24/01/2017 - Analysis
On 6th June last the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Joachim Gauck announced that he would not ask for a second term in 2017. On 14th November after several months of negotiation the Christian Democratic Union/Social Christian Union (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the two biggest political parties in the country which also form the government "grand coalition" came to an agreement on the name of the successor to Joachim Gauck. This will be Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD), the present Foreign Affairs Minister.
Failure for the CDU?
On the announcement that Joachim Gauck would not be standing again, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) had planned to put forward the names of several personalities for the Presidency of the Republic: Marianne Birthler (Alliance 90/Greens, B90/DG), who declined the proposal, the present leader of the Bundestag Norbert Lammert (CDU) or the President of the Constitutional Court, Andreas Vosskuhle. The names of Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) were also put forward.
Moreover the Christian Social Union vetoed the candidacy of Winfried Kretschmann (B90/DG), the present Minister President of Baden-Württemberg, due to his support for the implementation of a wealth tax.
Angela Merkel did not however succeed in imposing a CDU candidate.
However the Chancellor's support to the candidacy of Frank-Walter Steinmeier shows the stability of her government coalition and enables her to repel any possible rivals in the race for the Chancellorship.
"It is choice guided by reason" declared Ms Merkel. "Frank-Walter Steinmeier is a man of the centre, respected by business leaders and by civil society in Germany as well as abroad. In these times of uncertainty and instability our support to Frank-Walter Steinmeier is a sign of stability; this is wise and important," she added.
"Frank-Walter Steinmeier has shown in the past that he seeks to smooth out differences and works towards a compromise even in difficult times," indicated Peter Tauber, the CDU's General Secretary.
Success for the Social Democrats?
The Social Democratic Party succeeded in having the last word and imposed its candidate in the negotiations. According to the polls, Frank-Walter Steinmeier is the Germans' most popular figure. A poll by Forschungsgruppe Wahlen for the TV channel ZDF at the beginning of November showed that the Foreign Affairs Minister is the most popular figure amongst the Germans, ahead of Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Chancellor Angela Merkel. According to Forsa 58% of the SPD supporters want Frank-Walter Steinmeier to represent the party in the general elections on 24th September next. Only 20% of them say they want the present leader of the party, Vice-Chancellor and Economy and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who has now rid himself of a more popular rival.
Three other people are running for the presidential seat: Christoph Butterwegge, a political expert from the University of Cologne appointed on 21st November by the Left Party (Die Linke, DL); Albrecht Glaser, Deputy Chair of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), appointed on 30th April and finally Alexander Holt, judge and TV personality, who is being put forward by the Free Voters (Freie Wahler, FW) led by Hubert Aiwanger.
The Presidential office
The president of the Federal Republic of Germany is elected by the German Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung) comprising 1,260 members: the 630 members of the Bundestag, the lower chamber in Parliament and an equal number of representatives from the 16 Länder, MPs of the regional parliaments and personalities from civil society. The election is a secret ballot, according to an absolute majority vote in both the first and second rounds. If none of the candidates achieves this majority (ie 631 votes), a third round is organised during which the person who rallies the most votes is elected.
In Germany the presidential office is honorific: the head of State is however a moral authority for his fellow countrymen, since his role goes beyond the prerogatives given to him by the Fundamental Law. Elected for five years the German President represents his country in the international arena. He is the guardian of the law and of the Constitution, he appoints and dismisses the judges and the federal civil servants, officers and sub-officers. He can also dissolve the Bundestag in two precise instances: when the latter fails to elect a Chancellor (ie if none of the candidates manage to rally a majority of MPs votes after three days, article 63 of the Fundamental Law) or when a vote of no confidence put forward by the Chancellor in office does not win the approval of the majority of the members of the Lower Chamber (article 68). Legislative elections must then be convened within the 60 days following dissolution (article 39). The Bundestag has been dissolved on three occasions: 23rd September 1972, 6th January 1983 and 21st July 2005.
All candidates for the presidential office must be aged at least 40 and can only be re-elected once. According to the Fundamental Law the head of State cannot belong to the government or to a legislative body of the Federation (Bund) or to one of the sixteen Länder. He can exercise no other paid public (or private) function and is not allowed to belong to the management or the board of a business pursuing activities for profit.
Joachim Gauck's successor to the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Germany will enter office on 18th March next.