Earlier today, German President Horst KÃ¶hler resigned, effective immediately (BBC coverage). His constitutional successor, and now German acting head of state is Social Democrat Jens Boehrnsen, who is the mayor of the state of Bremen and in this function speaker of the parliament’s upper chamber (Bundesrat). A new President will have to be elected by a special constitutional assembly, the Bundesversammlung, within 30 days. Despite Germany’s Presidency being largely ceremonial, and even though Mr KÃ¶hler was a generally popular President during his first term and reelected for a second five-year term in 2009, he recently came under attack for lacking a certain inspirational aura, and, worse for someone who was director of the IMF, lacking intellectual leadership in financially troubled times.
Mr KÃ¶hler’s resignation may not be sufficiently bad news to kill the national celebration following Lena Meyer-Landruth’s victory in the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest – and the World Cup is around the corner. But his claim that his resignation over an interview that he should not have given – he stated that an export-orientated country like Germany may need to deploy troops to protect its economic interests which unsurprisingly caused a lot of confusion given German history and the obvious unpopularity of military deployments – was “inevitable” because of the dignity of the office seems a bit hyperbolic and thus more as yet another display of what many people have begun to worry about: nine months after taking office, the German government is increasingly in disarray, both conceptually and electorally. In a recent poll, only three per cent of the Germans said they would vote for the junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats, which means they lost about 10% of the vote since last September.
Sure, this is only a snap shot, but it’s also a bit more – it’s fundamental disappointment about this government’s performance from day one on. The parties’ as well as the government’s competence in a number of important areas, notably economics, is challenged on a daily basis. Even members of Parliament are complaining publicly that they are supposed to simply sign off on economic legislation they don’t understand and that the government apparently isn’t able to explain. Imagine how the average voter must feel.
So maybe Mr KÃ¶hler’s resignation was a last act of leadership. The debate about who will succeed him will likely be a little different from the usual backroom coalition decisions about who will become President. It will likely become a rather public debate about leadership in difficult times. And that’s both good, and a problem, since the amount of people who may be up to the job and fit the political requirements is rather limited.
Off the top of my mind, I really can’t think of anyone but current finance minister Wolfgang SchÃ¤uble. So let’s help Angela Merkel and make the contest a bit more exciting with a little short list of our own – who’s your best bet for “Germany’s next President”?