Germany's star politician becomes defence minister

25th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

Guttenberg, aged just 37, raised eyebrows when Merkel picked him as economy minister in February, but he has become the darling of the German political scene and is even tipped as a possible successor.

Berlin -- Germany's most popular minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, was named defence minister on Saturday, with responsibility for the country's, and the West's, biggest foreign policy headache: Afghanistan.

Guttenberg, aged just 37, raised eyebrows when Merkel picked him as economy minister in February, but he has become the darling of the German political scene and is even tipped as a possible successor.

The conservative aristocrat -- full name Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg -- has attained almost rock-star status in Germany's normally staid political scene.

Surprisingly in a country with growing gap between rich and poor, voters are not overly bothered by his noble origins, with his lack of pretension -- going to AC/DC rock concerts and even DJing -- apparently winning them over.

Now, Merkel, who won a second term in elections last month and who on Saturday finalised a common programme with her new coalition partners, is hoping that the Franconian baron's star qualities will work for Afghanistan.

Helping him in the job will be the fact that he speaks excellent English, that he is well-versed in foreign policy and that he is an avowed Atlanticist, experts say.

Germany has around 4,200 troops in Afghanistan, the third largest foreign contingent, mostly in the north where conditions have been peaceful compared to the more volatile south and east, allowing a greater focus on reconstruction.

But violence has spiked this year, with militants stepping up attacks and forcing the reportedly poorly equipped German contingent into more and more skirmishes. Since 2001, 35 German troops have died, including four this year.

With all the main parties supporting the deployment except for the far-left Die Linke, Afghanistan failed to register as an issue in campaigning for September's election.

But polls show that most Germans want troops to come home, and Afghanistan could well move centre stage now, particularly with Merkel's previous coalition partners, the Social Democrats, in opposition.

Merkel wants to use an upcoming international conference to press the Afghan government to take on more responsibilities so that Germany's soldiers can come home.

In the run-up to the election, a number of videos emerged from Islamic militants threatening Germany with attacks unless its troops withdraw, sparking a tightening of security.

AFP/Expatica

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