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Politics - Background

Konrad Adenauer (1949-1963), CDU, was elected as the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949. He served in this position for 14 years. Before becoming Chancellor, Adenauer was the President of the Parliamentary Council, which drafted the Basic Law in 1948. Adenauer's name is inextricably linked to the democratic and economic reconstruction of West Germany in the wake of the Second World War. He is also remembered for anchoring the country firmly in the community of the free countries of the West. From 1955 the Federal Republic of Germany was a sovereign state again. In the context of European unification Adenauer was particularly committed to bringing about reconciliation with France. Together with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion he laid the foundations for German-Jewish reconciliation. During his tenure Adenauer was also successful in integrating refugeesand those who had been displaced during the war.

Ludwig Erhard (1963-1966), CDU, masterminded the currency reform in 1948. The economics professor advocated a liberal economic order from an early stage. As the Minister of Economics in Adenauer's government Erhard is regarded as the father of Germany's economic miracle and the social market economy. Following Adenauer's resignation in 1963, Ludwig Erhard became Chancellor. In the area of foreign policy Erhard concentrated on promoting relations with the United States and Israel. After the 1965 elections the CDU/CSU formed a coalition with the FDP (Free Democratic Party). Economic and foreign policy problems led to the break-up of this coalition in 1966.

Kurt Georg Kiesinger (1966-1969),CDU,was Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg from 1958 to 1966. He was elected Chancellor of a grand coalition government of CDU/CSU and SPD in 1966. His Government's economic and financial policies were particularly successful. In the area of foreign policy it shifted its focus to improve relations with its European neighbors. Under Kiesinger the first steps towards a new Ostpolitikwere taken. The most important domestic issue, the adoption of the Emergency Acts, provoked vehement student protests by the so-called extra-parliamentary opposition.

Willy Brandt (1969-1974), SPD, was already Vice-Chancellor in the grand coalition. In October 1969 the SPD and the FDP formed a government and elected Brandt as the first Social Democratic Chancellor. Socio-political liberalization, "daring more democracy" and a new Ostpolitik characterized his time in office. The recognitionof the permanence of the Oder-Neisse line encountered considerable political resistance even 30 years after the end of the war. In 1971 Willy Brandt was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for his commitment to reconciliation between the West and the East. Later on, domestic and economic problems coincided with the uncovering of an East German spy among Brandt's closest advisors, and he resigned in 1974.

Helmut Schmidt (1974-1982), SPD, was elected by the German Bundestag as Willy Brandt's successor. He continued to lead the socio-liberal coalition. Previously he had served as Minister ofDefence and subsequently as Minister of Economics and Finance in Brandt's cabinet. During histerm of office Schmidt was mainly concerned with resolving economic crises, dealing with the terrorism of the Red Army Faction and defending the controversial decision to station new American missiles in Germany (NATO two-track decision). He governed in a coalition with the FDP, which left the government in 1982 and entered into a coalition with the CDU/CSU. Schmidt was dismissed following a constructive vote of no-confidence in the German Bundestag.

Helmut Kohl (1982-1998), CDU, was elected Chancellor in 1982 following a constructive vote of no-confidence by the German Bundestag. The coalition of CDU/CSU and FDP was confirmed in the Bundestag elections in 1983. As Chancellor, Kohl adhered to the policy of détente and intensified transatlantic relations. After the peaceful revolution in the GDR, the historic opportunity of German reunification presented itself in 1990. Kohl saw this through at home and ensured that it was supported by appropriate foreign policy measures. In his eyes, German unity and European unification were inextricably linked. The widening and deepening of the European Union and the introduction of the euro dominated his government program during the 1990s.

Gerhard Schröder (1998-2005), SPD, was elected Chancellor for the first time on 27 October 1998 with a majority from the SPD and Alliance 90/the Greens. Key political measures included the reform of nationality law and the phasing out of nuclear power. The central foreign policy issue was the NATO operation in Kosovo, the first wartime mission for German soldiers since the Second World War. After Schröder's reelection in 2002, his second term of office was marked by the rejection of military involvement in Iraq and the Agenda 2010 reform program. After losing regional elections, Gerhard Schröder submitted a motion for a vote of confidence in the Bundestag pursuant to Article 68 of the Basic Law. This was followed by the dissolution of the Bundestag by the Federal President and early Bundestag elections on 18 September 2005.

In the 2005 general election, the CDU/CSU gained 226 seats, and the SPD gained 222 seats. Neither could govern alone, and so there was formed the Grand Coalition in which they governed together [the rather more vouptuous French refer to such an arrangement as cohabitation]. The 2009 election produced a similar arrangment. The CDU-SPD coalition prompted SPD left-wingers, already bitter about labor reforms launched by the last SPD chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, to leave in droves. The Grand Coalition moved the CDU towards the center of the political spectrum, creating a political space that had thitherto been occupied by the right wing of the party. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

Joachim Gauck was Federal President since 2012. Germany's 11th post-war president announced on 06 June 2016 that he would not run for a second stint as head of state. Gauck's announcement cleared the way for a special parliamentary ballot on February 12, 2017. The 76-year-old said that he was worried about his ability to continue devoting enough energy to the job if he continued into his eighties.

He was not a member of any political party and was a Protestant pastor in the former East Germany. His own curriculum vitae lent him much authenticity in these efforts. Gauck's past as a theologian and a member of the East German citizen's movement added weight to his appeals for civic values like candor, engagement and intervention. Gauck allowed himself some freedoms as president, testing the bounds of his position. Controversy hit early in 2014 when Gauck appealed for Germany to let go of its post-war reticence on military matters, to adopt a more self-confident foreign policy. His impulse sparked a broader debate that incorporated members of Chancellor Merkel's cabinet.

Several veteran political heavyweights were linked with the soon-to-be-vacant post, including Christian Democrat (CDU) Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, Social Democrat Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, speaker of the Bundestag parliament Norbert Lammert (also CDU), and Bavarian conservative Gerda Hasselfeldt. A special congress of more than 1,000 people - many of them politicians but also including celebrities, sports stars and other public figures chosen by various political parties - elects Germany's president, over multiple votes if necessary.

A German 1,260-member special assembly elected Frank-Walter Steinmeier as president on 12 February 2017. The former foreign minister was chosen to become the 12th president of Germany on March 18. Germans do not directly elect their president. Instead, a special assembly consisting of the 630 parliamentarians in the Bundestag, the lower legislature, and an equal number of representatives from Germany's 16 federal states cast their votes for the presidential candidates.

Steinmeier served as foreign minister twice under Merkel - from 2005 to 2009 and from 2013 until one month ago. Steinmeier was by far the favorite candidate, drawing support from across Germany's political spectrum. Alongside backing from his own Social Democratic Party (SPD), Steinmeier also received endorsements ahead of the election from Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservative bloc (CDU/CSU), as well as from representatives in the Green and Free Democratic (FDP) parties.

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Page last modified: 09-02-2018 18:51:13 ZULU