Merkel in political crisis as economy minister resigns

9th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a rising star in German politics, has been appointed as Glos' successor.

Berlin -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel was forced Monday to appoint a new economy minister after a shock cabinet resignation, adding to her political woes with a general election only seven months away.

Michael Glos, 64, rocked Berlin's political establishment by announcing over the weekend he was stepping down due to his age and the need for an injection of fresh blood within his conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) party.

Reports on Sunday had said the leader the CSU ordered him to stay at his post.

However, CSU party head Horst Seehofer confirmed Monday the party would propose 37-year-old Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a rising star in German politics, as Glos' successor.

Merkel's spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm later confirmed zu Guttenberg would follow Glos, telling a regular news conference that she "thanks Michael Glos for his work" and "looks forward to close co-operation with his successor."

Merkel herself is set to address a news conference later in the day.

Elected to parliament at the age of 30, the baby-faced zu Guttenberg -- full name Baron Karl-Theodor von und zu Guttenberg -- is poised to be the youngest economy minister in modern German history.

Speaking at a news conference in Munich, zu Guttenberg said he accepted the job "with pleasure," adding, "I am very conscious of the responsibility."

The ministerial change comes at a bad time both politically and economically for Merkel as the parties gear up for an election campaign and the economy -- Europe's largest -- faces its worst recession in six decades.

The government says economic output is expected to shrink by 2.25 percent as the global financial crisis takes its toll on Germany, the world's largest exporter of goods.

Adding to Merkel's worries, unemployment is rising at a blistering pace, with economists warning around 10 percent of the workforce could be out of work by the time voters head to the polls on September 27.

Glos was widely criticized for his inactivity during the financial crisis. However, it is not clear how well qualified zu Guttenberg is to tackle the economic woes facing Germany, as he is considered a foreign policy expert.

Opposition politicians have already lashed out at his perceived lack of experience in economic affairs.

Rainer Bruederle, vice chairman of the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), told television station N24, "Obviously ... you just need to be able to read and write to become economics minister," he said.

The enforced shake-up is being seen as a major political headache for Merkel, who has seen her popularity dip in recent months.

Although campaigning is not meant to start officially for several months, Merkel's Social Democrat challenger for power in September, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, wasted no time in scoring political points from the crisis.

Steinmeier said Sunday he was "more than unhappy that the future of the economy minister is being debated in the middle of an economic crisis."

The latest polls show Merkel is still likely to win September's election and form a coalition with her preferred partner, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).

But a recent poll for ARD television showed backing for Merkel's CDU/CSU slip three percentage points to 34 percent. German voters have not warmed to Merkel's solutions to the economic crisis, the survey showed.

However, the SPD has unable to take advantage of Merkel's woes with the poll showing support for Steinmeier's party dropping one percentage point to 25 percent.

The big winners from the crisis are likely to be the FDP, which saw its popularity soar during a recent state election in Hessen and whose poll numbers are ever improving.

Meanwhile, few tears were being shed in Germany for Glos, a sharp-tongued figure, who has often been a thorn in Merkel's side and who had an uneasy relationship with Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck.

The front-page of the Financial Times Deutschland describes Glos's resignation as "his first achievement."

Richard Carter/AFP/Expatica

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