Guido Westerwelle

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Guido Westerwelle
Westerwelle 2012.jpg
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
28 October 2009 – 17 December 2013
Chancellor Angela Merkel
Preceded by Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Succeeded by Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Vice-Chancellor of Germany
In office
28 October 2009 – 16 May 2011
Chancellor Angela Merkel
Preceded by Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Succeeded by Philipp Rösler
Leader of the Free Democratic Party
In office
4 May 2001 – 13 May 2011
Preceded by Wolfgang Gerhardt
Succeeded by Philipp Rösler
Personal details
Born (1961-12-27) 27 December 1961 (age 53)
Bad Honnef, West Germany
(now Germany)
Political party Free Democratic Party
Domestic partner Michael Mronz
Alma mater University of Bonn
Distance University of Hagen
Website Official website

Guido Westerwelle (German: [ˈɡiːdo ˈvɛstɐˌvɛlə]; born 27 December 1961) is a German politician who served as the Foreign Minister in the second cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel and was Vice Chancellor of Germany from 2009 to 2011. He is the first openly gay person to hold either of those positions. He had been the chairman of the Free Democratic Party of Germany (FDP) since May 2001, but stepped down in 2011.[1] A lawyer by profession, he was member of the Bundestag from 1996 to 2013.

Early life and education[edit]

Guido Westerwelle was born in Bad Honnef in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. He graduated from Ernst Moritz Arndt Gymnasium in 1980 after academic struggles resulted in his departure from previous institutions where he was considered an average student at best, but substandard otherwise.[2] He studied law at the University of Bonn from 1980 to 1987. Following the First and Second State Law Examinations in 1987 and 1991 respectively, he began practising as an attorney in Bonn in 1991. In 1994, he earned a doctoral degree in law from FernUniversität Hagen.

Career in the FDP[edit]

Westerwelle joined the FDP in 1980. He was a founding member of the Junge Liberale, the youth organization of that party, and was its chairman from 1983 to 1988. In a 1988 newspaper interview, he singled out the FDP's rejection of an amnesty for tax offenders and its diminished enthusiasm for nuclear power as fruits of the youth wing's labors.[3]

Having been a member of the Executive Board of the FDP since 1988, he first gained national prominence in 1994, when he was appointed Secretary General of the party. As such, he was a notable proponent of an unlimited free market economy and took a leading part in drafting a new party programme.

In 1996, Westerwelle was first elected a member of the Bundestag, filling in for Heinz Lanfermann, who had resigned from his seat after entering the Ministry of Justice. In 1998, he was re-elected to parliament. In his parliamentary group's home affairs spokesman, was instrumental in swinging the FDP behind a 1999 government bill to make German citizenship available to children born in Germany of non-German parents.[3]

In 2001, Westerwelle succeeded Wolfgang Gerhardt as party chairman. Gerhardt, however, remained chairman of the FDP's parliamentary group. Westerwelle, the youngest party chairman at the time, emphasized economics and education, and espoused a strategy initiated by his deputy Jürgen Möllemann, who, as chairman of the North Rhine-Westphalia branch of party, had led his party back into the state parliament, gaining 9.8% of the vote. This strategy, transferred to the federal level, was dubbed Project 18, referring both to the envisioned percentage and the German age of majority. Leading up to the 2002 elections, he positioned his party in equidistance to the major parties and refused to commit his party to a coalition with either the Christian Democrats or the Social Democrats. He was also declared the FDP's candidate for the office of chancellor. Since the FDP had never claimed such a candidacy (and hasn't done since) and had no chance of attaining it against the two major parties, this move was widely seen as political marketing alongside other moves, such as driving around in a campaign van dubbed the Guidomobile, wearing the figure 18 on the soles of his shoes or appearance in the Big Brother TV show.[4] Eventually, the federal elections yielded a slight increase of the FDP's vote from 6.2% to 7.4%. Despite this setback, he was reelected as party chairman in 2003.

