Merkel Cabinet Reshuffled as Social Democrats Position for Vote

  • Sigmar Gabriel replaces Steinmeier as foreign minister
  • Zypries, former justice minister, becomes economy chief

Social Democrat Sigmar Gabriel became Germany’s new foreign minister on Friday as Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner prepares to take on the chancellor in September’s election.

Gabriel this week ceded his party’s candidacy for the September election as well as the SPD party chairmanship to Martin Schulz, the former European Parliament president who polls show has a better chance against Merkel. Gabriel succeeds party colleague Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is the governing coalition’s choice to be elected Germany’s president in a special election next month.

The reshuffle among Social Democrats comes as the party looks to boost its fortunes against Merkel, whose Christian Democratic-led bloc remains well ahead of the SPD in every poll. Merkel and Schulz were tied at 41 percent in an ARD poll this week that asked who Germans would vote for if the chancellor were to be directly elected rather than appointed by the majority party.

Gabriel’s previous post as economy minister was filled by Brigitte Zypries, a Social Democatic deputy minister who also was justice minister from 2002 to 2009.

Reinvigorated SPD

Initial polling shows an early boost for the SPD, with the party up three points to 24 percent, with Merkel’s faction unchanged at 36 percent, according to a Forschungsgruppe Wahlen survey published Friday. That poll surveyed 1,303 voters from Jan. 24-26, the three days after Gabriel made the surprise announcement.

A reinvigorated SPD is opening a new front against Merkel, who already confronts a threat on her party’s right from the anti-migration Alternative for Germany party, buoyed by its criticism of Merkel’s open-border refugee policy. Merkel, in office for more than 11 years, will seek a fourth term as chancellor in the Sept. 24 election.

Steinmeier, who ended his second stint as foreign minister after just over three years, is expected to win an overwhelming majority on Feb. 12 in the Federal Assembly, the body that elects Germany’s head of state. He’s supported by both coalition parties in Merkel’s government to take the mostly ceremonial post, succeeding President Joachim Gauck.

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