Frank-Walter Steinmeier

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Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Frank-Walter Steinmeier 20090902-DSCF9761.jpg
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Assumed office
17 December 2013
Chancellor Angela Merkel
Preceded by Guido Westerwelle
In office
22 November 2005 – 27 October 2009
Chancellor Angela Merkel
Preceded by Joschka Fischer
Succeeded by Guido Westerwelle
Chairman of the Social Democratic Party in the Bundestag
In office
27 October 2009 – 16 December 2013
Preceded by Peter Struck
Succeeded by Thomas Oppermann
Vice Chancellor of Germany
In office
21 November 2007 – 27 October 2009
Chancellor Angela Merkel
Preceded by Franz Müntefering
Succeeded by Guido Westerwelle
Chief of the Chancellery
In office
31 July 1999 – 22 November 2005
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder
Preceded by Bodo Hombach
Succeeded by Thomas de Maizière
Personal details
Born (1956-01-05) 5 January 1956 (age 58)
Detmold, West Germany
(now Germany)
Political party Social Democratic Party
Alma mater University of Giessen
Religion Lutheranism

Frank-Walter Steinmeier [ˈfʁaŋkˌvaltɐ ˈʃtaɪ̯nˌmaɪ̯.ɐ] (born 5 January 1956) is a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) who has served as Minister for Foreign Affairs since 2013. Steinmeier was a close aide of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, serving as Chief of Staff in the German Chancellery from 1999 to 2005. He subsequently served as Foreign Minister (2005–2009) and Vice Chancellor (2007–2009) in the grand coalition government of Angela Merkel. In 2008, he briefly served as acting chairman of his party.

Early life and education[edit]

Steinmeier was born in Detmold as the son of a carpenter.[1] Following his Abitur, he served his military service from 1974 until 1976. He then studied law and political science at the Justus-Liebig-Universität of Gießen. In 1982 he passed his first and 1986 his second state examination in law. He worked as scientific assistant to the professor of public law and political science at the Gießen university, until he obtained his doctorate of law in 1991. His dissertation explored the role of the state in the prevention of homelessness.[2]

Political career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Steinmeier became an adviser in 1991 for law of communication media and media guidelines in the state Chancellery of Lower Saxony in Hanover. In 1993, he became director of the personal office for the then Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, Gerhard Schröder. In 1996, he became the Undersecretary of State and Director of the State Chancellery of Lower Saxony.

Steinmeier was appointed in November 1998 as undersecretary of state at the office of the chancellor following Schröder's election victory. He replaced Bodo Hombach as the head of the office of the chancellor in 1999.[3] During this period Steinmeier was also one of the advisors to Schröder.[3] Because of his effective management beyond the spotlight of politics, he was nicknamed Die Graue Effizienz (The Grey Efficiency) - a pun on Graue Eminenz, the German for éminence grise.

A major controversy during Steinmeier's term as chief of staff was the imprisonment of a German-born Turk, Murat Kurnaz, in Guantánamo Bay from 2002 until August 2006. Steinmeier denied during a parliamentary inquiry in March 2007 that he had blocked Kurnaz's release. Instead, he claimed that Berlin had feared Kurnaz was a threat and should go to Turkey, not Germany, if released. Only after Merkel's election was Kurnaz released and brought back to Germany.[4]

2005 elections – Foreign minister[edit]

On 22 November 2005, after the 2005 federal elections, Steinmeier became foreign minister in the Grand coalition cabinet led by Angela Merkel.[3] He was the first SPD Foreign Minister since Willy Brandt (1966–1969).

Following Franz Müntefering's departure from the cabinet on 21 November 2007, Steinmeier also filled the position of Vice-Chancellor.[5] In 2007, Steienmeier said he opposes European Commission proposals on unbundling the ownership of energy networks in the European Union.[6]

Steinmeier became known for his rather Russia-friendly stance, arguing strenuously for engagement with the increasingly assertive power to the east, rather than its isolation.[7] Russian opposition activists thus celebrated when Steinmeier lost elections in 2009, signaling their discontent with Steinmeier. Oleg Orlov, head of the Memorial human rights group, said that Steinmeier had prolonged Schröder's policies on Russia and that Germany's policies were "extremely bad for civil society, democracy and the country as a whole".[8]

In 2008, Steinmeier refused to meet Dalai Lama. Instead, Steinmeier issued the statement "it takes a lot of courage not to meet with the Dalai Lama these days", which the New York Times described as "extraordinarily cynical" and accused of Steinmeier of prioritizing money over human rights.[9][10][11]

Steinmeier served as acting chairman of the SPD from 7 September 2008 to 18 October 2008.

