Could the “Baron from Bavaria’s” success rock the coalition in Berlin?

September 28, 2009

It was a weekend of mixed fortunes for the German
government’s aristocratic AC/DC fan Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

    In Sunday’s federal election, the 37-year-old conservative
Economy Minister won 68.1 percent of the direct votes in his
constituency — more than any other politician in Germany, and
nearly 20 points more than Chancellor Angela Merkel — and
earning him the nickname “King of the votes” in German media.

    However, his Christian Social Union (CSU), Bavarian sister
party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats, had their worst day at
the polls in 60 years, taking just 42.6 percent of the vote in
the state they have ruled almost single-handedly since the war.

    With turnout at a record low, Merkel’s conservatives secured
a mandate to form Germany’s first centre-right coalition since
with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).

    But the success enjoyed by Freiherr Guttenberg — mockingly
dubbed the “Baron from Bavaria” by former Social Democrat
chancellor Gerhard Schroeder — could pose problems for the
CSU’s populist leader, Horst Seehofer.

    Keen to quash any talk of a leadership tussle with the
telegenic hard rock fan and sometime DJ, the 60-year-old
Seehofer told a board of directors in Munich: “You can’t start
coalition talks with questions about staff.”

    Despite its campaign slogan: “What our country needs now: a
stronger CSU in Berlin”, the CSU heads into coalition talks
weakened. Buoyed by its best ever performance, the FDP will
likely have twice as many seats as the CSU in parliament and
hopes to take control of three or four portfolios.

    Guttenberg, who has risen to the top of the popularity
charts since his appointment in February, is viewed as a
potential finance minister and possible chancellor one day —
and increasingly eyed with suspicion by his own party leader.

    Seehofer may therefore find himself in the awkward position
of having to rely on Guttenberg to secure influence in Berlin at
the risk of increasing his party rival’s power.

    This could prompt Seehofer to shore up his own power base in
Bavaria by winning back voters who defected to the FDP in the
vote — even if it means destabilising the coalition in Berlin.

PHOTO: Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg at the Frankfurt IAA exhibition on Sept. 24, 2009. REUTERS/Johannes Eisele

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