Germany profile - Leaders

  • 24 December 2014
  • 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 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 secured another four-year mandate with enough votes to dump the previous awkward coalition with the SPD in favour of an alliance with the FDP.

The coalition faced the tough challenge of dealing with the fallout from the 2008 global economic crisis. Mrs Merkel won plaudits for her calm handling of the situation, but her ability to weather a storm was put to an even more severe test once the full scale of the crisis in the eurozone began to emerge early in 2010.

As one of the richest countries in the EU, Germany was faced with the prospect of having to make huge contributions to bailouts for debt-ridden countries such as Greece, and popular resentment over this triggered a political backlash at home.

Mrs Merkel has pressed eurozone countries with stricken economies to implement reforms and budget cuts in return for aid.

In December 2011, she told the Bundestag that Europe was working towards setting up a fiscal union in a bid to resolve the debt crisis. But she also repeated her opposition to the European Central Bank issuing "eurobonds" backed by all eurozone members.

Mrs Merkel also took a tough line with Russia in response to Moscow's hostility towards Ukraine's efforts to seek a closer rapprochement with Western Europe in 2014.

Angela Merkel became leader of the CDU in 2000 after her predecessor Wolfgang Schaeuble 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
President Joachim Gauck

President: Joachim Gauck

Joachim Gauck, a human-rights campaigner and former East German dissident, became president 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 coaltion parties agreed to support him.

Mr Gauck stood for the largely ceremonial presidency in 2010, losing to the government's preferred candidate Mr Wulff.

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, earning the admiration of all but diehard Communists for his work in exposing the crimes of the Communist era.

Mr Gauck describes himself as a "liberal left conservative", and has expressed support for the policies of both Social-Democrat and Christian-Democrat coalition governments on a non-partisan basis.

In recent years he has concentrated on campaigning against both left and right extremist threats to Germany's democratic system.

Born in Rostock in 1940, Mr Gauck has four children by his wife, from whom he is separated. His partner since 2000 is the journalist Daniela Schadt, who will take on the ceremonial duties of First Lady.