July 19, 2010 9:45 pm

Sixth German state premier quits

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Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, sought to limit the damage in her centre-right Christian Democratic Union on Monday after the resignation of a sixth state premier in less than a year left the leadership ranks of the ruling party decimated.

The decision of Ole von Beust, the popular mayor of the city-state of Hamburg and a close ally of the chancellor, to quit follows the resignations of Roland Koch, premier of the state of Hesse, and Jürgen Rüttgers, premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, both of whom were deputy leaders of the CDU.

Mr von Beust’s departure was seen by political analysts in Germany as a severe blow to the ruling party, which must find no fewer than three deputy leaders in the coming months from the ranks of less experienced politicians.

Although the departures of the six state premiers – the others are from Lower Saxony, Baden-Württemberg and Thuringia – were for a variety of reasons, including electoral defeat, the result is that the pool of potential successors to the chancellor has been drained of talent.

Those who have quit for reasons other than resigning include Günther Oettinger, who became Germany’s member of the European commission in Brussels, and Christian Wulff, elected federal president last month. Their moves take them out of party politics.

After a meeting of the party leadership in Berlin, Mr Koch said the moves were simply part of a “process of change” that was inevitable in any party that had been in government for a long time. He and Mr von Beust will step down at the end of August.

Volker Kaude, the parliamentary leader of the party, insisted that it had not been not weakened by the departures, which would make way for a younger generation to join the leadership. But several of those who have quit are in their 50s, young enough to have expected further promotion.

“The CDU is tired of office,” read the front page headline in Handelsblatt, the business newspaper.

Peter Lösche, former politics professor at Göttingen university, said he believed that both the CDU and the rival Social Democratic party were suffering from a change in the nature of the political culture and career structure, with politicians refusing to spend their whole lives devoted to the political process.

Mr von Beust headed a unique coalition in Hamburg of the centre-right CDU and the environmentalist Green party that was seen as a possible model for national governments.

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