Daily Sabah (Turkey)
Steinmeier and his importance for the German state
Frank Walter Steinmeier’s reelection gives the message that Germany will remain loyal to the line of rational and Europe-centered politics in the future
Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician Frank Walter Steinmeier was elected the federal president for the second time. Steinmeier has been active in the German state at the highest level since 1998, except between 2009-2013, and is, therefore, one of Germany’s most influential statespersons. His election was deliberate and shows that state interests remain paramount in Germany.
Steinmeier was nominated as the candidate for the federal presidency by the coalition parties SPD, the Greens and the Free Democratic Party (FDP), together with the opposition parties Christian Democratic Union (CDU)/ Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU), and went into the election as the clear favorite. The SPD politician received 1,045 of the total 1,472 votes and prevailed against Left Party politician Gerhard Trabert (96 votes), Alternative for Germany (AfD) politician Max Otte (140 votes) and independent candidate Stefanie Gebauer (58 votes). In the future, the German public expects Steinmeier to become more actively involved in politics as Germany is polarized in domestic politics, and will also have to make crucial decisions in foreign policy. Steinmeier’s political career
In order to understand the importance of Steinmeier, his political career and his political stance should be presented first. However, Steinmeier is regarded as an inconspicuous person who is convincing because of his efficiency. He is considered a close confidant of former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Steinmeier’s political career at the national level began in 1998 as the state secretary for the federal chancellery. A year later, Steinmeier became the head of the federal chancellery until the end of the Schröder era in 2005. In this influential position, Steinmeier drafted legislation and reform concepts and is also partly responsible for the wellknown Agenda 2010 reform package.
Steinmeier also secured prestigious state positions in the Merkel era, with the foreign minister position in 2005 and the vice chancellorship in 2007. While the SPD was in opposition between 2009-2013, Steinmeier was SPD parliamentary group’s chairperson in the Bundestag. In 2013 he became the foreign minister again under former Chancellor Angela Merkel, and in 2017 federal president. The positions held by Steinmeier since 1998 show that the SPD politician is one of the essential statespersons in German politics. Therefore, Steinmeier’s repeated election as the federal president should be understood more as a strategic choice of the German state than as a strategy in SPD party politics.
A COMMON LINE
One of the most influential people for Steinmeier’s political career is Schröder. Steinmeier is considered Schröder’s student and follows a similar political line as his mentor. SPD politicians Sigmar Gabriel and Olaf Scholz are also close confidants of the former SPD chancellor. The four SPD politicians from the federal state of Lower Saxony were particularly influential in German foreign policy. Schröder as chancellor, Steinmeier and Gabriel each as foreign ministers, and Scholz as the current chancellor. These four politicians symbolize the SPD’s almost continuous omnipresence, especially in German foreign policy since 1998.
In their foreign policy, Schröder, Steinmeier and Gabriel are known for prioritizing German state interests in international politics, which means focusing on Europe as an independent actor. Schröder pursued this line very aggressively, which is why there was a rift between the United States and Germany when the Schröder government rejected a German military intervention in Iraq. Steinmeier pursued a similar line during his tenure as foreign minister, but in contrast to Schröder, he adopted a more restrained position. He was considered an excellent diplomat and was highly popular in the Foreign Office.
The reason for Steinmeier’s popularity was mainly his diplomatic skills, which Germany needed, especially in times of the Ukraine crisis (2014), refugee crisis (2015) and Brexit (2016). Steinmeier stood out above all for his rational decision-making, making Germany a reliable partner for other countries in international politics.
GERMANY’S FUTURE POLICY
After Steinmeier, Gabriel as foreign minister and Scholz as chancellor became more active in foreign policy. The four politicians from Lower Saxony consistently pursue their Europe-centred line, which prioritizes stable relations with countries outside the European Union such as Russia and Turkey. Although Schröder is no longer active in politics, his influence is felt mainly on German-Russian relations. His lobbying of Gazprom and pushing the Nord Stream 2 project through is leading the SPD around Scholz to defend the project vehemently. While the Greens pursue a pro-trans-Atlantic policy and want to adapt U.S. foreign policy in Europe, the SPD tries to establish Europe as an independent actor in international politics.
Due to the current Ukraine crisis, pressure is being put on the SPD. Therefore, it has become inevitable for the SPD to take a step back and adopt a tougher stance toward Russia. After visiting Washington, Scholz threatened sanctions against Moscow if Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine. Steinmeier also addressed Russia’s President Vladimir Putin directly after his reelection as German president saying that Russia should not underestimate the strength of democracy. Steinmeier’s statements and Scholz’s threats arise from pressure from external factors. The other parties in Germany together with Western allies, first and foremost the U.S., are putting pressure on Scholz and the SPD to distance themselves from Russia. However, it should be clear that Scholz and Steinmeier will remain loyal to their line of rational and Europe-centred politics in the long term and are making these statements to reassure the public. Ultimately, relations with Russia are too crucial for Germany.