Steinmeier, Frank-Walter


Steinmeier, Frank-Walter
▪ 2009

born Jan. 5, 1956, Detmold, North Rhine–Westphalia, W.Ger. [now in Germany]

 On Sept. 7, 2008, German Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was announced as the official candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) for the chancellorship in the 2009 parliamentary elections. The SPD had been in ideological uncertainty for almost a decade, and the new leftist party Die Linke had preyed on those voters who felt that the SPD had moved too far from its centre-left roots. The criticism that the SPD had become virtually indistinguishable from the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was biting and was not helped by SPD's participation in the grand coalition under Chancellor Angela Merkel of the CDU. Although many people considered Steinmeier the proper choice to give the SPD a new direction and regain voter confidence, to others the former civil servant who had never held elective office seemed an unlikely pick.

      Steinmeier was the son of a carpenter and a factory worker. As a student he attended meetings of the young socialists regularly, and after finishing high school in Blomberg in 1974, he joined the SPD. Following his completion of mandatory conscription in 1976, he received (1980) a law and politics degree from the University of Giessen, where he joined the faculty in 1986 while working on his Ph.D. dissertation (1991) on state intervention and homelessness. He left academia shortly thereafter and turned to politics.

      He took a position in the media law and policy division of the state Chancellery of Lower Saxony, where he quickly progressed to head the office of then-premier Gerhard Schröder in 1993. When Schröder became federal chancellor in 1998, Steinmeier also moved to Bonn to take a job in the Chancellery and to become the commissioner for the federal intelligence service. After the head of the Chancellery withdrew, Steinmeier took over the position. He became one of Schröder's most trusted advisers, the author of a white paper on retirement reform and tax reform, and a decisive voice in a series of economic reforms known as Agenda 2010.

      When Merkel took office and established her grand coalition cabinet in November 2005, she unexpectedly turned to Steinmeier—the confidant of Schröder, her predecessor and political rival—to head the Foreign Office. Although the choice seemed unorthodox, in political and diplomatic circles Steinmeier's appointment was greeted with approval, and in 2007 he added the role of vice-chancellor to his responsibilities. That same year he also served as the president of the European Council.

      Despite his overall popularity, Steinmeier had not escaped criticism. He was accused of human rights violations regarding German alleged terrorists who were apprehended by U.S. authorities and transported to Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. This cost him approval from the general public and led some people to question whether he was enough of a Social Democrat to redefine the SPD and move it back into favour with voters.

Nicola Corkin

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Universalium. 2010.

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