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IMF’s Koehler tapped as president of Germany

4 March 2004

BERLIN – Capping weeks of often unseemly wrangling, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Horst Koehler emerged Thursday as the man likely to be the next president of Germany.

Koehler, 61, got formal backing Thursday of the country’s three major opposition parties: the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Free Democrats (FDP).

They will have a solid majority in the upcoming presidential vote in the Federal Assembly, making Koehler’s election a virtual certainty.

Germany’s Federal Assembly meets on May 23 to elect a successor to President Johannes Rau, a Social Democrat (SPD), who decided not to seek re-election for the largely ceremonial post.

By installing their own candidate, the CDU-CSU and FDP would see themselves a step closer to toppling embattled Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s fragile centre-left SPD-Greens coalition.

The 2004 presidential election comes in a year in which 14 major statewide elections take place in a litmus test for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s flagging popularity. Schroeder’s SPD was badly defeated in the first election last Sunday in Hamburg.

Immediately after Koehler’s nomination, Schroeder swiftly announced his coalition’s choice for the presidency: political scientist Gesine Schwan.

Schwan, 60, is heads the European University in Frankfurt an der Oder, on the German-Polish border. Schroeder noted that she had been particularly active in promoting ties between Germany and Poland.

Schwan’s chances of being elected president, however, are considered negligible by political analysts in the face of the CDU-CSU and FDP majority in the Federal Assembly.

Schroeder appeared to acknowledge that Koehler is a shoo-in to become president. Even as he put forth Schwan’s name, the chancellor praised Koehler’s expertise, and noted that he himself had been the one to propose Koehler to head the IMF.

Koehler, who took charge of the IMF in 2000, earned a doctorate in economics and political science from the University of Tuebingen, where he was a scientific research assistant at the Institute for Applied Economic Research from 1969 to 1976.

After completing his education, he held various positions in Germany’s Ministries of Economics and Finance between 1976 and 1989.

Prior to taking up his position at the IMF, he was president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a post to which he was appointed in September 1998.

He was president of the German Savings Bank Association from 1993 to 1998. From 1990 to 1993, under Chancellor Helmut Kohl, he served as Germany’s deputy minister of finance, being responsible for international financial and monetary relations.

During this time he was chief German negotiatior for the agreement that became the Maastricht treaty on European Economic and Monetary Union and was closely involved in the 1990 German reunification. He also held the position of deputy governor for Germany at the World Bank.

Koehler was Kohl’s personal representative (“sherpa”) at several Group of Seven (G7) summits of the world’s top industrial powers in the early 1990s.

Despite his credentials, Koehler’s selection as the conservative choice for president came as a surprise.

Only 24 hours earlier it had appeared all but certain that veteran CDU official Wolfgang Schaeuble would be the choice. But the FDP baulked at backing such a high-profile Christian Democrat.

Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, the CSU head, then said the search was on for on “a last-minute replacement for a Champions League star kicker.”

FDP chief Guido Westerwelle, who had rejected Schaeuble, said he was convinced Germany needed a new face as president.

One name being prominently mentioned in Berlin for a time Wednesday was that of Annette Schavan, deputy chairman of the CDU and culture minister of the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Sources told Deutsche Presse-Agentur that she would find favour with the FDP. But political analysts said CDU chief Angela Merkel chafed at the idea of sharing the stage with another woman – and perhaps dimming Merkel’s own prospects of one day becoming Germany’s first woman chancellor.

Others considered for nomination included Siemens corporation CEO Heinrich von Pierer and former federal Judge Paul Kirchhof, sources said.

Subject: German news