Putting an end to months of speculation, Germany's leader yesterday finally named his successor. Imre Karacs in Bonn reports on the announcement which heralds the dawn of the post-Kohl era.
The King has spoken. "My wish is that Wolfgang Schauble should one day become Federal Chancellor," pronounced Helmut Kohl during a television interview.
The party he has led to four successive victories will interpret that as a royal command. Never before has the 67-year-old leader of the Christian Democrats bestowed such an honour on anyone, although he had hinted Mr Schauble was his favoured dauphin.
Mr Kohl had always been led by the maxim that anointing a successor turns the incumbent into a lame duck. But it has become apparent in the last of his 15-year reign that the party and the country want change. They would vote one last time for a chancellor named Helmut Kohl, but on the understanding that he would hand over to the younger generation during his last term. Even for the faithful, the thought of 20 years under Helmut Kohl seemed too horrible to contemplate.
Mr Schauble, 55, fits the bill. He may lack the folksy qualities of his boss, but he enjoys a great deal of popularity, and is reputed to possess one of the sharpest intellects on the German political scene. He is a consumate deal-maker, blessed, unlike his boss, with an astounding eye for detail. Whether he also has a broader vision required in the top job is a subject of debate.
The contrast between Mr Schauble's vigour and Chancellor Kohl's depleting energy has become obvious of late. On Monday, Christian Democrat delegates attending their party's conference in Leipzig yawned through a lacklustre Kohl speech. A day later, they were on their feet, warmly applauding Mr Schauble's electrifying analysis of the tasks ahead.
Mr Schauble has filled the number-two post since 1991, becoming leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group after a miraculous recovery from an assassination attempt. The attack, by a deranged man, left him a paraplegic, confining him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
The question deemed too distasteful to ask for a long time was finally posed by Stern magazine earlier this year. "Can a cripple run Germany?" screamed the cover. "I know I could actually do any job," was Mr Schauble's firm reply.
Before his current assignment, he had served as interior minister, headed the chancellery and administered the national party organisation. What he has never done is work in the provinces; a point repeatedly made by opponents.
But he has been a loyal, competent supporter of Mr Kohl. He has taken flak for many cock-ups, but emerged unscathed. He is credited with drawing up the government's tax reform proposals, but escaped popular censure when they fizzled out this summer. Mr Schauble appears to be as firm a believer in European integration and monetary union as the Chancellor. He fits the bill "son of Kohl" perfectly.
There is, of course, the little matter of elections to consider before the coronation. There are still 11 months before Germans go to the polls. Assuming a Kohl victory, the Chancellor's script foresees the introduction of the euro on 1 January 1999, the government's move to Berlin later that year, and then abdication in a blaze of glory. It is assumed that Mr Schauble is patient enough to wait that long. Whether Germany can is another matter.
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