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POLITICS

Popular incumbent Steinmeier eyes new term as German president

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is poised to be re-elected on Sunday for a second straight term, after gaining a reputation as a tireless defender of democratic values at a time when resurging far-right extremism and the coronavirus pandemic were putting them to the test.

Popular incumbent Steinmeier eyes new term as German president
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Photo: STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Social Democrat, 66, served twice as foreign minister in Angela Merkel’s cabinet, stepping back from his duties as Germany’s top diplomat to take on the ceremonial role as head of state in 2017.

With his snowy white hair, round glasses and dimpled smile, the trained lawyer has become one of Germany’s most popular and trusted politicians.

The presidential role was an “honour” and an “enormous challenge” Steinmeier said in May last year when announcing his desire to stay in office until 2027.

The former foreign minister has cast himself as the conscience of the nation, occasionally stepping into political debates and speaking at memorials.

He has repeatedly warned against the rising threat of right-wing extremism in Germany and criticised scenes at Kabul airport after the city’s fall as “shameful for the political West”.

Steinmeier’s time in office has been marked by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Germany at the start of 2020, with the president sometimes playing the role of a moral arbiter in public debates on health issues.

Earlier this year, Steinmeier held a public debate between health experts and coronavirus vaccine sceptics, a vocal minority in the country that has increasingly taken to the streets to protest against coronavirus rules.

Second term

The presidential election, normally held in the Bundestag building, will instead take place at Paul Loebe Haus, a post-modern office complex opposite the Chancellery in central Berlin, in order to meet pandemic distancing requirements.

The president is voted for by the Federal Convention, a one-off assembly made up of MPs and an equal number of state delegates, taking the total number close to 1,500.

Among the delegates are a number of public figures, including the Bayern Munich and German national team midfielder Leon Goretzka, selected by the Bavarian SPD.

With the backing of all the parties in the current coalition government, including Steinmeier’s own Social Democrats, the Greens and the liberal FDP, as well as the support of the opposition conservatives (CDU-CSU), the incumbent is expected to win the vote comfortably.

Three other candidates have been nominated for the role by the far-right AfD, the far-left Linke party and the Freie Waehler, part of the ruling coalition in Bavaria.

Presidents can run for a maximum of two terms in Germany, though Steinmeier, who is expected to secure re-election, would be only the fourth person to do so.

The president’s role in Germany is mostly symbolic, with the office holder acting as a constitutional counterpart to the head of government, currently Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat comrade.

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POLITICS

Ex-chancellor Schröder sues German Bundestag for removing perks

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has sued the German parliament for removing some of his official post-retirement perks over his links to Russian energy giants, his lawyer said Friday.

Ex-chancellor Schröder sues German Bundestag for removing perks

Schröder, 78, has come under heavy criticism for his proximity to Russian President Vladimir Putin and involvement with state-backed energy companies.

The decision to suspend Schröder’s taxpayer-funded office and staff in May was “contrary to the rule of law”, Michael Nagel, told public broadcaster NDR.

Schröder “heard of everything through the media”, Nagel said, noting that the Social Democrat had asked for a hearing before the budget committee responsible but was not given the chance to express himself.

READ ALSO: Germany strips Schröder of official perks over Russia ties

Schröder’s lawyers filed the complaint with an administrative Berlin court, a spokesman for the court confirmed.

In its decision to strip him of the perks, the committee concluded that Schröder, who served as chancellor from 1998 to 2005, “no longer upholds the continuing obligations of his office”.

Most of Schröder’s office staff had already quit before the final ruling was made.

Despite resigning from the board of Russian oil company Rosneft and turning down a post on the supervisory board of gas giant Gazprom in May, Schröder has maintained close ties with the Kremlin.

The former chancellor met Putin in July, after which he said Moscow was ready for a “negotiated solution” to the war in Ukraine — comments branded as “disgusting” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Last week, the Social Democrats concluded that Schröder would be allowed to remain a member after he was found not have breached party rules over his ties to the Russian President.

Schröder’s stance on the war and solo diplomacy has made him an embarrassment to the SPD, which is also the party of current Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

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