Seehofer to step down as CSU chair

Horst Seehofer is intending to step down as CSU chair. Who will succeed him in his position? [Clemens Bilan/ epa]

Germany’s Federal Minister of the Interior, Horst Seehofer, wants to imitate Angela Merkel and give up his position as party chair. It remains unclear whether he will be able to keep his ministerial post in the long term. EURACTIV Germany reports.

There has not yet been an official statement but the following seems certain:  Seehofer will step down from the CSU party leadership. He announced this at a meeting of the narrowest party leadership on Sunday.

Seehofer stated that he did not want to stand in the way of change because “2019 will be the year of the CSU’s renewal,” he said, according to participants. The exact dates are not yet known but, reportedly, Seehofer will probably hand over the party chair before a special party conference in January.

Although his mandate as interior minister will continue until 2021, Seehofer could also give up this role ahead of time, it is also being said.

According to media reports, the CSU politician acknowledged that high government posts, such as his and Angela Merkel’s, could not be kept for a long time without also being party chair and that the Chancellor would also realise this. An official statement on Seehofer’s intentions is expected in the course of this week.

Should Seehofer also resign as interior minister in the coming year, it will be necessary to find a suitable CSU successor. Bavaria’s minister-president Markus Söder, who replaced Seehofer in that position in March, is considered to be Seehofer’s long-term political rival.

However, Söder has repeatedly emphasised that he does not want to go into politics on the national level. Bavaria’s Minister of the Interior Joachim Hermann has announced the same thing, despite being the CSU’s lead candidate in the 2017 German federal elections and being seen as a possible candidate for Seehofer’s position for quite some time. However, he confirmed just last week that he felt bound by his mandate in Bavaria.

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The EPP chair, Manfred Weber, is also currently under discussion – but the likelihood of him running as a candidate for the CSU chair may be modest as he is in the middle of an election campaign to become president of the European Commission.

It was just last week that Weber was chosen over his Finnish colleague Alexander Stubb as the party’s “Spitzenkandidat” at the EPP congress in Helsinki.

At the weekend, Bavaria’s former minister-president Edmund Stoiber also voiced his opinion, saying that Seehofer should step down as party chair. As far as a successor was concerned, Stoiber showed a clear preference for Markus Söder, whom Stoiber himself had appointed to be CSU general secretary in 2003.

“I could feel that he carried the CSU’s DNA and this says: we always want to win,” Stoiber said in support of Söder.

Calls for Seehofer to resign had been getting increasingly louder in recent weeks. In Berlin, he is regarded as a disruptive influence within the Grand Coalition because of his political provocations against Chancellor Merkel.

For instance, Seehofer openly opposed Merkel in June when he wanted to close Bavaria’s borders to refugees who had already been registered. As a result, he forced her to seek concessions on asylum policy at the EU summit. Seehofer also lost many of his supporters’ sympathy during the Maaßen scandal.

This was because of his protective stance towards the criticised former head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Finally, the result of the Bavarian regional elections in October, where the CSU lost 10.5% of votes, strengthened calls for Seehofer to step down.

According to party circles, Seehofer had always perceived these to be unfair. The question of whether he will actually give up the ministerial post remains unanswered.

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The opposition is now loudly demanding Seehofer’s resignation. The head of the Green fraction, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, told Der Tagesspiegel “if it’s a matter of internal security in our country, there can’t be any more stalemates”, adding that Seehofer’s policies of exclusion and division” were “a security risk” for German society.

On the side of the SPD, which is making efforts to renew its reputation, there is concern about the Grand Coalition’s stability considering events in the Union of CDU and CSU. Today, the head of the young socialists, Kevin Kühnert, told Deutschlandfunk: “The next year will be full of elections and political developments that will have a major impact. I find it hard to believe that we will overcome this year.”

Seehofer only wants to comment on his future plans once Söder has presented the new Bavarian cabinet today. After Sunday’s CSU meeting, he told journalists he would first go home because that was always the best place to make decisions.

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