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Germany

Unseating Germany's Media Chancellor

In an effort to move under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's spotlight in the political center, conservative chancellor candidate Edmund Stoiber looks to begin eliminating the more conservative elements of his Bavarian reign

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Man in the middle

He is both celebrated and mocked as the "media chancellor" a slick, sympathetic clone of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President Bill Clinton.

Many credit Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's saavy and his ability to straddle the political center with giving him victory against long-time German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1998. His ability to appear both the sympathetic friend and firm but cautious ally to the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks last year won him praise and sent his approval ratings in Germany soaring.

But with unemployment figures rising and his economy stagnating, many believe Schröder’s challenger Edmund Stoiber has a good shot at unseating him come elections in September. To do that, the candidate of both Bavaria’s Christian Social Union and the Germany-wide Christian Democratic Union will have to move from his conservative right into Schröder’s center.

The man who will bring him to the middle

No one knows this better than Stoiber, who has already taken a step in that direction. Last week, Stoiber announced that the former editor of Germany’s largest-circulating newspaper, Michael Spreng would be his campaign manager. As editor-in-chief of the powerhouse Bild for 11 years, Spreng upped the pseudo-tabloid’s circulation while managing to win accolades from many journalistic circles.

But more importantly, Spreng, 53, is a self-described nonpartisan, who gave up his affiliation to the CDU before taking the Bild’s reins in 1989.

The move did not go unnoticed, as a German editor’s path can often be guided by the political party they belong to. Maybe to prove his point, Spreng criticized Christian Democratic Chancellor Helmut Kohl in an editorial and is on friendly terms with Schröder.

Eliminating the more conservative elements

With the moderate Spreng on his way in, Stoiber has signaled that the more conservative elements of his reign in Bavaria may be on their way out. These include conservative Christian Social Union general secretary Thomas Goppel.

The longtime Stoiber aide was the very last to find out about Spreng’s appointment, hearing about it half an hour before the press conference, according to Bild. In a subsequent argument between Goppel and Stoiber, Stoiber seemed nonplussed as Goppel threatened with resignation, Bild reported.

Gone too appears to be frequent appearances by CDU and CSU big wigs in the right wing Bavarian magazine Epoche.

Politicians, from Goppel to CDU chairwoman Angel Merkel, had often used the publication’s editorial pages to present their platforms on various issues. "we need to examine if we can publish there again," said a Stoiber spokesman.

But some are warning Stoiber not to come too close to Schröder, whose media gloss has begun to dull as Germany’s problems mount.

"The decisive question will be: Who can get us out of this crisis," said top media consultant and former Helmut Kohl campaign aide Hans-Hermann Tiedje in an interview with the Tagesspiegel. "It can quickly be apparent that being "media chancellor" is not enough."

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