- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

Roland Koch, the governor of the German state of Hesse who is visiting Washington this week, is seen at home as a youthful politician who gives German conservatives new hope after three years of frustration and failure.
More than 170 guests, among them former U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Burt, attended a dinner forum with Mr. Koch on Tuesday organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
They wanted to hear what the rising star of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had to say about Germany's role as de facto leader of Europe's economy in an age of globalization.
Mr. Koch, 43, who is fluent in English, harshly criticized Germany's leftist government for having failed to deregulate the welfare system and labor market.
"Right now, we are not the engine of Europe's economy," he said. "Instead, Germany has the smallest growth rate in all of Europe."
Mr. Koch predicted that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of the Social Democratic Party would be unable to realize his promise to reduce unemployment.
Ever since the downfall of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the Christian Democrats have suffered from a deep identity crisis.
In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Koch said his party was still recovering from the campaign finance scandal that led to the resignation of Mr. Kohl and other leading conservatives from the party last year.
But he was optimistic that the CDU could win federal elections in September 2002.
"The race is open," Mr. Koch said. Polls suggest that the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and the Green Party is losing ground because of Germany's economic decline.
Mr. Koch urged the German government to preserve good relations with the Bush administration.
"We are very interested in a close partnership with the United States," he said. "Despite certain differences of opinion, we have to recognize that President Bush has appointed a very experienced team. In recent months, he has gained a lot of respect abroad. But somebody who likes to make strong decisions must also expect that not everybody agrees."
Mr. Koch called for international participation in the development of missile defense.
"In view of the growing spread of nuclear weapons, we Christian Democrats are convinced that we need to install a new defense system," he said. "But we also hope that this will not result in a purely national enterprise and thus in a new arms race.
"Most of my political friends in Germany are of the opinion that the planned missile defense system should become an allied NATO project, which other nations would be able to join."
Mr. Koch criticized the Bush administration for abandoning the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.
"I understand the arguments against the protocol," he said. "Still, it would have been better if the United States had signed the treaty.
"It is always dangerous for a nation to stand isolated, no matter how powerful this nation is. We have to make sure that globalization will not destroy our planet."
During his visit in Washington, Mr. Koch met with several members of the Bush administration, among them U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.
At the Heritage Foundation, he discussed the issue of "passionate conservatism" with Heritage Vice President Adam Myerson.
Conservatives in Germany were impressed by Mr. Bush's victory and planned to adopt his campaign theme in elections next year.
Known as a hard-liner on issues like immigration or social policy, Mr. Koch is not immune from criticism at home.
In April 1999, he won the gubernatorial election in Hesse with a campaign against foreigners.
As a close political ally of Mr. Kohl, he also was involved in the campaign finance scandal. The fact that the politician survived makes him, in the eyes of his followers, Mr. Kohl's political heir.
Mr. Koch is widely expected to eventually replace East German politician Angela Merkel as leader of the Christian Democrats.
Many conservatives in Germany also hope Mr. Koch will run for the office of chancellor next year.
But Mr. Koch said his primary goal is to be re-elected as governor of Hesse. If he succeeds, many would consider his candidacy for chancellor in 2006 a sure bet.

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