Playing it Safe

Steinmeier – The safe choice

On 12th February 2017, current German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD), one of Germany’s most popular politicians, may be elected as Germany’s 12th President. His promotion to the highest office in the country would be seen as a sign of political stability and a very safe choice. Yesterday, it was formally announced that the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) endorse Steinmeier, the proposed candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

In Germany, the President is not directly elected by the people for a five-year term, but by the Federal Convention. This is determined by the aggregated majority of the Bundestag, and the parliaments of the 16 German federal states. While CDU and CSU are the largest group in the Federal Convention, they were not able to nominate their own candidate which many of their supporters expected.

A political victory for the Social Democrats

The debate over the next German presidency has lasted for months. As Steinmeier is the Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy, Sigmar Gabriel’s (SPD), candidate of choice, it has been assumed that Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel’s party’s proposed candidate would fail. Merkel originally hoped for a common, non-partisan nominee like current President Joachim Gauck, in order to avoid speculation about the upcoming 2017 General Federal Elections.

Gabriel’s proposal of a Social Democrat is a tactical move, as he strategically calculates a victory before the upcoming Federal Elections. The backing of Steinmeier by the Conservatives could be a positive sign towards continuing the grand coalition. During last month’s debates, it was suggested that a candidate of the conservative wing of the Green party, like Baden-Wurttemberg’s Minister President Winfried Kretschmann, would pave the way for the first CDU/CSU-Green coalition at a federal level. This now seems to be an unlikely option, especially in light of the deep division between the parties.

German Foreign Minister Martin Schulz?

Steinmeier moving to the presidential office makes the post of Germany’s top diplomat vacant – a key position in light of Brexit, the challenging relations with Russia and Turkey, and the newly President-elect Trump. Vice-Chancellor, Minister for Economic Affairs, and SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel, the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz (SPD), or an underdog could become Steinmeier’s successor.

Gabriel could transitionally incorporate the Foreign Office into his scope of duties, or could even switch offices – reviving the tradition that Germany’s Vice-Chancellor presides over the Foreign Office. For Schulz (SPD), the timing could not be better to reenter German national politics. As the two major fractions in the European Parliament have an understanding to alternate the presidency in the middle of the legislative term, Schulz is due to resign in January 2017. As a member of the German Government, he could prove himself on a national level for the first time. This could give him the experience to progress to a more senior position, which would be even more attractive to the Social Democrats, as Schulz could be their secret weapon to beat the Christian Union.

Positive voices towards the nomination

Dr. Angela Merkel, Chancellor and party chairwoman CDU called Steinmeier’s nomination a “decision based on reasoning” stating that at a time when there is unrest and instability around the world, sending a signal of stability is right and important.

Sigmar Gabriel, Vice-Chancellor, Minister for Economic Affairs and party chairman SPD, stressed the importance of the governing coalition agreeing on a candidate for presidency. Gabriel highlighted that Steinmeier has an excellent reputation, and in times of crises he has done his utmost to provide security and peace.

In a joint statement, the chairpersons of the Alliance 90 / The Greens parliamentary group, Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Dr. Anton Hofreiter, and co-chairmen Simone Peter and Cem Özdemir declared that Steinmeier is a respectable candidate, cosmopolitan and unifying, even though the party is not in accordance with all his positions.

Christian Lindner, party chairman of the Free Democrats (FDP), attested Steinmeier to be “a very respectable personality”, but criticised the nomination process. Lindner would have preferred more competition instead of a consensual candidate.


Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), Federal Minister of Finance, assessed the nomination of Steinmeier as a “defeat” for CDU/CSU.

Bernd Riexinger, chairperson of the Left Party (Die Linke), stated that Steinmeier is “impossible to vote for” as he is the architect of the reform package “Agenda 2010” which brought about poverty among the middle class and deepened the division between the rich and poor.

André Poggenburg, member of the federal executive of the right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), released a statement arguing that it is completely incomprehensible that Steinmeier is nominated for the highest office, as just a couple of days ago he accused the newly President-elect Trump for preaching hatred.

Words Christian Thams, Sena Staufer & Daniel Polte (Burson-Marsteller Germany)
Photos CC/Arne List

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