Former German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel dies age 82

Spy chief, justice minister, foreign minister, vice chancellor and leader of the business-friendly Free Democrats: Klaus Kinkel enjoyed a long and illustrious political career. On Monday, he died at the age of 82.

Former German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel has died at the age of 82.

Kinkel served as Germany’s top diplomat from 1992 to 1998, and was leader of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) from1993-1995.

Between 1979-1982, he was also the first civilian chief of the BND intelligence agency, before moving to the Justice Ministry for nearly a decade.

FDP leader Christian Lindner paid tribute to Kinkel on Tuesday as an "upright and humble man with character."

"The death of Klaus Kinkel touches me. He was an upright and humble man with character whose friendly advice I greatly appreciated. I have a lot to thank him for," Lindner wrote on Twitter.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she mourned the loss "of a faithful companion from the time of German reunification."

"Klaus Kinkel was a great liberal and an uncompromising champion of freedom and democracy," she said. 

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel's potential successor and the head of the conservative Christian Democrats, said that Germany had lost "a great liberal and passionate Democrat."

"FDP chairman, BND president, justice minister, foreign minister, vice-chancellor. A great liberal and passionate Democrat has left us today. His awareness of our country's responsibility in a troubled world remains. Thank you Klaus Kinkel!" she wrote on Twitter.

A political giant

A former vice chancellor between 1993–1998 in the government of Helmut Kohl, Kinkel made his mark on German politics during a public service career spanning nearly four decades.

Born in 1936 in the southwestern town of Metzingen, Kinkel went on to earn a doctorate in law in 1964. He began his long public service career as a civil servant in the state of Baden-Württemberg, from where he moved to the Federal Interior Ministry in 1968.

It was there that he became ex-Interior Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher's personal secretary and speechwriter. For years Kinkel's career would be bound close to that of his FDP mentor, who also served as foreign minister until 1992.  

Read more: Germany's political parties CDU, CSU, SPD, AfD, FDP, Left party, Greens - what you need to know    

Germany's major political parties — What you need to know

Christian Democratic Union (CDU)

The CDU has traditionally been the main center-right party across Germany, but it shifted toward the center under Chancellor Angela Merkel. The party remains more fiscally and socially conservative compared to parties on the left. It supports membership of the EU and NATO, budgetary discipline at home and abroad and generally likes the status quo. It is the largest party in the Bundestag.

Germany's major political parties — What you need to know

Christian Social Union (CSU)

The CSU is the sister party of the CDU in Bavaria and the two act symbiotically at the national level (CDU/CSU). Despite their similarities, the CSU is generally more conservative than the CDU on social issues, with CSU leader Horst Seehofer among the critics of Merkel's lax immigration policy. The CSU premier of Bavaria, Markus Söder, more recently ordered crosses in every state building.

Germany's major political parties — What you need to know

Social Democrats (SPD)

The SPD is Germany's oldest political party and the main center-left rival of the CDU/CSU. It shares the CDU/CSU support for the EU and NATO, but it takes a more progressive stance on social issues and welfare policies. The party is currently in a coalition government with the CDU/CSU and is trying to win back popular support under leader Andrea Nahles after losing votes in 2017.

Germany's major political parties — What you need to know

Alternative for Germany (AfD)

The new kid on the block is the largest opposition party in the Bundestag. The far-right party was founded in 2013 and entered the Bundestag for the first time in 2017 under the stewardship of Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland. It is largely united by opposition to Merkel's immigration policy, euroscepticism, and belief in the alleged dangers posed by Germany's Muslim population.

Germany's major political parties — What you need to know

Free Democrats (FDP)

The FDP has traditionally been the kingmaker of German politics. Although it has never received more than 15 percent of the vote, it has formed multiple coalition governments with both the CDU/CSU and SPD. The FDP, today led by Christian Lindner, supports less government spending and lower taxes, but takes a progressive stance on social issues such as gay marriage or religion.

Germany's major political parties — What you need to know

The Greens

The Greens, led today by Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck, emerged from the environmental movement in the 1980s. Unsuprisingly, it supports efforts to fight climate change and protect the environment. It is also progressive on social issues. But strong divisions have occasionally emerged on other topics. The party famously split in the late 1990s over whether to use military force in Kosovo.

Germany's major political parties — What you need to know

The Left

The Left, led by Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger, is the most left-wing party in the Bundestag. It supports major redistribution of wealth at home and a pacifist stance abroad, including withdrawing Germany from NATO. It emerged from the successor party to the Socialist Unity Party (SED) that ruled communist East Germany until 1989. Today, it still enjoys most of its support in eastern Germany.

As justice minister in 1991-92, Kinkel was involved in German unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In his subsequent post as foreign minister, he was active in helping to resolve the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and was a major proponent of European integration. 

In 2002, Kinkel left the Bundestag and retired from active politics. From then on, he devoted himself to social issues and his family.

cw/rt (dpa, AFP)

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