Minister who says the unsayable

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The Independent Online
Klaus Kinkel is, as they say, no stranger to controversy. A trained lawyer and civil servant, he became Germany's foreign minister in May 1992 and quickly earned a reputation for impatience and saying the unsayable in public.

Exasperated by the inability of German and other Western governments to end the conflicts in former Yugoslavia, Mr Kinkel, 60, once said: "One can be filled with cold rage because of one's helplessness."

His outspokenness forms a contrast to the quiet but effective diplomacy of his predecessor, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who served 18 years as foreign minister. Only last week Mr Kinkel issued a public warning to President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia not to crack down on opposition street protests, saying: "He should keep his hands off the rights of the demonstrators."

However, Mr Kinkel's new year's message, with its implicit appeal to Britons to vote for pro-Europeans in next year's general election, was not especially controversial in Germany. Most politicians there would heartily concur that Germany wants Britain to overcome its internal divisions on Europe so it can join in building the European Union.

For all his brusqueness, Mr Kinkel is seen as something of a lightweight in domestic German politics. It is unlikely that he would have become foreign minister were it not that he belonged to Mr Genscher's Free Democrats (FDP), the junior centrist coalition partner of Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats (CDU). Yet he did not even join the FDP until 1991, and during his two-year spell as the party's leader from June 1993 the FDP came close to electoral oblivion.