Westerwelle speaking at an election rally in Hamm

In the federal elections of 2005, Westerwelle was his party's frontrunner. When neither Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats and Greens nor a coalition of Christian and Free Democrats, favored by Angela Merkel and Westerwelle, managed to gain a majority of seats, Westerwelle rejected overtures by Chancellor Schröder to save his chancellorship by entering his coalition, preferring to become one of the leaders of the disparate opposition of the subsequently formed "Grand Coalition" of Christian and Social Democrats, with Merkel as Chancellor. Westerwelle became a vocal critic of the new government. In 2006, according to an internal agreement, Westerwelle succeeded Wolfgang Gerhardt as chairman of the parliamentary group.

Over the following years, in an effort to broaden the party’s appeal, Westerwelle embraced its left wing under former Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and focused his campaign messages on tax cuts, education and civil rights.[5]

Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor of Germany[edit]

In the federal elections of 2009, Westerwelle committed his party to a coalition with Merkel's CDU/CSU, ruling out a coalition with Social Democrats and Greens, and led his party to unprecedented 14.6% share of the vote.[6] In accordance with earlier announcements, he formed a coalition government with CDU/CSU.[7]

On 28 October, Westerwelle was sworn in as Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor, becoming the head of the Foreign Office.[8][9][10] His deputies at the Foreign Office were his close political ally Cornelia Pieper and foreign policy expert Werner Hoyer as Ministers of State. Hoyer had previously held the same office in the Cabinet Kohl V.

On 19 November 2009, Westerwelle joined around 800 dignitaries from around the world – including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband – to witness Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s swearing in for a second term in office.[11][12]

Along with Federal President Horst Köhler and Minister of State Cornelia Pieper, Westerwelle represented Germany at the official funeral service for the President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Aleksander Kaczyński, and his wife Maria Kaczyńska on April 14, 2010.

On June 7, 2011, Westerwelle attended the state dinner hosted by President Barack Obama in honor of Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House.[13]

WikiLeaks controversy and election defeats[edit]

In late November 2010, leaked U.S. diplomatic cables revealed that American diplomats considered Westerwelle an obstacle to deeper transatlantic relations and were sceptical of his abilities, with one cable comparing him unfavorably to former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.[14] On 3 December 2010, Westerwelle dismissed his personal assistant Helmut Metzner following a Wikileaks diplomatic cables release which led to Metzner admitting that he regularly spied for the Americans.[15] By May 2011, opinion polls ranked Westerwelle as one of the most unpopular and ineffective foreign ministers since the late 1940s.[16] At the time, his party had collapsed in several states, including Rhineland-Palatinate and Bremen where they failed to secure the 5% threshold necessary for a seat in parliament.[17] Analysts said one of the main reasons Westerwelle had become so unpopular was that he had been unable to fulfill the expectations of his voters, the majority of whom were middle-class professionals or entrepreneurs.[18] Westerwelle subsequently stepped down as party leader. By July the party was only receiving 3% support in opinion polls, a record low,[19] reflecting what political insiders had called his "last stand" in January, comparing Westerwelle and his party to Captain Ahab and the Pequod.[20]

International crises[edit]

Amid efforts by the United States and European nations to isolate Iran’s then-president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Westerwelle traveled to Tehran in February 2011 to bring home two journalists for the weekly newspaper Bild am Sonntag who were released after being arrested in October 2010. After weeks of negotiations, the Iranians reached out to discuss the release of the pair, the reporter Marcus Hellwig and the photographer Jens Koch. The two reporters had been arrested while interviewing the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman sentenced to death for adultery.[21] A condition of their release was that Westerwelle meet with Ahmadinejad, causing Iranian exile groups in Europe to condemn the visit and to argue that Germany was bowing to the Tehran government at a time when security forces were cracking down on pro-democracy demonstrators.[22]

When Iran briefly refused to allow a plane carrying German Chancellor Angela Merkel to India to cross its air space in May 2013, Westerwelle summoned Iran's ambassador to Germany, Alireza Sheikhattar, complaining about "a disrespect for Germany that we will not accept."[23] He later temporarily recalled Germany’s ambassador to Iran for consultation after an attack on the British Embassy in Tehran in November 2013.[24]

In April 2011, Westerwelle summoned China's ambassador to Germany, Wu Hongbo, for a meeting about detained Chinese artist-activist Ai Weiwei, calling for his release and denouncing China's growing use of extrajudicial detentions against dissidents.[25]

