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GERMAN BRIEF: WOMEN Heide Simonis, a trailblazer for women in politics, is dead

Heide Simonis

July 2023: Several years before Angela Merkel became German Chancellor, it was Heide Simonis who demonstrated that a woman can advance to one of the highest offices in German politics. In 1993, she became the first female state prime minister in Germany when she was elected Ministerpräsidentin of Schleswig-Holstein. She remained in office until 2005. Yesterday, 12 July, it was announced that she had died in Kiel, one week after her 80th birthday and nine years after she made public that she had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Heide Simonis was born Heide Steinhardt in Bonn on 4 July 1943. In 1967 she gained a degree in economics. In the same year she married her fellow student Udo Ernst Simonis. In 1969 Heide Simonis joined the Social Democratic Party (SPD). From 1971 to 1976, Simonis was a member of Kiel City Council. In the 1976 federal elections, she defeated unexpectedly the popular leader of the farmers' union and became the youngest member of the German federal parliament (Bundestag). Simonis remained a member of parliament until 1988 when she was asked to become finance minister in the government of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s most northern state. Her chance to take over as leader of Schleswig-Holstein’s government came in 1993, after her boss had to resign in connection with the so-called ‘Barschel affair’, a scandal that shook state politics and grabbed headlines across Germany and beyond. Social Democrat Heide Simonis remained one of Germany’s most popular state prime ministers until 2005 when her political career came to a spectacular end. When, following state elections, parliament voted for a prime minister on 17 March 2005, a dissenter from her own ranks denied her the vote during four rounds of secret balloting. The identity of the ‘Heide murderer’ has never been discovered. After, what Simonis described as a betrayal, she left politics and committed herself to children’s issues. For two years, she was chairwoman of UNICEF Germany. Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier together with many other leading German politicians expressed their sorrow at the death of Heide Simonis. President Steinmeier wrote: “What distinguished Heide Simonis as head of the state of Schleswig-Holstein was her professional competence and her political talent, but also her humanity and her empathy". It had always been her concern "to be there for all those who had a harder time in life than others". Even after the end of her premiership, she continued to serve in an honorary capacity for a long time, despite her serious illness. She had left her mark on democracy far beyond the borders of Schleswig-Holstein, Steinmeier wrote in his letter of condolence. The current Minister-President of Schleswig-Holstein, the Christian Democrat (CDU) politician Daniel Günther, said: "I mourn the loss of a great politician and a passionate Schleswig-Holstein citizen". Simonis had "made Schleswig-Holstein even more lovable with her personality, her commitment, her humanity and her straightforwardness". As a politician, she "never minced her words, was upright, open and always straightforward".

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