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German leaders support second term for President Gauck

Leaders of Germany's governing parties have reportedly pledged their support for President Joachim Gauck to serve a second term. Top politicians hope to avoid any suspicions of ructions within their "grand coalition."

German President Joachim Gauck is due to decide soon whether he will stand for re-election when his current term expires in next spring. The Protestant pastor, now nominally politically neutral in his role as head of state, was elected as the 11th president of reunified Germany in 2012, succeeding Christian Wulff who served two years in office.

Since there is no other presidential candidate with a majority in both major parties, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and their Social Democrat (SPD) partners reportedly fear that not being able to agree on a candidate could create the impression of bickering within the coalition, which could have a negative impact on their 2017 federal election campaigns.

'Italian solution'

The "Frankfurter Rundschau" newspaper also reported on Friday that the coalition is considering a so-called "Italian solution," which would see Gauck serving just half a presidential term. Italy faced a similar dilemma in 2013, when, after several ballots, no successor could be agreed upon.

As a result, the then 87-year-old President Giorgio Napolitano agreed to serve half a presidential term and remained in office for another two years - despite not originally planning to stand again.

Earlier this year, German daily "Bild" reported that Gauck was already considering a second presidential term. In light of

the ongoing refugee crisis, the 77-year-old "doesn't want to plunge politics into another crisis," Germany's Presidential Office

was quoted as saying.

Sigmar Gabriel, Angela Merkel and Joachim Gauck

SPD leader and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, German Chancellor and CDU leader Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck at the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Gauck's presidency began during Germany's previous center-right coalition government, which was made up of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU, its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP). He was chosen as a unity candidate, acceptable to most parties after two successive presidential terms ended well ahead of schedule.

Merkel has also previously expressed her support for Gauck, saying she'd "be pleased" to see him serve a second presidential term. The chancellor added, however, that the decision lies in Gauck's hands.

'Political conscience'

Compared to similar roles in some other countries, the German presidency is a largely ceremonial position and has few opportunities to influence day-to-day politics in Germany. The president represents the country in matters of international law and at official gatherings.

Without the president's signature, however, new legislation cannot come into effect. The president is also responsible for proposing a chancellor to the Bundestag - Germany's lower house of parliament. The German head of state is also expected to serve as a political conscience for the country - a figure of authority not bound to party politics who can voice uncomfortable truths.

Any German citizen over the age of 40 is eligible to become president and can serve for a maximum of two five-year terms in office.

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