Wolfgang Schaeuble, veteran of German politics, dies at 81

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Wolfgang Schaeuble, who served as a member of the German parliament for over half a century, has died aged 81, ending one of Germany’s longest political careers in which he helped secure his country’s place at the heart of Europe.

Former German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.(AFP)
Former German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.(AFP)

Schaeuble, who spent much of his career devoted to re-unifying his country and later served as former chancellor Angela Merkel’s finance minister during the eurozone debt crisis, died peacefully late Tuesday, said a spokesperson for the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) on Wednesday.

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Schaeuble had been a member of the CDU since 1965 and a member of parliament since 1972.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz mourned Schaeuble’s death in a social media post on X: “Germany has lost a sharp thinker, passionate politician and pugnacious democrat.”

CDU leader Friedrich Merz expressed his deep grief at Schaeuble’s death on X. “In Wolfgang Schaeuble, I lose the dearest friend and adviser I’ve ever had in politics,” Merz said.

Tributes also came in from France, where Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire expressed his “profound sadness” on X.

“He was a friend, a loyal and reliable partner, and a tireless craftsman of the friendship between Germany and France,” Le Maire wrote.

Once Merkel’s boss before their roles were reversed, Schaeuble pulled the strings of Germany’s policy response to the euro zone crisis, securing support on the right of their conservative bloc for three Greek bailouts.

In November 2015, soon after Merkel opened Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants, he said the country risked “an avalanche” of refugees triggered by “careless” actions.

He subsequently defended Merkel’s open-door migrant policy, however, when the Alternative for Germany (AfD) waded into the debate, accusing the far-right party of fuelling xenophobia.

Over the final years of his career, the AfD grew into a more formidable opponent of the CDU, with critics accusing the centre-right party of adopting its rhetoric on migration under Merz.

Schaeuble used a wheelchair since 1990 after being shot three times at an election campaign event a few days after German reunification.

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