Germany Picks Ex-foreign Minister Steinmeier as President

February 12, 2017 Updated: February 12, 2017
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BERLIN—A special assembly elected former German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier by an overwhelming majority Sunday 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.

German presidential candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier casts his ballot when a German parliamentary assembly came together to elect the country's new president in Berlin, Germany on Feb. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
German presidential candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier casts his ballot when a German parliamentary assembly came together to elect the country’s new president in Berlin Germany on Feb. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

“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.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Steinmeier and said she was convinced he would be an excellent president who would have the support of the vast majority of the people.

“This is a good day for Germany,” Merkel said.

Steinmeier, a 61-year-old Social Democrat, had the backing in the election of Merkel’s “grand coalition” of center-right and center-left parties.

The presidential vote was likely 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.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) casts her ballot when a German parliamentary assembly came together to elect the country's new president in Berlin, Germany on Feb. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) casts her ballot when a German parliamentary assembly came together to elect the country’s new president in Berlin, Germany on Feb. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

A few years ago, Steinmeier took a several-months absence from politics, to donate one of his kidneys to his wife Elke Buedenbender.

Buedenbender, who is a judge, will not work during her time as first lady to avoid possible conflicts of interest.

Steinmeier has long been one of Germany’s most popular politicians. As former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s chief of staff, he was a main architect of Schroeder’s 2003 package of economic reforms and welfare cuts.

Under Merkel, he served twice as foreign minister—from 2005 to 2009 and again from 2013 until this year, with a stint as opposition leader in between.