Angela Merkel

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Posted by kaori 04/30/2009 @ 00:12

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Germany agrees 'bad bank' scheme - BBC News
Reports have said that Angela Merkel's government wants to see this achieved before the summer recess starts in early July. Although the exact details have yet to be released, reports say banks that wish to take part in the voluntary scheme will be...
In Germany, an Image of Haplessness - New York Times
By JOHN VINOCUR BERLIN — Angela Merkel's New Year's 2009 message to Germany and the world can sound eery or even negligent now: Her country and its “social market economy” had gotten things right. The chancellor said a set of new rules for capitalism...
Lead by Example - New York Times
John Vinocur (“In Germany, an image of haplessness,” Politicus, May 12) rightly ridicules Chancellor Angela Merkel's New Year's 2009 message in which she exhorts the world to copy Germany's financial and economic ground rules. But Ms. Merkel is not...
Merkel's CDU Loses Majority With German FDP in Poll - Bloomberg
By Patrick Donahue May 12 (Bloomberg) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats lost majority support for a government with their favored partner after her Social Democrat rivals criticized tax fraud and won concessions on pensions,...
David Cameron warned by Angela Merkel over Lisbon Treaty -
An incoming Conservative government will face isolation and the political enmity of Germany and France for not "cooperating" with the Lisbon European Union Treaty, Angela Merkel has warned. By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels In a thinly veiled attack made...
Germany May Offer Guarantees to Help GM Sell Opel - Bloomberg
By Tony Czuczka and Chris Reiter May 11 (Bloomberg) -- Germany may offer loan guarantees to help General Motors Corp. sell its Opel unit if GM files for bankruptcy, the Economy Ministry said, as pressure builds on Chancellor Angela Merkel to save jobs...
Angela Merkel Cause Stir With Risque Ad Campaign - AHN
Berlin, Germany (AHN) - Citygoers in Berlin were greeted with a surprising sight: an image of German Chancellor Angela Merkel wearing nothing but bright purple undergarments. The 1000 square-foot image of the world leader is part of a nationwide...
Angela Merkel evacuated from flat after wartime bomb found nearby -
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, had to be evacuated from her Berlin apartment over the weekend after a large unexploded wartime bomb was found by construction workers nearby. By Our Foreign Staff and Agencies in Berlin The 220 lb bomb,...
Germany moves to outlaw paintball - euronews
Fritz Rudolf Korper, the deputy parliamentary leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition partners, the SPD, said the problem is that paintball is directed against an individual. Hence concerns about the imitation of the game in reality....
Merkel: No 2-state solution substitute - Jerusalem Post
By AP There is no an alternative to a two-state peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and King Abdullah II of Jordan hold a press conference at the...

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

Angela Dorothea Merkel (help·info) (IPA: ) (born Angela Dorothea Kasner, 17 July 1954, in Hamburg, West Germany), is the current Chancellor of Germany. Merkel, elected to the German Parliament from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, has been the chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) since 9 April 2000, and Chairwoman of the CDU-CSU parliamentary party group from 2002 to 2005. She leads a Grand coalition with its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), formed after the 2005 federal election on 22 November 2005.

In 2007, Merkel was also President of the European Council and chair of the G8. She played a central role in the negotiation of the Treaty of Lisbon and the Berlin Declaration. In domestic policy, health care reform and problems concerning future energy development have thus far been the major issues of her tenure.

Merkel is the first female Chancellor of Germany. She is considered by Forbes Magazine to be the "most powerful woman in the world at the present time". In 2007 she became the second woman to chair the G8 after Margaret Thatcher.

Chancellor Merkel is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an International network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.

In 2008 Merkel received the Charlemagne Prize "for her work to reform the European Union". The prize was presented by Nicolas Sarkozy.

Angela Merkel was born as Angela Dorothea Kasner in Hamburg on 17 July 1954, as the daughter of Horst Kasner (b. 6 August 1926 in Berlin-Pankow), a Lutheran pastor and his wife, Herlind (b. 8 July 1928 in Elbing, now Elbląg, Poland, as Herlind Jentzsch), a teacher of English and Latin. Her mother is a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Her grandparents on her mother's side lived in Elbing in East Prussia; one of them being Masurian. She has a brother, Marcus (born 7 July 1957), and a sister, Irene (b. 19 August 1964).

Merkel's father studied Theology in Heidelberg (then West Germany) and, afterwards, in Hamburg. In 1954 her father - friendly towards socialism - received a pastorship at the church in Quitzow (near Perleberg in Brandenburg) which then was in the socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR), and the family moved to Templin. Thus Merkel grew up in the countryside 80 km (50 miles) north of Berlin. Gerd Langguth, a former senior member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union states in a book that the family's ability to travel freely from East to West Germany during the following years, as well as their possession of two automobiles, leads to the conclusion that Merkel's father had a 'sympathetic' relationship with the communist regime, since such freedom and perquisites for a Christian pastor and his family would have been otherwise impossible in East Germany.

