New German foreign minister untested in foreign affairs

25th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

As leader of the business-friendly Free Democrats, he has been given the two jobs which, traditionally in Germany, are handed out to the top-ranked junior partner in a coalition government.

Berlin -- Guido Westerwelle, Germany's new foreign minister and vice-chancellor in Angela Merkel's new government, has neither ministerial nor foreign affairs experience.

As leader of the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), he has been given the two jobs which, traditionally in Germany, are handed out to the top-ranked junior partner in a coalition government.

The 47-year-old lawyer's party will rule alongside Merkel's conservative Christian Democrat (CDU/CSU) bloc after winning just under 15 percent of the vote, its best-ever result, in September 27's general election.

The FDP's last bright star, before its 11 years in opposition, was Hans-Dietrich Genscher, a foreign minister in Helmut Kohl's coalition government at the time of Germany's reunification.

Westerwelle dismisses concerns raised in the media as to whether his homosexuality could pose problems in his role as foreign minister.

"Some other countries may have had a problem with the fact that Angela Merkel became the first female chancellor of Germany. Of course she does not wear a veil on the red carpet when she visits certain Arab states," he said.

"The decision as to whom we send as a government representative rests solely with us Germans, based on our political and moral standards," he added.

Westerwelle officially "came out" as gay at Merkel's 50th birthday party in 2004 with his partner, businessman Michael Mronz.

In foreign policy, he says he intends to stand by the "basic tenets" of Germany's postwar foreign policy,

On Saturday he cited non-proliferation, including a withdrawal of the US nuclear warheads stationed in Germany since the Cold War, as a priority.

His career, to date, has barely touched on foreign relations.

After training as a lawyer, he joined the FDP and headed its youth organisation. He has been in parliament since 1996 and has led his party since 2001.

According to his official biography, he is a member of the private, non-partisan Atlantik Bruecke (Atlantic Bridge), dedicated to fostering transatlantic understanding, but has had little to do with other foreign policy think-tanks.

Questions have also been raised in the press about his knowledge of the English language, a matter he did not put to rest when at a recent press conference he declined to answer in English a question put to him by a BBC reporter.

The sharp-tongued Westerwelle, seen as one of parliament's most gifted debaters, has fought over the past few years to strip his party of its yuppie image and touted a slimmed-down tax policy he says will boost the middle class.

"We want to partake in the government of Germany to bring about a better tax system," he said after the election triumph.

He has struggled to shake off a "joker" image after making headlines in the past for moving into TV's "Big Brother" house for a few hours and painting his party's election goal of 18 percent on the soles of his shoes for a television programme in 2005.

"Of course I made some mistakes when I was young but one grows older and wiser," he told AFP in an interview this year when asked about his more memorable publicity stunts.

But he believes that Germans appreciate a politician who does not take himself too seriously.

"Maybe the Germans aren't as uptight as people abroad sometimes think," he told AFP.


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