Former finance minister Wolfgang Schauble was elected speaker of Germany’s lower house of parliament on Tuesday, a position from which he will try to impose discipline on far-right lawmakers who opposed his appointment.
Schauble won 501 of 705 votes from fellow lawmakers for the post of Bundestag president, or speaker. The Alternative for Germany (AfD), which was elected to the parliament for the first time last month, immediately set the stage for further clashes.
To the alarm of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, the anti-immigration AfD is now the third largest party in the Bundestag. The highly experienced Schauble, 75, is one of Germany’s most powerful politicians and seen as well qualified to tame recalcitrant lawmakers.
In an inaugural Bundestag session following the Sept. 24 federal election, the AfD – the first far-right party to enter parliament in more than half a century – made clear its intention to shake up German politics on the national stage.
“The people have decided, now a new era begins,” AfD parliamentary leader Bernd Baumann told the chamber.
In his maiden speech as Bundestag president, Schauble shot back: “Nobody on their own represents the people.”
“The way we speak to each other here can set an example for debate in society,” he said, adding: “I am looking forward to the new challenges.”
By agreeing to move to the Bundestag, Schauble has opened the way for the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) to take over his powerful ministry, helping to unblock talks on a new three-way coalition likely also to include the Greens.
FDP leader Christian Lindner told broadcaster N-TV that Schauble was an extraordinary figure in German politics: “He has gravitas, a clear position and a natural authority that will be good to have in a parliament has just become more diverse, and where some manners may be called into question.”
The AfD’s Baumann shocked other lawmakers by suggesting that they had used Nazi-era tactics to prevent an AfD member from taking a top post in parliament. FDP politician Marco Buschmann said the comments were “beyond tasteless.”
After opposing Schauble’s Bundestag appointment, the AfD is set to clash with other parties over its nomination for one of six vice presidents – one from each party group.