Like most pupils, Merkel was a member of the official, Socialist-led youth movement Free German Youth (FDJ). Later she became a member of the district board and secretary for "Agitprop" (Agitation and Propaganda) at the Academy of Sciences in that organisation. However, she did not take part in the secular coming of age ceremony Jugendweihe, which was common in East Germany, and was confirmed instead. Merkel herself described her FDJ youth movement years as "cultural work", but her youth movement vacations to Moscow still cause controversies in conservative German media, claiming Communist ideological influences.

Merkel was educated in Templin and at the University of Leipzig, where she studied physics from 1973 to 1978. While a student, she participated in the reconstruction of the ruin of the Moritz Bastei, a project students intiated to create their own club and recreation facility on campus. Such an initiative was unprecedented in the GDR of that period, and initially resisted by the University of Leipzig. However, with backing of the local leadership of the SED party, the project was allowed to proceed. Merkel worked and studied at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin-Adlershof from 1978 to 1990. She learned to speak Russian fluently, and earned a statewide prize for her proficiency. After being awarded a doctorate (Dr. rer. nat.) for her thesis on quantum chemistry she worked as a researcher.

In 1989, Merkel got involved in the growing democracy movement after the fall of the Berlin Wall, joining the new party Democratic Awakening. Following the first (and only) democratic election of the East German state, she became the deputy spokesperson of the new pre-unification caretaker government under Lothar de Maizière.

At the first post-reunification general election in December 1990, she was elected to the Bundestag from a constituency which includes the districts of Nordvorpommern and Rügen, as well as the city of Stralsund. This has remained her electoral district until today. Her party merged with the west German CDU and she became Minister for Women and Youth in Helmut Kohl's 3rd cabinet. In 1994, she was made Minister for the Environment and Reactor Safety, which gave her greater political visibility and a platform on which to build her political career. As one of Kohl's protégées and his youngest cabinet minister, she was referred to by Kohl as "das Mädchen" ("the girl").

When the Kohl government was defeated in the 1998 general election, Merkel was named Secretary-General of the CDU. In this position, Merkel oversaw a string of Christian Democrat election victories in six out of seven state elections in 1999 alone, breaking the SPD-Green coalition's hold on the Bundesrat, the legislative body representing the states. Following a party financing scandal, which compromised many leading figures of the CDU (most notably Kohl himself, who refused to reveal the donor of DM 2,000,000 because he had given his word of honour and the then party chairman Wolfgang Schäuble, Kohl's hand-picked successor, who wasn't cooperative either), Merkel criticized her former mentor, Kohl, and advocated a fresh start for the party without him. She was elected to replace Schäuble, becoming the first female chair of her party, on 10 April 2000. Her election surprised many observers, as her personality offered a contrast to the party she had been chosen to lead; Merkel is a Protestant, originating from predominantly Protestant northern Germany, while the CDU is a male-dominated, socially conservative party with deep Catholic roots, and has its strongholds in western and southern Germany.

Following Merkel's election as CDU leader, she enjoyed considerable popularity among the German population and was favoured by many Germans to become Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's challenger in the 2002 election. However, she did not receive enough support in her own party and particularly its sister party (the Bavarian Christian Social Union, or CSU), and was subsequently out-manoeuvred politically by CSU leader Edmund Stoiber, who had had the privilege of challenging Schröder but squandered a large lead in the opinion polls to lose the election by a razor-thin margin. After Stoiber's defeat in 2002, in addition to her role as CDU chairwoman, Merkel became leader of the conservative opposition in the lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag. Her rival, Friedrich Merz, who had held the post of parliamentary leader prior to the 2002 election, was eased out to make way for Merkel.

Merkel supported a substantial reform agenda concerning Germany's economic and social system and was considered to be more pro-market (and pro-deregulation) than her own party (the CDU); she advocated changes to German labour law, specifically, removing barriers to laying off employees and increasing the allowed number of work hours in a week, arguing that existing laws made the country less competitive because companies cannot easily control labour costs at times when business is slow.

Merkel argued for Germany's nuclear power to be phased out less quickly than the Schröder administration had planned.

Merkel advocated a strong transatlantic partnership and German-American friendship. In the spring of 2003, defying strong public opposition, Merkel came out in favour of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, describing it as "unavoidable" and accusing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of anti-Americanism. This led some critics to characterize her as an American lackey. She criticised the government's support for the accession of Turkey to the European Union and favoured a "privileged partnership" instead. In doing so, she was seen as being in unison with many Germans in rejecting Turkish membership of the European Union.

As a female politician from a centre right party, and a scientist, Merkel has been compared by many in the English language press to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Some have referred to her as "Iron Lady", "Iron Girl" and even "The Iron Frau" (all alluding to Thatcher, whose nickname was "The Iron Lady" -- Thatcher also has a science degree: an undergraduate degree in chemistry). Political commentators have debated the precise extent to which their agendas are similar.

In addition to being the first female German chancellor and the youngest German chancellor since the Second World War, Merkel is also the first from East Germany (although born in Hamburg), the first born after World War II, and the first with a background in natural sciences. She studied physics; her predecessors law, business and history.

