Political exile finds new angle in Saxony

LOCAL HEROES ": Kurt Beidenkopf

It is not often that Germany takes a stand against the power of the European Commission, and even more rarely does such resistance spring from within Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrat party. Yet that is exactly what a failed CDU leader has done - throwing down the gauntlet to Brussels from his place of exile in eastern Germany.

Kurt Biedenkopf, Prime Minister of Saxony, has declared war on Brussels and Bonn, shattering the illusion of consensus about the country's place in Europe. "Centralism is dangerous for Europe," Mr Biedenkopf proclaimed after announcing that he was taking the Commission to court.

Mr Biedenkopf had taken it upon himself to grant a subsidy of Dm142m (pounds 60m) to Volkswagen to invest in its two existing plants on his patch, defying an EC ruling that the subsidies would give the company an unfair advantage over competitors. "If you are in Brussels, you can't tell if some region needs 5 million marks to help stop unemployment," he said. "You can only know such things if you are close to the problem."

You cannot get much closer to the problem of mass unemployment than running one of the so-called "new Lander", a job Mr Biedenkopf found himself in almost by accident six years ago. A former general secretary of the CDU and long-time rival of Mr Kohl, he was driven out of Bonn at the age of 60 and took up a law professorship at Leipzig University shortly after reunification.

In elections in 1990 to the regional assembly, the local party was looking for a credible leader, and Mr Biedenkopf, a Wessi (former West German) with an American degree in political science but no Saxon links other than his fresh appointment at Leipzig, was the best the Christian Democrats had. He won easily, obliterating the Social Democrat opposition; a feat he has been able to repeat in successive elections.

Western companies have been cajoled to regenerate the industry that had fallen into neglect, and Dresden's bombed- out Frauenkirche - emblem of its former splendour - is being rebuilt at huge expense. After six years of the Biedenkopf reign, the sea of economic failure that once covered the land has been transformed into an archipelago of gleaming factories.

Much of this is down to King Kurt's tireless lobbying, and to the sweeteners that have so enraged the EC. Without the contribution from the Land, subsidised in turn by the west German taxpayer, Volkswagen had been poised to take its business to Hungary or Slovenia - endangering some 23,000 precious jobs.

The Saxons are understandably ecstatic, and so are, surprisingly, Germans in other regions - with messages of "solidarity" flooding in.

Bonn presumably disapproves, but has yet to muster the courage to side openly with Brussels against a German region flouting European law.

As Saxony's adopted son awaits his day in court, Chancellor Kohl must be pondering the wisdom of allowing his adversary to slip out of sight. After six years in the wilderness, "King Kurt" is back, carrying the torch for the growing band of German Euro-sceptics.

Imre Karacs

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Electrician - Full Time Employed

£29000 - £37500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and increased ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Permanent Class Teachers Required for 2015/2016 - Suffolk

£21000 - £50000 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teachers seeking perma...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 5 Teacher Required For 2015/16 - Chelmsford

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: A popular, 'Good' school loc...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teachers Required in Norwich and Great Yarmouth

£20000 - £45000 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am working on behalf of a ...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food