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Presidential search

German SPD insists on Steinmeier for president

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has been named by his Social Democrats to become Germany's next president. Party chairman Sigmar Gabriel says he regrets aversions among Merkel's Bavarian allies.

Social Democrat (SPD) chairman Gabriel confirmed weeks of speculation Sunday by firmly naming Steinmeier to become Germany's next ceremonial head of state despite an objection by a leading Bavarian conservative.

"The SPD already has a candidate, who meets all [the criteria]: Frank-Walter Steinmeier. But, unfortunately he has found not support among the Union," Gabriel told the mass tabloid "Bild," referring to Germany's search for a successor to its current President Joachim Gauck by February.

The Union refers to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat CDU and Christian Social Union (CSU) alliance, which since 1949 confines the CSU to Bavaria while the Christian Democrats contest the rest of Germany.

Finding a consensus candidate had been the deal agreed by the three parties in Merkel's coalition government, which since 2013 has included Gabriel's center-left Social Democrats.

Deutschland Horst Seehofer und Andreas Scheuer in Schwarzenfeld (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Karmann)

Seehofer's loyalist Scheuer rejects a Steinmeier presidency

Objections from CSU's Scheuer 

Objections to Steinmeier within the CSU headed by Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer were vocalized Sunday by that party's general secretary, Andreas Scheuer, who said the foreign minister should focus on his job.

"We're facing so many foreign policy challenges that it would be a mistake to discuss Frank-Walter Steinmeier as a [candidate] for president," Scheuer told the Sunday edition of the mass tabloid "Bild am Sonntag."

Gabriel (pictured above right alongside Steinmeier) told "Bild" that the incumbent foreign minister met presidential criteria in being a candidate "who can represent the country, but also knows the challenges of our times and has answers to them."

Endorsement also came Sunday in remarks to the German news agency DPA from the spokesman of the leftist faction within the SPD, Matthias Miersch.

Steinmeier was "the right [potential] federal president and the suitable representative for Germany in a moment at an international level when it comes down to societal cohesion and capability for dialog," Miersch said.

Incumbent President Gauck announced in June his decision not to seek a second term, clearing the way for a special parliamentary ballot on February 12, 2017.

Gabriel's endorsement of Steinmeier Sunday followed CSU endorsement Saturday for Merkel to run for a fourth term as German chancellor, despite Seehofer railing against her refugee policy.

EU at risk, warns Steinmeier

Steinmeier himself on Sunday warned that the European Union was under serious pressure.

"The financial crisis, the wave of refugees into Europe, and the shock of the British referendum have pushed Europe into serious turbulence," he told the Munich-based "Süddeutsche Zeitung."

"Even dyed-in-the-wool backers of Europe can see that we have to convince people again, and we have to do it outside of the ivory towers of the professional backers of Europe," Steinmeier said.

"If we don't know how to appreciate the value of the EU, then it's going to go to the dogs," he added, while accusing right-wing populists of taking advantage of people's fears.

Survey favorite

Voters surveyed by the pollster Emnid in early October ranked Steinmeier as their top choice for the role of federal president.

He was favored by 41 percent of those asked who was their preference if Germany elected its president directly, instead of via its current Federal Assembly system.

Second-placed was Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of Merkel's CDU at 30 percent.

Since then, a Schäuble candidacy for president has not emerged.

The Federal Assembly consists of members of the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, plus an equal number of political and nonpolitical representatives from Germany's 16 states.

ipj/dr (dpa, APF)

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