Merkel topped Forbes magazine's list of "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women" in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

On 30 May 2005, Merkel won the CDU/CSU nomination as challenger to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the SPD in the 2005 national elections. Her party began the campaign with a 21% lead over the SPD in national opinion polls, although her personal popularity lagged behind that of the incumbent. However, the CDU/CSU campaign suffered when Merkel, having made economic competence central to the CDU's platform, confused gross and net income twice during a televised debate. She regained some momentum after she announced that she would appoint Paul Kirchhof, a former judge at the German Constitutional Court and leading fiscal policy expert, as Minister of Finance.

Merkel and the CDU lost ground after Kirchhof proposed the introduction of a flat tax in Germany, again undermining the party's credibility on economic affairs and convincing many voters that the CDU's platform of deregulation was designed to benefit only the rich. This was compounded by Merkel proposing to increase VAT to reduce Germany's deficit and fill the gap in revenue from a flat tax. The SPD were able to increase their support simply by pledging not to introduce flat taxes or increase VAT. Although Merkel's standing recovered after she distanced herself from Kirchhof's proposals, she remained considerably less popular than Schröder, and the CDU's lead was down to 9% on the eve of the election. Merkel was also criticized for plagiarizing a passage from a speech used by President Ronald Reagan in a 1980 US presidential debate for her own television election duel with Gerhard Schröder, the Social Democratic chancellor.

On 18 September Merkel's CDU/CSU and Schröder's SPD went head-to-head in the national elections, with the CDU/CSU winning 35.3% (CDU 27.8%/CSU 7.5%) of the second votes to the SPD's 34.2%. Neither the SPD-Green coalition nor the CDU/CSU and its preferred coalition partners, the Free Democratic Party, held enough seats to form a majority in the Bundestag, and both Schröder and Merkel claimed victory. A Grand Coalition between the CDU/CSU and SPD faced the challenge that both parties demanded the chancellorship. However, after three weeks of negotiations, the two parties reached a deal whereby Merkel would become Chancellor and the SPD would hold 8 of the 16 seats in the cabinet. The coalition deal was approved by both parties at party conferences on 14 November. Merkel was elected Chancellor by the majority of delegates (397 to 217) in the newly assembled Bundestag on 22 November but 51 members of the governing coalition voted against her.

Reports had indicated that the Grand Coalition would pursue a mix of policies, some of which differ from Merkel's political platform as leader of the opposition and candidate for Chancellor. The coalition's intent was to cut public spending whilst increasing VAT (from 16 to 19%), social insurance contributions and the top rate of income tax. Employment protection will no longer cover employees during their first two years in a job, pensions will be frozen and subsidies for first-time home buyers will be scrapped. On foreign policy, Germany would maintain its strong ties with France and eastern European states, particularly Russia, and support Turkey for one day joining the European Union.

Merkel had stated that the main aim of her government would be to reduce unemployment, and that it is this issue on which her government will be judged.

On 22 November 2005, Merkel assumed the office of Chancellor of Germany.

In her first week in office, Merkel visited the French president Jacques Chirac, the EU leaders gathered in Brussels, the Secretary-General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and received President Pohamba of Namibia.

On 25 September 2007, Chancellor Angela Merkel met the Dalai Lama for "private and informal talks" in Berlin in the Chancellery amid protest from China. China afterwards cancelled separate talks with German officials, including talks with Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries.

In 2009, she criticized the Roman Catholic Church over the lifting of the excommunication of controversial bishop Richard Williamson, a member of the Society of Saint Pius X. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See's Press Office, responded to the Chancellor by saying that in condemning Holocaust-denial claims the Pope "could not have been clearer".

According to ‘Mail & Guardian Online’ and ‘Deutsche Welle’, Merkel in August 2006 informed the German news agency Mehr that she had received a letter from the Iranian president Ahmadinejad. She further told Mehr, that to her opinion this letter contained “unacceptable” criticism of Israel and “put in question” the Jewish state's right to exist, and that therefore she would not formally respond to the letter.

On 16 March 2007, Merkel arrived in Israel to mark the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state. She was greeted at the airport by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, an honor guard and many of the country's political and religious leaders, including most of the Israeli Cabinet. Until then, U.S. President George W. Bush had been the only world leader Olmert had bestowed with the honor of greeting at the airport. Merkel was granted special permission to speak before Israel's parliament, which is normally done only by heads of state. Merkel made her first visit to the Middle East as President-in-office of the European Council in April 2007.

In her first government address on 30 November 2005 she announced her objective of improving the German Economy and reducing unemployment.

Following major falls in worldwide stockmarkets in September 2008, the German government stepped in to assist the Mortgage company Hypo Real Estate with a bailout which was agreed on October 6, with German banks to contribute €30 billion and the Bundesbank €20 billion to a credit line.

On Saturday October 4, following the Irish Government's decision to guarantee all deposits in private savings accounts, a move she strongly criticized, Merkel said there were no plans for the German Government to do the same. The following day, Merkel stated that the government would guarantee private savings account deposits after all. However, it emerged on October 6 that the pledge was a political move and would not be backed by legislation. This confusion led to major falls in worldwide stockmarkets with the FTSE 100 and DAX stock exchanges falling 6% at one point. Other European governments eventually either raised the limits or promised to guarantee savings in full.