After the offices of both the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in St Petersburg and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Moscow were investigated by prosecutors and tax inspectors in March 2013, Westerwelle summoned the envoy at the Russian embassy in Berlin to relay his "concern over the concerted action".[26]

On 4 December 2013, Westerwelle walked with opposition leaders through an encampment on Kiev's Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the focus of protests over the Yanukovych government's U-turn away from the European Union and toward Russia; Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev subsequently called any participation by foreign officials in the political events unfolding in Ukraine "interference in internal affairs."[27]

Arab Spring[edit]

When the insurgency against Libya’s dictator Muammar Gaddafi broke out in early 2011, Westerwelle promptly stated his support for the repressed opposition. Earlier, he had initially been cautious before making any pronouncements about Tunisia and Egypt, but in the case of Libya, he quickly called out Gaddafi as a dictator, and argued in favour of EU-level sanctions against the regime in Tripoli.[28][29] Strongly motivated by a widespread aversion in Germany to the use of military force, he shared with Chancellor Merkel a deep scepticism about a no-fly zone as it was suggested by France and the United Kingdom.[30] At a UN Security Council meeting in March 2011, Westerwelle abstained in the vote on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 to establish a no-fly zone, along with veto powers Russia and China as well as Brazil and India.[7] Shortly after, he expelled five Libyan diplomats for intimidating Libyan citizens living in Germany.[31] During a visit to Benghazi in June 2011, Westerwelle announced that Germany would recognize the rebel National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of Libyans.[32]

In December 2011, Westerwelle summoned Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, the Egyptian ambassador in Berlin, to protest over what he called an "unacceptable" raid on the Cairo office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation among those searched during a crackdown on pro-democracy and human rights organizations. In February 2012, he harshly criticized Egypt for trying 44 people, including German citizens, over the alleged illegal funding of aid groups.[33] When the Konrad Adenauer Foundation was ordered to close in Abu Dhabi later that year, Westerwelle personally pressed his UAE counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan to rethink the decision.[34]

Crises in Sudan[edit]

In June 2011, Westerwelle became the first German foreign minister to travel to Darfur, where he visited the United Nations/African Union operation UNAMID towards which Germany had contributed military, police and civilian personnel. He was also the first to visit South Sudan shortly before its independence, where he met the country’s founding president Salva Kiir Mayardit; as the rotating chair of the UN Security Council at the time, Germany was responsible for accepting the newly independent country into the United Nations.[35] During his trip, however, he made no appointment to meet Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide allegedly committed in Darfur.

In September 2012, Westerwelle summoned the Sudanese ambassador in Berlin after violent attacks on Germany’s embassy in Khartoum, and called on the Sudanese government to guarantee the security of the embassy; thousands of protesters had previously vandalized the embassies of Germany and Britain, outraged by Innocence of Muslims, a film that insults the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.[36]

Role in the United Nations[edit]

During July 2011, Westerwelle was the President of the United Nations Security Council as he headed the German delegation to the United Nations.[37] In an attempt to continue to play an important role within the United Nations, he led the German government’s successful campaign for a three-year seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council in late 2012.[38][39]

In October 2013, Israeli daily Haaretz published the text of a letter sent by Westerwelle to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that failure to appear at a periodical hearing regarding human rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council would cause severe diplomatic damage to Israel, and that its allies around the world would be hard-pressed to help it. Shortly after, Israel renewed its cooperation with the Human Rights Council after a year and a half of boycott.[40]


During his time in office, Westerwelle campaigned for the removal of B61 nuclear bombs at US air bases in Europe, arguing that a planned missile shield protecting Europe against ballistic rocket attack also meant that the tactical nuclear bombs are not needed. Against resistance from France, Westerwelle and German defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg demanded greater NATO commitment to nuclear disarmament at a meeting of the organization’s foreign and defence ministers in October 2010.[7] After the U.S. midterm elections in 2010, Westerwelle called on newly empowered Republicans in the U.S. Congress to stand by President Barack Obama’s goals of non- proliferation and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.[41]

