Guido Westerwelle Dies at 54; German Foreign Minister Opposed Libya Incursion

Berlin — Guido Westerwelle, who served as Germany’s first openly gay foreign minister and kept his country out of NATO’s intervention in Libya, died on Friday in Cologne. He was 54.

His foundation and the German government announced his death. The cause was complications of leukemia, which was diagnosed in 2014.

Mr. Westerwelle was a former leader of the Free Democratic Party, which governed in a coalition with the Christian Democratic Union of Chancellor Angela Merkel until the party suffered a crushing defeat in the 2013 elections.

He was the highest-ranking openly gay person in the German government, having risen to the position of vice chancellor. As foreign minister from 2009 to 2013, he had the uncomfortable task of visiting countries where homosexuality is not accepted, or even legal.

“We have lost a man who has dominated our country for a generation — as party leader of the F.D.P., as opposition leader and then as foreign minister,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who preceded and succeeded Mr. Westerwelle as foreign minister, said in a statement.

Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement called Mr. Westerwelle a “champion of democracy and human rights” and lauded him for “speaking out on extrajudicial detentions, visiting Syrian refugees in the Zaatari refugee camp, and meeting with Ukrainian protesters” in Kiev.

For most of Germany’s postwar history, the Free Democrats — a liberal party that stood for lower taxes and more efficient government — were the kingmakers in the country’s politics, entering partnerships with either the Christian Democrats or the Social Democrats to form stable governments.

The Free Democrats made surprising gains in the 2009 federal elections and joined the Christian Democrats after Ms. Merkel’s first four years in power as part of a “grand coalition” with the center left.

In 2012, during the eurozone crisis, Mr. Westerwelle and Radek Sikorski, the foreign minister of Poland at the time, wrote an Op-Ed article in The New York Times calling for overhauls to strengthen the European Union.

“For Europe to be a truly strong actor and global leader, it needs a strong institutional setup, a streamlined and efficient system for the separation of powers,” they wrote. “It also needs a directly elected European Commission president who personally appoints the members of his ‘European Government,’ a European Parliament with the powers to initiate legislation and a second chamber for member states.”

Mr. Westerwelle at a convention of the Free Democratic Party in Hanover in 1986. Credit Heribert Proepper/Associated Press
Mr. Westerwelle was born in Bad Honnef, near the West German capital, Bonn, on Dec. 27, 1961. He joined the Free Democratic Party in 1980 and led the party’s youth organization as a law student at the University of Bonn.

Mr. Westerwelle became general secretary of his party in December 1994, days before his 33rd birthday, and entered Parliament in 1996. He was elected party chairman in 2001 and held that office until 2011.

In 2002, he began what he called a “Fun Campaign,” canvassing Germany in a bright yellow bus called the Guidomobile. His party fell far short of its goal of 18 percent of the vote — it earned less than half that — but he went on to serve a prominent role in the opposition, earning respect for his sharp, witty style of debate.

His vindication came in 2009, when he led the Free Democrats to their best result ever in parliamentary elections, ending an 11-year-old spell in opposition. It was the high point of his career.

It is traditional for the second party in a German coalition to get control of the foreign ministry, and so Mr. Westerwelle, as leader of the Free Democrats, took charge.

He occasionally found that his skills as an opposition politician were not the same as those needed for the nation’s top diplomat. (He was derided by some reporters when, at his first official news conference, he declined to take a question in English.)

But over time Mr. Westerwelle grew into the role, earning respect as he held to Germany’s postwar tradition of cultural openness combined with military restraint.

This contributed to Germany’s opposition to NATO’s intervention in Libya. There was little appetite — either in Ms. Merkel’s government or among the public — for Germany to play a part. But Mr. Westerwelle and others who opposed the action in Libya still found themselves targets of foreign criticism, even when the turmoil in Libya bolstered critics of the original intervention.

Mr. Westerwelle always said his great model was Hans-Dietrich Genscher, a veteran Free Democrat foreign minister who helped oversee Germany’s reunification in 1990.

In November, Mr. Westerwelle made a characteristically determined attempt to return to public life, giving a series of television interviews and publishing a book, “Between Two Lives: Of Love, Death and Confidence.” Shortly afterward, however, he entered the University Clinic in Cologne. He did not leave.

Mr. Westerwelle is survived by his husband, Michael Mronz. “We are thankful for an unbelievably great time together,” the two men wrote in a statement that the Westerwelle Foundation for International Understanding released on Friday. “The love remains.”

by Alison Smale
Source – The New York Times