Chancellor Angela Merkel presented a cabinet that keeps Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in his post and furnishes her potential successor, Ursula von der Leyen, with the role of Germany’s first female defense minister.
Schaeuble, at 71 Merkel’s oldest and most experienced cabinet member, retains the Finance Ministry for their Christian Democratic Union after seeing off any Social Democratic pretensions to the role. SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel will instead oversee Germany’s shift to renewable energy as the head of a newly configured Economy Ministry.
“Schaeuble is the personification of continuity and stability, beyond all party divisions,” Ulrich Sarcinelli, a political scientist at the University of Koblenz-Landau, said in an interview. “He’s proved he’s absolutely true to Merkel.”
As the chancellor prepares to be sworn in for her third term tomorrow almost three months after the Sept. 22 election, her cabinet picks portend little change to Germany’s solution to Europe’s economic woes. A champion of budget cuts to tackle the sovereign debt crisis that dominated Merkel’s second term, Schaeuble made clear that he wanted to remain finance minister even in a “grand coalition” with his party’s SPD opponents.
Venturing into his third Merkel cabinet having also served under former CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Schaeuble is poised to eliminate Germany’s budget deficit in a signal to other European governments of his determination to defend the euro.
Citing “great success” over four years of the crisis, Schaeuble said he plans to forge ahead in the same direction.
“We’re on the right track,” Schaeuble told Deutschlandfunk radio today. “We’re creating a banking union now. That’s a major undertaking, but it’s right and necessary.”
Merkel, announing the cabinet posts yesterday, referred to Schaeuble’s experience, saying that “his service for the CDU will continue.” Schaeuble “is in favor of the stability of the euro and the policy connected with that for us in Europe.”
With the Finance Ministry in CDU hands, Merkel’s Social Democratic coalition partner takes on responsibility for ensuring the shift to clean energy remains affordable. As electricity prices rise in part because of subsidies to solar and wind power, Gabriel must tame the costs for consumers and industry, speed the transition and ensure the lights remain on.
“This is a huge responsibility,” Gabriel told reporters less than 24 hours after a majority of his party’s 475,000 members approved entering a government with Merkel. Asked why the SPD didn’t claim the Finance Ministry, Gabriel said, “we agreed on a different distribution of cabinet posts and this distribution reflected the wishes of the SPD.”
The surprise appointment was that of European Central Bank Executive Board member Joerg Asmussen to the SPD-run Labor Ministry. As a deputy to Labor Minister Andrea Nahles, Asmussen won’t have a seat at the cabinet table.
Von der Leyen, who is one of six women in the 16-seat cabinet, faces a test of her reputation as one of Germany’s most popular politicians with her shift to the Defense Ministry from labor. A doctor and mother of seven children, von der Leyen has clashed with Merkel in the past, including over her support for fixed quotas for women on company boards, a stance that Merkel opposed.
She replaces Thomas de Maiziere, a Merkel confidant whose reputation was tarnished this year over accusations about exploding costs for a Euro Hawk spy drone project. He returns to his previous post as interior minister.
Von der Leyen will be the fourth German defense minister in eight years. De Maiziere’s two predecessors, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and Franz Josef Jung, both resigned amid scandal.
“A great responsibility always carries with it the possibility that you can fail, I’m aware of that,” Von der Leyen told broadcaster N-24 today. “I’m going into this with confidence.”
Von der Leyen “is now in the hot seat,” Sarcinelli said. “If she manages to get tensions under control there, she’ll be in a strong position as a potential Merkel successor.”
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