It's official. German conservative CSU economics minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has just overtaken Chancellor Angela Merkel to become the country's most popular politician.
According to a recent poll, the 37-year-old shooting star - whose friends refer to him as "KT" - scores an impressive +2.1 rating (on a scale ranging from -5 to +5). Two-thirds of all Germans now say that they like how the minister is handling his challenging portfolio during the current global economic crisis. Zu Guttenberg's skyrocketing polling numbers are even more amazing if one considers that he is a strong free-market advocate who is instinctively skeptical about the role that expensive government interventions can and should play in turning around the economy.
Apart from his eloquence, personal likeability, and good sense of humor, people are probably most attracted by zu Guttenberg's political independence and his willingness to speak up and fight for what he believes is right. These rare maverick qualities were impressively displayed during the recent show-down over GM's Opel subsidiary, when zu Guttenberg emerged as the last principled defender of free-market economics and fiscal prudence in opposing a risky multi-billion dollar bailout package for the ailing carmaker. Conservatives in his native Bavaria and elsewhere are thrilled about the minister's firm stand in Berlin.
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg's rise in German politics can already be described as meteoric. The scion of a well-known Franconian noble family (his grandfather was a co-founder of Bavaria's Christian Social Union CSU party), zu Guttenberg was first elected to the Bundestag in 2002. A frequent visitor to the United States, he quickly became well-known in Washington's political circles, focusing on hot-button issues such as Iran, Afghanistan, and Russia. After a three-month stint as CSU secretary-general, zu Guttenberg was appointed German economics minister in early February of this year, following the surprise resignation of Michael Glos. Given his impressive political talents and performance, there can be no doubt that Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is the German politician to watch in the coming years.
Ulf Gartzke is the director of the Hanns-Seidel-Foundation's Washington Office and a member of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg's CSU party.