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Horst Köhler

Assumed office 
1 July 2004
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder
Angela Merkel
Preceded by Johannes Rau

Chairman and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund
In office
1 May 2000 – 4 March 2004
Preceded by Michel Camdessus
Succeeded by Rodrigo Rato

Born 22 February 1943 (1943-02-22) (age 67)
Skierbieszów, General Government (now Poland)
Political party Christian Democratic Union
Spouse(s) Eva Bohnet
Alma mater University of Tübingen
Profession Economist
Religion Evangelicalism

Horst Köhler (pronounced [hɔɐ̯st ˈkøːlɐ]  ( listen), born 22 February 1943 in Heidenstein, Generalgouvernement, today Skierbieszów, Poland) is a German politician of the Christian Democratic Union, and the current President of Germany. As the candidate of the two Christian Democratic sister parties, the CDU and the CSU, and the liberal FDP, Köhler was elected to his first five-year term by the Federal Assembly on 23 May 2004 and was subsequently inaugurated on 1 July 2004. He was reelected to a second term on 23 May 2009.

Prior to his election as President, Köhler had had a distinguished career in politics, the civil service and as a banking executive. He was President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development from 1998 to 2000 and head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from 2000 to 2004.

Although the office of President is less influential than that of the Chancellor, and mostly concerned with ceremonial matters, Köhler has become Germany's most popular politician during his tenure, with record-high approval ratings. He has called for more influence for the President, and has suggested the President should be directly elected again, as was the case under Germany's Weimar Constitution.


Early life

Köhler was born in Skierbieszów (then named Heidenstein), in the General Government area of German-occupied Poland, as the seventh child of Elisabeth and Eduard Köhler, into a family of Bessarabian Germans from Rîşcani in Romanian Bessarabia (near Bălţi, present-day Moldova). In 1860/65 George Rischkan, the largest estate owner in northern Bessarabia had founded this German village. Horst Köhler's parents, ethnic Germans and Romanian citizens, had to leave their home in Bessarabia in 1940 during the Nazi-Soviet population transfers that followed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which awarded Bessarabia to the Soviet Union. As part of the Generalplan Ost, they were resettled in 1942 at Skierbieszów, a village near Zamość, Poland (then part of the General Government). As the Wehrmacht was pushed back and first parts of Poland had to be abandoned in 1944, the Köhler family fled to Leipzig. In 1953, they left the Soviet Zone – via West Berlin – to escape from the communist regime. The family lived in refugee camps until 1957, when they settled in Ludwigsburg. Horst Köhler hence spent most of his first 14 years as a refugee.

Studies and military service

A teacher recommended that the refugee boy should apply for the Gymnasium, and Köhler took his Abitur in 1963. After a two-year military service at a Panzergrenadier battalion in Ellwangen, he left the Bundeswehr as “Leutnant der Reserve” (reserve officer). He studied and finally earned a doctorate in economics and political sciences from Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, where he was a scientific research assistant at the Institute for Applied Economic Research from 1969 to 1976.

Career in the civil service

Köhler joined the civil service in 1976, when he was employed in the Federal Ministry of Economics. In 1981, he was employed in the Chancellory of the state government in Schleswig-Holstein under Prime Minister Gerhard Stoltenberg. The following year, Köhler was made head of the Ministers office in the Federal Ministry of Finance, upon Stoltenberg's recommendation. He rose to head of department in 1987, with responsibility for financial policy and federal industrial interests. In 1989 he became head of the department for currency and credit.

Secretary of State in the Ministry of Finance

A CDU member since 1981, he was Secretary of State in the Federal Ministry of Finance from 1990 to 1993, and as such, the administrative head of the Ministry and the deputy of the Federal Minister of Finance (Theodor Waigel). In that capacity, he served as a "sherpa" (personal representative) for Chancellor Helmut Kohl, preparing G7 summits and other international economic conferences. He also served as the primary German negotiator in the Maastricht Treaty negotiations.

Career in banking 1993–2000

Between 1993 and 1998 he served as President of the association of savings banks in Germany, Deutscher Sparkassen- und Giroverband. In 1998 he was appointed president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and settled in London, where the headquarter of the bank is located.

