north-rhine-westphalia

Frank-Walter Steinmeier Next President of Germany

Today, February 12, 2017, Frank-Walter Steinmeier was elected by the Federal Convention (Bundesversammlung) as the next president of Germany. He will assume office on March 18, 2017.

Steinmeier, member of the SPD, was the candidate of the Great Coalition consisting of CDU, CSU, and SPD currently governing Germany. He was also supported by the Green Party and the FDP.

Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier grew up in a carpenter’s family in the rural Lippe area in North-Rhine-Westphalia. He studied law and political sciences in Gießen and received a doctoral degree in law in 1991. He was hired at the office of the prime minister of the state of Lower Saxony, Gerhard Schröder, in Hannover, where he quickly advanced his career. He followed Gerhard Schröder after his appointment as chancellor to Berlin, where he soon became chief of the Chancellor’s Office. In this position, he was one of the driving forces of the Agenda 2010 reforms, which are generally said to be the foundations of Germany’s current economical success, but were (and still are) controversially discussed with regards to their impact on social affairs and the coherence of the German society.

After Angela Merkel assumed Chancellorship of a Great Coalition in 2005, Steinmeier was appointed as foreign minister. In 2007, he became vice-chancellor. He was appointed again as foreign minister in the third cabinet of Angela Merkel and resigned in January 2017 after he was nominated as the joint presidential candidate of the Great Coalition.

In 2010, Steinmeier donated a kidney to his wife, Elke Büdenbender, to save her life.


Unlike in many other states, the president of Germany, as the official head of the state, has a mostly ceremonial and representative role. The duties of the office involve:

  • to represent Germany in the world under international law (signing international contracts, accrediting German diplomats, receiving international leaders and letters of accreditation of foreign diplomats, etc.)
  • to propose a chancellor candidate to the German parliament
  • to appoint and dismiss the chancellor (after parliamental vote) and the ministers of the federal government; the president does not have the right to reject the resignation of a chancellor
  • to appoint and dismiss high federal officials and military (requiring counter-signature of chancellor or the relevant minister)
  • to regularly meet with the chancellor and the ministers for confidential consultations
  • to sign and promulgate the law, with the right to reject his signature (happened only eight times so far)
  • to dissolve the Federal Diet (Bundestag, German parliament) under certain circumstances
  • to declare war, after the the government has determined a state of defense
  • to exercise the power of pardon on the federal level (but he has no right to issue an amnesty)
  • to declare a state of legislative emergency by request of the cabinet if no chancellor could be elected. During this period, bills submitted by the government become law after his signature even if the federal diet rejects them, but the Federal Council (upper chamber of parliament representing the sixteen states) has to approve them. Legislative emergency does non suspend basic human rights, nor does it give the executive branch exceptional power. Legislative emergency has never been declared so far.
  • to assume the patronage over projects and initiatives that have a positive impact on the German society. He is the regular patron of the German red cross and the German maritime search and rescue sevice.
  • to decide upon the national symbols after counter-signature of the chancellor
  • to occasion state ceremonies
  • to confer the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and other minor decorations

The Federal President does not have the right to issue decrees without counter-signature of a member of the Federal Government; that means that he cannot execute political power against the will of the government, with the sole exception of the strictly regulated state of legislative emergency.

The Federal President, committed to political neutrality, usually acts by the power of the word. He is independent of daily politics and free to set his topics. This way, a number of presidents have by speeches initiated public debates that materialized in law some time later. Notable examples are the speech of Richard von Weizsäcker on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the end of world war II, and the “Ruck-Rede” (”Jerk Speech”) by Roman Herzog. The former speech substantially shaped Germany’s current culture of remembrance, the latter initiated the debate that eventually led to the Agenda 2010 reforms by the government of Gerhard Schröder.

In case the office of the president falls vacant, the president of the Federal Council (Bundesrat) temporarily assumes the duties of the office until a new president is elected, which should be done within 30 days.

The president enjoys immunity from prosecution and cannot be voted out of office. The Federal Diet can revoke the immunity in case the president is offended of willfully violating the law. The Federal constitutional court has then to determine whether the president is guilty of the offense and has the only authority to remove the president from the office.

The president resides in Bellevue Palace in Berlin and has a second office in Hammerschmidt Villa in Bonn. His car carries the number 0-1, and the aircraft carrying the president has the call sign German Air Force 001.

The president assumes a honorary godfathership for the seventh child of a family. He helps German artists in need by a single donation or by giving the a honorarium. He offers his congratulations for special anniversaries, such as the hundredth birthday of a German citizen.