Berlin – Former foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was elected as Germany’s president on Sunday. Steinmeier is considered by the press as the ‘anti-Trump’ president.
The President’s position is largely ceremonial in Germany and the president has little executive power. Yet, he represents an important moral authority and symbol of the country as its host for visiting dignitaries.
Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, was chosen by the Federal Assembly meeting in parliament in Berlin. He won 931 of the 1,239 valid votes by lawmakers and representatives of Germany’s 16 federal states. 103 abstentions and 14 votes were invalid.
He served as a foreign minister for over 7 years between 2005 and 2009 and then between 2013 and 2017 until last month.
Steinmeier,61, is known for his straightforwardness, and during the U.S. election campaign, he described Donald Trump as a “hate preacher” and predicted more challenging relations with Washington.
Earlier this week, Steinmeier announced: “I would like, as federal president, to be something of a counterweight to the current tendency towards boundless simplification.”
The daily Berliner Morgenpost billed Steinmeier as “the anti-Trump president”, but added that as soon as he becomes in Bellevue Palace, Berlin, he would have to bring down his tone.
Steinmeier was close to former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and served as adviser and then chief of staff. He is highly accepted in Western Europe, but is seen worrisome in Eastern Europe for his pro-Russia opinions.
Political scientist Michael Broening of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation said that as foreign minister, Steinmeier often acted as a voice of reason, bridging gaps and bringing people together”.
“It is hardly surprising that Steinmeier has branded himself as the essential anti-Trump,” he said, adding that “for Germany’s Social Democrats, Steinmeier’s election is a prelude to something bigger to come: a victory in September’s elections against Merkel.”
In 2009, Steinmeier ran against Merkel and lost. By the end of 2016, Merkel was forced to support her former opponent because she wasn’t able to gain support for her candidate.
It seemed quite difficult to have another chancellor than Merkel, the current chancellor is in a hot spot especially after divisions within her own conservative camp, and the rise of the hard-right Populist Party “Alternative for Germany” following her decision to open German borders to a million asylum seekers since 2015.
Social Democratic Party (SPD) hopes the appointment will boost its fortunes just as its candidate Martin Schulz, the former European Parliament president, readies to challenge Chancellor Merkel in September elections.
Since Schulz has taken over the candidacy late last month, SPD has risen sharply in the opinion polls.
SDP scored 32%, its highest in a decade and only one point behind Merkel’s conservatives, in an Emnid poll for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, which asked in a headline: “Is this the beginning of the end of the Merkel era?”.