Head of the International Monetary Fund

Köhler as head of the IMF, discussing debt relief for developing countries with the musician Bono.

Köhler was appointed Managing Director and Chairman of the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2000. The government of Gerhard Schröder nominated him after their first nominee, Caio Koch-Weser, was rejected by the United States.

He lived in Washington, D.C. from 2000 to 2004.

President of Germany

Horst Köhler and Vaclav Havel, 2000

On 4 March 2004, Köhler resigned his post with the IMF after being nominated by Germany’s conservative and liberal opposition parties as their presidential candidate. As these parties controlled a majority of votes in the Bundesversammlung (an electoral college consisting of the membership of the Bundestag and an equal number of delegates from the legislatures of each state), the result of the vote was virtually a foregone conclusion, but was closer than expected. Köhler defeated Gesine Schwan on the first ballot by 604 votes to 580; 20 votes were cast for minor candidates, while one elector was absent because of a heart attack. Köhler succeeded Johannes Rau as President on 1 July 2004, for a five-year term. Germany’s presidency is a mostly ceremonial office, but carries considerable moral authority. From 2004 until early 2006, Charlottenburg Palace was the seat of the President of Germany, whilst Schloss Bellevue was being renovated.

Upon his election, Köhler, a conservative German patriot, said that “Patriotism and being cosmopolitan are not opposites”. “He appeared an enlightened patriot who genuinely loves his country and is not afraid to say so”, the newspaper Die Welt wrote. Presenting his visions for Germany, Köhler also said that “Germany should become a land of ideas”, and emphasized the importance of globalization, and that Germany would have to compete for its place in the 21st century.

In July 2005, he suspended the German Bundestag which led to early election.

Horst Köhler in Brackenheim after unveiling a bronze statue of Theodor Heuss

In October 2006, he made a major decision by not signing the law of transferring the Deutsche Flugsicherung into private ownership. The Bundestag passed this law but Köhler has the power as the President not to sign it if, in his opinion, it contravenes the constitution. In December 2006 he did not sign the Consumer Information Law (which intended to make information collected by public food safety agencies available to consumers), because the constitution does not allow the federal government to instruct communal authorities. This can only be done by the German states. Such non-signings had only happened six times previously, but with mostly minor laws. These were the first major examples in recent German history.

In his 2007 Christmas address to the nation, Köhler urged the German government to push ahead more quickly with reforms. He was also critical of the introduction of the minimum wage in the postal sector (which had led to the loss of 1000 jobs at Deutsche Post rival PIN Group), stating that "a minimum wage that can not be paid by competitive employers destroys jobs"[1].

On 22 May 2008, Köhler announced his candidacy for a second term as president. On 23 May 2009 he was re-elected by the Federal Assembly[2], and was sworn-in for his second term on 1 July 2009.

In November 2009, Köhler refused to sign the "Zugangserschwerungsgesetz" (Access Impediment Act) into law without further information.[3] The law, which aims to make it more difficult to access sites on the World Wide Web with child pornography, is considered by many legal experts to be unconstitutional.[3]

Personal life

He is married to Eva Köhler, née Eva Luise Bohnet, a teacher of German. They have two children, a daughter Ulrike (born in 1972) and a son Jochen (born in 1977). His daughter, who suffers from Retinitis pigmentosa, became blind as a teenager. Horst Köhler is a member of the Evangelical Church in Germany.


  1. ^ Stuttgarter Zeitung, 29 December 2007 (German)
  2. ^ "German president wins re-election". BBC. 23 May 2009. Retrieved 23 May 2009. 
  3. ^ a b "Internetsperren". Spiegel Online. 2009-11-28.,1518,663980,00.html. Retrieved 2009-11-30. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Johannes Rau
President of Germany
Preceded by
Peter Klemm
Secretary of State in the Federal Ministry of Finance
Succeeded by
Franz-Christoph Zeitler
Civic offices
Preceded by
Michel Camdessus
Head of the International Monetary Fund
Succeeded by
Rodrigo Rato
Preceded by
Jacques de Larosière
President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
Succeeded by
Jean Lemierre
Business positions
Preceded by
Helmut Geiger
President of the Deutscher Sparkassen- und Giroverband
Succeeded by
Dietrich H. Hoppenstedt

Simple English

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