“It was an honour for me to serve Germany as president.”
An emotional Horst Köhler explained his decision to resign as German president following comments about the country’s military missions.
What he said in a recent interview was seen as justifying the presence of German troops in Afghanistan, massively controversial at home, by linking it to economic interests. It brought a torrent of criticism especially from the left, and it has embarrassed the government.
“Of course I was surprised and I tried to change his mind on the telephone,” said Chancellor Merkel, already buffeted enough by the eurozone crisis. “Unfortunately that did not work. Therefore I say that I deeply regret this resignation.”
The former president insisted he was not talking about Afghanistan, saying the criticism was unfounded. But long after the Second World War, military questions remain sensitive. Opposition politicians were also taken aback.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, chief of the SPD group in the Bundestag, said: “He surprised us all with his resignation and, without question, it comes at a time that’s not easy anyway, in a time of crisis, and now we’re in a situation that’s even more difficult.”
The interim president will be the SPD speaker of the parliament’s upper house. Finding a conservative candidate for the post will be a headache Chancellor Merkel could do without.
Resignation takes Germany by surprise