With Schaeuble Out, Who Will Be Germany’s Next Finance Minister?

Wolfgang Schaeuble

Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

Wolfgang Schaeuble is leaving the German Finance Ministry to become president of the lower house of parliament, the No. 2 position in the state after the Federal President. Here’s what we know, and what’s likely to happen:

Political backdrop

Voters handed heavy losses to Germany’s two biggest parties in Sunday’s election and voted the pro-market Free Democrats and the populist Alternative for Germany into the Bundestag, splintering the political landscape and leaving Chancellor Angela Merkel with only one obvious coalition possibility.

Coalition haggling

Merkel is in the unprecedented position of having to seek four-party talks between her Christian Democratic Union, its Bavarian Christian Social Union sister party, the Free Democrats and the Greens. Each party will demand its pick of the principal posts on offer, starting with the CDU, which will take the Chancellery. The FDP, which has bitter experience of a prior coalition with Merkel, has already staked a claim to the Finance Ministry. The Greens are likely to opt for the Foreign Ministry.

Why the Bundestag?

The Bundestag presidency is the only post that doesn’t represent a demotion for the veteran minister, and the inevitable fractious nature of the new parliament means it’s bound to be a challenging role. But his removal from the coalition calculus gives Merkel options to play with, and might ease the way to agreement on a coalition deal without the risk of fresh elections.

What about the AfD?

The sharp-witted, sharp-tongued Schaeuble, a pro-European fan of globalization who is the longest-serving member of the Bundestag, has more qualifications than most to stand up to the far-right AfD. Regularly ranked the most popular politician in Germany, Schaeuble can count on broad support among the roughly 700 lawmakers to exercise his powers in parliament and keep a check on its newest members.

So who’s the new finance minister?

Everything points to the FDP taking the post. Assuming coalition talks run as planned, the party’s chief would have the first pick.

Christian Lindner
Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Christian Lindner, 38
The driving force behind the FDP’s revival since 2013, Lindner was the youngest lawmaker ever in North Rhine-Westphalia when he joined the state’s parliament in 2000 at the age of 21. Holding a master’s degree in political science, Lindner worked as a consultant and founder of an Internet startup prior to his career as a politician. He has never had a ministerial post, and the chancellor is not thought to be a fan.

Here are some other runners and riders:

Free Democrats

Clockwise from top left: Wolfgang Kubicki, Volker Wissing, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff and Werner Hoyer
Photos: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images, Simon Hoffman/Getty Images, Steffi Loos/Getty Images, Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg, 

Wolfgang Kubicki, 65
The muscle behind the FDP’s revival. A lawyer who briefly held a parliamentary seat in the 1990s, he helped forge a state government in Schleswig-Holstein state this year with Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Greens, which may now serve as a national model.

Volker Wissing, 47
The former Finance Committee member from the Palatinate wine-growing region holds a law degree and is a member of the party’s executive board. He’s chairman of the party’s finance and tax policy committee and has experience working with the Greens in government in his Rhineland-Palatinate home state, where he’s economy minister.

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, 50
A vice president of the European Parliament, Lambsdorff holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University and started a diplomatic career in the mid-1990s, serving at the German embassy in Washington, DC. He’s a nephew of Otto Graf Lambsdorff, economy minister under chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl.

Outside candidate: Werner Hoyer, the president of the European Investment Bank, is mentioned in Berlin as a potential minister more for his international contacts than his political connections.

Christian Democrats

Ursula von der Leyen and Peter Altmaier
Photos: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Ursula von der Leyen, 58
Germany’s aristocratic defense minister spent her childhood in Brussels and, like Schaeuble, speaks French and English. While not considered among Merkel’s close confidants, she’s served in all three of her cabinets. Merkel shot down her 2011 proposal of forcing troubled euro countries to put up reserves as collateral, but the debt crisis has ebbed and von der Leyen may be looking for a new post

Peter Altmaier, 59
Merkel’s firmly pro-European chief of staff and political fixer has domestic influence that may rival that of Schaeuble: He was put in charge of the energy shift from nuclear to renewables and then given the role of coordinating on the refugees crisis. That Altmaier lacks major finance credentials may matter less than whether Merkel can afford to spare him for a job that requires steady foreign travel.  

And finally, two rank outsiders:

Markus Soeder and Cem Oezdemir
Photos: Joerg Koch/Getty Images and John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images

Christian Social Union

Markus Soeder, 50
The finance minister in the CSU-dominated state of Bavaria since 2011 has been touted as a potential candidate to step up to the federal ministry. While a hardliner when it comes to fiscal discipline in the euro zone, Soeder is also a powerful contender to take the post as Bavarian prime minister when it becomes vacant, and that might come sooner than later after the CSU lost votes to the AfD in Sunday’s election. In any case, Soeder has previously said he’s not interested in a move from Munich to Berlin.

Greens

Cem Oezdemir, 51
The Greens co-leader has never made a play for the Finance Ministry, and is better known for his foreign policy pronouncements. He is more often mooted as a possible foreign minister, the role once filled by his Green predecessor, Joschka Fischer.

— With assistance from Tony Czuczka

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