NEWSMAKER-Koch’s exit may harm Merkel in the long term

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN, May 25 (BestGrowthStock) – Roland Koch’s surprise exit from
politics might give Chancellor Angela Merkel short-term relief
from a pesky party rival but the loss of another economic policy
heavyweight could hurt her Christian Democrats in the long term.

Koch, 52, has been upsetting applecarts in Germany since he
burst on the national scene in 1999 with an improbable long-shot
victory in the Hesse state election, defeating popular incumbent
Hans Eichel after running a xenophobia-tinged campaign.

Koch said on Tuesday he was quitting politics. [LDE64O0T9]

His upset 1999 win made life difficult for then-Chancellor
Gerhard Schroeder, whose centre-left Social Democrat/Greens
coalition thus lost control of parliament’s upper house and was
forced into awkward compromises with the conservatives.

Koch, who won by campaigning against Schroeder’s reforms of
Germany’s outdated citizenship laws, pushed law-and-order issues
on the state and national levels. He got re-elected with an
absolute majority in the key swing state of Hesse in 2003.

His thumping 48.8-percent re-election win, in a state often
ruled by the SPD, turned Koch into a bona fide star in Merkel’s
Christian Democrats and a potential chancellor candidate.

Koch was visiting U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney at the
White House a few months later when President George W. Bush
dropped in to congratulate Koch on his landslide victory.

The meeting got a lot of attention in Germany because, at
that time, Bush was not talking to Schroeder due to his
opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.


A fiscal conservative, Koch clashed at times with Merkel —
especially over her drift towards the left after she took office
in 2005. But Koch avoided prolonged or direct confrontation with
the chancellor because disloyalty is frowned upon by CDU voters.

Koch formed part of secretive group of powerful young bucks
in the CDU, known as the “Andes Pact”, who agreed not campaign
against each other. This effectively neutralised them and made
it possible for Merkel to overtake them on the way to the top.

Along with Koch, others in the “Andes Pact” set up in 1979
include Lower-Saxony state premier Christian Wulff, Saar state
premier Peter Mueller and ex Baden-Wuerttenberg premier Guenther
Oettinger. All are said to have harboured chancellor ambitions.

But they all remained — except for bit of rare dissent —
in Merkel’s shadow, waiting in vain for her to falter.

Koch, a gifted orator and undisputed financial policy expert
in the party, carefully avoided criticising Merkel in his
farewell news conference on Tuesday. But he could not resist
taking a parting shot at her cautious leadership style.

“As far as national politics is concerned, I’ll allow myself
the freedom to (speak out against our) refusal to make or delay
decisions only because we’re afraid of the echo,” he said.

Merkel will not miss Koch in the near term.

But in the long run Koch’s popularity on the right-wing of
the CDU and in business circles will be sorely missed. Another
financial policy expert, Friedrich Merz, also quit in 2004 after
losing a long-running battle with Merkel over economic policies.

“Koch’s departure will leave behind an enormous hole,” said
one CDU official. “It’s going to hurt us down the road, for
sure. With Merz and now Koch gone, there’s no one left with the
stature and fiscal expertise.”

(Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Dominic Evans)

NEWSMAKER-Koch’s exit may harm Merkel in the long term