Bavarian premier Stoiber says to step down early

By Jens Hack
Thursday, January 18, 2007; 10:10 AM

MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - Bavarian state premier Edmund Stoiber, a thorn in the side of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said on Thursday he would step down in September, bowing to pressure after a snooping scandal that hit his popularity.

Conservative Stoiber, who had wanted to stay on as head of the rich southern German state until 2013, said he would not run in Bavaria's 2008 election.

He would also stand down as head of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), which shares power on a national level with Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), in September.

The white-haired Bavarian has been an irritant to Merkel since he abruptly dropped plans to join her cabinet in 2005 and his early departure could be good news for her "grand coalition" of CDU, CSU and Social Democrats (SPD).

"This could be good for Merkel. Just about any successor to Stoiber would improve the relationship between the CDU and the CSU in the government and in parliament," said Oskar Niedermayer, political scientist at Berlin's Free University.

Stoiber, 65, has run heavily-Catholic Bavaria since 1993 and his party since 1999.

"I took this decision because it is important to me to act at the right time for Bavaria and the CSU," Stoiber told a hastily convened news conference.

"The success and unity of the CSU, the well-being and future of Bavaria was always my top political priority."

Until a month ago, it was considered a foregone conclusion that he would run for re-election as Bavarian premier next year. But his image has taken a hit since it emerged in December that one of his aides pried into the private life of a rival.


Earlier, a party source had told Reuters CSU leaders had agreed Interior Minister Guenther Beckstein would take over as state premier and Bavaria's Economy Minister Erwin Huber would become head of the CSU.

From his stronghold in Munich, Stoiber has repeatedly tried to block government reform plans, notably Merkel's much-criticised overhaul of the German healthcare system.

Stoiber narrowly missed becoming German chancellor in 2002, losing by several thousand votes when he reacted slowly to flooding in eastern Germany and voters rallied around Gerhard Schroeder and his anti-Iraq war stance.

Merkel tried to bring Stoiber to Berlin as economy minister in 2005 but he abandoned plans to take up the post just weeks before her coalition was formed.

Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schroeder took Stoiber to task in his recent memoir for also rejecting the post of European Commission president after Schroeder supposedly struck a deal with French President Jacques Chirac to move the Bavarian from Munich to Brussels.

Incidents like these have given Stoiber the reputation of a political troublemaker, reluctant to leave the comfort of his home state for bigger challenges.

He has vehemently rejected allegations by party rival Gabriele Pauli that he knew about the efforts by his office to gather compromising information on Pauli's private life.

Motorbiker Pauli, 49, with her flame-coloured hair and glamorous looks, has been all over the German media for weeks -- one of the few members of the CSU who has dared to publicly challenge Stoiber.

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