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Stoiber Departs to the Sound of Sharpening Knives

DW staff (nda)November 3, 2005

In the midst of all the chaos in Berlin, Edmund Stoiber may have hoped his departure from the cabinet would pass without much comment. On the contrary, it has prompted harsh criticism and raised doubts over his future.

Stoiber risks being exiled and isolated after quitting the cabinetImage: AP

Edmund Stoiber's decision to escape the spiraling chaos surrounding the fledgling government in Berlin for the safety of his regional fiefdom in Munich was being viewed as the last nail in the embryonic grand coalition's coffin on Thursday.

But while Germany's politicians vowed to press on with plans to form a government made up of the country's two largest parties, in some quarters it was Stoiber's political career over which the last rites were being administered.

The head of the Christian Social Union, the Christian Democratic Union's sister party, returned to Bavaria after rejecting the cabinet position of economics and technology minister on Tuesday during the latest fraught round of coalition discussions between the conservatives and the Social Democrats.

Stoiber's departure left his colleagues to ponder an increasingly difficult situation and prompted many to turn on the man who, for so long, had craved power at the top end of conservative politics only to abandon it.

Damaging beyond repair?

Nix is mit Wechsel
When faced with a change, Stoiber chose to stay where he felt safest.Image: AP

Some of Stoiber's CSU members in Bavaria were less than happy at the prospect of their prime minister returning to concentrate on regional matters. CSU state parliament representative Sebastian von Rotenhan told reporters that Stoiber's u-turn in Berlin had caused the CSU "irreparable damage" and had lost the party "enormous amounts of respect." He added that he thought Stoiber's days as Bavarian state premier were numbered.

"It is time for a change," Rotenhan said.

Fellow CSU member Martin Neumeyer also criticized Stoiber's decision and its knock-on effects.

"These scars will remain," he said in an interview with dpa. "One thing is clear; the damage will remain with us for some time."

"Edmund Stoiber was an obstruction in Berlin," said Georg Milbradt, CDU state premier of Saxony, in Der Spiegel, adding that Stoiber's combative and opinionated approach was only adding to the troubles surrounding the coalition talks.

FDP head likens Stoiber to rebel Lafontaine

Der FDP-Vorsitzende Guido Westerwelle, die CDU-Vorsitzende und Kanzlerkandidatin Angela Merkel und der CSU-Vorsitzende und bayerische Ministerpraesident Edmund Stoiber, von links, unterhalten sich im
Guido Westerwelle (left) will now be in opposition to Merkel and Stoiber.Image: AP

Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP) which was originally aligned with the CDU/CSU in the election campaign, compared Stoiber to former Social Democrat rebel and current Left Party co-leader, Oskar Lafontaine.

"In terms of escaping his responsibility, Edmund Stoiber is on a par with Lafontaine," the FDP leader told the Westfalen Blatt newspaper. "Such an escape from a position of responsibility, a state of office, I would find impossible to imagine had I not seen it."

The German media was also scathing in its reporting of Stoiber's decision. The mass circulation tabloid Bild called Stoiber an "eternal ditherer" and said that he had "chickened out" of his responsibility and had fled to the safety of his home state leaving Berlin and Germany in chaos while "waving the white flag."

The Bavarian state premier's character was further assassinated by the business daily Handelsblatt which accused Stoiber of lacking any sense of duty, loyalty and reliability.

"Even with the best of intentions it's impossible to find these qualities in Stoiber's behavior," the paper wrote. "It is astonishing that the CSU obediently puts up with his actions."

"This is the end of the Stoiber era -- he gave the CSU back its self-confidence and now he's ruining it," cried the Süddeutsche Zeitung which went on to describe Stoiber as "a faltering figure, a spirit who doesn't know what he wants."

CSU to discuss Stoiber's style

Der bayerische Ministerpraesident Edmund Stoiber spricht nach der bayerischen Landtagswahl, herrlich, herrlich, herrlich
Stoiber's approach is a concern for those who fear he may become a critic.Image: AP

Back in Berlin, the conservative bloc hierarchy were looking into ways of limiting the damage of Stoiber's desertion and pre-empting any unwanted criticism he may be inclined to direct at the CDU. The meeting was also likely to address Stoiber's style of politics and promotion; a style that has alienated many party members and voters alike.

In recent days, Stoiber has made it clear that he has been extremely unhappy with the shape of the economics ministry he was supposed to head in a grand coalition. The Bavarian leader has openly complained that he wanted more portfolios for his super-ministry than just the research and education ministries he was granted by CDU leader Angela Merkel.

Fears Bavarian PM may rock coalition boat

Bildgalerie Nach den Wahlen Union sucht Sündenbock Merkel Stoiber p178
Stoiber and Merkel have had a strained relationship for some time.Image: dpa

As a result, the relationship between the two had soured in recent weeks, dredging up many feelings Stoiber may have had about being passed over in favor of Merkel after his unsuccessful 2002 election campaign. Some conservative leaders now fear that Stoiber -- once back in Munich -- might torpedo grand coalition talks with unqualified and unsolicited comments.

But Christian Democrat senior member Wolfgang Bosbach ruled out such a scenario. "Any fears that Edmund Stoiber would cause Berlin trouble as state premier in Munich are unfounded," Bosbach told reporters. "He remains in favor of a grand coalition just like those at the negotiating table."

Despite this gloss, there is a fear among many in conservative circles that if Stoiber is going down, he may want to take as many of his rivals with him. For Angela Merkel -- the woman who managed to succeed where he did not -- that could spell more bad news.