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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 15:07 GMT
German right-winger 'bidding for power'
Edmund Stoiber, Bavarian premier
Stoiber: Talented politician with populist tendencies
By Rob Broomby in Berlin

Officials of Germany's Christian Social Union, the sister party to the Christian Democrats, are meeting in Bavaria amid speculation that the arch-conservative state premier, Edmund Stoiber, may be considering putting himself forward as a candidate for the chancellorship in 2002.

The right's other hopefuls
Angela Merkel, CDU leader
Friedrich Merz, CDU parliamentary party leader
Laurenz Meyer, CDU general secretary
Roland Koch, CDU premier of Hessen
Only once since World War II has the CSU provided the joint CDU-CSU candidate for chancellor: In 1980, when arch-conservative Franz Josef Strauss was beaten by social democrat Helmut Schmidt.

The CDU-CSU group will not officially nominate its joint candidate for the chancellorship until early 2002, just months before the next federal election, but rumours are growing that Mr Stoiber might be prepared to reconsider his refusal to stand for Germany's top job.

Ahead of an annual meeting of the Bavarian CSU in the snowy village of Wildbad Kreuth, the party's parliamentary leader, Michael Glos, said Mr Stoiber was the great hope for the conservatives to beat the incumbent social democrat Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.

However, he added that his comments should not be interpreted as criticism of the CDU leader, Angela Merkel, who is still the most likely candidate. He said his party had great respect for her.

Stoibe dismisses the views of experts who have called for mass immigration to solve the problem of Germany's declining population and workforce, and has instead suggested paying families to have babies

Mr Kreuth's comments followed a report in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper which said Mr Stoiber had privately retreated from his comments that he was definitely not interested in standing.

It has always been assumed that he would only put himself forward as a challenger to Mr Schroeder if he stood a more than reasonable chance of winning, but as the other likely centre-right candidates have failed to shine, speculation has surfaced once again.

Daring policy initiatives

Ms Merkel, despite early promise, has failed to distinguish herself and has had her work cut out holding the party together.

The next likely name was that of the parliamentary party leader, Friedrich Merz, but he was left badly mauled after Chancellor Schroeder outmanoeuvred him and passed his tax reform policies through the second chamber last year. Attempts since then to strike a popular chord by attempting to make immigration an election campaign issue have provided divisive.

The newcomer as CDU general secretary, Laurenz Meyer, has won a reputation as a political rottweiler but still has no real power base at federal level.

And the other likely contender, Roland Koch, prime minister of Hessen, is still recovering from the state finance scandal which gripped the region in the wake of the Kohl affair.

Meanwhile, Mr Stoibe, who has a reputation as a talented politician with populist tendencies, has been launching daring policy initiatives of his own.

He dismisses the views of experts who have called for mass immigration to solve the problem of Germany's declining population and workforce, and has instead suggested paying families to have babies - at a rate of $480 per month for each child.

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