UPDATE 2-Merkel party deputy Koch to step down

* Koch’s departure could erode support for conservatives

* He was seen as a fiscal conservative within CDU

(Updates with Koch news conference, quotes, details)

By Angelika Gruber

WIESBADEN, Germany, May 25 (BestGrowthStock) – Hesse state premier
Roland Koch, a powerful leader in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s
Christian Democrats (CDU), quit politics on Tuesday in a move
that could further erode support for the conservatives.

Koch, long seen as a rising star in the CDU with ambitions
for higher office, told a news conference in the Hessian capital
Wiesbaden that he would return to work as a lawyer or in the
private sector, though he would remain politically active.

Koch, a fiscal conservative and law-and-order hardliner, has
clashed at times with Merkel. He avoided criticising her but had
an indirect parting shot at Merkel’s cautious leadership style
that has also been blamed for exacerbating the euro zone crisis.

“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,” said Koch, 52.

It was not immediately clear if Koch’s political career
would be over with his resignation effective Aug. 31 as Hesse
state premier or his stepping down as one of Merkel’s three
deputy CDU leaders at a national party congress in November.

But Koch, a talented orator, has a strong following on the
conservative wing of the CDU. He is also widely regarded as one
of the CDU’s top authorities on economic and financial issues —
and an important counter-weight to Merkel’s drift to the left.

“Naturally I’m going to stay a political creature even if
it’s from a different perspective,” Koch said. “I remain
convinced that the CDU can, with courage and determination, lead
our country into a future of freedom and prosperity.”

Koch noted with a smile that he would be the first Hesse
state premier to leave on his own volition.

Koch has nevertheless been a thorn in Merkel’s side at times
during his 11 years in power. His departure might offer
short-term relief for Merkel but hurt the CDU in the long run.

Another financial policy expert, Friedrich Merz, left the
political spotlight in spectacular fashion after losing a
long-running battle with Merkel over economic policies.

Merz, 54, was the popular leader of the CDU’s parliamentary
group until Merkel took that job herself in 2002. He remained
her deputy until he quit in 2004. She did not support his ideas
on simplifying tax codes and cracking down on welfare cheats.

Koch recently clashed with Merkel over budget cuts when the
chancellor dismissed his suggestion that education should be
examined as one area to reduce spending. But Koch was at pains
to gloss over any differences and said he told Merkel of his
plans to step down at some point about a year ago.

“It’s not an easy decision for me, by any means,” Koch said.
“I’ve really enjoyed this job. The decision now is right for
Hesse, right for my party and right for me. Change for Hesse and
the CDU in Hesse after 11-1/2 years is a good thing.

“I’m in the fortunate situation of being still young enough
— after working as an attorney, opposition leader and state
premier — to start a new career.”

Koch, one of three party deputies to Merkel, has been the
state premier of Hesse since 1999. He had been reported to be
interested in running the Finance Ministry in Berlin as a
possible replacement for ailing incumbent Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Koch became a national figure in 1999 when he unexpectedly
defeated the Social Democrat state premier Hans Eichel. He had
long been viewed in some party circles as a candidate for higher
office — even chancellor.

Stock Investing
(Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Myra MacDonald)

UPDATE 2-Merkel party deputy Koch to step down