Horst Kohler is the new president of the federal republic of Germany


Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy


23 May 2004

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Deloy Corinne

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).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

It was without surprise that Horst Köhler became the new President of the Republic of Germany on Sunday 23rd May 2004, the day when the presidential election has been held in Germany since 1979. The Christian Democrat Union (CDU/CSU) and Liberal Democrat Party candidate (FDP) won 604 votes versus 589 for his adversary, Gesine Schwan, the Social Democrat Party (SPD), Green and Socialist Democrat Party (PDS) candidate, who won ten votes more than the number of representatives these three parties have in the Bundesversammlung together, the German Federal Assembly. We should remember that the latter that meets in the Reichstag in Berlin brings together the 627 members of the Bundestag, the Lower Chamber of the German Parliament and the 579 representatives of the 16 Länder who are not necessarily MP's in the regional Parliaments. Within this assembly the Conservatives enjoy, in theory, a lead of nineteen votes. Since nine people abstained and two slips were declared void, seven voters from the CDU and the FDP voted for Gesine Schwan, thereby mobilising people beyond her own camp. Horst Köhler did however win one more vote that the absolute majority and was therefore elected in the first round of the election. The meeting of the Federal Assembly has been marred over the last few days by a controversy that arose about the presence of Hans Filbinger amongst the grand electorate - a former judge in the military court of the Third Reich.

The new President succeeds the Social Democrat, Johannes Rau who did not want to stand again since the SPD and the Greens did not have the majority within the Federal Assembly, for a five year mandate that is renewable once. After his election Horst Köhler maintained that he wanted to be the President of all Germans and of all those who live in the Federal Republic. "Germany has given me much, I would like to give it something back in return", declared the new President. Horst Köhler who is 61 years old was Deputy Finance Minister (1990-1993) in Helmut Kohl's government and governed the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (BERD) from 1998 to 2000 before becoming director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), from which he resigned on 4th March last after having been appointed candidate for the supreme office. He was born in Nazi occupied Poland in 1943 but his family originated from Romanian Bessarabia, a territory that was granted to the former USSR by the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. His parents fled Romania for Poland after which they settled in Leipzig in the former German Democratic Republic, and then in the Land of Bad Wurttemberg in 1953.

The President called on the Germans to be more innovative and have more self confidence. "We must face up to reality. Germany has to fight to maintain its place in the 21st century and not repose on its victories of the past. I am very much convinced that Germany has the strength necessary for change", he maintained. Horst Köhler also pointed out how necessary the reforms were. "Our country is in need of far reaching renewal. As an economist I cannot hide from you the fact that I am worried about the state of the German economy, employment and the social security", he insisted on saying. The new president chose to end his speech on a religious note. "God bless our country", he declared.

The Christian Democrat Union is pleased with the election of its candidate in the first round of the election. The CDU/CSU leaders greeted Horst Köhler's victory since in the conquest of Bellevue Castle, the seat of the German President, they see a sign of "political change". Gesine Schwan might have had a better chance if the German president had been elected by direct universal suffrage. Several opinion polls said that she was running neck and neck with her adversary; some even positioned her ahead of Horst Köhler. According to a survey by Infratest, nearly two thirds of the Germans (63%) said they would like to elect their president themselves.

Horst Köhler officially takes office on 30th June next.

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