Following the shock resignation of Horst Koehler, on June 30 Germany will elect a new president. DW spoke to Christian Wulff, the former premier of Lower Saxony and Chancellor Angela Merkel's nominee.
Wulff is the main contender to be Germany's next president
The front-runner for the position of Germany's new head of state is the 51-year-old Christian Wulff. The former premier of Lower Saxony is the candidate for the ruling Christian Democrat (CDU) and Free Democrat (FDP) coalition, and is likely to be elected by the Federal Convention on June 30. The other two candidates are Joachim Gauck, a civil rights activist from the former East, and journalist Luc Jochimsen, the only woman in the race.
DW: How would you define a German president in 2010?
Christian Wulff: I believe that a German president has to be able to bring people together, to build bridges, to reconcile, to bring about dialogue and debate - including between people of different origins, religions and languages. And you have to have a very strong global perspective, because many issues such as climate change, world peace and terrorism can only ever be tackled at a global level. You must also be a good representative for Germany on the world stage.
Chancellor Merkel has put her support behind Wulff
Do you feel that Germany is a country of immigration?
We have experienced a lot of immigration, fortunately. We need these people in all areas - not only in sport and culture but also in the economy, in society, in politics and in parliament. However, we must manage a more orderly process to integrate these people into our country.
We do have very many examples of successful integration and we should emphasize them more. I am the first government head in Germany to appoint a Muslim woman as a minister. We have between three and four million Muslim citizens in our country - and they are entitled to be represented in crucial positions in the government.
From your experiences as premier of Lower Saxony - a large and important state in western Germany that borders with the former East - what is your assessment of reunification? Are we now one country again?
We are a reunited Germany that aims to serve peace, that is based on freedom and justice. But I think we must still develop more of an interest in each other and our different histories. In my view, there is too little recognition for the achievements of many people in East Germany, who have gone through a much greater process of change than we in the West. And because of that change, the East Germans have, in fact, earned respect and recognition.
The president is expected to represent the country's views on issues such as the mission in Afghanistan
German soldiers are today operating in Kosovo and, most notably, in Afghanistan. What is your opinion of these foreign missions?
First and foremost it is about reliable international relations, reliable partnerships in international alliances, in NATO and in the United Nations. It is important that there is an international mandate and that one is also ready to take on responsibility within the alliance. Not to conduct national foreign policy within the alliance, but rather to prove oneself as a reliable partner.
Beyond the military, what role do you think Germany plays in the world and who are our partners?
First of all, we should be a very strong partner in Europe. Europe is an enormous success story. Then there are transatlantic relations with America. Germany was liberated from National Socialism by the Americans at the end of World War II. Germany received help from the Americans with the Marshall Plan to rebuild our country. We should never forget that and we should know that, through George Bush Sr., German unity was made possible. So we have many reasons to strengthen these German-American relations for mutual benefit. And then I would like to develop our relations with China, Japan and India; big, important countries which - in the case of China and India - still have large gaps between rich and poor.
It's important that we also develop relations with the Gulf states, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and other countries. We must fulfill our responsibility to Israel and not lose sight of the right of the Palestinians to their own state.
How badly has European harmony been affected by the current economic problems and the financial crisis?
We do have great problems to overcome. The euro currency must remain stable. We must also combat the financial debt crisis in European countries. I think that will all be solved because we share this core belief in a united Europe. I believe the things that we have in common are much, much greater than our problems.
If elected, you will be Germany's youngest president ever. How can a man of only 51 be the father of this nation?
Wulff considers Roman Herzog to be a model German president
I am the father of a 16-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son - in this respect I am already a father! 'Father of a nation' - of course that makes you think of someone significantly older, but we all grow older every day. I was flattered when years ago I was described as a father of my state of Lower Saxony, because it conveys such a meaning of security and responsibility. I would think it a great compliment if people were to say in years to come that I was in some way a father of the nation.
Which of the previous nine presidents do you consider a role model?
Of course, I know the last four or five presidents better, especially Roman Herzog and his speeches: 'We must work hard, do what we need to do and commit ourselves more.' Also recently, Horst Koehler - when he spoke of monsters in the financial markets, I found it very interesting. And also his campaigns in Africa, and how he closed the gap between the people and politicians. So I'd place myself somewhere between Roman Herzog and Horst Koehler.
Interviewer: Christoph Lanz/rc/cb
Editor: Martin Kuebler