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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 06:12 GMT 07:12 UK
Out of the Bavarian backwoods
View of Munich
Stoiber has overseen Bavaria's economic "miracle"

The tidy patchwork of fields, sprinkled with woods, cows, and clusters of smart settlements, certainly make Bavaria easier on the eye from the sky than the dreary landscape that surrounds Berlin.

And as the plane descends into Munich airport, Siemens' giant Center of Excellence crops up on the landscape - a reminder to new arrivals of Bavaria's much-touted transformation from agricultural backwater to high-tech haven.

This is the world which Bavarian leader Edmund Stoiber, the conservatives' candidate for the chancellory, is frantically trying to sell to the rest of Germany before the country goes to the polls next Sunday.

We can't change the rest of Germany overnight, but we can certainly hope to share some of our successes

Thomas Goppel
Stoiber aide
His biggest sales pitch: the fact that this staunchly-conservative state has one of the lowest unemployment rates in a country where the number of jobless refuses to go down.

Bavarian politicians used to defend fiercely the state's unique identity within Germany. Now Mr Stoiber and his Christian Social Union, the exclusively Bavarian conservative party, are offering a piece to everyone.

"Bavaria is like a little Germany," one of Mr Stoiber's closest aides, CSU Secretary-General Thomas Goppel, tells me. "All sorts of people live here - foreigners, Germans from the north as well as those from the south."

"If they didn't like the way we did things here they would have left a long time ago," he says. "We can't change the rest of Germany overnight, but we can certainly hope to share some of our successes."

Mr Stoiber, whose conservative coalition is neck-and-neck with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats in the opinion polls, has had to perform a delicate balancing act in this election campaign.

Edmund Stoiber
Mr Stoiber has taken risks to sell himself across Germany
Many non-Bavarian Germans have some serious reservations about their tradition-conscious, devoutly-Catholic southern neighbours.

Mr Stoiber may not be of the beer-swilling, feathered hat variety, but he has nonetheless been hard at work to persuade the voters of the north that he is simply a politician of the middle ground with a sound economic record during his nine years at the helm in Bavaria.

He appointed a single mother to head family policy in a future government, to the consternation of many traditionalists within his party and its senior sister party, the Christian Democratic Union, and has been quiet for most of the campaign on contentious issues like immigration - traditionally a CSU favourite.

Some observers suggested he could end up alienating his core support while wooing the outside world, but here on his hometurf of Wolfratshausen, a very green and leafy village just outside Munich, his ardent supporters are not perturbed.

Emorula Goetzinger
Emorula Goetzinger: "He still sticks to the same values"
"He has to win the north and that's why he's done it," says Emorula Goetzinger, a physiotherapist, pushing her bike. "But he still sticks to the same values."

"He has done so much good for Bavaria, and could do so much for the country if the north would just get over its prejudices and give him a chance.

"Mr Stoiber would deliver - on the economy, on stricter immigration policies, on everything. He may not be a good media performer like Schroeder, but he is man of actions, which Schroeder is not."

Even in Munich, the home of a Social Democrat mayor, no-one denies that Mr Stoiber has done a good job as Bavarian prime minister.

Mr Stoiber is no free marketeer. With a combination of state intervention to help out ailing businesses, and subsidies to lure high-tech companies here, he has successfully built on the policies of his predecessors.

Alexander Laurenzo
Alexander Laurenzo: "I find it hard to trust him"
"He has done well here," says Alexander Laurenzo, an SPD supporter. "And his election campaign has been dominated by his economic successes.

"But I find it hard to trust him - partly because the other election campaigns have been dominated by totally different issues - like immigration - and I'd say the CSU has some very questionable views on that."

It also remains distinctly unclear whether Mr Stoiber could pull off his economic policies on the national stage, while remaining committed to cutting public spending and direct taxation.

Even in Wolfrathausen, there are those who do not want Mr Stoiber to even start trying to bring Bavaria to Berlin.

"Mr Stoiber is very good at being a Bavarian politician, and he has done some things very well," says Christina Riedl as she made her way to the train station.

"But I want the current government in Berlin to have a chance to make good on what they've started. I do not want to see our Mr Stoiber in the chancellor's chair."

Gerhard Schroeder

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16 Sep 02 | Europe
13 Sep 02 | Europe
20 Aug 02 | Country profiles
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