The election of former International Monetary Fund President Horst Köhler as German President is a sign that the conservative Christian Democratic Union is setting the agenda, even though the center-left Social Democrats control government. By virtue of its majority in the Parliament's upper house, the CDU was able to control the May 23 vote: The President is elected by both houses as well as various representatives specially chosen for that purpose.

But can Köhler, an outspoken advocate of economic reform, use the largely ceremonial presidency to sway a reluctant public? His influence will be greatest if the conservatives, led by Angela Merkel, regain control of government, which could happen as early as next year. Köhler will speak more frankly than other politicians about the need for painful changes such as reduced job protections. He could thus stake out positions that his own party -- which has a mixed record on reform -- would have trouble repudiating later.

Edited by Rose Brady

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