The World from Berlin Gauck Will Be 'an Unpredictable President Who Irritates'

Chancellor Angela Merkel nominated Joachim Gauck for the role of German president on Sunday, backing a candidate she had previously rejected for the post. German commentators on Monday say the popular pro-democracy activist is a good choice, but warn that his tendency to speak his mind could irritate politicians from all parties.

A Carnival float in Düsseldorf carries the name of Germany's next federal president.
DPA

A Carnival float in Düsseldorf carries the name of Germany's next federal president.


Germany's President is meant to serve as a moral compass for the nation but after two presidents resigned ahead of term, a gaping hole emerged at the top. On Sunday evening, Chancellor Angela Merkel named Joachim Gauck, a pro-democracy activist from the former East Germany, as the unity candidate for the job.

The 72-year-old Protestant pastor and man who oversaw the opening up of the extensive Stasi files after the fall of the Berlin Wall, will now face a vote by Germany's Federal Assembly on March 18, which is seen as a mere formality.

The long-forecast departure of Christian Wulff came last Friday, when the former president resigned following a series of corruption allegations. His exit cleared the way for Gauck to become Germany's first president to hail from the formerly communist east.

'Yes We Gauck!'

According to surveys, Gauck was by far the most popular choice for president as well as being a media favorite. The mass-circulation Bild newspaper displayed a large picture of him on the front page, alongside the headline "Yes we Gauck," a play on US President Barack Obama's "Yes we can" campaign.

The anti-communist human rights activist was defeated for the presidency in 2010 by Merkel's candidate Wulff. But following Wulff's scandal-ridden exit, Merkel moved swiftly to name his successor, accepting Gauck, the candidate of her main opposition Social Democratic Party and the Green Party.

Merkel's sudden change of heart is generally viewed as a sign of flexibility and strength by German commentators on Monday. Gauck's nomination, meanwhile, is being widely celebrated -- although many look ahead to an eventful presidency, saying the free-thinker is likely to irk politicians during his tenure.

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"With Joachim Gauck a new era begins, and not just for Bellevue Palace. For the first time, two former citizens of East Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the future President Gauck will hold Germany's top posts. They are both East Germans with roots in the Protestant Church."

"On Sunday, Germany, Europe's most important power in the euro crisis, almost lost its government over Joachim Gauck. Fortunately, no one was too obstinate. Now Germany has a president who can help Angela Merkel on the front lines of the euro crisis. Like Merkel, Gauck has already experienced a euro-crisis-esque situation in his life."

"Like Merkel he followed the gradual collapse of the German Democratic Republic with his own eyes and senses. Unlike Merkel, though, Gauck won't have to defend Germany's national interests at the European Council in Brussels. He can keep an eye on the psychological and social effects of the crisis."

"He can do this with more legitimacy than Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who voices his understanding of the Greek predicament but has to keep an eye on Germany's coffers."

"Gauck is free. Gauck can talk. That's why he should travel to Greece soon after he assumes his new role on March 18. Gauck knows how it feels when society is unstable. Standing by the Acropolis, he can find the right words for a Europe that should not stop believing in itself."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Joachim Gauck was, and is, given a holy status. But that will not remain the case: He will irritate people, probably one-by-one riling each of the five parties who selected him as their candidate."

"Joachim Gauck is a skillful and reliable man. His strength lies in his preacher-like pathos, which thematically does not range very far. He is not a straightforward candidate. Rather, he is someone who thinks, talks and, sometimes, acts emotionally. He will make an unpredicable president, someone who iritates. He demonstrated this some time ago, praising Thilo Sarrazin as 'couragous' for his anti-immigrant stance. Gauck describes himself as a liberal conservative. But the Free Democratic Party may have been decieved by the word 'liberal' when it selected him as their candidate. His emphasis in many issues of social policy is more conservative than liberal."

"Supported by five parties, the CDU, CSU, SPD, FDP and the Greens, there are very, very high expectations of Gauck. Famed as a good speaker, he is expected to replicate the magic of former presidents Theodor Heuss and Richard von Weizsäcker, giving an intellectual take on big debates. That is something the country needs. A president should have that talent -- and one hopes that Gauck can deliver. The country needs a leader with common sense."

The daily tabloid Bild writes:

"Almost a generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germans have earned themselves Joachim Gauck. He is the 'President of our hearts' and the most qualified for the job. Angela Merkel did not miss her opportunity to end the chaos by letting the best man make his way into Bellevue Palace."

"He is a fresh wind blowing through politics. He stands above political tactics. And the chancellor recognizes that remaining sovereign is the best form of power."

"Gauck is more than just a personality: He offers the chance for a new style of leadership."

The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"It was (SDP head) Sigmar Gabriel who first talked about Gauck almost two years ago. Politically, he has clinched a victory with the civil rights activist's nomination.

"But Gabriel's victory will not be Merkel's defeat. An impeccable president would also benefit the chancellor. Gauck will not try to polarize. He is a man without a party, and that looks credible and makes him more believeable than most when he says he will be the president of all Germans. And Merkel has now shown herself as someone who is capable of learning, even when she's under pressure. That is an unusual trait for a politician. She has shown this characteristic before with her surprising nuclear power phase-out plan. That did not harm her. And who knows? Looking ahead to possible coalitions after next year's parliamentary elections, candidate Gauck might even prove a godsend for the chancellor."

The left-leaning Frankfurter Rundschau writes:

"At first glance, Merkel is doing the opposite of what we would expect from her. Twice she pushed through her president -- and twice they flopped. Christian Wulff's demise was faster and more pitiful than that of Horst Köhler. At least now, the third time around, they did not abuse the decision by making it a playgound for their own political interests. She is not installing a candidate who slots in ideologically nor is she ridding herself of an opponent. Why not? There is a simple answer: Because it wouldn't work. Her majority in the Federal Assembly is too thin, the coalition is too divided to push anyone else through."

"But now she has a candidate who will be approved by the Federal Assembly for a good reason: He has a broad consensus of support, with the exception of the petty side-lined Left Party. When the dust has settled, the positive outcome of this decision will reflect back onto Germany's most famous politician."

The Berlin daily Der Tagesspeigel writes:

"Here a president will emerge who cannot be controlled by anyone, certainly not by the Greens and Social Democrats. His strong majority will also entitle him to this position. (Former President) Horst Köhler was a challenge for the political class but Joachim Gauck will be even more so."

Jess Smee

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