Edmund Stoiber, the right-wing Eurosceptic Bavarian leader, is in line to become the next German foreign minister if, as expected, the conservatives win this autumn's general election, in a move that would transform Berlin's policies on Europe.
Party sources revealed that the 63-year-old intends to give up his job as Bavarian prime minister after the September election. Mr Stoiber is a fierce opponent of Turkey's accession to the European Union.
Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper said he had given a "personal undertaking" to Angela Merkel, the conservative leader, that he would serve in her government if she defeats the Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. Opinion polls predict that Mrs Merkel's Christian Democrats are on course to win an absolute majority in the election.
For Mr Stoiber, who was narrowly defeated when he stood for chancellor in the 2002 general election, the post of foreign minister would mark a significant comeback. Nicknamed the "Bavarian pit bull", Mr Stoiber is well known for his tough anti-immigration stance, his opposition to European enlargement and above all as the driving force behind conservative attempts to block Turkey's membership of the EU.
In stark contrast to Germany's pro-European political mainstream, Mr Stoiber opposed the introduction of the euro and called for a national referendum on European enlargement. He was also one of the few German politicians to demand that the abortive European constitution be subject to a national referendum.
Mr Stoiber is not a Christian Democrat. He is leader of its smaller Bavarian sister, the right-wing Christian Social Union, a party often viewed with suspicion by CDU members because of its male-dominated, traditional Catholic roots.
As foreign minister he would reverse many of the EU policies espoused by Mr Schröder's coalition of Social Democrats and Greens and put Germany on a far more nationalist course likely to conflict, in particular, with Britain during the second half of its EU presidency.
Turkey could become a major source of friction between the two countries. Tony Blair, who will back American attempts to give Turkey full EU membership during Britain's presidency, is certain to run into stiff opposition to the idea from Germany's conservatives. In her first major interview since she became the conservative candidate for chancellor, Mrs Merkel insisted last week that the EU had reached the "limits of its ability to integrate" as a consequence of its enlargement policies.
However, she added in a reference to Turkey: "We will have to abide by our agreements regarding Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia, but then we will have reached a point where we have to draw the line."
Mr Stoiber has in the past made it clear that he objects to the federalist polices on Europe adopted by Joschka Fischer, Germany's current Foreign Minister, who is a member of the Green Party. "On the economic front, Mr Stoiber is far more interested in a free market, competitive Europe that corresponds more with the British model," said an analyst at Germany's German-French institute.
Mr Stoiber's support for free-market economics in Europe might bring him closer to Britain and its demands for fundamental changes in European policy making.
However, it is doubtful whether he would accept British demands for a radical restructuring of the Common Agricultural Policy that were set out by Mr Blair last week.
A powerful farmers' lobby in Bavaria has persuaded the rank-and-file of Mr Stoiber's Christian Social Union that any unravelling of EU farm subsidy policy should be opposed.Reuse content