Self-styled ‘pitiless’ minister who will decide Greece’s fate

Self-styled ‘pitiless’ minister who will decide Greece’s fate
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has been accused of having a simplistic, “tax collector’s approach” to economics.

LONDON - He missed on becoming German chancellor. He also missed the opportunity to become the country's president. But over the next few weeks, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble will be the man who will decide the future of Europe's single currency.

For it will be up to him to decide whether Greece gets more money or is allowed to go bankrupt, and face eviction from the euro zone.

Throughout his eventful life, Dr Schaeuble, 73, has gone against the trend. Born towards the end of World War II, he belongs to the first generation of Germans with no personal recollection of the horrors of that period.

Youngsters of his generation were either attracted to making money in the German "economic miracle" which followed the war, or devoted their teenage years to student politics.

Dr Schaeuble, however, appeared to want nothing more than the middle-class respectability of a state-employed taxman. He studied law and economics at his hometown's Freiburg University, one of Germany's oldest and most distinguished, where he specialised in taxation.

In 1972, however, he decided on something riskier than tax collection - he went into politics. He joined the centre-right Christian Democrats and was elected a member of Parliament.

Because he was so dependable, he rose fast: a mere nine years after he entered politics, he was the Christian Democrats' chief whip, and by 1982 he was chief of staff to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, in effect the government's influential gatekeeper.

Commentators scoffed at Dr Schaeuble's grand title of "Federal Minister for Special Affairs", but the two men complemented each other: Mr Kohl was the man of vision with no attention to detail, while Dr Schaeuble loved nothing better than imposing order on the paper trail which his political master left behind.

It was Dr Schaeuble who dealt with the practicalities of Germany's reunification during the early 1990s, including drafting the thousands of treaties and other documents required.

German reunification was the highlight of Dr Schaeuble's life, yet it was followed by a string of terrible personal and professional disappointments.

During an election rally in 1990, he was shot in the back by a deranged man. Although surgeons succeeded in saving his life, he was permanently confined to a wheelchair.

He returned to politics, and was widely tipped as Germany's next chancellor. But a scandal over the finances of his party torpedoed him; the job went instead to Dr Angela Merkel, the current German leader.

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