Rainer Barzel

German Christian Democrat leader
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The Independent Online

Rainer Candidus Barzel, politician: born Braunsberg, Germany 20 June 1924; Federal Minister for All-German Affairs 1962-63; Chairman, Christian Democrat Party 1971-73; Federal Minister for Inter-German Affairs 1982-83; President, Bundestag 1983-84; married 1948 Kriemhild Schumacher (died 1980; one daughter deceased), 1982 Hilda Henselder (died 1995), 1997 Ute Cremer; died Munich 26 August 2006.

Rainer Barzel chaired the German Christian Democratic parliamentary group for 10 years, later becoming national party chairman and President of the Bundestag. He was seen as a possible German Chancellor, but was forced to resign after involvement in a scandal.

Barzel was born in 1924 in Braunsberg, East Prussia, the son of a Catholic grammar-school teacher, and educated in Berlin. Receiving his call-up papers in 1941, he served in the naval air service on the Black Sea and as an instructor at the naval school in Kiel. A lieutenant, he won, in 1944, die Goldene Frontflugspange. The award, introduced by Hermann Goering in 1941, required the recipient to have flown at least 110 front sorties.

When the re-establishment of the German armed forces, Bundeswehr, was under way, Barzel, like Helmut Schmidt, contributed to the "citizen in uniform" concept, which gave the soldier in the new armed forces rights unknown even in many other democratic states. Again, like Schmidt, he served as an officer of the reserve. Both denied any knowledge of the Nazi holocaust.

After studies at Cologne University leading to a doctorate in law, Barzel became a civil servant in Christian Democrat-controlled North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany's largest state, then run by the "left-wing" Christian Karl Arnold. He embraced Arnold's values of Mitbestimmung (co-partnership in industry), partnership between capital and labour, and "freedom in social justice". By 1955 he was adviser and speechwriter for Arnold.

After Arnold was overthrown, Barzel worked full-time for the Christian Democrats (CDU), having joined the party in 1952. He was elected to the German parliament, the Bundestag, in 1957, on the wave of Konrad Adenauer's great victory. After Arnold's death in 1958, Barzel swung to the right, and joined the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) leader, Franz Josef Strauss, to found the Komitee Rettet die Freiheit (Committee to Save Freedom).

As chairman, Barzel came in for criticism when the organisation published a Rotbuch (Red Book) listing 450 individuals in public life, who, it claimed, were Communists. This helped him to gain the attention of Adenauer, who, in his last government, appointed Barzel, as the youngest member, Minister for All-German Affairs, from 1962 to 1963.

When Ludwig Erhard succeeded Adenauer Barzel was not included in the new government. However, his growing popularity led to his election, in 1963, as Deputy Chairman of the joint CDU/ CSU Bundestag group and, from 1963 to 1973, as Chairman. In this role he helped to bring about Erhard's demise. In his party he was regarded as the "crown prince", a future German Chancellor. Backed by Adenauer, he made his play on Erhard's fall, in 1966, but was defeated by Kurt-Georg Kiesinger.

At the election of 1969 Willy's Brandt's Social Democrats won a narrow victory with the liberal FDP. The Christian Democrats, for the first time, were in opposition. In 1971 Barzel replaced Kiesinger as Federal Chairman of the CDU, defeating his rival Helmut Kohl, Prime Minister of the Rheinland-Palatinate. In April 1972, he moved a "constructive" vote of non-confidence in the Bundestag against Chancellor Brandt. If successful, this would have given Barzel the Chancellorship. The coup failed because two of Barzel's colleagues voted, in secret ballot, against their own party. At least one had been persuaded by the East German intelligence service.

A strong advocate of German reunification, Barzel persuaded his party to abstain in the 1972 vote on Brandt's Eastern Treaties - an effort to seek reconciliation with the Soviet Union and Poland. In the election that followed, Brandt's government was returned with a clear mandate. In political terms, Barzel was severely wounded. He resigned his offices and turned to the practice of law.

In the new cabinet of Helmut Kohl, in 1982, Barzel served as Minister for Inter-German Questions until his election as President of the Bundestag in 1983. In the following year he was caught up in the "Flick affair" over payments by the Flick concern to the law firm of which he was a member. He strongly denied that payments had any influence on his political activities. Nevertheless, he resigned as Bundestag President in 1984 and left parliament, in 1987, after 30 years.

David Childs