If Boris Rhein had brought his lead home on March 25, 2012, the CDU politician would probably have received the European Cup from Eintracht Frankfurt recently. But “should have” is a term that doesn’t go far either in politics or in sport. At that time, Rhein surprisingly lost in the runoff election for the Frankfurt mayoralty against his SPD challenger. It was a bitter defeat for the then Hessian interior minister. In the election campaign, the Conservatives had on Law
Ten years later everything should be different. On this Tuesday, Rhein will apply in a secret ballot in the Wiesbaden state parliament for the office of Prime Minister of Hesse. The 50-year-old lawyer is to succeed Germany’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Volker Bouffier, who is retiring at the age of 70. But again it could be a close election. The black-green coalition that Bouffier has led since the end of 2013 only has a one-vote majority in parliament.
In order to get the necessary support from the coalition partner, Rhein has worked on its image. Little remains of the tough security politician. Also because Rhein first moved to the Ministry of Science and Culture under Bouffier and has been President of the State Parliament in Wiesbaden since 2019.
In public appearances shortly before the election, he also expresses himself in a presidential manner. He embodies the attitude to life of the Hessians, said Rhein the day before the election of the “Frankfurter Neue Presse”. “I have a motto: Live and let live. That is a typical Hessian ideal of freedom.”
He is basically a liberal person. “If, for example, two people love each other and want to take responsibility for each other, that’s not a question of gender for me,” said Rhein in the interview. He also describes his economic policy as “liberal”, but adds: “But I am also convinced that we will have to talk more about socio-political issues in the future.”
Sentences that go down well with the Greens. “We are relieved that the personnel debates of the CDU are finally over,” says Mathias Wagner, leader of the Greens in the state parliament, the Tagesspiegel. The 29 Green MEPs would be ready to vote for Rhein. The 50-year-old has been known for years. “As with Mr. Bouffier, we also got to know two sides of Mr. Rhein: that of the domestic political hardliner and that of the non-partisan President of the State Parliament.”
For Wagner it is clear that Rhein in a coalition with the Greens cannot stick out the hardliners. The Greens want to pass a climate protection law and an integration law in this legislature, as well as push for an education reform and work out a cheap public transport ticket. The election of Rhein should not be a PR coup with a view to the state elections in autumn 2023. “The best way to warm up is to make good politics with good content,” says Wagner.
It’s not just the black-green coalition that has to hold the Rhine together. Hesse is drifting apart. The metropolis of Frankfurt has been booming for years with all the growing pains. Rents are skyrocketing, traffic is on the verge of collapse, and noise pollution is steadily increasing. In contrast, more and more people are migrating to the rural regions in North and East Hesse. Doctors, schools and buses are missing. “It’s dramatic in some places,” said Rhein of the “Frankfurter Neue Presse”.
In Hesse there is a tradition of long terms of office. Before Bouffier’s twelve years, Roland Koch had been in the State Chancellery for eleven years. “You sometimes feel like your own monument,” said Bouffier about his role in the Bundesrat in a farewell interview with the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. From there and as state chairman of the CDU, he always steered the fortunes of the party in Berlin from Hesse. However, his last big fight – to have Armin Laschet as a candidate for chancellor against CSU boss Markus Söder – turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory. “In retrospect, we would probably have achieved a better result with Markus Söder,” he told the “SZ”.
This time the plan should work, the CDU in Hesse has been working on Bouffier’s successor for a long time. If Rhein receives at least 69 votes, he could soon receive a trophy as Prime Minister. Eintracht will play Real Madrid in the Supercup final in August.