Tue | Jan 23, 2018

Germany picks ex-foreign minister Steinmeier as president

Published:Monday | February 13, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Newly elected German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (left) is congratulated by Drag Queen Olivia Jones, member of the electoral college, when a German parliamentary assembly came together to elect the country’s new president in Berlin, Germany, yesterday.


A special assembly elected former German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier by an overwhelming majority yesterday to be the country's new president.

Steinmeier was elected in Berlin by the assembly made up of the 630 members of parliament's lower house and an equal number of representatives from Germany's 16 states.

He received 931 of the 1,260 votes. Steinmeier succeeds Joachim Gauck, a 77-year-old former pastor and East German pro-democracy activist who did not seek a second five-year term because of his age.

The German president has little executive power, but is considered an important moral authority and symbol of the country as its host for visiting dignitaries.

"Let's be brave because then we don't have to be afraid of the future," Steinmeier said in his acceptance speech.

He said the world faces "rough times", but that Germany, as a functioning democracy, had the responsibility to fight for stability.

"Isn't it actually wonderful that this Germany, our difficult fatherland, that this country has become an anchor of hope in the world for many," after overcoming wars and totalitarianism, Steinmeier said.

Steinmeier is normally studiously diplomatic, but he strongly criticised Donald Trump during the US election campaign. Asked in August about the rise of right-wing populism in Germany and elsewhere, Steinmeier criticised those who "make politics with fear".

He cited as examples the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, the promoters of Britain's exit from the European Union, and "the hate preachers, like Donald Trump at the moment in the United States".

Steinmeier, a 61-year-old Social Democrat, had the backing in the election of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "grand coalition" of centre-right and centre-left parties.

Merkel congratulated him yesterday and said she was convinced that he would be an excellent president who would enjoy wide support.

"This is a good day for Germany," she said.

It is likely that the presidential vote was one of the last moments of coalition unity ahead of a parliamentary election in September in which Merkel is seeking a fourth term. Both sides hope to end the "grand coalition".