New German cabinet begins to take shape

13th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

13 October 2005, BERLIN - Germany's new foreign minister will be Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the chief-of-staff for outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government, who has little experience in foreign affairs, officials confirmed Thurday.

13 October 2005

BERLIN - Germany's new foreign minister will be Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the chief-of-staff for outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government, who has little experience in foreign affairs, officials confirmed Thurday.

Steinmeier, a 49-year-old lawyer, is widely respected for his keen mind, behind-the-scenes clout and workaholic habits.

"I am sure he will represent our nation well throughout world," said Social Democratic Party (SPD) chairman Franz Muentefering speaking at a news conference.

Steinmeier's foreign ministry has been shorn of its normal extra post of vice-chancellor, said Muentefering who announced he would hold this position himself.

It remains unclear if Steinmeier will wield real influence or if the future Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) chancellor, Angela Merkel, will seize the foreign policy helm.

Germany's foreign ministry has lost power to the chancellery over past decades. Schroeder took control of most major foreign policy issues, including Berlin's ties to the European Union, France, Russia and China as well as transatlantic relations.

Merkel's CDU/CSU narrowly defeated Schroeder's SPD in last month's general elections and has 226 seats in parliament, compared to 222 for the SPD. The two blocs will begin negotiations for a grand coalition on Monday.

The announcement of Berlin's next designated chief diplomat came with the release of the eight cabinet ministers from the SPD which will serve under Merkel.

"We are ready to begin full talks for a grand coalition," said Muentefering. Negotiations are expected to last until mid-November and the new government should be elected by parliament and sworn in at the end of the month.

Schroeder on Monday gave up his bid to remain chancellor and said he would not be part of the new grand coalition.

In addition to being vice-chancellor, Muentefering will also get the crucial labour and social affairs ministry which controls by far the biggest chunk of the federal budget.

With German unemployment over 11 per cent, the labour ministry is the most sensitive post in Berlin. Failure to bring down near post-war record joblessness is widely seen as the reason for Schroeder's defeat in September 18 elections.

Former North Rhine-Westphalia premier Peer Steinbrueck will become finance minister. Steinbrueck, who hails from the SPD's conservative wing, shares many views held by moderates in Merkel's CDU/CSU.

Another powerful post goes to the outgoing SPD defence minister, Peter Struck, who will shift to head the SPD faction in parliament's lower chamber, the Bundestag.

Although a non-cabinet position, Struck is likely to become a major player in Merkel's CDU/CSU-SPD government.

In Germany's only previous grand coalition from 1966 to 1969 it was the parliamentary faction leaders who emerged as the real power-brokers with the chancellor shuttling back and forth between the blocs as a mediator.

The popular SPD mayor of the eastern city of Leipzig, Wolfgang Tiefensee, will become both transport minister and a special commissioner charged with revamping east Germany's lagging economy.

Tiefensee has long had good relations with the CDU which holds power in his state of Saxony and is thus expected to have few problems working with conservatives at the national level.

The former SPD Lower Saxony prime minister, Sigmar Gabriel, will become environment minister, said Muentefering.

*sidebar1*Three current SPD ministers will remain in office under Merkel. They are Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries, Health Minister Ulla Schmidt and Development Aid Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul.

So far Merkel's CDU/CSU has announced that Bavarian Edmund Stoiber will serve as economics minister in Berlin. Senior CDU stalwart Wolfgang Schaeuble is tipped as a possible interior minister, a post he held from 1989 to 1991 under former chancellor Helmut Kohl.

The consumer affairs and farm ministry is expected to go to Horst Seehofer, the family portfolio to Ursula von der Leyen, and education to Annette Schavan, sources said.

The final CDU/CSU cabinet roster is due to be announced on Monday.

DPA

Subject: German news

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