- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Editor's note: The following is the first in a three-part series.

Maria never had the opportunity to talk foreign policy with former chancellor and Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Helmut Kohl. She has never predicted the value of the euro and never dreamt the chancellor's dream of a walless capital city of Berlin. In fact, the only similarity the nine-month-old shares with the former chancellor seems to be a pleasantly-rounded chin and the ability to command a following in the congressional offices of Germany's lower house of parliament, the Reichstag. From her playpen headquarters in the office of her mother, Katja Reiche, Maria only has to look up to get an inside look at the CDU's new leadership.
Then again, the CDU should get used to seeing new faces. Maria's 26-year-old mother only served two years in the Bundestag before being elected to the elite 26-member executive committee at the party conference on April 11. Many of her newly elected committee colleagues are other 20- and 30-somethings whose exuberant and idealistic speeches during the party congress brought a new enthusiasm to a party long known as an old boys club.
Elected the morning after CDU leader Angela Merkel won 96 percent of the party's vote, Mrs. Reiche shares her leader's profile: a young scientist from the former East Germany, Protestant, a moderate conservative, interested in protecting women's and immigrant's rights. And like Mrs. Merkel, she is calling for an atmosphere of transparency and the creation of policy with a "human touch."
Two factors have contributed to their similar passion: growing up in a communist state and watching their party unravel in the last months as party members including the former chancellor were accused of financial improprieties. The investigation into illegal party donations, embezzlement, and the funneling of money into black bank accounts has given the women and their colleagues a desire for more honesty and the end of an era where CDU policy was treated as an intellectual endeavor not touching the common German's needs.
Mrs. Reiche said her interest in politics began with the fall of the wall, but like many 20-somethings, she didn't want to slap a label on her political ideals. "It took me six years to join a party," she told The Washington Times as she coaxed her digital daytimer from her daughter's curious hands. She was not sure if joining any party was the right thing for her, she said, because parties in the former East Germany were connected with the communist German Socialist Unity Party (SED).
"We have so many possibilities to take part and participate that wouldn't have been in a system of dictatorship. A party in a democracy is filled with life, especially if there are people within it involved in broad discussion. That doesn't mean the CDU is all this. We wouldn't have all these difficulties if we had been that open."
But she's grateful that there is no dictatorship controlling her political agenda, and that she doesn't have to live in fear of the German state security, the Stasi, who would be "ready to take you away" and "make your life very painful," she said.
As a chemist turned congresswoman, the young mother's top goals are connecting science and economy and enlarging the European Union, especially the Eastern block. She dreams of a new educational system where chemists and physicists can be taught how to create start-up companies, where businessmen with new ideas can be given a second chance through expanded bank loan opportunities or being able to file chapter 11.
She envisions a workplace where she no longer has to be chided by the men in her party about being both mother and professional, of government-sponsored day-care in the schools and part-time work opportunities for young mothers.
Though she wants to make such innovations law, she believes government's power should be limited. Of the ruling social democrats, she sees a tendency to wallow in self-pity: "What they forgot is a responsibility for self. A state can give security, but it can't create jobs," she said. That's a responsibility that she, and her new leader, Mrs. Merkel, are passionate about bringing back, but with a new focus on heart matters.
"To bring the market and humanity together at this time, this is what is demanded of us," Mrs. Merkel said to thousands of CDU members at the party congress in Essen. This was only party policy, Mrs. Merkel explained, "because of our foundation in the Christian understanding of man, which is our compass," she said.
What that means for a Christian party challenged for years by an atmosphere of cover-up over financial improprieties is a new atmosphere of openness. "If, for the sake of our policy, we are voting in the perspective of today's youth, then we're doing it because we want a policy that will be useful beyond today," Mrs. Merkel said. For the sake of Maria's generation, and the redemption of Mr. Kohl's, let's hope that youthful perspective of honesty is here to stay.

Sarah Means is an editorial writer for The Washington Times.

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