Relations with Belarus[edit]

In the belief that the European Union had to engage Belarus to prevent it from moving closer to Russia, Westerwelle – accompanied by his Polish counterpart Radek Sikorski – visited Minsk in November 2010, the first such visit in 15 years.[42] Shortly after, Westerwelle publicly condemned the judgements against president Alexander Lukashenko’ main political opponent Andrei Sannikov and other opposition supporters.[43] As a consequence, Poland, France and Germany pressed their EU partners in to impose tougher sanctions against the Belarussian leadership following the crackdown and trials of opposition leaders in the country who held peaceful protests in against the fraudulent presidential elections.[44]

In March 2012, Lukashenko criticized EU politicians who threatened him with further sanctions over human rights abuses and in an apparent riposte to Westerwelle branding him "Europe's last dictator," said: "Better to be a dictator than gay."[45] Westerwelle subsequently responded: "This statement condemns itself. I won't budge one millimeter from my commítment to human rights and democracy in Belarus after these comments."[46]

Vergangenheitsbewältigung of German Nazi past[edit]

Upon taking office, Westerwelle opposed the appointment of Erika Steinbach, a controversial German politician and member of Chancellor Merkel's party, to a board overseeing the creation of the Centre Against Expulsions, a place documenting the expulsion of Germans from Eastern Europe after World War II.[47] In November 2010,[48] together with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, he opened the Nuremberg Trials Memorial permanent exhibition in the Palace of Justice building in Nuremberg.

Under Westerwelle’s leadership, the Foreign Ministry released a report in 2011 called "The Ministry and the Past", which alleged the ministry's collusion with the Nazis. Westerwelle said the report "shamed" the institution.[49] In February 2012, he signed an agreement granting 10 million euros (13 million dollars) to Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center over the following 10 years.[50]

Following the controversial 2012 Munich artworks discovery, he called for greater transparency in dealing with the find, which he warned could have lasting damage to Germany’s international friendships.[51]

Political positions[edit]

On economic policy[edit]

Westerwelle is a staunch supporter of the free market and has proposed reforms to curtail the German welfare state and deregulate German labour law. In an interview in February 2003, Westerwelle described labor unions as a "plague on our country" and said union officials were "the pall bearers of the welfare state and of the prosperity in our country".[52] He has called for substantial tax cuts and smaller government, in line with the general direction of his party.

On sexual equality[edit]

Westerwelle has been a staunch campaigner for sexual equality.[53] He long criticized that German law does not give complete adoption rights to gay couples.[54] In 2012, he and finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble were at loggerheads after a high-court ruling demanded the government provides equal tax treatment to gay civil servants and armed forces members. In German daily Bild, Westerwelle claimed that "[if] registered partnerships have the same responsibilities as married couples then they should have the same rights. It is not weakening marriage but ending discrimination. We do not live in the 1950s."[53]

On data protection[edit]

In 2001, Westerwelle was one of the first politicians to push for a biometric passport.[55] He opposed Google Street View and stated "I will do all I can to prevent it."[56] In 2013, he announced plans to launch an initiative at the United Nations General Assembly to agree an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that would give greater data protection to internet users.[57]


Westerwelle’s party chairmanship has also seen considerable controversy. Critics inside and outside the FDP have accused him of focusing on public relations, as opposed to developing and promoting sound public policy, especially in the election campaign of 2002. Westerwelle himself, who was made party chairman particularly because his predecessor Wolfgang Gerhardt had been viewed by many as dull and stiff, has labelled his approach as Spaßpolitik (fun politics) in the past.[58]

In 2006, former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder won a court order against Westerwelle who had criticized Schröder for accepting a lucrative job at Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas company, soon after losing the parliamentary election to Angela Merkel. Despite losing, Westerwelle said he would stick to his original assessment that Schröder's appointment as chairman of the North European Gas Pipeline Company was "problematic."[59]

On 27 September 2009, at a press conference after the election, Westerwelle refused to answer a question in English from a BBC reporter, stating that "it is normal to speak German in Germany".[60][61] Critics have noted that this was in part, due to Westerwelle's poor command of English. He earned the epithet "Westerwave" (a literal translation of his surname into English) as a consequence of these remarks.

