Germany’s ruling coalition backed Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier as the country’s next president Monday, paving the way for an outspoken critic of Donald Trump to become head of state in Europe’s top economy.
Party leaders have been wrangling for months over whom to nominate as a successor to President Joachim Gauck, a 76-year-old pastor from the ex-communist East Germany who is stepping down due to his advanced age.
On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc agreed on Germany’s most popular politician, Steinmeier, whose name had been put forward by his Social Democratic Party (SPD).
Merkel, who was unable to find a viable conservative candidate, told reporters Steinmeier was a “respected centrist” whose nomination stood for “stability, particularly in times of uncertainty and instability in the world”.
Steinmeier, who received the call from Merkel on his way to an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, said he was grateful for the vote of confidence “across the political spectrum”.
The new president – a figure who is meant to transcend party politics and serve as a moral standard bearer for the nation – will be elected on February 12 by a special assembly of MPs, delegates from the 16 federal states, and other notables.
Steinmeier, 60, has emerged in recent months as the German government’s most strident detractor of US President-elect Donald Trump.
He warned a day after Trump’s shock election that transatlantic relations would become “more difficult” with the United States making more decisions “on its own”.
During the US campaign, Steinmeier was even more damning, saying the prospect of a Trump presidency was a “frightening” prospect for the world.
He compared Trump to a “hate preacher”, saying he had much in common with “fearmongers” in Germany’s right-wing populist AfD party as well as advocates of Britain’s exit from the EU.
A veteran of the German political scene and a familiar face in world capitals, Steinmeier served as former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s chief of staff before becoming Merkel’s vice-chancellor and top diplomat during her first “grand coalition” government from 2005 to 2009.
In his second stint as foreign minister beginning in 2013, he has at times drawn fire for attempting to keep the lines of communications open with Russia despite deteriorating relations over Ukraine.