The cabinet of Angela Merkel was sworn in at 16:00 CET, 22 November 2005.

On 31 October, after the defeat of his favoured candidate for the position of Secretary General of the SPD, Franz Müntefering indicated that he would resign as Chairman of the party in November, which he did. Ostensibly responding to this, Edmund Stoiber (CSU), who was originally nominated for the Economics and Technology post, announced his withdrawal on 1 November. While this was initially seen as a blow to Merkel's attempt at forming a viable coalition and cabinet, the manner in which Stoiber withdrew earned him much ridicule and severely undermined his position as a Merkel rival. Separate conferences of the CDU, CSU and SPD approved the proposed Cabinet on 14 November.

In 1977, Angela Kasner married physics student Ulrich Merkel. The marriage ended in divorce in 1982. Her second husband is quantum chemist and professor Joachim Sauer. He remains out of the spotlight. She has no children, but Sauer has two adult sons.

Merkel is also prominent at German national football team's matches, and is an honorary club member of Energie Cottbus.

In 2003, Angela Merkel was awarded the Vision for Europe Award for her contribution toward greater European integration. In 2007 Merkel was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She received the Karlspreis (Charlemagne Prize) for 2008 for distinguished services to European unity. In January 2008 she was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany). She was also awarded the honorary doctorate from Leipzig University in June 2008 and University of Technology in Wrocław (Poland) in September 2008.

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Chancellor of Germany (Federal Republic)

Angela Merkel 24092007.jpg

The Chancellor of Germany (German: Bundeskanzler or Kanzler for short) is the head of government of Germany. In German politics the position is equivalent to that of a Prime Minister in other countries with a parliamentary system. The latter term is not used, since its direct German equivalent, Ministerpräsident, is used exclusively for the heads of government of the states of Germany (called Bundesländer in German).

The current Chancellor of Germany is Angela Merkel, who was elected in 2005. She is the first female Chancellor and thus known in German as Bundeskanzlerin.

The office of Chancellor has a long history, stemming back to the Holy Roman Empire. The title was at times used in several states of German-speaking Europe. The power and influence of this office varied strongly over time. Otto von Bismarck in particular had a great amount of power, but it was not until 1949 that the Chancellor was established as the central executive authority of Germany.

Due to his administrative tasks, the head of the chapel of the imperial palace during the Holy Roman Empire was called Chancellor. The Archbishop of Mainz was German Chancellor until the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 while the Archbishop of Cologne was Chancellor of Italy and the Archbishop of Trier of Burgundy. These three Archbishops were also Prince-electors of the empire. Already in medieval times the Chancellor had political power like Willigis of Mainz (Archchancellor 975–1011, regent for Otto III 991–994) or Rainald von Dassel (Chancellor 1156–1162 and 1166–1167) under Frederick I.

The modern office of Chancellor was established with the North German Confederation, of which Otto von Bismarck became Chancellor (German, Bundeskanzler) in 1867. After unification of Germany in 1871, the office became known in German as Reichskanzler (literally, Chancellor of the Realm). Since the adoption of the current constitution of Germany in 1949 the formal title of the office in the German language is once again Bundeskanzler.

West Germany's 1949 constitution, the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), invests the Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler) with central executive authority. For that reason, some observers refer to the German political system as a "chancellor democracy". Since the election 1961, the two major parties (CDU/CSU and SPD) call their leading candidates for the federal election "chancellor-candidate" (Kanzlerkandidat), although this is not an official term and any party can nominate a Kanzlerkandidat (even if there is no chance at all to become part of or even lead a coalition). The Federal Government (Bundesregierung) consists of the chancellor and his or her cabinet ministers.

The chancellor's authority emanates from the provisions of the Basic Law and from his or her status as leader of the party (or coalition of parties) holding a majority of seats in the Bundestag (federal parliament). With the exception of Helmut Schmidt, the chancellor has usually also been chairman of his or her own party. This was the case with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder from 1999 until he resigned the chairmanship of the SPD in 2004.

The chancellor determines the composition of the Federal Cabinet. The President formally appoints and dismisses cabinet ministers, at the recommendation of the chancellor; no parliamentary approval is needed. According to the Basic Law, the chancellor may set the number of cabinet ministers and dictate their specific duties. Chancellor Ludwig Erhard had the largest cabinet, with twenty-two ministers in the mid-1960s. Helmut Kohl presided over 17 ministers at the start of his fourth term in 1994; the 2002 cabinet, the second of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, had 13 ministers and the Angela Merkel cabinet as of 22 November 2005 has 15.

Every four years, after national elections and the convocation of the newly elected members of the Bundestag, the chancellor is elected by a majority of the members of the Bundestag upon the proposal of the President (Bundespräsident). This vote is one of the few cases where a majority of all elected members of the Bundestag must be achieved, as opposed to a mere majority of those that are currently assembled. This is referred to as the Kanzlermehrheit (chancellor's majority), and is designed to ensure the establishment of a stable government. It has in the past occasionally forced ill or pregnant members to have to attend parliament when a party's majority was only slim.

