German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned on Sunday (23 October) that the European Union faced an existential risks.
“The financial crisis, the wave of refugees into Europe, and the shock of the British referendum have pushed Europe into serious turbulence,” he told the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
“Even dyed-in-the-wool backers of Europe can see that we have to convince people again, and we have to do it outside of the ivory towers of the professional backers of Europe,” Steinmeier said.
“If we don’t know how to appreciate the value of the EU, then it’s going to go to the dogs,” he added, accusing right-wing populists of taking advantage of people’s fears.
Sigmar Gabriel, the chairman of the Social Democrat (SPD) party currently in the coalition government, confirmed weeks of speculation Sunday by firmly naming Steinmeier to become Germany’s next ceremonial head of state despite an objection by a leading Bavarian conservative.
“The SPD already has a candidate, who meets all [the criteria]: Frank-Walter Steinmeier,” Gabriel told the mass tabloid Bild, referring to Germany’s search for a successor to its current President Joachim Gauck by February.
However, he added that unfortunately Steinmeier didn’t find support from “the Union”.
The Union refers to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat CDU and Christian Social Union (CSU) alliance, which since 1949 confines the CSU to Bavaria while the Christian Democrats contest the rest of Germany.
Finding a consensus candidate had been the deal agreed by the three parties in Merkel’s coalition government, which since 2013 has included Gabriel’s center-left Social Democrats.
Objections from CSU’s Scheuer
Objections to Steinmeier within the CSU headed by Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer were vocalised Sunday by that party’s general secretary, Andreas Scheuer, who said the foreign minister should focus on his job.
“We’re facing so many foreign policy challenges that it would be a mistake to discuss Frank-Walter Steinmeier as a [candidate] for president,” Scheuer told the Sunday edition of the mass tabloid Bild am Sonntag.
Gabriel’s endorsement of Steinmeier Sunday followed CSU endorsement Saturday for Merkel to run for a fourth term as German chancellor, despite Seehofer railing against her refugee policy.
Voters surveyed by the pollster Emnid in early October ranked Steinmeier as their top choice for the role of federal president.
He was favored by 41% of those asked who was their preference if Germany elected its president directly, instead of via its current Federal Assembly system. The Federal Assembly consists of members of the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, plus an equal number of political and nonpolitical representatives from Germany’s 16 states.
Second-placed was Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of Merkel’s CDU at 30%.
Schäuble however is not candidate for president.