“Sacred heart marxist” as state chairman

He is considered principled, conservative in values – and firmly rooted in his Christian faith. On Tuesday, CDU politician and former Economics Minister Reiner Haseloff will be sworn in as the new Minister President of Saxony-Anhalt. Then, for the first time, an East German Catholic is at the helm of this federal state.

Although Saxony-Anhalt already had a Catholic state leader in Werner Munch at the beginning of the 1990s, he did not come from the new federal states, but as a "western import" from Lower Saxony.

Haseloff belongs to a small minority with his denomination. Only about 3.5 percent of Saxony-Anhalt residents are Catholic. Party friends jokingly call him a "Sacred Heart Marxist". The 57-year-old himself does not hide the fact that faith gives him strength. He has a cross on his desk, and his wife picks out a Bible quote for him every day. Political appointments on Sunday morning are usually taboo for Haseloff.

Haseloff, who holds a degree in physics, joined the East German CDU in the mid-1970s. But it wasn’t until after the fall of communism that he rose to party leadership: he has been a member of the CDU state executive committee since 1990, and has been the party’s deputy state chairman since 1994. He has been a member of the CDU federal executive committee for two years.

Good relationship with the Kirch
In the eastern German state, the father of two children and grandfather of four grandchildren made a name for himself as a hard-working and unpretentious politician in the Ministry of Economics and Labor, first as state secretary and then, from 2006, as minister. He brought practical experience with him as the longtime director of the Wittenberg employment office. In Saxony-Anhalt, the unemployment rate fell from 18.3 to 12.5 percent during his term in office. The federal government took up the concept of civic work for the long-term unemployed, which he played a key role in developing.

Haseloff maintains a good relationship with the churches even as a politician. From the beginning, he supported the "Netzwerk Leben" (Life Network), which was set up by the diocese of Magdeburg in 2001 after the Catholic dioceses withdrew from the state system of pregnancy conflict counseling; since 2003, he has been a member of the foundation’s board of trustees.

As Minister of Economics, whose portfolio also includes the promotion of tourism, he placed great emphasis on spiritual tourism. He wants to recall the region’s long-forgotten ecclesiastical roots. Haseloff likes to point out at events that Saxony-Anhalt has the highest density of monasteries and churches in Germany and what opportunities this also offers culturally.

Church projects are important to him
His previous ministry supports the preservation of sacred buildings, such as the Benedictine monastery of Huysburg. Other church projects are also important to him, such as the construction of the "Luther Trail" to sites of the reformer and the Reformation commemoration in 2017. Just recently, he stressed in an interview that he would be celebrating hard at the Protestant jubilee. After all, Luther was more Catholic than "we Catholics are today".

Haseloff is not a tactician, populist slogans are abhorrent to him. He prefers to shine with factual knowledge, even if he occasionally gets lost in details in the process. The media sometimes refer to him as a "number whisperer" for this reason. But even political opponents appreciate an honest basic attitude in the politician, who holds the family in high regard as an institution and also likes to use the word "humility".

After the election to the state leadership Haseloff must step out of the long shadow of the popular 75-year-old Wolfgang Bohmer, who after almost nine years in government – first in coalition with the FDP, then with the SPD – did not run again and Haseloff proposed as his successor. Haseloff is unlikely to become an old-fashioned state leader in the manner of his predecessor. He prefers to use the new media, tweeting or posting a message on Facebook.

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