Unlike regular voting by the Bundestag, the vote to elect the chancellor is by secret ballot. This is intended to ensure that the chancellor's majority does not depend on members of his party only outwardly showing support.

If the nominee of the President is not elected, the Bundestag may elect its own nominee within fourteen days. If no-one is elected within this period, the Bundestag will attempt an election. If the person with the highest number of votes has a majority, the President must appoint him or her. If the person with the highest number of votes does not have a majority, the President may either appoint them or call new elections for the Bundestag. As all chancellors have been elected in the first vote as yet (1949-2008) neither of these constitutional provisions has been applied.

The chancellor is the only member of the federal government elected by the Bundestag. The other cabinet ministers are chosen by the chancellor himself or herself, although they are formally appointed by the President on the chancellor's proposal.

Unlike in other parliamentary legislatures, the Bundestag cannot remove the chancellor simply with a Motion of No Confidence. Instead, the early removal of a chancellor is only possible when it simultaneously agrees on a successor. In order to garner legislative support in the Bundestag, the chancellor can also call for a regular Motion of Confidence, either combined with a legislative proposal or as a standalone vote. Only if such a vote fails may the President dissolve the Bundestag.

This procedure exists to avoid the situation that existed in the Weimar Republic, when votes of no-confidence were over-used or abused by parties.

The correct style of address in German is Herr Bundeskanzler (male) or Frau Bundeskanzlerin (female). Use of the mixed form "Frau Bundeskanzler" was deprecated by the government in 2004 because it is regarded as impolite.

Holding the third-highest state office available within the Federal Republic of Germany, the Chancellor of Germany receives €220,000 per annum and a €22,000 bonus, i.e. one and two thirds of Salary Grade B11 (according to § 11 (1) a of the Federal Law on Ministres – Bundesministergesetz, BGBl. 1971 I p. 1166 and attachment IV to the Federal Law on Salaries of Officers – Bundesbesoldungsgesetz, BGBl. 2002 I p. 3020).

1 Entirely in Southwest Asia; included here because of cultural, political and historical association with Europe. 2 Partially or entirely in Asia, depending on the definition of the border between Europe and Asia. 3 Mostly in Asia.

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Social Democratic Party of Germany

SPD logo

The Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands — SPD) is Germany's oldest political party. After World War II, under the leadership of Kurt Schumacher, the SPD reestablished itself as an ideological party, representing the interests of the working class and the trade unions. The party gradually evolved from a socialist working class party to a social democratic party. This shift reflected the differences between the Heidelberg Program of 1925, which "called for the transformation of the capitalist system of private ownership of the means of production to social ownership" , and the Godesberg Program of 1959, which aimed to broaden its voter base and move its political position toward the center.

Before World War II, as the main non-revolutionary left-wing party, the Social Democrats fared best among non-Catholic workers as well as intellectuals favoring socially progressive causes and increased economic equality. Led by Kurt Schumacher after the war, the SPD initially opposed both market economics and Konrad Adenauer's drive towards western integration fiercely, but after Schumacher's death, it became more centrist in an effort to appeal to a broader range of voters. It is however still connected with the economic causes of unionized employees and working class voters. In the 1990s, the left and mainstream wing of the party drifted apart, culminating in a secession of a significant number of party members, which later joined the socialist party The Left (Die Linke).

Geographically, much of the SPD's support nowadays comes from large cities, especially of northern and western Germany. The metropolitan area of the Ruhr Area, where coal mining and steel production were once the biggest sources of revenues, have in the past provided a significant base for the SPD, and in the state of Bremen, made up of the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven, the SPD has governed without interruption since 1949. In southern Germany, the SPD typically has a hard time competing in all areas except in the largest cities. One Munich constituency is currently, and only by a narrow edge, the only SPD-held district in the entire state of Bavaria. Small town and rural support comes especially from traditionally Protestant areas of northern Germany (with notable exceptions such as Western Pomerania, from where Angela Merkel was handily re-elected in 2005) and a number of university towns. A striking example of the general pattern is the traditionally Catholic Emsland, where the Social Democrats are generally not competitive, whereas the Protestant region of East Frisia directly to the north is one of their strongest constituencies. Further south, the SPD also enjoys solid support in northern Hesse (Hans Eichel was mayor of Kassel, then Hesse's minister president, then finance minister in the Schröder administration, Brigitte Zypries serves as Justice Minister), parts of Palatinate (Kurt Beck was party leader until September 7, 2008), the Saarland (political home of one-time candidate for federal chancellor Oskar Lafontaine, who later defected), and southwestern Baden (Marion Caspers-Merk, Gernot Erler).

After beginnings in the 1860s, a milestone was the union of two previous organisations in 1875, under the name Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei. From 1888 to 1890 the party was prohibited, but it still gained support in elections. In 1891 it got its modern name, SPD. In the years until World War I, the party remained ideologically radical, although many party officials tend to be moderate in everyday politics. The party became in 1912 the strongest by votes.

