German President Horst Köhler Resigns Unexpectedly

Spiegel Online reports that German president and former IMF head, Horst Köhler unexpectedly resigned on Monday over what he said was heavy criticism about comments he made on Germany’s military involvement in Afghanistan.

Mr. Köhler’s resignation from the  post is the first by a German president in four decades and is considered a shock announcement that compounds conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel’s problems.

Spiegel Online: “German President Horst Köhler announced his resignation on Monday in response to fierce criticism of comments he made about Germany’s military mission in Afghanistan.

“I declare my resignation from the office of president — with immediate effect,” Köhler, with tears in his eyes and speaking in a faltering voice, said in a statement, flanked by his wife Eva-Luise.

The president is the head of state and his duties are largely ceremonial. But the resignation is the latest in a string of setbacks for Chancellor Angela Merkel since her re-election last September. The German federal assembly — made up of parliamentary MPs and delegates appointed by the country’s 16 federal states — will have to vote for a successor to Köhler within 30 days, according to the federal constitution.

The president had become the target of intense criticism following remarks he made during a surprise visit to soldiers of the Bundeswehr German army in Afghanistan on May 22. In an interview with a German radio reporter who accompanied him on the trip, he seemed to justify his country’s military missions abroad with the need to protect economic interests.

“A country of our size, with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that … military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests — for example when it comes to trade routes, for example when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes,” Köhler said.

It sounded as though Köhler was justifying wars for the sake of economic interests, in the context of the Afghan mission which is highly controversial in Germany and throughout Europe.

‘The Criticism Lacks the Necessary Respect for My Office’

In his statement on Monday, Köhler said: “My comments about foreign missions by the Bundeswehr on May 22 this year met with heavy criticism. I regret that my comments led to misunderstandings in a question so important and difficult for our nation. But the criticism has gone as far as to accuse me of supporting Bundeswehr missions that are not covered by the constitution. This criticism is devoid of any justification. It lacks the necessary respect for my office.”

Köhler became president in 2004 and was elected for a second five-year term in 2009. He was the first non-politician to become German head of state.

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