Next German president to press reform course
30 June 2004 , BERLIN - Horst Koehler, who takes office on 1 July as the ninth president in post-war Germany, brings with him a wealth of international economic experience which he has already made clear he aims to use in pushing the country towards reforms. Right after his election on 23 May by the Federal Convention, the former International Monetary Fund boss highlighted the need for "necessary and overdue" reforms in Europe's largest economy. Koehler, 61, was the nominee of the conservative opposition
30 June 2004
BERLIN - Horst Koehler, who takes office on 1 July as the ninth president in post-war Germany, brings with him a wealth of international economic experience which he has already made clear he aims to use in pushing the country towards reforms.
Right after his election on 23 May by the Federal Convention, the former International Monetary Fund boss highlighted the need for "necessary and overdue" reforms in Europe's largest economy.
Koehler, 61, was the nominee of the conservative opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and became only the second man from an opposition party to be elected to the presidency. The other was also a CDU politician, Carl Carstens, who served 1979-1984.
While under the German constitution the presidency is largely a ceremonial position, the office-holder is in a prominent position to influence public opinion by discussing issues above the fray of everyday politics.
Koehler has shown that he aims to make reforms an issue.
"I view fundamental reform of our nation as necessary and overdue," he said in his acceptance speech in May. "As an economist I'm concerned over the state of the German economy."
Born in Skierbieszow, Poland in 1943 to ethnic German parents, Koehler was forced to flee towards the end of World War II. The family joined German refugees leaving Poland in 1945 ahead of the advancing Soviet Red Army and Koehler spent his first 10 years in Leipzig in communist East Germany before his family settled in West Germany.
Koehler, who headed the IMF from 2000 until he stepped down early this year when the CDU picked him as its presidential candidate, said Germans needed to get over their "angst" regarding change and become far bolder in building a knowledge-based economy and society.
The question being asked in Berlin as Koehler takes office is just how prominently he will push this line of argument as president, putting himself into possible conflict with the Social Democrat- Greens government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Widespread public dissatisfaction with the reforms called for by Schroeder has sent the SPD plummeting in public opinion polls. If Koehler is seen as getting too forcefully involved in the reform debate, it could open him to accusations of being a president being too partisan in favour of the conservative opposition.
On the other hand, nobody has questioned his credentials in economics, with even former SPD Chancellor Helmut Schmidt among those to praise Koehler's qualifications in that area.
Prior to heading the IMF, Koehler had previously served as deputy finance minister, head of Germany's public sector Savings Bank Association and president of the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
He has spent the last six years in Washington and London, and this absence became talking point last winter after the CDU nominated him, with many Germans asking "Horst Who?"
Since his election as president, he has kept a fairly low profile, staying tactfully in the background while his Social Democratic predecessor, Johannes Rau, was in the process of bidding farewell to politics.
Germany saluted outgoing Rau Tuesday with a night time military ceremony at the presidential residence.
The ceremony for the 73-year-old Rau, who served five years as president of Germany, included a performance by the German armed forces band and a presentation by the guard battalion. The traditional military farewell began just after sunset at 2200 in the park grounds of the Bellevue presidential residence.
A veteran Social Democratic Party politician and former premier of the industrial state of North Rhine-Westfalia, Rau concludes his five-year term as president on Wednesday, capping more than 50 years in politics.
Subject: German news