The war and the communist revolution in Russia caused members of the left wing to form alternative parties, most prominently first the USPD (Independent SPD) and later the KPD (communists). On the other hand, since 1918 SPD played an important role in the political system of the Weimar Republic, although it took part in coalition governments only in a couple of years (1918-1921, 1923, 1928-1930). Adolf Hitler prohibited the party in 1933, some party officials were imprisoned, killed or went into exile. In exile, it used the name SOPADE.

In 1945, the occupants allowed four parties, the christian democrats, the liberals, the communists and the social democrats. In the Soviet Zone of Occupation the social democrats were forced to form a common party with the communists (SED). In the western zones and (since 1949) the Federal Republic of Germany, SPD became one of two major parties. From 1969 to 1982 and 1998 to 2005 the chancellors were social democrats.

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Helmut Kohl

Helmut Kohl in Krzyżowa (Kreisau), Poland, 1989.

Helmut Josef Michael Kohl (born 3 April 1930) is a German conservative politician and statesman. He was Chancellor of Germany from 1982 to 1998 (of West Germany between 1982 and 1990 and of a reunited Germany between 1990 and 1998) and the chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from 1973 to 1998. His 16-year tenure was the longest of any German chancellor since Otto von Bismarck and oversaw the end of the Cold War that led to the de jure end of World War II for Germany on the whole, resulting in the German reunification. Kohl is widely regarded as one of the main architects of the German reunification and, together with French President François Mitterrand, the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union.

Kohl has been described as "the greatest European leader of the second half of the 20th century" by U.S. President George H. W. Bush.

Kohl was born in Ludwigshafen am Rhein (at the time part of Bavaria, now in Rheinland-Pfalz) Germany, to Cäcilie (née Schnur; 1890–1979) and her husband Hans Kohl (1887–1975), a civil servant. He was the third child born into this conservative, Roman Catholic family which, before and after 1933, remained loyal to the Catholic Centre Party. His older brother died in the Second World War as a teenage soldier. In the last weeks of the war, Helmut Kohl was also drafted, but he was not involved in any combat.

Kohl attended the Ruprecht elementary school, and continued at the Max Planck Gymnasium. In 1946, he joined the recently founded CDU. In 1947, he was one of the co-founders of the Junge Union-branch in Ludwigshafen. After graduating in 1950, he began to study law in Frankfurt am Main. In 1951, he switched to the University of Heidelberg where he majored in History and Political Science. In 1953, he joined the board of the Rhineland-Palatinate branch of the CDU. In 1954, he became vice-chair of the Junge Union in Rhineland-Palatinate. In 1955, he returned to the board of the Rhineland-Palatinate branch of the CDU.

After graduating in 1956 he became fellow at the Alfred Weber Institute of the University of Heidelberg where he was an active member of the student society AIESEC. In 1958, he received his doctorate degree for his thesis "The Political Developments in the Palatinate and the Reconstruction of Political Parties after 1945". After that, he entered business, first as an assistant to the director of a foundry in Ludwigshafen and, in 1959, as a manager for the Industrial Union for Chemistry in Ludwigshafen. In this year, he also became chair of the Ludwigshafen branch of the CDU. In the following year, he married Hannelore Renner, whom he had known since 1948: they now have two sons.

In 1960, he was elected into the municipal council of Ludwigshafen where he served as leader of the CDU party until 1969. In 1963, he was also elected into the Landtag of Rhineland-Palatinate and served as leader of the CDU party in that legislature. From 1966 until 1973, he served as the chair of the CDU, and he was also a member of the Federal CDU board. After his election as party-chair, he was named as the successor to Peter Altmeier, who was minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate at the time. However, after the Landtag-election which followed, Altmeier remained minister-president.

On 19 May 1969, Kohl was elected minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate, as the successor to Peter Altmeier. During his term as minister-president, Kohl founded the University of Trier-Kaiserlautern and enacted territorial reform. Also in 1969, Kohl became the vice-chair of the federal CDU party.

In 1971, he was a candidate to become chairman of the federal CDU, but was not elected. Rainer Barzel remained in the position instead. In 1972, Barzel attempted to force a cabinet crisis in the SPD/FDP government, which failed, leading him to step down. In 1973, Kohl succeeded him as federal chairman; he retained this position until 1998.

In the 1976 federal election, Kohl was the CDU/CSU's candidate for chancellor. The CDU/CSU coalition performed very well, winning 48.6% of the vote. However they were kept out of government by the centre-left cabinet formed by the Social Democratic Party of Germany and Free Democratic Party (Germany), led by Social Democrat Helmut Schmidt. Kohl then retired as minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate to become the leader of the CDU/CSU in the Bundestag. He was succeeded by Bernhard Vogel.

In the 1980 federal elections, Kohl had to play second fiddle, when CSU-leader Franz Josef Strauß became the CDU/CSU's candidate for chancellor. Strauß was also unable to defeat the SPD/FDP alliance. Unlike Kohl, Strauß did not want to continue as the leader of the CDU/CSU and remained Minister-President of Bavaria. Kohl remained as leader of the opposition, under the third Schmidt cabinet (1980–82).

