Boris Rhein in Hesse: Mission to Preserve Power


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Status: 31/05/2022 08:34

He was not the first choice to succeed Bouffier, but now Boris Rhein must secure power in the state for the Hesse CDU. The mark of the election loser was already pasted to him. Who is the man?

The CDU has been prime minister of Hesse for 23 years. The now 70-year-old Volker Bouffier held the post for well over half of this time. The long-awaited generational change must now end in the state parliament with the election of Boris Rhein as the new head of government.

The political mission of the incumbent president of the state parliament of Frankfurt is to retain power. The change takes place deliberately a year and a half before the next state election in Hesse. The math: The chances of success for the new top candidate increase with the popularity of a prime minister.

“Younger, more colorful, more feminine” – this is the recipe the 50-year-old Rhine wants to decree for the traditionally conservative Hessian Union. He is also interested in opening up to content and styles. The CDU is to become a “citizens’ and hands-on party” when the Rhine also takes over the chairmanship of the Hesse CDU from Bouffier this summer.

Start as a beacon of hope

It is astonishing enough that such an abundance of power is promised to him at all. For many years he was branded as the election loser.

He once started as a CDU hopeful in state politics. In 2009, the Rhine became State Secretary in the Interior Ministry, which at the time was headed by Bouffier. His boss became prime minister in 2010, and the Rhine took over the post. Domestic politician Rhein polarized with his harsher image.

“I am a very consistent advocate for a very strong state because it protects especially the weaker members of society,” the devout Catholic said. He advocated tougher penalties for violence against public officials and the controversial data retention. In an affair about police intrigue, he got up: the head of the state criminal investigation office he had fired complained that she was back in office.

Career break in Frankfurt

In 2012, a failed attempt to become mayor of Frankfurt led to a career break. The far lesser-known SPD politician Peter Feldmann won the victory, which was believed to be certain. From then on, the label “election losers” stuck to the defeated CDU candidate. Within the state government, the Rhine finally had to switch to the less important science department.

In early 2019, however, he was given stature in a new role: he became president of the state parliament. Enjoyable, balanced and sovereign, he led a parliament which the AfD had just moved into and which had previously been regarded as one of the most turbulent in the republic.

Even in difficult situations, the Rhein struck the right note. After the killing of nine people with a migration background in Hanau, he attested that Germany had a looming problem of right-wing extremism – “here, here, in Germany of all places.”

Not first choice

Nevertheless, under normal circumstances, the Rhine would probably never have become Prime Minister. The established Bouffier actually relied on other followers for the role. The Rhine was never his first choice.

Eventually, however, it all came to the Rhine, and Bouffier proposed him as successor to the State Chancellery in Wiesbaden. The two do not have an unproblematic relationship. But another candidate in Bouffier’s favor, with future prospects, accepted by the CDU and the green coalition partner was not in sight.

Boris Rhein will succeed Volker Bouffier as head of government in Hesse.

Image: dpa

A majority of one vote

The prime ministerial election is near. Black-Green has only one vote more in the state parliament than the opposition. When it started in 2013, the black-green coalition of the once deeply divided parties was the first alliance of its kind in a non-urban country. Everything always ran smoothly from the outside. Before the Rhine election, Green Party leader Mathias Wagner signaled reliability: “We are dying to continue implementing the coalition agreement.”

In return, the Rhine underlined its excellent relationship with the Greens. On another occasion, however, he warned the CDU against strategically committing itself unilaterally to them as partners. The Union should never ignore the SPD and the FDP.

Three-way battle in the autumn of 2023

“Politically, but not party-politically” – Rhein will not be able to continue to follow its motto as Speaker of Parliament as Prime Minister. The closer the state election in the fall of 2023 comes, the more the relationship with the alliance partner is likely to come under stress

With the popular Minister of the Economy Tarek Al-Wazir at the helm, the Greens hope to be able to nominate the Prime Minister for the first time. For the SPD, the name of state chairman and Federal Secretary of the Interior Nancy Faeser keeps coming up. She is not yet said to have ticked off a candidacy. The Rhine must expect a close three-way battle.

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