He made public statements in 2010 about the "welfare state",[62] claiming that promising the people effortless prosperity may lead to "late Roman decadence", in reference to a verdict in the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany regarding Hartz IV. This caused quite a stir in Germany.

In 2010 Westerwelle announced he would not be taking his partner Michael Mronz to anti-gay countries.[63][64] Other official trips as foreign minister have included Mronz, an event manager, and Ralf Marohn, a partner in his brother's company,[65] also causing controversy. Westerwelle and the FDP defended this by saying that it is normal for foreign ministers to take industry representatives on their trips, ignoring the fact that these particular representatives had a personal relationship with him.

Other activities (selection)[edit]

Recognition (selection)[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Westerwelle (right) and his partner Michael Mronz (2009)

On 20 July 2004, Westerwelle attended Angela Merkel's 50th birthday party accompanied by his partner, Michael Mronz. It was the first time he had attended an official event with his partner.[67] The couple registered their partnership on 17 September 2010 in a private ceremony in Bonn.[68][69]

On 20 June 2014, it was reported that Westerwelle suffers from acute leukemia.[70]


  1. ^ "Westerwelle gibt den FDP-Vorsitz ab" Die Zeit (3 April 2011) (German)
  2. ^ [Vgl. Setzen, Sechs! – Schulgeschichten aus Deutschland (3/3). Experiment Schule. Dokumentarfilm von Susanne Bausch im Auftrag des SWR. Deutsche Erstausstrahlung am 22. Dezember 2005
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  24. ^ Maria Sheahan and Sylvia Westall (November 30, 2011), Germany recalls ambassador from Iran: German media Reuters.
  25. ^ Oliver Denzer (April 6, 2011), Germany summons China ambassador on detained artist Reuters.
  26. ^ Fears for NGOs in Russia as tax raids multiply BBC News, March 27, 2013.
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  32. ^ Maria Golovnina (June 13, 2011), Germany recognizes Libya's rebel leadership Reuters.
  33. ^ Egypt to put NGO workers on trial Al Jazeera, February 5, 2012.
  34. ^ Concerns as UAE shuts down rights groups Al Jazeera, April 1, 2012.
  35. ^ Germany's foreign minister calls for lasting cooperation in divided Sudan Deutsche Welle, June 23, 2011.
  36. ^ Muhammad Video Protests: Protesters Set Fire to German Embassy in Sudan Spiegel Online, September 14, 2012.
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  39. ^ Germany wins seat on UN Human Rights Council Deutsche Welle, November 12, 2011.
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  42. ^ Judy Dempsey (December 22, 2010), European Engagement With Belarus Takes a Blow International Herald Tribune.
  43. ^ Lukashenko opponent jailed for five years Al Jazeera, May 14, 2011.
  44. ^ Judy Dempsey (May 20, 2011), France Joins Poland and Germany on Wider Unity International Herald Tribune.
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  53. ^ a b Matthew Day (August 16, 2012), German foreign and finance ministers in gay couple tax row The Daily Telegraph.
  54. ^ Allan Hall (September 30, 2009), German politician forced to apologise after anti-gay slur against man tipped to be next foreign minister Daily Mail.
  55. ^ Zeh, Juli (21 August 2009). "Angriff auf die Freiheit" [Book Introduction] (in German). 
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  66. ^ Order Zasługi RP dla szefa MSZ Niemiec –, 26 November 2013
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  68. ^ "Bild article (in German)". 17 September 2010. 
  69. ^ "Germany’s Westerwelle Enters Civil Partnership, Bild Says" BusinessWeek (17 September 2010)
  70. ^ "Genesungswünsche der Kanzlerin: 'Ich kenne Guido Westerwelle als großen Kämpfer'" [Good wishes from the chancellor: 'I know Guido Westerwelle as a great fighter']. Spiegel Online (in German). 20 June 2014. 


External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Wolfgang Gerhardt
Leader of the Free Democratic Party
Succeeded by
Philipp Rösler
Political offices
Preceded by
Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Vice-Chancellor of Germany
Succeeded by
Philipp Rösler