Malu Dreyer, state premier for Rhineland-Palatinate, will stay in office despite bungling a major deal to sell the state's major airport to Chinese investors.
The leader of government in Germany's state of Rhineland-Palatinate narrowly won a no-confidence vote on Thursday. With 49 votes against her and 52 in favor, Social Democrat (SPD) Malu Dreyer managed to stay in office despite vehement criticism against her mishandling a major deal to sell the state's international airport, known as Frankfurt Hahn.
It was an early test for Dreyer's new coalition government, which took office two months ago after her center-left SPD managed to get 36.2 percent of the vote and form a coalition with the Green party and the neoliberal FDP. This already signified a setback for the SPD in the state - for years it had needed only ecologist Green support in order to govern.
Dreyer said she was "very happy" about the "clear vote" to keep her in office. The tally came directly along party lines, with the three coalition parties standing behind their leader and opposition parties like the Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and right-wing populists the Alternative for Germany (AfD) voting to oust her.
Major deal with Chinese fails to materialize
The vote revolved around a failed bid to sell the state's Hahn airport, which effectively serves as a subsidiary to Germany's largest hub, Frankfurt Main, in the neighboring state of Hesse. Despite being called "Frankfurt Hahn," the airport is almost two hours' drive from Germany's financial capital. Located to the north of Idar Oberstein, it is also difficult to access by public transport. Low-cost airlines like Ryanair use it to minimize costs compared to operating out of Frankfurt Main. Many major airlines also use it for cargo operations.
The airport has struggled in recent years as several major freight customers have moved operations to Frankfurt, and the state government had planned to sell 82.5 percent of its stake in the facility to Chinese investor Shanghai Yiqian Trading. When that deal fell through, most of the blame was placed on Dreyer and her administration.
"The major responsibility for this debacle [is on Dreyer]. She personally assured the public of the reliability of this potential buyer, of the seriousness of this treacherous business," said Julia Klöckner of the CDU, who was gunning for Dreyer's job during the recent state elections.
For many citizens of Rhineland-Palatinate, however, it is not the government but the tax auditing company KPMG who is to blame for trying to broker the deal. A survey conducted by local broadcaster Südwestrundfunk showed that 29 percent of those polled blamed KPMG, while only 19 percent blamed Dreyer. Another 14 percent blamed the state's interior minister Roger Lewentz.
The sale of state property is a particularly sensitive topic in Rhineland-Palatinate, following the costly expansion, bankruptcy, and then low-cost firesale of the formerly state-owned Nürburgring race track. That debacle contributed to Dreyer taking over the role as state premier from her Social Democrat predecessor Kurt Beck.
es/msh (AFP, dpa)