news_Federal President_20032017

Symbolic transfer of power

Berlin (dpa) - Frank-Walter Steinmeier has taken over as Germany's new president from Joachim Gauck after a symbolic transfer of power at the presidential residence of Bellevue Palace in Berlin on Sunday. Steinmeier, the former foreign minister, and his wife Elke Buedenbender were welcomed on the steps to the palace, which is on the edge of Berlin's central Tiergarten park. Outgoing president Joachim Gauck, whose five-year term in the largely ceremonial role ended at midnight, greeted the couple with his partner, Daniela Schadt. The four then retreated to a room in the palace for coffee, tea and cake. There were few details offered about their conversation, but it likely featured a review of Gauck's five years in office. Gauck and Schadt left an hour later. The meeting of the old and new presidents ended with a hug.

Steinmeier, 61, will be sworn in on Wednesday in front of both houses of parliament. In his speech to lawmakers, he is expected to outline the priorities and goals of his term in office. Details of his first visits haven't been announced yet, but Paris is at the top of the list.

Starting out as a legal adviser in the state of Lower Saxony in 1991, Steinmeier held a series of senior positions, including vice chancellor and chief of staff to Social Democrat chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 1999. As a reform-minded moderate on the right of the party, he helped push through Schroeder's controversial drive to reform the welfare state.

The 2005 elections brought Merkel's Christian Democrats to power at the head of a grand coalition with the Social Democrats, and Steinmeier was appointed foreign minister. Four years later he ran unsuccessfully against Merkel, returning to the opposition benches as head of the Social Democrats' parliamentary group. In 2013 Steinmeier was back in office as foreign minister in Merkel's third coalition.

Gauck, a 77-year-old former East German pastor and rights activist, decided against a second term because of his age.