Minister for Foreign Affairs (Germany)

Last updated
Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs
German: Bundesminister des Auswärtigen
Bundesadler Bundesorgane.svg
2017-11-29-Heiko Maas-Maischberger-5685.jpg
Heiko Maas

since 14 March 2018
Federal Foreign Office
Formation21 March 1871
First holder Hermann von Thile
Website auswä

The Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs (German : Bundesminister des Auswärtigen) is the head of the Federal Foreign Office and a member of the Cabinet of Germany. The current office holder is Heiko Maas. Since 1966, the Foreign Minister has often also simultaneously held the office of Vice Chancellor.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

Federal Foreign Office foreign ministry of Germany

The Federal Foreign Office, abbreviated AA, is the foreign ministry of the Federal Republic of Germany, a federal agency responsible for both the country's foreign policy and its relationship with the European Union. It is a cabinet-level ministry. Since March 2018, Heiko Maas has served as Foreign Minister, succeeding Sigmar Gabriel. The primary seat of the ministry is at the Werderscher Markt square in the Mitte district, the historic centre of Berlin.

The Cabinet of Germany is the chief executive body of the Federal Republic of Germany. It consists of the Chancellor and the cabinet ministers. The fundamentals of the cabinet's organization as well as the method of its election and appointment as well as the procedure for its dismissal are set down in articles 62 through 69 of the Grundgesetz.


History of the office

The Foreign Office was established within the North German Confederation in 1870 and its head, first appointed in 1871, had the rank of Secretary of State. As the German constitution of 1871 installed the Chancellor as the sole responsible government minister and since the Chancellor generally also held the position of Foreign Minister of Prussia, the Secretary of State fulfilled a more subject role as an assistant to the Chancellor, acting largely to draft correspondence rather than to actually direct the formation of foreign policy. This was especially true during the chancellorships of Otto von Bismarck (1871–1890) and Bernhard von Bülow (1900–1909), both of whom had considerable prior experience with foreign affairs, while secretaries at other times wielded more influence over the foreign policy.

North German Confederation Federal state in Northern Germany in 1867–1871

The North German Confederation was the German federal state which existed from July 1867 to December 1870. It was said to be led by Prussia. Some historians also use the name for the alliance of 22 German states formed on 18 August 1866. In 1870–1871, the south German states of Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Württemberg and Bavaria joined the country. On 1 January 1871, the country adopted a new constitution, which was written under the title of a new "German Confederation" but already gave it the name "German Empire" in the preamble and article 11.

Individual ministerial responsibility is a constitutional convention in governments using the Westminster System that a cabinet minister bears the ultimate responsibility for the actions of their ministry or department. Individual ministerial responsibility is not the same as cabinet collective responsibility, which states members of the cabinet must approve publicly of its collective decisions or resign. This means that a motion for a vote of "no confidence" is not in order should the actions of an organ of government fail in the proper discharge of their responsibilities. Where there is ministerial responsibility, the accountable minister is expected to take the blame and ultimately resign, but the majority or coalition within parliament of which the minister is part, is not held to be answerable for that minister's failure.

Otto von Bismarck 19th-century German statesman and Chancellor

Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg, known as Otto von Bismarck, was a conservative Prussian statesman who dominated German and European affairs from the 1860s until 1890 and was the first Chancellor of the German Empire between 1871 and 1890. In 1862, King Wilhelm I appointed him as Minister President of Prussia, a position he would hold until 1890, with the exception of a short break in 1873. He provoked three short, decisive wars against Denmark, Austria, and France. Following the victory against Austria, he abolished the supranational German Confederation and instead formed the North German Confederation as the first German national state in 1867, leading it as Federal Chancellor. This aligned the smaller North German states behind Prussia. Later receiving the support of the independent South German states in the Confederation's defeat of France, he formed the German Empire in 1871, unifying Germany with himself as Imperial Chancellor, while retaining control of Prussia at the same time. The new German nation excluded Austria, which had been Prussia's main opponent for predominance among the German states.

Gustav Stresemann, one of Germany's most influential Foreign Ministers and a 1926 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1989-040-27, Gustav Stresemann.jpg
Gustav Stresemann, one of Germany's most influential Foreign Ministers and a 1926 Nobel Peace Prize laureate

In 1919, the Weimar Republic elevated the head of the foreign office to the position of Foreign Minister responsible for his department. As governments were now formed by parties entering coalitions with each other, individual ministers also gained independence towards from the chancellor.

Weimar Republic Germany state in the years 1918/1919–1933

The Weimar Republic is an unofficial historical designation for the German state from 1918 to 1933. The name derives from the city of Weimar, where its constitutional assembly first took place. The official name of the republic remained Deutsches Reich unchanged from 1871, because of the German tradition of substates. Although commonly translated as "German Empire", the word Reich here better translates as "realm", in that the term does not have monarchical connotations in itself. The Reich was changed from a constitutional monarchy into a republic. In English, the country was usually known simply as Germany.

