What to expect from President Gauck? | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.03.2012
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Germany

What to expect from President Gauck?

Joachim Gauck was confirmed as Germany's new president on Sunday. His nomination has unleashed speculation about what to expect from the former pastor.

Presidential nominee Joachim Gauck

Joachim Gauck

"Please don't expect a superman," said Joachim Gauck at the first press conference after his nomination for president in Germany, the country's highest political office.

People who know him well have said they expect him to be reserved when it comes to getting caught up in current political issues and debates.

One friend, journalist Norbert Robers, wrote a biography on the nominee, published in 2000. Robers spent a lot of time with Gauck, noting that the future president has a number of conservative views. Gauck's tendency to lean right on some questions has been sparking big discussion online since Sunday's announcement of his nomination.

Pro-democracy, pro-freedom

Norbert Robers

Biographer Norbert Robers notes Gauck's tendency toward patriotism

One thing that stands out about Gauck is his deep sense of gratitude toward West Germany for its support following reunification in the early 1990s. As a Lutheran pastor in East Germany, Gauck encountered many aspects of the suffering inflicted upon residents by the former communist regime.

Gauck's father was deported to a work camp, where he disappeared for many years. As head of the Stasi archives - a library of the East German secret police force's records made public to citizens - Joachim Gauck became familiar with many other excesses committed by the former communist government.

But the future president is proud that the East German regime came to an end peacefully, and a certain national pride is part of his worldview.

"People who champion Germany are sure to earn Joachim Gauck's support," said biographer Robers, but he added that Gauck expects the politically engaged to play by the rules and accept the decisions democracy issues - even in cases of defeat.

Referring to the now well-known protests against a controversial expansion of Stuttgart's main train station, Robers suggested that the protestors who continued their demonstrations well after a public referendum decided in favor of the planned expansion would not find support from Gauck.

More right than left

Gauck tends to think differently than many about political and social issues, and making generalizations is not his style. As such, he doesn't have a completely negative take on the Occupy movement, although some critics have claimed he does.

But Gauck has characterized demands from some in the Occupy movement to eliminate the capitalist system and make banks state institutions as "bizarre." The civil rights activist also noted that he saw just how much harm state banks in East Germany could do.

And Gauck responded positively to reductions in Germany's social welfare programs known as the Agenda 2010 under Gerhard Schröder's government, calling it courageous to take necessary steps despite the heavy protest those steps drew.

Signals abroad

Angela Merkel and Joachim Gauck, accopmanied by other politicians

The future government will have two former residents of East Germany at its head

With that said, however, it is relatively certain that Gauck's experiences and outlook will lead him to support people across the world who are out to promote democracy. Those with contact to the future president expect him to offer clear support for human rights issues, and Gauck is likely to enjoy the help of Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on that front.

Westerwelle is a member of the Free Democrats (FDP), which he also once headed. And it was the FDP who risked a break with their governing coalition partners, the Christian Democrats (CDU), by way of its vote for Gauck as the presidential nominee.

But Gauck's associates stress the future president will go about his advocacy in more subtle ways rather than loudly proclaiming his values.

"Joachim Gauck knows what this office demands," said Robers of the presidency, which has more of a ceremonial rather than policy-oriented role. Friends of Gauck have long noted his tendency toward pragmatism and willingness to compromise, which they saw exemplified in his comportment toward the Stasi during East German rule.

Consequences for Merkel

Political scientist Gerd Langguth

Political Scientist Gerd Langguth senses the FDP has done itself in

"In light of his rather conservative outlook, Joachim Gauck as president will likely take few shots at the chancellor and her government's politics," said Gerd Langguth, a political scientist and expert on Germany's parties, who sees Angela Merkel and the CDU's earlier refusals to nominate Gauck as a consequence of internal party maneuvering.

Nonetheless, Joachim Gauck's election will have significant consequences for Germany's political elite. Since the FDP's decision in favor of Gauck was a turn against its coalition partners and Merkel, the FDP will be limited in the policies it can still push through under the current government.

"The FDP is done, and the chancellor is already well underway to reaching out to other coalition partners," Langguth argued.

And in fact Angela Merkel has already supported a number of policies that her opponents might have thought impossible to get through her government. An end to nuclear power has been brokered - a long-time project of the Green Party. A minimum wage law is now on the table, which represents a victory for the Social Democrats (SPD). And it's likely that the FDP's alleged victory in the selection for president will eventually be attributed to the peaceable chancellor.

When it comes to parliamentary elections in 2013, the chancellor may look for partnership elsewhere than with the FDP, whose support among voters has dropped to three percent nationwide. In Germany, a new era may be coming to the fore.

Author: Wolfgang Dick / gsw
Editor: Gabriel Borrud, Ben Knight