Wolfgang Schäuble, German Politician Who Helped Forge European Unity, Dies at 81


Wolfgang Schäuble, who was among the most influential and combative political figures in postwar West Germany, and who played central roles in his country’s reunification with the Communist east and in its subsequent projection of economic might, died on Tuesday. He was 81.

His death was announced by the Germany’s Parliament, the Bundestag.

Mr. Schäuble’s uncompromising financial rigor was revered by debt-averse Germans. But it was reviled by citizens of poorer, more profligate countries in southern Europe, where he deployed Berlin’s huge economic muscle to impose unpopular austerity measures to protect the single euro currency.

For several years before and after Germany’s reunification in October 1990, Mr. Schäuble was viewed widely as the heir apparent to Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Even after a would-be assassin opened fire on him just days after reunification, wounding him in the face and chest and causing spinal damage that consigned him to a life in a wheelchair, he nurtured ambitions to succeed Mr. Kohl. In the late 1990s he even publicly raised the issue of whether Germans might elect a politician who uses a wheelchair as chancellor. The shooter, Dieter Kaufmann, was later declared by judges to be mentally ill.

After Mr. Kohl lost the 1998 national election, Mr. Schäuble (SHOY-bleh) succeeded him as leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, or C.D.U. But a year later the party became embroiled in a scandal relating to illicit political donations.

The fallout damaged Mr. Kohl most of all, but Mr. Schäuble was forced to resign in 2000 after admitting that he received a cash donation of 100,000 Deutschmarks, or $52,000, in 1994 from Karlheinz Schreiber, an arms dealer and lobbyist.

Mr. Schäuble denied he had concealed the money unlawfully, but his departure, along with Mr. Kohl’s fall from grace, decapitated the C.D.U.’s old guard, providing an opportunity for Angela Merkel to take over as party leader. She became Germany’s first female chancellor after elections in 2005 and held the job until 2021.

The scandal drew a bitter line under the once close relationship between Mr. Kohl and Mr. Schäuble, and the two men rarely spoke to one another again. It was a token of Mr. Schäuble’s perceived importance at the core of German and European decision-making that Ms. Merkel rehabilitated him in the run-up to the 2005 elections and later appointed him as interior minister — a position he had held under Mr. Kohl.

In the years after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States in 2001, when European and German officials feared a potential onslaught on their own soil, Mr. Schäuble acquired a reputation as a hard-liner on terrorism. He advocated laws that would empower German security forces to shoot down hijacked planes and to assassinate suspected foreign terrorists.

Adversaries who supported Germany’s postwar defense of individual rights accused him of rekindling the kind of oppression that marked Germans’ historical experience of both Nazism and Communism.

It was as finance minister from 2009 to 2017, however, that Mr. Schäuble achieved his greatest notoriety in European circles as an unbending enforcer of the strict fiscal regime underpinning the single currency.

A full obituary will be published shortly.

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