Marcus Zoeder is many things: Prime Minister of the state of Bavaria; a conservative who believes in combating climate change; and a fan of Star Trek.
The question the Germans are asking now is: can the 54-year-old Zöder gain enough support across the political spectrum to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor this fall?
Zoeder, who was once dismissed as a provincial rebel prone to arguing and wearing ugly carnival costumes, was launched on the national stage last year when the first cases of coronavirus in Germany were confirmed in Bavaria.
In recent months, he has devotedly supported Merkel, whose calm approach to the pandemic has been praised in Germany and abroad, strongly defending quarantine measures, although other provincial prime ministers have been hesitant.
The pandemic is “a big test we have to go through,” Söder said in an interview with the Associated Press, outlining the next steps in the Conservatives’ leadership race and talking about his love for America and dislike of Donald Trump. Zoeder is now complaining to the European Commission, accusing it of the slow distribution of COVID-19 vaccines on the continent.
The European Union “ordered vaccines too late, too little and, in my opinion, too stingy,” he said. “The approach to vaccines was like the way one can usually order paper clips.”
The Brussels-based body is often attacked by national politicians in the EU. But Söder’s criticism falls on EC President Ursula von der Leyen, a German woman who is also a member of the bloc in which Merkel’s Christian Democrats and Söder’s Bavarian Christian Social Union are unequal partners.
Söder’s complaints have weight because of Bavaria’s very important role in Germany: it is the largest province in the country and its economic engine.
Zöder, who was born in Nuremberg and is the son of a construction contractor, spoke of his initial enthusiasm for conservative politics. While other students protested against what they saw as U.S. imperialism, Zoeder, who grew up near a U.S. military hospital and regularly visited the Army Pizza and Ice Cream Shop, recalled attending a demonstration in support of the first Gulf War.
“I was standing not far from here on a wooden box and demonstrating in support of the United States,” he said.
Zoeder said his love for America was tested by Trump, who regularly criticized allies like Germany and threatened to withdraw US troops stationed there. “No one who is a true admirer of the United States understood why the United States, as a beacon of freedom, no longer wanted to be with us,” he said, adding that he was encouraged by statements by the new Biden government that it would keep the bases. in Germany.
Zoeder agrees that Germany should pay more for its defense – a demand that the United States made before Trump’s rule.
“Allocating more money to NATO – completely right. Expanding and strengthening NATO – completely right,” he said. “But we are not small children. We are partners, not vassals or subordinates.”
Unlike most German politicians, Zoeder, a father of four, speaks openly about his Christian faith. “I am a believer,” he said in his office near Nuremberg’s St. Lawrence Gothic Church. “I draw some strength from faith.”
This belief also includes the belief that
protecting the environment is a religious duty.
“Preserving creation is a conservative idea,” he said, insisting that caring for the environment and economic progress can go hand in hand. “It’s the same as with the coronavirus: the economic damage in the long run is much greater and more severe if we do nothing.”
Zoeder, whose province is the birthplace of carmakers BMW and Audi, was puzzled when he proposed banning conventional internal combustion engines by 2035.
The journalist of the Munich daily “Süddeutsche Zeitung” Roman Daininger, who wrote a biography of Söder, said that the Bavarian prime minister is able to make radical decisions when he realizes that they are necessary, even if he has to change his position.
Following the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, 10 years ago, Soder, then Bavaria’s environment minister, withdrew his support for nuclear energy. Under pressure from the far-right Alternative for Germany party, Söder took an anti-immigrant course three years ago during a provincial election campaign. This had the opposite effect, contributing to his party losing its absolute majority in the Bavarian parliament.
Last week, Zoeder, a skilled orator who likes to make colorful comparisons, attacked Alternative for Germany, accusing it of “hatred and incitement.” “Their place is in Mordor,” he said, referring to the country of the villain Sauron in J.W.’s fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings. R. R. Tolkien.
The Union bloc will decide who to nominate as chancellor in the coming months. Merkel’s party, which rules in 15 of Germany’s 16 provinces, recently elected North Rhine-Westphalia’s Prime Minister Armin Laschet as its new leader.
But opinion polls show that Soder, who proudly shows off his Star Trek cup during interviews and has more than 250,000 followers on Instagram and Twitter, is a more popular possible candidate in the Lashet party for the September national election.
Laschet recently questioned the long-running strict quarantine in Germany, warning of the damage it was doing to businesses. A few days later, Zoeder told party supporters that they could only win
“Merkel’s voices with Merkel’s policies”
– a clear warning to those who think it is time to break with its cautious course.
Zoeder said he and his 60-year-old rival would focus on controlling the pandemic for now, and then study the results of the two provincial votes next month. If support for the Conservatives dwindles, this will be seen as a liability for Lashet and could lead party lawmakers to shift their support to his Bavarian rival.
His biographer, Daininger, said Zoeder enjoyed political duels. “But he doesn’t fight if he doesn’t know he can win. Marcus Zoeder is obsessed with security.”
Zoeder himself stressed that he and Lashet “will sit down together and then make a proposal”, but made it clear that he believes nothing has been decided yet.
It is normal for the party’s larger branch to elect a candidate for chancellor for the September 26th elections, he admitted. “But let’s see what happens.” / BTA
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