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She was born in Bratislava as the daughter of Hans Gmelin (d. 1991), who was mayor of Tübingen from 1954-1974. She studied history, economy, law and political science in Tübingen and Berlin. Since 1974, she has been admitted as a lawyer, first in Stuttgart, then in Berlin. Since 1992, she has lectured law at the Freie Universität Berlin, which granted her the title of honorary professor in 1995.
She joined the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1965 and became a member of the Bundestag in 1972. She held several party offices in the 1980s and '90s, serving as deputy party chairman from 1988-97. From 1994-98 she was chairwoman of the "Rechtspolitik" working group and legal adviser to the SPD parliamentary group. In 1993, the SPD nominated her to fill the vacancy of vice-president of the Federal Constitutional Court, but in a nine-month filibuster, she was deemed "too political" by the conservatives, after which she abandoned this career step in favor of Jutta Limbach .
From 1998 to 2002, she served as Justice Minister in Gerhard Schröder's first cabinet, where she oversaw a number of controversial reform projects such as the reform of German citizenship legislation, the quasi-legalization of same-sex marriage, and the overhaul of the German Civil Code, the most invasive since its inception in 1900.
On September 18, 2002, four days before Schröder's re-election, she attended a meeting at a restaurant in Derendingen (near Tübingen) with about 30 trade unionists from two local factories (the topic was "Globalization and Labor"). Däubler-Gmelin, who has long been known for her outspokenness, later claimed to have been unaware that a reporter from local newspaper Schwäbisches Tagblatt was present, insisting that she regarded the event as an internal meeting. After discussion had turned to the Iraq crisis, she made a remark that U.S. president Bush was preparing a war to detract from domestic problems such as the economic crisis at the time, that this was a popular political strategy used by many - she mentioned Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War - and known since Adolf Hitler. When some participants showed disagreement, she added immediately that this was not meant to liken Bush to Hitler as a person, but rather to compare their methods. She also described the U.S. legal system as "lousy".
This was the version published by Schwäbisches Tagblatt (a paper widely regarded as liberal to leftist and respected for its journalistic quality), which states that Däubler-Gmelin herself had confirmed the wording of the report, as well as several present at the meeting. Another account of the meeting claims that the Hitler comparison originated from a participant and that Däubler-Gmelin had merely agreed that Hitler had used these tactics, too.
Immediately after the article had been published, Däubler-Gmelin strongly denied it, claiming to have been misquoted. She was heavily criticized for anti-americanism by many both in Germany and abroad, including members of the U.S. government such as Ari Fleischer and Condoleezza Rice. On September 20, Däubler-Gmelin called U.S. ambassador Coates to state that the reports had "no basis" and Schröder wrote an apology letter to Bush, stating "there is no place at my cabinet table for anyone who makes a connection between the American president and such a criminal." He did not force her to resign immediately, claiming to trust her denial of the quotation, but she was dropped from his new cabinet when it was formed a few weeks after his narrow re-election. Many political analysts estimated that the affair had done considerable damage to Schröder's election results.
In the newly elected Bundestag, she has since been chairman of the Committee on Consumer Protection and Agriculture.
Däubler-Gmelin is a member of several charitable and non-profit organizations. Since 1969, she has been married to Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Däubler, one of the most prominent experts on German labor law. They have two children.
- www.daeubler-gmelin.de, her website (in German)
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