On 17 September 1982, a conflict of economic policy occurred between the governing SPD/FDP coalition partners. The FDP wanted to radically liberalise the labour market, while the SPD preferred to guarantee the employment of those who already had jobs. The FDP began talks with the CDU/CSU to form a new government.

On 1 October 1982, the CDU proposed a constructive vote of no confidence which was supported by the FDP. The motion carried, and, on 3 October, the Bundestag voted in a new CDU/CSU-FDP coalition cabinet, with Kohl as the chancellor. Many of the important details of the new coalition had been hammered out on 20 September, though minor details were reportedly still being hammered out as the vote took place.

Though Kohl's election was done according to the Basic Law, some voices criticized the move as the FDP had fought its 1980 campaign on the side of the SPD and even placed Chancellor Schmidt on some of their campaign posters. Some voices went as far as denying the new government had the support of a majority of the people. To answer this question, the new government aimed at new elections at the earliest possible date.

Since the Basic Law is restrictive on the dissolution of parliament, Kohl had to take another controversial move: he called for a confidence vote only a month after being sworn in, in which members of his coalition abstained. The ostensibly negative result for Kohl then allowed President Karl Carstens to dissolve the Bundestag in January 1983.

The move was controversial as the coalition parties denied their votes to the same man they had elected Chancellor a month before and whom they wanted to re-elect after the parliamentary election. However, this step was condoned by the German Federal Constitutional Court as a legal instrument and was again applied in 2005.

In the federal elections of March 1983, Kohl won a smashing victory. The CDU/CSU won 48.8%, while the FDP won 7.0%. Some opposition members of the Bundestag asked the Federal constitutional court to declare the whole proceedings unconstitutional. It denied their claim.

The second Kohl cabinet pushed through several controversial plans, including the stationing of NATO midrange missiles, against major opposition from the peace movement.

On 24 January 1984, Kohl spoke before the Israeli Knesset, as the first Chancellor of the post-war generation. In his speech, he used Günter Gaus' famous sentence, that he had "the mercy of a late birth".

On 22 September 1984 Kohl met the French president François Mitterrand at Verdun, where the Battle of Verdun between France and Germany had taken place during World War I. Together, they commemorated the deaths of both World Wars. The photograph, which depicted their minutes long handshake became an important symbol of French-German reconciliation. Kohl and Mitterrand developed a close political relationship, forming an important motor for European integration. Together, they laid the foundations for European projects, like Eurocorps and Arte. This French-German cooperation also was vital for important European projects, like the Treaty of Maastricht and the Euro.

In 1985, Kohl and US President Ronald Reagan, as part of a plan to observe the 40th anniversary of V-E Day, saw an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of the friendship that existed between Germany and its former foe. During a November 1984 visit to the White House, Kohl appealed to Reagan to join him in symbolizing the reconciliation of their two countries at a German military cemetery. As Reagan visited Germany as part of the G6 conference in Bonn, the pair visited Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on 5 May, and more controversially the German military cemetery in Bitburg, discovered to hold 49 members of the Waffen-SS buried there.

In 1986, more controversy was caused by an essay published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 25 April 1986 entitled "Land Without A History" written by one of Kohl's advisors, the historian Michael Stürmer, in which Stürmer argued that West Germany lacked a history to be proud of, and called for effort on the part of the government, historians and the media to be build national pride in German history. Through Stürmer insisted that he was writing on behalf of himself and not in an official capacity as the Chancellor's advisor, many left-wing intellectuals claimed that Stürmer's essay also expressed Kohl's views.

After the federal elections of 1987 Kohl won a slightly reduced majority and formed his third cabinet. The SPD's candidate for chancellor was the Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia, Johannes Rau.

In 1987, Kohl received East German leader Erich Honecker - the first ever visit by an East German head of state to West Germany. This is generally seen as a sign that Kohl pursued Ostpolitik, a policy of détente between East and West. Following the breach of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Kohl's handling of the East German issue would become the turning point of his chancellorship.

Taking advantage of the historic political changes occurring in East Germany, Kohl presented a ten point plan for "Overcoming of the division of Germany and Europe" without consulting his coalition partner, the FDP, or the Western Allies. In February 1990, he visited the Soviet Union seeking a guarantee from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that the USSR would allow German reunification to proceed. On 18 May 1990, he signed an economic and social union treaty with East Germany. Against the will of the president of the German federal bank, he allowed a 1:1 conversion course for wages, interest and rent between the West and East Marks. In the end, this policy would seriously hurt companies in the New Länder. Together with Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Kohl was able to resolve talks with the former Allies of World War II to allow German reunification and the expansion of the NATO into the former East German state. On 3 October 1990, the East German state was abolished and its territory reunified with West Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall Kohl, confirmed that historically German territories east of the Oder-Neisse line were definitively part of the Republic of Poland, thereby finally ending the West German territorial claims. In 1993, Kohl confirmed, in a treaty with the Czech Republic, that Germany would no longer bring forward territorial claims as to the pre-1945 ethnic German so-called Sudetenland. This was a disappointment for the German Heimatvertriebene, displaced persons.

