Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Back to the old days in Germany?

Once upon a time the typical German agriculture minister was a member of the CSU from Bavaria. Of course, sometimes the minister came from another Land and was a member of the FPD or the CDU. But wherever they came from, the ministers were male, had close ties to the agriculture industry and evidently enjoyed good food and beer. Those from Bavaria were particularly attuned to the concerns of the relatively small-scale, often part-time and potentially marginal farmers of this distinctive southern and Catholic part of Germany.

All this was shaken up an urban German Green woman, Renate Kunast, took over a changed farm portfolio that paid greater attention to food safety, food quality and consumer concerns. Organic farming was viewed with particular favour. Whether she made as great a difference as was initially hoped (or feared) remains an open question. It does seem, however, that the changed portfolio title with its emphasis on consumer affairs will be kept.

Now the CSU is back in the agriculture portfolio in Angela Merkel's Grand Coalition. Ministerial responsibilities have not yet been finalised, but the man tipped by the media to be Germany's new farm minister is the CDU/CSU's former deputy leader, Horst Seehofer.

German agricultural wire service Agrimanager describes Seehofer as a 'controversial health expert,' who has previously been responsible for agricultural matters in his party, but 'has not yet gained real standing in this sector'.

In other words, the former health minister looks like a bit of a wild card at first sight, someone with a base in his party, but not necessarily linked into the traditional farm policy networks. So it may not be back to business as usual.

Our Munich correspondent comments, 'You are right to suggest that Seehofer is not the traditional CSU guy. He resigned from his role as deputy leader of the CDU/CSU in Parliament in 2004 because he disagreed with the party's policy, in other words he resigned on the basis of his convictions.'

'What would be far more worrying from my perspective would be alternative being discussed at the moment, Michael Glos, who is known not least for calling Fischer and Trittin "eco-stalinists"'. And he is very traditional.'

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