After a succession of short-lived ministers, Gustav Stresemann, leader of the small National-liberal German People's Party, held the office of Foreign Minister in successive cabinets from 1923 to his death 1929. His long term gave stability to Germany's foreign policy and improved the minister's position towards the relatively weak and short-lived chancellors. Stresemann was awarded the 1926 Nobel Peace Prize for his work for reconciliation between Germany and France. [1]

Gustav Stresemann German politician, statesman, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Gustav Ernst Stresemann was a German statesman who served as Chancellor in 1923 and Foreign Minister 1923–1929, during the Weimar Republic. He was co-laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926.

German Peoples Party German liberal political party

The German People's Party was a national liberal party in Weimar Germany and a successor to the National Liberal Party of the German Empire. A right-wing liberal or conservative-liberal party, its most famous member was Chancellor and Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann, a 1926 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Nobel Peace Prize One of five Nobel Prizes established by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Swedish industrialist, inventor, and armaments manufacturer Alfred Nobel, along with the prizes in Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature. Since March 1901, it has been awarded annually to those who have "done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

The foreign office remained relatively unaffected by the establishment of the Nazi regime in 1933, as minister Konstantin von Neurath, appointed in 1932, remained in office until 1938. However, the office was increasingly marginalised in actual policy-making and with the replacement of Neurath by Ribbentrop lost any independent standing.

Konstantin von Neurath German general and Nazi war criminal

Konstantin Hermann Karl Freiherr von Neurath was a German diplomat remembered mostly for having served as Foreign minister of Germany between 1932 and 1938. Holding this post in the early years of Adolf Hitler's regime, Neurath was regarded as playing a key role in the foreign policy pursuits of the Nazi dictator in undermining the Treaty of Versailles and territorial expansion in the prelude to World War II, although he was often averse to Hitler's aims tactically if not necessarily ideologically. This aversion eventually induced Hitler to replace Neurath with the more compliant and fervent Nazi Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Joachim von Ribbentrop German Foreign Minister

Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop, more commonly known as Joachim von Ribbentrop, was Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany from 1938 until 1945.

After World War II, two separate German states emerged in 1949, the democratic Federal Republic of Germany in the West and the communist-ruled German Democratic Republic in the East. While the Soviet Union ostensibly restored political sovereignty to its satellite and allowed for a Foreign Ministry of the GDR, West Germany's sovereignty was officially curtailed by the Western powers, especially in the field of foreign policy. In 1951 the Foreign Office was reestablished [2] in West Germany, but Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was required to hold the office of Foreign Minister until the Western powers restored sovereignty to West Germany in 1955. Then, Heinrich von Brentano di Tremezzo succeeded as foreign minister in 1955. In 1990, the GDR ceased to exist as a separate state and its territory was reunited with West Germany.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

East Germany Former communist country, 1949-1990

East Germany, officially the German Democratic Republic, was a country that existed from 1949 to 1990, when the eastern portion of Germany was part of the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. It described itself as a socialist "workers' and peasants' state", and the territory was administered and occupied by Soviet forces at the end of World War II — the Soviet occupation zone of the Potsdam Agreement, bounded on the east by the Oder–Neisse line. The Soviet zone surrounded West Berlin but did not include it; as a result, West Berlin remained outside the jurisdiction of the GDR.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

From the 1966 Grand Coalition government of Kurt Georg Kiesinger onwards, the office has been held by a member of the smaller partner in coalitions. Therefore, the Foreign Minister also mostly holds the office of Vice Chancellor of Germany, although there have been notable exceptions, most recently during the term of Philipp Rösler as Vice Chancellor, from 2011 to 2013.