After the 1990 elections – the first free, fair and democratic all-German elections since the Weimar Republic era – Kohl won by a landslide over opposition candidate and Minister-President of Saarland, Oskar Lafontaine. He formed the Cabinet Kohl IV.

After the federal elections of 1994 Kohl was narrowly re-elected. He defeated the Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate Rudolf Scharping. The SPD was however able to win a majority in the Bundesrat, which significantly limited Kohl's power. In foreign politics, Kohl was more successful, for instance getting Frankfurt am Main as the seat for the European Central Bank. In 1997, Kohl received the Vision for Europe Award for his efforts in the unification of Europe.

By the late 1990s, the aura surrounding Kohl had largely worn off amid rising unemployment. He was heavily defeated in the 1998 federal elections by the Minister-President of Lower Saxony, Gerhard Schröder.

A red-green coalition government led by Schröder replaced Kohl's government on 27 October 1998. He immediately resigned as CDU leader and largely retired from politics. However, he remained a member of the Bundestag until he decided not to run for reelection in the 2002 election.

Kohl's life after politics was characterized by the CDU-party finance scandal and by developments in his personal life.

A party financing scandal became public in 1999, when it was discovered that the CDU had received and maintained illegal funding under his leadership.

Investigations by the Bundestag into the sources of illegal CDU funds, mainly stored in Geneva bank accounts, revealed two sources. One was the sale of German tanks to Saudi Arabia (kickback question), while the other was the privatization fraud in collusion with the late French President François Mitterrand who wanted 2,550 unused allotments in the former East Germany for the then French owned Elf Aquitaine. In December 1994 the CDU majority in the Bundestag enacted a law that nullified all rights of the current owners. Over 300 million DM in illegal funds were discovered in accounts in the canton Geneva. The fraudulently acquired allotments were then privatized as part of Elf Aquitaine and ended up with TotalFinaElf, now Total S.A., after amalgamation.

Kohl himself claimed that Elf Aquitaine had offered (and meanwhile made) a massive investment in East Germany's chemical industry together with the takeover of 2,000 gas stations in Germany which were formerly owned by national oil company Minol. Elf Aquitaine is supposed to have financed CDU illegally, as ordered by Mitterrand, as it was usual practice in African countries.

Kohl and other German and French politicians defended themselves that they were promoting reconciliation and cooperation between France and Germany for the sake of European integration and peace, and that they had no personal motives for accepting foreign party funding.

These scandal matters are still under investigation. The German-Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber, a longtime associate of Kohl's late CSU political rival Franz Josef Strauß, is wanted by Bavarian prosecutors on charges of fraud and corruption, but Schreiber has been fighting extradition from Canada to Germany for more than eight years, since the summer of 1999. Schreiber who is freed on bail in Canada as of April, 2008, filed an affidavit implicating former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, another business associate of his. The Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called on 13 November 2007, for a public inquiry to probe Schreiber's statements.

In 2002, Kohl left the Bundestag and officially retreated from politics. In recent years, Kohl has been largely rehabilitated by his party again. After taking office, Angela Merkel invited her former patron to the Chancellor's Office and Ronald Pofalla, the Secretary-General of the CDU, announced that the CDU will cooperate more closely with Kohl, "to take advantage of the experience of this great statesman", as Pofalla put it.

On 5 July 2001, Hannelore Kohl, his wife, committed suicide, after suffering from photodermatitis for years. On 4 March 2004, he published the first of his memoirs, called "Memories 1930–1982", covering the period 1930 to 1982, when he became chancellor. The second part, published on 3 November 2005, included the first half of his chancellorship (from 1982 to 1990). On 28 December 2004, Kohl was air-lifted by the Sri Lankan Air Force, after having been stranded in a hotel by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.

He is a member of the Club of Madrid.

As reported in the German press, he also gave his name to the soon-to-be launched Helmut Kohl Centre for European Studies (currently 'Centre for European Studies'), which is the new political foundation of the European People's Party.

In April 2008, Kohl was reported to be in intensive care due to a falling accident earlier in the year, and incapable of speaking. Subsequent to his recovery, he married his 43-year-old partner, Maike Richter, on 8 May 2008.

Kohl had strong, although complex and somewhat ambiguous political views, focusing on economic matters and on international politics.

Economically, Kohl's political views and policies were influenced by Ronald Reagan's and Margaret Thatcher's capitalistic beliefs like reform of the welfare state and lowering taxation.

In international politics Kohl was committed to European integration, maintaining close relations with the French president Mitterrand. Parallel to this he was committed to German Reunification. Although he continued the Ostpolitik of his social-democratic predecessor, Kohl also supported Reagan's more aggressive policies in order to weaken the USSR.

During the earlier years of his tenure, Kohl faced stiff opposition from the West German political left. His adversaries frequently referred to him by the widely known and disparaging nickname of Birne (a German word for pear and slang in the south for "head"; after unflattering cartoons showing Kohl's head as a pear). This public ridicule subsided as Kohl's political star began to rise: as the leader of European integration and an important figure in the German reunification. Kohl became one of the most popular politicians in Germany and a greatly respected European statesman.

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Source : Wikipedia