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German finance minister to leave hospital Monday

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble will leave hospital in Brussels later Monday and return to Germany in the evening, and there is “no reason” to speculate he will step down, Berlin said Monday.

“According to my latest information, he will leave the hospital in Brussels this afternoon,” finance ministry spokesman Martin Kreienbaum told a regular briefing.

“He will then contact his doctors in Germany and is expected back in Berlin this evening,” he added.

Wheelchair-bound Schaeuble, 67, spent the night under medical surveillance after reacting badly to medicine he took for the first time and did not attend Sunday’s meeting of EU finance ministers to hammer out an emergency deal for Greece.

“I believe his state of health has markedly improved,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters earlier Monday, adding that she had spoken to him “several times” by telephone.

Schaeuble’s health has prompted a raft of speculation on a possible reshuffle, with business daily Handelsblatt reporting that Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere was poised to replace him.

However, Merkel’s spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm played down the rumours, saying there was “no reason to speculate” on a reshuffle or Schaeuble’s imminent departure.

Amid a barrage of questions from reporters about whether Schaeuble was fit enough to be running the finances of Europe’s top economy, Wilhelm said: “I do not share this fear”, adding the minister had worked “intensively” on the Greek bailout.

Nevertheless de Maiziere was the man called upon to step into the breach in Brussels and, as a trusted Merkel ally, is among the favourites to take over, were Schaeuble to step down.

On arrival at the negotiations in Brussels on Sunday, de Maiziere said Schaeuble was well enough to brief him on the German line for the talks.

“I am in contact with Wolfgang Schaeuble. He’s doing well and gave me the negotiating plan,” he said.

Confined to a wheelchair after a 1990 attack by a mentally disturbed man who fired three shots at him, Schaeuble has spent weeks in and out of hospital this year after scars from an operation failed to heal properly.