive to start their own businesses. Jobs are created especially by small companies, Stoiber told reporters in Neubrandenburg.

"That is a chance we have to take", Stoiber said.

"I want to tackle the problems in Germany in the same way I did in Bavaria", he added.

Stoiber’s tour of the east was meant to raise people’s hopes that things can only get better and that he was the man to show them the way.

Making Waves in a Puddle

Recent polls, however, show that only 23 percent of east Germans believe that Stoiber would make a difference in east Germany, while 43 percent put their money on Schröder.

The economic malaise as well as the spiritual void in east Germany are difficult to bridge. Stoiber swerved the big issues gracefully, made no promises and lef the region the same way he had arrived: by helicopter.

What the people make of these high-profile visits during the election campaign is hard to say. There are few reasons to be cheerful if you happen to be unemployed in Brandenburg. Germany’s economy is in recession and the outlook isn’t good.

Edmund Stoiber’s political chances here are slim. The former Communist Party (PDS), the polar opposite of Stoiber's CSU, was recently voted into power with more than 20 percent of the vote in Berlin.

And on the other side of the political spectrum, the right-wing Schill Party is looking to take a large chunk of the vote. It looks like the established parties will come in a poor third and fourth in east Germany at the next general election in September.