The Social Democrats want Foreign Minister Steinmeier as the next president, but there is resistance from both conservatives and the left. The search for Gauck's successor is stirring rancor in the governing coalition.
The Social Democrats (SPD) and the conservative Union, the alliance of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), had actually set out to agree on a candidate by the end of October. But the search for a successor for German President Joachim Gauck (pictured at top), who has decided against running for a second term, has not been easy.
Many names have come up, only to be quashed again because the person in question has demurred. The most recent example: Andreas Vosskuhle, the current president of the Federal Constitutional Court. Now, the name of a new potential candidate is making headlines. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) is not a surprise suggestion, but his name was only officially in play following comments by SPD party leader Sigmar Gabriel in Monday's edition of the popular tabloid newspaper, "Bild."
Gabriel told the paper that Germany needs a candidate "who can represent our country, who knows the challenges currently facing us, and who has answers." Steinmeier, he said, fits the bill.
Gauck's successor is due to be chosen in February by the Federal Assembly, which is made up of more than 1,000 delegates including parliamentarians, as well as both political and non-political representatives from Germany's 16 states. Representation in the Federal Assembly is based on the political majorities in the federal and state governments. As such, the CDU/CSU and the SPD are in the majority. But if the SPD, the Left Party and the Greens were able to agree on a candidate, they would have the upper hand over the Union.
Left Party rejects Steinmeier
The Union has so far rejected the SPD's proposal. CSU General Secretary Andreas Scheuer said Steinmeier needs to concentrate on his job as foreign minister. And on Monday morning, the head of the CDU in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, told journalists that he didn't think it was very clever of Gabriel to put forward a new candidate for president "practically every Sunday." A better strategy would have been to hold talks within the coalition, he added. Similarly, deputy CDU leader Julia Klöckner said that while Gabriel can do as he likes, in the end it's about consensus building.
The Left Party also left no doubt that it would not support Steinmeier's candidacy. He would be "a difficult candidate for the Left Party," said parliamentary group leader Dietmar Bartsch. He added that as long as it remains unclear which candidate would eventually come before the Federal Assembly, he could not say how the Left Party representatives would vote. Left Party leader Bernd Riexinger was unequivocal in his view of a Steinmeier candidacy, saying: "Frank-Walter Steinmeier is one of the architects of Agenda 2010, which increased poverty in the middle classes and deepened the divide between rich and poor. For us, he's unelectable."
Green Party leader Simone Peter said the party would consider any candidate who was put forward. But she also expressed her wish to see a woman in the office of German president.
And Steinmeier himself? In a political talk show broadcast on Sunday evening, he said only that he currently has other things on his plate: "I am thoroughly concentrated on the crises and conflicts we have in the world, and on the ways Germany can contribute to solutions."