List of officeholders

State Secretaries for Foreign Affairs (Außenstaatssekretäre), 1871–1919

PortraitPartyTerm of Office Chancellor
Hermann von Thile
Hermann von Thiele a 001.jpg N/A21 March 187130 September 1872 Bismarck
Hermann Ludwig von Balan
Hermann Ludwig von Balan.jpg N/A3 October 18729 October 1873
Bernhard Ernst von Bülow
Bernhard Ernst von Bulow.JPG N/A9 October 187320 October 1879
Joseph Maria von Radowitz, Jr.
Joseph Maria von Radowitz, de Christian Franzen.jpg N/A6 November 187917 April 1880
Chlodwig Fürst zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst
Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfurst.png N/A20 April 18801 September 1880
Friedrich Graf zu Limburg-Stirum
Friedrich zu Limburg-Stirum, German diplomat (1835-1912).jpg N/A1 September 188025 June 1881
Clemens Busch
N/A25 June 188116 July 1881
Paul Graf von Hatzfeldt zu Trachenberg
Paul Graf Hatzfeld-Wildenburg (1831-1901).jpg N/A16 July 188124 October 1885
Herbert Fürst von Bismarck
Herbert von Bismarck (C.W.Allers, 1892).jpg N/A24 October 188526 March 1890 Bismarck
von Caprivi
Adolf Freiherr Marschall von Bieberstein
Adolf Marschall von Bieberstein.jpg N/A31 March 189019 October 1897 von Caprivi
Bernhard Graf von Bülow
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2004-0098A, Bernhard von Bulow.jpg N/A20 October 189723 October 1900 Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst
von Bülow
Oswald Freiherr von Richthofen
Oswald von Richthofen.jpg N/A23 October 190017 January 1906 von Bülow
Heinrich Leonhard von Tschirschky und Bögendorff
Heinrich Leonhard von Tschirschky LOC 01127u.jpg N/A24 January 190625 October 1907
Wilhelm Freiherr von Schoen
Paris, Baron Von Schon, German Amb. (LOC).jpg N/A26 October 190727 June 1910 von Bülow
von Bethmann-Hollweg
Alfred von Kiderlen-Waechter
Alfred von Kiderlen-Waechter.jpg N/A27 June 191030 December 1912 von Bethmann-Hollweg
Gottlieb von Jagow
Gottlieb von Jagow circa 1915.jpg N/A11 January 191322 November 1916
Arthur Zimmermann
Arthur Zimmermann.png N/A22 November 19166 August 1917 von Bethmann-Hollweg
Richard von Kühlmann
Richard von Kuhlmann cph,3b32192.jpg N/A6 August 19179 July 1918 Michaelis
von Hertling
Paul von Hintze
Paul von Hintze 1915.jpg N/A9 July 19183 October 1918 von Hertling
Wilhelm Solf
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R73059, Wilhelm Solf.jpg N/A3 October 191813 December 1918 von Baden
(Council of the People's Deputies)
Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau
Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau.jpg N/A13 December 191813 February 1919 Ebert
(Council of the People's Deputies)

Ministers of Foreign Affairs (Reichsminister des Auswärtigen), 1919–1945

Political Party:   SPD    Zentrum    DDP    DVP    NSDP

Minister of Foreign AffairsTook officeLeft officeTime in officePartyCabinet
Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau.jpg
Brockdorff, Ulrich Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau
13 February 191920 June 1919127 days Independent Scheidemann
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1979-122-28A, Hermann Muller.jpg
Müller, Hermann Hermann Müller
21 June 191926 March 1920279 days SPD Bauer
Koester adolf 1920s.png
Köster, Adolf Adolf Köster
10 April 19208 June 192059 days SPD Müller I
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-12279, Walter Simons.jpg
Simons, Walter Walter Simons
25 June 19204 May 192159 days Independent Fehrenbach
Dr Friedrich Rosen 1910.jpg
Rosen, Friedrich Friedrich Rosen
10 May 192122 October 19211 year, 136 days Independent Wirth I
Bundesarchiv Bild 146III-105, Joseph Wirth.jpg
Wirth, Joseph Joseph Wirth
26 October 192131 January 192297 days Centre Wirth II
Walther Rathenau.jpg
Rathenau, Walther Walther Rathenau
1 February 192224 June 1922 143 days DDP Wirth II
Bundesarchiv Bild 146III-105, Joseph Wirth.jpg
Wirth, Joseph Joseph Wirth
24 June 192214 November 1922143 days Centre Wirth II
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-00098, Berlin, Reichstag, Gedachtnisfeier fur Rathenau (cropped).jpg
Rosenberg, Hans Hans von Rosenberg
22 November 192211 August 1923262 days Independent Cuno
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1982-092-11, Gustav Stresemann.jpg
Stresemann, Gustav Gustav Stresemann
13 August 19233 October 1929 6 years, 51 days DVP Stresemann III
Marx III
Luther III
Müller II
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-10108, Reichsaussenministers Curtius mit Familie (cropped).jpg
Curtius, Julius Julius Curtius
4 October 19299 October 19312 years, 5 days DVP Müller II
Brüning I
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1989-0630-504, Heinrich Bruning.jpg
Brüning, Heinrich Heinrich Brüning
9 October 193130 May 1932234 days Centre Müller II
Brüning II
Bundesarchiv N 1310 Bild-135, Konstantin von Neurath.jpg
Neurath, Konstantin Konstantin von Neurath
(Independent until 1937)
1 June 19324 February 19385 years, 248 days NSDAP von Papen
von Schleicher
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H04810, Joachim von Ribbentrop.jpg
Ribbentrop, Joachim Joachim von Ribbentrop
4 February 193830 April 19457 years, 85 days NSDAP Hitler
Arthur Seyss-Inquart.jpg
Seyss, Arthur Arthur Seyss-Inquart
30 April 19452 May 19452 days NSDAP Goebbels
Ludwig Schwerin von Krosigk.jpg
Krosigk, Lutz Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk
2 May 194523 May 194521 days NSDAP Schwerin von Krosigk

Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the GDR, 1949–1990

Political Party:   CDU    SED    NDPD    SPD

Minister of Foreign AffairsTook officeLeft officeTime in officeParty Chairman
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-S88853, Georg Dertinger.jpg
Dertinger, Georg Georg Dertinger
12 October 194915 January 19533 years, 3 months CDU Grotewohl
Fotothek df pk 0000173 047 (cropped).jpg
Ackermann, Anton Anton Ackermann
15 January 1953July 19535 months SED Grotewohl
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-64094-006-Teil 2, Genf, Aussenministerkonferenz, Ankunf Dr. Bolz (cropped).jpg
Bolz, Lothar Lothar Bolz
July 195324 June 196511 years, 11 months NDPD Grotewohl
Otto Winzer.jpg
Winzer, Otto Otto Winzer
24 June 196520 January 19759 years, 6 months SED Stoph
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1989-0901-038, Oskar Fischer.jpg
Fischer, Oskar Oskar Fischer
(born 1923)
3 March 197512 April 199015 years, 1 month SED Sindermann
Markus Meckel.jpg
Meckel, Markus Markus Meckel
(born 1952)
12 April 199020 August 19904 months SPD de Maizière
Maizière, Lothar Lothar de Maizière
(born 1940)
20 August 19902 October 19901 month CDU de Maizière

Ministers of Foreign Affairs (Bundesminister des Auswärtigen), since 1951

Political Party:   CDU    SPD    FDP    Green

Minister of Foreign AffairsTook officeLeft officeTime in officePartyCabinet
Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F078072-0004, Konrad Adenauer.jpg
Adenauer, Konrad Konrad Adenauer
15 March 19516 June 19554 years, 83 days CDU Adenauer III
Heinrich von Bretano.jpg
Tremezzo, Heinrich Heinrich von Brentano di Tremezzo
6 June 195530 October 19616 years, 146 days CDU Adenauer IIIII
Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F008145-0002, Gerhard Schroder (crop).jpg
Schröder, Gerhard Gerhard Schröder
14 November 196130 November 19665 years, 16 days CDU Adenauer IVV
Erhard III
Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F057884-0009, Willy Brandt.jpg
Brandt, Willy Willy Brandt
1 December 196620 October 19692 years, 323 days SPD Kiesinger
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1989-047-20, Walter Scheel.jpg
Scheel, Walter Walter Scheel
21 October 196915 May 19744 years, 206 days FDP Brandt III
Hans-Dietrich Genscher (1989).jpg
Genscher, Hans Hans-Dietrich Genscher
17 May 197417 September 19828 years, 123 days FDP Schmidt IIIIII
Verteidigungsminister Helmut Schmidt.jpg
Schmidt, Helmut Helmut Schmidt
17 September 19824 October 198217 days SPD Schmidt III
Hans-Dietrich Genscher (1989).jpg
Genscher, Hans Hans-Dietrich Genscher
4 October 198217 May 19929 years, 226 days FDP Kohl IIIIIIIV
Minister Kinkel.jpg
Kinkel, Klaus Klaus Kinkel
18 May 199226 October 19986 years, 161 days FDP Kohl IVV
Joschka Fischer.jpg
Fischer, Joschka Joschka Fischer
(born 1948)
27 October 199822 November 20057 years, 26 days Green Schröder III
Steinmeier Cropped.jpg
Steinmeier, Frank Frank-Walter Steinmeier
(born 1956)
22 November 200528 October 20093 years, 340 days SPD Merkel I
Guido westerwelle.jpg
Westerwelle, Guido Guido Westerwelle
28 October 200917 December 20134 years, 50 days FDP Merkel II
Steinmeier Cropped.jpg
Steinmeier, Frank Frank-Walter Steinmeier
(born 1956)
17 December 201327 January 20173 years, 41 days SPD Merkel III
Sigmar Gabriel 2015 cropped.jpg
Gabriel, Sigmar Sigmar Gabriel
(born 1959)
27 January 201714 March 20181 year, 46 days SPD Merkel III
2017-03-26 Heiko Maas by Sandro Halank-4.jpg
Maas, Heiko Heiko Maas
(born 1966)
14 March 2018Incumbent1 year, 114 days SPD Merkel IV

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Second Stresemann cabinet

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Second Marx cabinet

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Third Marx cabinet

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  1. Wright, Jonathan, Gustav Stresemann: Weimar's Greatest Statesman (2002)