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Germany - Presidential Election

Presidential election, 23rd may 2004

Presidential election, 23rd may 2004

23/05/2004 - Analysis

On 23rd May next the German Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung) will meet to elect the President of the Republic. This Assembly comprises 1,206 members and is formed by the 627 members of the Bundestag, the lower Chamber of Parliament and the 579 MP's of the 16 Länder.

In Germany the presidential function is purely honorary. Anyone standing for the presidential post must be at least forty years old and can only be elected once. The Federal President, who is elected for a five year period, represents the German Federation on an international level. He concludes treaties with foreign States, accredits and receives diplomatic representatives. The German president appoints and dismisses the federal judges and civil servants, the officers and deputy officers. He represents a moral authority for the citizens.

According to the Constitution the President may belong neither to the government nor to a legislative organism of either the Federation or one of the sixteen Länder. He can exercise no other paid public function, nor can he have any other industrial or commercial profession, neither can he belong to the management or the administrative board of a company that works for profit.

Two candidates are running for the position of President of the Republic and these are:

Horst Köhler, former IMF director, Christian Democrat (CDU/CSU) and Liberal Democrat Party (FDP) candidate;

Gesine Schwan, president of the University of Europe Viadrina from Frankfurt /Oder, Social Democrat Party (SPD) candidate.

In the rightwing camp long and difficult negotiations were necessary to reach an agreement on the appointment of a candidate. Around 15 personalities came forward including Annette Schavan, Culture Minister of Baden-Württemberg, Cornelia Schmalz-Jacobsen, former Representative for Foreigners within the Helmut Kohl government, Heinrich von Pierer, director at Siemens, Paul Kirchhof, former judge at the Constitutional Court and above all Wolfgang Schäuble, former minister and former president of the CDU and successor to Helmut Kohl, who was the CDU/CSU favourite but whose candidature was rejected by the Liberal Democrat Party.

During negotiations CDU leader Angela Merkel's authority was shaken since many politicians did not care for her desire to oust Wolfgang Schäuble's candidature. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) saw the creation of "a strategic pact" between the CDU/CSU and the FDP in the outcome of the negotiations with the general elections planned for Autumn 2006 on the horizon. Although some newspapers were sorry to see Wolfgang Schäuble go the FAZ said it was enthusiastic about seeing Horst Köhler chosen, a choice that broke with tradition, since he is not, as all of his predecessors, a professional politician.

On the announcement of his appointment as candidate for the head of the German State on 4th March Horst Köhler resigned from the management of the IMF that he had been the head of since May 2000 after having succeeded Michel Camdessus. The CDU/CSU candidate from the Liberal Democrat Party who is 61 years old was formerly the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) from 1998 to 2000. He was also deputy Finance Minister (1990-1993) in Helmut Kohl's government - in this role he negotiated the Maastricht Treaty on behalf of Germany. Although he is unknown to the general public ("Horst who?" was the title in Bild Zeitung on the day of his appointment), he is acknowledged as an economic and financial expert in international economic spheres.

He recently provided support publicly to the reforms launched by Gerhard Schröder's government. "With the 2010 Agenda, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has made historic progress. There is no doubt that we must reform the Social State in order to preserve it," he declared, saying however that it would be better to explain the changes and push forwards on the road to reform. Horst Köhler also sharply criticised American policy in Iraq accusing the USA of "not having developed a post-conflict strategy and of having an arrogant attitude." Nevertheless he pointed out that "the Americans should not be left alone in the difficult situation into which they had thrown themselves." We should remember that the Social Democrat Party's (SPD) opposition to the war in Iraq had in part contributed to Gerhard Schröder's re-election to the position of Chancellor in September 2002. This opposition is still shared by a wide majority of the German population.

Sixty-one year old Gesine Schwan, the Social Democrat Party candidate, was professor of Political Science at the Free University of Berlin for over twenty years before moving to the University of Europe Viadrina at Frankfurt /Oder, which she is now president of. She is firmly committed to German-Polish relations, was a member of the Social Democrat Party's ethic commission and belongs to the conventional wing of the SPD. The leftwing candidate says that if she were to be elected she would lay emphasis on information and science.

Since the CDU and the FDP have the absolute majority of the 625 votes in the Federal Assembly (543 votes for the CDU/CSU and 82 votes for the FDP), Horst Köhler should, unless there is a surprise, be elected President of the Republic of Germany on 23rd May next.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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