Who is the future leader of the MSC, Christoph Heusgen? | Germany | In-depth news and reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW

He is known for his outspokenness. Christoph Heusgen, who worked in foreign policy for more than 40 years, caused a stir with many angry words during his career as a diplomat. Next year, the 66-year-old will head the Munich Security Conference (MSC), a globally respected forum for foreign and security policy. For months, and not just in light of the Ukrainian conflict, he has been calling for a united community of “states that apply international law.”

Heusgen is considered one of Germany’s most experienced and respected diplomats. Although he was slow to serve officially as an ambassador, he was politically active at the European level and in the United States, but never in Africa, Asia or Latin America.

Via Brussels to the Chancellery

Heusgen, a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), became active in foreign policy posts early in his career. From 1993 to 1997 he was Deputy Chief of Staff to then German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel. From 1999 to 2005, he headed the Brussels office and political staff of Javier Solana, then High Representative for the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

After Angela Merkel’s victory in the 2005 elections, the new chancellor brought Heusgen, a Rhenish Catholic, into the chancellor’s office as a foreign policy adviser. He was with the Chancellor on virtually all of her trips abroad and has since maintained an excellent network. Sometimes he traveled without her, but for her: When it emerged in the fall of 2013 that US intelligence agencies had tapped Merkel’s phone, chilling transatlantic relations, Heusgen was part of the German delegation that asked Washington for clarification. As his boss said, “Tap calls between friends – that’s not the case at all.”

From Berlin to New York

A few months before Merkel’s fourth victory in the federal elections in 2017, she had to let Heusgen go. The diplomat, who had already spent some time studying in the United States in the 1980s and worked at the German consulate general in Chicago after 1983, eventually became ambassador. For four years he was Germany’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York.

In April 2019 and July 2020, he chaired the meetings of the UN Security Council, the supreme body to which Germany does not permanently belong but in which it wants to have its say. Here, too, on occasion, he was quick to call Russia and China’s blocking of UN aid deliveries to war-torn Syria “cynical”. Both expressed irritation with Germany’s stance.

Heusgen is certainly considered a man of clear words, clearer than many other ambassadors say. This is perhaps all the more true since 2021, the date of his return to Germany. Perhaps he was so outspoken about the current conflict in Ukraine because he was involved in the difficult negotiations that led to the Minsk Agreement in 2014, which brought together Ukraine, Russia and the separatists but collapsed soon after.

Champion of “international law”

Even now, a good seven years later, Berlin has an important role to play in the so-called “Norman format”, Heusgen pointed out in a recent interview with DW.

“We already did this the last time, when after Russia invaded Ukraine, Chancellor Merkel, together with President (Francois) Hollande, brought Ukrainian President Poroshenko and Putin to the table,” said he declared.

Perhaps the current conflict has also meant that the future head of the MSC will make very clear his fundamental objective in a series of talks ahead of this year’s Munich conference: a community of states “committed to international law”, to sanctions and dialogue. “What we want this time is for a very strong and massive response to be put on the table,” Heusgen told DW. Russia, he said, needs to know exactly what will happen if President Vladimir Putin does attack Ukraine.

Heusgen succeeds Wolfgang Ischinger, 75, also one of Germany’s top diplomats in his day, as head of the Munich Security Conference. Next year, Heusgen will host the reunion marking the 60th anniversary of the MSC, and this year he will be an “Adenauer Fellow” of the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Berlin. Even there, he reflects on how the “rules-based international order” can be upheld.

And when Heusgen is not in Munich or Berlin, he always returns home for at least one weekend at the end of August, for the Schützenfest in his native Neuss – a few kilometers from where he was born in Düsseldorf-Heerdt.

He has been returning to the event for decades, even while in New York. The Schützenfest is a kind of sniper folk festival, when Heusgen marches through the streets of the city with thousands of snipers.

Here, Heusgen is completely Rhenish. And yet, he remains a diplomat. For the past 10 years, the US ambassador in Berlin, as well as the British, French and Chinese ambassadors, have come to the folk festival on the Rhine. Perhaps they will now join him at Oktoberfest in Munich as well.

This article was originally written in German.

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