Obituary: Max Streibl

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The Independent Culture
THE AMIGO affair sounded like a follow up to one of those American musicals of the 1940s, Down Argentine Way or Brazil. But it was a much more serious drama played out in southern Germany, not Argentina, and it involved the Minister-President (Prime Minister) of Bavaria, Max Streibl.

Streibl was forced to resign on 27 May 1993 after allegations that he favoured his "amigo", Burkhart Grob, an aviation entrepreneur, who wanted to get lucrative defence contracts. Streibl had accepted free flights, holidays and visits to the "amigo's" Brazilian ranch. He also used the planes and cars of Bavarian firms for private purposes. Earlier in 1993 the Federal Defence Minister Volker Ruhe cancelled orders for the US- designed Lapas high-altitude reconnaissance plane, to be built under licence in Bavaria. This was seen as a move linked to the "amigo" scandal.

Max Streibl was born in Oberammergau in 1932 and studied law at the University of Munich. He joined the Bavarian State Chancellery in 1960. Two years later he was elected to the Bavarian parliament. His progress was rapid. He served as Minister for Land Development and Environment from 1970 to 1977 and then as Finance Minister of Bavaria, 1977-88. These were key ministries in this 11-million-strong state, a base for hi-tech industries, home of many banks yet maintaining a strong agricultural sector.

Streibl owed his early success to his position as Secretary-General of the Christian Social Union (CSU) from 1967 to 1971 and to his friendship with Franz Josef Strauss. The CSU is Germany's most successful political party and although it has always had an alliance with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the rest of Germany, it regards itself as having a distinctive identity. In the Bavarian regional election of 1970 the CSU increased its share of the poll from 48.1 per cent to 56.4 per cent. This absolute majority was maintained to the 1990s. In the German federal elections it was the same story, with the CSU scoring an absolute majority in Bavaria from 1957 onwards. From that date the CSU has led the government in Bavaria.

Streibl was elected Minister- President of Bavaria in 1988 following the death of his predecessor and mentor, Franz Josef Strauss. Yet in some ways his election was a reaction against Strauss. Strauss longed for power in Bonn having held office as Defence Minister and Finance Minister. Driven from national office he sought, as Bavarian Minister-President from 1978, to project himself and his state internationally. He visited South Africa, Pinochet's Chile and Communist East Germany, irritating Chancellor Kohl in the process. Strauss was the first national (federal) politician to hold this position.

Usually the Minister-President was someone not looking for a role beyond Bavaria. Streibl appeared content to run Bavaria. Strauss had also been CSU leader so the chairmanship of the CSU went, not to Streibl, but Theo Waigel, chairman of the CSU group in the federal parliament, the Bundestag. This reduced the concentration of power within the CSU but emphasised the CSU's continuing interest in a federal role.

Together, Streibl and Waigel faced a potentially dangerous challenge in Bavaria. This came from the party of the so-called Republikaner founded by Bavarian Franz Schonhuber, former deputy editor-in-chief of the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation, and other disaffected CSU members in 1987. It supported German re-unification and neutralism. It was anti-Nato, anti- EEC, anti-corruption and, above all, against West Germany's "guest workers". It looked like stealing the CSU's thunder with its strong stand on law and order. It struck a chord among a significant number of Germans, by no means all of them extremists, who feared Germany would disappear in a nuclear holocaust, be destroyed by the corruption of its elite or be overrun by foreigners.

Streibl and his colleagues were shocked when the Republicans broke into the West Berlin Parliament in February 1989. After the election he said, "We aren't anti-foreigner, but our country has the right, just like other countries, to keep its own identity."

In an effort to help the CSU, Kohl promoted Waigel to Finance Minister, the third most important cabinet post. Neither Streibl's words of reassurance to more conservative-minded voters nor Waigel's promotion failed to stop Schonhuber, and two other Republicans, being elected to the European Parliament later in the year. With a federal election looming in 1990 the CSU was as worried as its sister party, Kohl's CDU.

The situation was transformed within months by Die Wende, the revolt that brought about the end of Communist East Germany and the restoration of German unity. Streibl's CSU sought to have an influence in this direction by backing a new party in the disintegrating East Germany, the German Social Union (DSU), which for a short time appeared a significant party. With Kohl putting his party's weight behind the East German CDU, a former satellite of the Communists, the DSU soon faded. In the first all-German elections of 1990 Kohl's CDU swept back to power and with it Streibl's CSU. The Republicans virtually disappeared. In the regional elections the CSU maintained its absolute majority with 54.9 per cent.

Streibl's political successes attracted the attentions of industrialists and bankers and he was invited to the supervisory boards of several companies such as Bayernwerk AG, Messerschmidt-Bolkow, Rhein-Main Donau AG, Lufthansa and so on. He also penned a number of volumes like Verantwortung fur Alle, Die Freiheit fordert jeden ("Responsibility For All, Freedom Challenges Everyone", 1980). Once the accusations against him started to mount he soon found that his colleagues felt he had failed the challenge which freedom demands. It was a case of adios amigo!

David Childs

Max Streibl, politician: born Oberammergau, Germany 6 January 1932; Minister-President of Bavaria 1988-93; married 1960 Irmingard Junghans (two sons, one daughter); died Munich 11 December 1998.