Frank-Walter Steinmeier became Germany’s new president on Sunday after a symbolic transfer of power from his predecessor, Joachim Gauck. The former foreign minister has taken on the largely ceremonial role during what promises to be Germany’s most intense election campaign in decades.
On Steinmeier’s first day in office, he and his wife Elke Büdenbender (picured on the left) were greeted by Gauck and his partner Daniela Schadt on the steps of the presidential residence, Berlin’s Bellevue Palace. The leaders declined to give details about the ensuing half-hour conversation, though it was likely advice from Gauck’s five-year term in office.
The Social Democrat (SPD) politician was elected 12th president of the federal republic by parliament on February 12 after Gauck declined to take on a second term due to his advanced age of 77.
A notable career
After spending his early career as a legal adviser for the regional government of the German state of Lower Saxony, Steinmeier has held a number of senior positions over the past two decades, including vice chancellor and twice that of Germany’s top diplomat.
Representing the more conservative wing of the country’s center-left SPD, Steinmeier helped former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder push through a controversial reform of the welfare state in the early 2000s.
The legislation, known as Agenda 2010, helped boost economic recovery after some troubled years for Germany, but its impact on the poor was highly unpopular at the time and blamed by many in the SPD for the loss to Christian Democrat (CDU) Angela Merkel in the 2005 federal elections.
Steinmeier’s first day in office came as former EU parliament chief Martin Schulz was officially nominated by the SPD to run against Merkel in September. Schulz’s candidacy has rejuvenated interest in the party, which has been pushed to the background as coalition partners with the CDU since 2013. With Schulz as leader, the SPD is now polling almost on par with the conservatives for the first time in years.
The 61-year-old Steinmeier will be officially sworn in as the symbolic face of the nation before both houses of parliament on Wednesday. Plans for his first weeks in office have not been made public yet, though a trip to Paris ahead of the French presidential elections at the end of April is likely on the agenda.
Germany’s president was given the highest military honors upon his departure as the country’s head of state. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Gauck “never lost faith in our country.”
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