Former German “super minister” Wolfgang Clement, who helped push through controversial job market reforms in the early 2000s, died Sunday at the age of 80.
Clement had been suffering from lung cancer and died overnight at his home in Bonn, his spokeswoman said.
Long seen as a leading light of the centrist branch of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), Clement leaves behind a complex legacy.
A former journalist, Clement worked his way up the party ranks and served from 1998 to 2002 as prime minister of North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, before being tapped by then-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to switch to national politics.
From 2002 to 2005, Clement held the labor and economics portfolios at the same time, earning him the nickname “super minister.”
During that period, he was one of the architects of the liberal “Agenda 2010” reform package that became the centerpiece of Schroeder’s second term and sparks bitter debate in Germany to this day.
The painful labor and welfare reforms have since been credited with reducing unemployment and contributing to Germany’s economic boom years, but the tough-love approach caused a lasting rift between centrists and leftists in the SPD.
Clement himself left the party in 2008, having repeatedly criticized the SPD for what he saw as a drift to the left.
He later supported the smaller, pro-business FDP party.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier praised Clement’s “lasting achievements across party lines.”
“With his independent and sometimes uncomfortable positions, Wolfgang Clement consistently advocated to make Germany fit for the future,” he said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, of the conservative CDU party, said Clement had played a decisive part in “one of the most important and difficult tasks” of Schroeder’s government that “showed us the way out of high unemployment.”
Clement “has done our country a great and lasting service,” she added.