2009 elections – Opposition leader[edit]

On 7 September 2008, following the resignation of SPD chairman Kurt Beck, Steinmeier was chosen as the SPD candidate for chancellor for the 2009 federal elections and also designated as acting SPD Chairman, pending the return of Müntefering to that position.[12]

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier addressing a dinner of the World Jewish Congress in Berlin, 14 September 2014

After the SPD's decisive defeat in the elections,[13] Steinmeier, who had been elected to represent Brandenburg an der Havel – Potsdam-Mittelmark I – Havelland III – Teltow-Fläming I, was elected as chairman of the SPD's parliamentary group in the Bundestag, and as such leader of the opposition.[14] After a hospitalization for donating a kidney to his wife in August 2010, Steinmeier returned to his office in October 2010.

In 2011, Steinmeier criticized that Angela Merkel’s decision to appoint her economics adviser, Jens Weidmann, to be the next head of Bundesbank undermined the political independence and public trust in the German central bank. [15]

In late 2012, Steinmeier was once again considered a possible candidate to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel in the 2013 general election but soon withdrew from the contest. As a consequence, SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel later announced that the leadership agreed to nominate Peer Steinbrück.[16]

2013 elections – Foreign minister again[edit]

Steinmeier with John Kerry in July 2014

After the elections of 2013 and the new grand coalition government, Steinmeier was appointed foreign minister for a second time in December 2013. He replaced Guido Westerwelle, who had signed the P5+1 accord with Iran in November 2013.

Domestically, Steinmeier has in the past been the only major politician with approval ratings consistently as high as or higher than Merkel’s. This is helped by the especially high ratings foreign ministers generally receive in Germany. [17]

Personal life[edit]

Steinmeier is married and has one daughter. On 24 August 2010, due to an illness of his wife, he successfully donated a kidney to her.


  1. ^ Judy Dempsey (October 17, 2005), A promotion to cabinet for Schröder's top aide New York Times.
  2. ^ Melissa Eddy (September 30, 2013), German Politician Faces Plagiarism Accusations New York Times.
  3. ^ a b c Bernstein, Richard (23 November 2005). "Merkel Takes Office in Germany and Announces Coalition Cabinet". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  4. ^ Judy Dempsey (May 17, 2007), Letter From Europe: In German town, a foreign minister paves way for future New York Times.
  5. ^ Andreas Cremer and Brian Parkin, "Muentefering, Vice-Chancellor Under Merkel, Quits", Bloomberg, 13 November 2007.
  6. ^ German minister opposes EU utility unbundling idea Reuters 20 January 2007
  7. ^ Nicholas Kulish (September 5, 2008), Without Primaries or Caucuses, Campaign for German Chancellor Begins New York Times.
  8. ^ German Vote Raises Hopes in Russia. Moscow Times. 29 September 2009.
  9. ^ Steinmeier's bad example New York Times 20 May 2008
  10. ^ German Minister Criticized for Planned Meeting with Dalai Lama. Spiegel Online International. 17 May 2008
  11. ^ Dalai Lama `Disappointed' Germany's Steinmeier Won't Meet Him Bloomberg 9 May 2008
  12. ^ "German SPD party reshuffles leadership, with eye on election", Xinhua, 7 September 2008.
  13. ^ "Merkel's rival concedes defeat in German election". The Telegraph. 27 September 2009. 
  14. ^ "Steinmeier wird Oppositionsführer". Die Zeit. 27 September 2009. (German)
  15. ^ Judy Dempsey (February 16, 2011), Merkel Names an Adviser to Lead the Central Bank New York Times.
  16. ^ Melissa Eddy (September 28, 2012), Merkel’s Ex-Finance Minister to Oppose Her New York Times.
  17. ^ Nicholas Kulish (September 5, 2008), Without Primaries or Caucuses, Campaign for German Chancellor Begins New York Times.

External links[edit]

Media related to Frank-Walter Steinmeier at Wikimedia Commons

Political offices
Preceded by
Bodo Hombach
Chief of the Chancellery
Succeeded by
Thomas de Maizière
Minister of Special Affairs
Preceded by
Joschka Fischer
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Guido Westerwelle
Preceded by
Franz Müntefering
Vice Chancellor of Germany
Preceded by
Guido Westerwelle
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Party political offices
Preceded by
Kurt Beck
Leader of the Social Democratic Party

Succeeded by
Franz Müntefering
Preceded by
Peter Struck
Chairman of the Social Democratic Party in the Bundestag
Succeeded by
Thomas Oppermann