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Birthday: Far away and still here: Horst Seehofer turns 75

Birthday: Far away and still here: Horst Seehofer turns 75
Birthday: Far away and still here: Horst Seehofer turns 75

He was a federal minister, head of the CSU and Bavarian prime minister. He was respected – and controversial. Now Horst Seehofer, perhaps one of the last great political warriors of the republic, is turning 75.

Horst Seehofer is gone, far away. For someone who has been at the forefront of politics for more than four decades, always under fire, always in the spotlight, he has managed to exit in an astonishing way. He had barely given up his last top post as Federal Minister of the Interior at the end of 2021 when he had already disappeared from the scene. Since then, he has made one or two somewhat larger appearances, most recently in the European election campaign for the CSU’s top candidate Manfred Weber, but that’s all. In conversation, one gets the impression that the former top politician Seehofer is now an extremely content political pensioner. Old companions confirm this.

Phantom pains, like many others before him? Not to be found. “That was my intention – and I succeeded,” he says. And what Seehofer is still keeping (and what many would not have thought him capable of): that he, who was once able to shake up coalitions or unsettle his entire party with just a few words, has now remained silent for two and a half years, apart from very rare exceptions. Today he is celebrating his 75th birthday.

Seehofer is enjoying his new, quieter life far away from Munich and Berlin. “It’s an incredible liberation: no more pressure to take responsibility, no more being tied to fixed plans. I only do feel-good appointments and do things that I enjoy,” he says. “I’m involved here locally with the universities, the church, and sports clubs, and I help with advice and sometimes with action. I also spend a lot of time outdoors, go to lots of regulars’ tables and discussion groups with friends. I never get bored.” And Seehofer reads a lot, rides his bike, e-bikes, and works on digitizing his model railway on the side. He scans the news every day, but he only reads a few articles in full.

“I don’t go on any talk shows”

As a pensioner, Seehofer has not been seen at CSU party conferences or board meetings. “I refrain completely from making public statements, except for maybe one interview a year. I don’t go on any talk shows either,” he says, stressing: “Above all, the basic decision not to judge my successor’s policies was the right one.” It must be said, however, that it is well known how bad Seehofer’s relationship with the current Prime Minister and CSU leader Markus Söder is. This does not require any new interviews, from either of them.

Söder congratulates Seehofer in advance – of course without mentioning all of this: Bavaria has a lot to thank him for. “He managed crises in difficult times, actively shaped the future and gave people confidence as a father of the country.” Seehofer has earned great merit as a thoroughbred politician and can look back on an impressive life’s work.

What Seehofer said in a recent interview with the “Augsburger Allgemeine” newspaper about the situation of the CDU and CSU is interesting: that he sees the potential for the Union as a whole at 30 to 40 percent, and for the CSU at “well over 40 percent.” “But we are currently only reaching the lower end, at best.” In recent years, no election result has actually been achieved since his time. “I am only describing facts, without accusations,” Seehofer adds. And who does he think is the right man for the Union’s candidate for chancellor, CDU leader Friedrich Merz? “Yes,” says Seehofer. “He is doing his job very well as party and parliamentary group leader. He has brought the CDU into order.”

More than four decades of politics

Seehofer’s life’s work is not seriously questioned, not even by his political opponents and rivals. He has devoted a large part of his life, more than four decades in total, to politics. He sat in the Bundestag for the CSU for a total of 28 years. He rose to the position of federal minister, party leader and Bavarian prime minister. He has experienced highs and lows like few others, both personally and politically. In 2002 he suffered myocarditis, which almost cost him his life.

And Seehofer also experienced ups and downs politically: his entire career was at stake when he had to resign as deputy parliamentary group leader in the Bundestag in a dispute over health policy. Years later, he lost the battle for the CSU chairmanship to his rival Erwin Huber – before finally winning the position after the state election failure in 2008.

As Bavarian Prime Minister, Seehofer ruled for several years in an unassailable manner – but not without controversy: His critics accused him of an autocratic style of government. And of being a merciless populist who changed course like a weather vane in the wind.

“Social conscience” of the CSU

One of Seehofer’s historical achievements is a trip that took him to Prague at the end of 2010. It was Seehofer who ended a political ice age after a long dispute over the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans: with the first visit of a Bavarian head of government to Prague, he opened a completely new chapter in relations with the Czech Republic. And what also distinguished Seehofer: a social compass that many politicians seem to lack today. He was once called the “social conscience” of the CSU, with an eye for the “little people” – he himself had also worked his way up from poorer circumstances.

“The best office was actually the office of Prime Minister, because of the contact with so many people all over the country,” says Seehofer today. “Some even think that you are the king’s successor, and that hasn’t changed to this day. And the best experience was that we were able to win back the absolute majority in the state parliament in 2013.”

Victories and bitter defeats

But highs like these were followed by painful defeats for Seehofer in Bavaria too. He delayed the end of his career as Bavarian Prime Minister and as CSU leader, despite repeated electoral defeats. Until the growing pressure within the CSU finally forced him to give up his office in installments. It was one of Seehofer’s last bitter defeats: he had to make way for his long-time rival Söder.

But Seehofer continued – in Berlin. At the age of 68, Seehofer became Federal Minister of the Interior at the beginning of 2018, with responsibilities also for construction and homeland. Under Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he had previously argued for years about refugee policy.

But Seehofer remained true to himself: Even in his new position, he occasionally turned half the country against him. Once he threatened Merkel with resignation in a spectacular manner, and again the issue was asylum and refugee policy – only to give in in the end. Seehofer always presented spectacular volte-faces as completely consistent, in a tone of conviction.

Looking back, he only sees a few of his own mistakes. “I would design my first reform as Federal Minister of Health differently today, more flexible, not so harsh,” he says. He does not accept criticism that he slowed down the construction of power lines or wind turbines as Bavarian Prime Minister. “I stand by what we decided, 100 percent,” he says. “We avoided a lot of unrest as a result.”

What does he wish for the future? “Politically, I have one wish: that much more is done for children from disadvantaged families – so that they also receive a decent education. Education is the gateway to life,” he says. “And personally, I really only have one wish: health for those around me and for myself.”

Source: Stern

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