Friday

27th Nov 2020

Germany unveils new Merkel government

  • Almost three months after her reelection, Merkel can start her third term as German chancellor (Photo: Valentina Pop)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to start her third term on Tuesday (17 December) after the Bundestag votes on her new cabinet.

Her first trip abroad, as per tradition, will be to Paris, followed by Brussels where she will attend an EU summit.

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It took almost three months of talks to form the new "Grand Coalition," or "GroKo" as it is known in Germany, with the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).

The last hurdle was overcome on Saturday when the Social Democrats published the results of an internal poll - 75.96 percent of party members voted in favour.

Merkel's centre-right CDU party, its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, and the SPD all held press conferences on Sunday to unveil their respective ministers in the 16-man cabinet.

Finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble keeps his job.

He is not the most popular man in Europe.

His negotiating tactics have in the past irked European colleagues. In countries like Greece, he is seen as the mastermind of ruthless austerity.

Some SPD voices had also called for the post to got to a Social Democrat.

But SPD chief Sigmar Gabriel, who will be the new vice-chancellor and minister for economy and energy, said Schaeuble is doing a good job.

The SPD also got the post traditionally reserved for the junior coalition partner - the foreign ministry.

The job goes to Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Russia-friendly politician who already held the post in Merkel's first term, from 2005 until 2009.

The most surprising appointment was that of Merkel's ally and possible successor, Ursula von der Leyen, as Germany's new defence minister.

The 55-year old mother of seven, who was previously labour minister, will be Germany's first ever woman defence chief.

Merkel explained that "apart from her social policy imprint, she was always very much interested in international matters."

Von der Leyen will replace Thomas de Maiziere, a close ally of Merkel who used to be her chief of staff and who will now return to the interior ministry.

In 2011, de Maiziere took over defence because of a plagiarism scandal that brought down his predecessor. Merkel said he "really enjoys being an interior minister" and that back in 2011 it took "extremely convincing work from my part" to make him switch to defence.

Another surprise development was the departure of Joerg Asmussen, an executive board member of the European Central Bank, who returns to Berlin as a deputy labour minister.

Another surprise move was the appointment of Joerg Asmussen as deputy labour minister.

It means he will quit his job on the executive board of the European Central Bank (ECB) to go back to Berlin. He said he quit the ECB to be closer to his family, instead of commuting back and forth to Frankfurt, over 500km away.

The former finance ministry official had been appointed to the ECB in 2012, after the departure of Juergen Stark, who also cited personal reasons at the time, but who was reportedly angered at the bank's bond-buying scheme for Italy and Spain.

ECB chief Mario Draghi said he will "personally miss" Asmussen, who "has been a tremendous help in shaping the monetary policy in the past two years."

For her part, Merkel welcomed his return to government and said Germany will soon send an ECB replacement.

With the ECB under criticism for not having any female board members, it is likely that Merkel will nominate a woman.

Potential candidates are: Bundesbank vice president Sabine Lautenschlaeger, the head of Germany's banking supervisor, Elke Koenig or the head of the Halle institute for economic research, Claudia Buch.

It remains undecided who will be the next German EU commissioner.

Merkel said this was "not part of the coalition talks," as there is still almost a year to go until the new EU commission will be formed.

As a "consequence from the NSA affair," Merkel also announced the creation of a special post within the chancellery dealing with intelligence services.

She said a decision will follow soon on who will take up this job.

The National Security Agency (NSA), the US' umbrella intelligence service, has been making headlines in the past months after one of its former employees, Edward Snowden, leaked documents showing it snoops on millions of Europeans and that it bugged Merkel's phone.

German parties agree 'Grand Coalition'

Merkel has clinched a deal on a "Grand Coalition" with the Social Democrats, but the centre-left party still needs the approval of its members.

Von der Leyen tells Poland and Hungary to go to court

Poland and Hungary should ask the EU's top court to assess linking EU funds to the respect of the rule of law instead of blocking the budget and recovery package, the EU Commission chief said, most MEPs backed her up.

German minister predicts rule-of-law solution in 'days'

German foreign minister Heiko Maas said the will be "able to take decisions" in the next few days on the budget and coronavirus recovery fund. Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki will travel to Budapest on Thursday.

Hungary and Poland unfazed by EU outcry over budget block

France's EU affairs state secretary Clement Beaune said his country and Germany are looking into "technical clarifications" on rule-of-law conditionality to resolve the issue, but floated the idea of doing the recovery fund without Poland and Hungary.

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