Germany profile - Leaders

  • 5 August 2015
  • From the section Europe

Chancellor: Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel, Germany's first female chancellor, won a third term in September 2013, leading her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) to victory and only narrowly failing to secure an outright majority.

The CDU's election campaign focused on Mrs Merkel's image as a safe pair of hands amid financial turmoil in Europe.

Her coalition partner since 2009, the small pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), failed to win any seats in the election, so the chancellor formed a pact with her Christian Social Union allies and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) - in a re-run of the "grand coalition" she had formed on first becoming chancellor in 2005.

In 2009, her party had formed an alliance with the FDP after winning enough votes to dump the previous coalition with the SPD.

The 2008 global economic crisis left Ms Merkel having to toe a fine line between helping debt-laden eurozone countries in a bid to preserve the common currency, and provoking a potential popular backlash at home against Germany - as the eurozone's richest country - having to make huge contributions to bailouts.

Mrs Merkel has pressed eurozone countries with stricken economies to implement reforms and budget cuts in return for aid, and has consistently opposed proposals for the European Central Bank issuing "eurobonds" backed by all eurozone members.

Her tough approach was again apparent in the 2015 cliff-hanger debt talks with Greece's new leftist government, in which she backed her hard-line Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in his steadfast rejection of any debt reduction or softening of reform demands.

The policy left both being the subject of vitriol in Greece, but enjoyed support inside Germany.

Mrs Merkel also took a tough line with Russia over its annexation of Crimea and its covert backing of an uprising in the Russian-speaking Donbass area of Ukraine, including by supporting the adoption of sanctions against the regime in Moscow.

Angela Merkel became leader of the CDU in 2000 after Mr Schaeuble - the party head - resigned in connection with the party funding scandal that also tainted her long-time mentor, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

She was born in Hamburg in 1954 but grew up in East Germany, where her father was a Protestant clergyman. She has a doctorate in physics.

She divorced her first husband Ulrich Merkel in 1982, and has been married to publicity-shy chemistry professor Joachim Sauer since 1998. She has no children.

President Joachim Gauck
Image caption President Joachim Gauck

President: Joachim Gauck

Joachim Gauck, a human-rights campaigner and former East German dissident, was elected to the largely ceremonial presidency in March 2012.

The opposition Social Democrats and Greens nominated him after the resignation of President Christian Wulff in February over a housing loan scandal, and the governing centre-right coalition parties agreed to support him in the Federal Assembly - the electoral body tasked with choosing the president.

Born in Rostock in 1940, Mr Gauck, like the Christian Democrat chancellor, Angela Merkel, has a background in the Lutheran Church in East Germany - he was a pastor there, as was Mrs Merkel's father.

An active anti-Communist from an early age whose father was exiled to a Soviet forced-labour camp for several years, Mr Gauck was a leader of the opposition New Forum in the last days of the East German dictatorship.

He served in the first and last democratic East German parliament, which put him in charge of investigating the archives of the Stasi secret police. He continued this task after the reunification of Germany.

Mr Gauck describes himself as a "liberal left conservative", and has expressed support for the policies of both centre-right and centre-left governments.