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New German Ministers

by DoDo Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 06:20:38 AM EST

(Bumped: updated/edited)

All members of Germany's new Grand Coalition government under chancellor Merkel were fixed. Last week, the Social Democrat ministers were known, now the conservatives too.

I list them below the fold, with the new CDU/CSU additions in front, and some personal opinion on them. Sun Tzu's golden rule of ruling would be to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. But it seems to me Merkel plays it risky - short analysis added in the comments.

You can also read another diary I wrote on some statistics (ratio of women, Turks etc) of the new German members of parliament - there too is some additional data in the comments.

CDU MINISTERS (Christian Democrats, all Germany minus Bavaria)

Interior minister: Wolfgang Schäuble, the man in the wheelchair (was attacked by a mentally ill person). He is a much-respected senior figure, he was Helmut Kohl's 'consigliere'. The two fell out with each other when Kohl's campaign finance scandal broke some six years ago, and they had different versions of the truth - but Merkel, who used the hour to play the unsullied soul of the party and gained leadership then, tossed Schäuble aside too. The relationship improved somewhat only recently, as Schäuble dislikes Merkel's opponents more. If he supports her, he'll be Merkel's most important gun against party rivals to the right.

Head of the chanchellor's office (a minister-level post, very powerful but in the background - also see the SPD foreign minister below): Thomas de Maizière. A young East German from the second line, was interior minister of Saxony province, his cousin was East Germany's last (and first non-communist) PM.

Defense minister: Franz Josef Jung, again a younger guy from the second line, but one connected to Merkel's inner-party opponents: he was faction chief in Hessen province, whose PM is the awful Roland Koch. Jung is not someone to trust either: he survived a party finance scandal of his own too.

Education minister: Anette Schavan, from the conservative Southern province of Baden-Württemberg. So conservative that tough Schavan is a rather traditional Catholic, she lost the inner-party race for provincial PM-ship to a lower-ranked - man. However, she is one of Merkel's closest confidents - that could make her one of the most powerful ministers.

Family minister: Ursula von der Leyen, daughter of a former provincial PM. A doctor and a mother of seven, she is truly an embodiment of the ideal of non-Catholics in the CDU; but she is not even from the third line.

CSU MINISTERS (Christian Socialists, only Bavaria)

Economy minister: Edmund Stoiber, until now PM of Bavaria state. An insufferable right-populist, and a bore, whose attempts at appearing folkish to the Bavarian electorate have led to many gaffes and scandals. Having him in the government will allow Merkel to control him somewhat (instead of playing internal opposition, as he and his predecessor ocassionally did under Kohl; and he kind of did even against Merkel when both were in opposition). If control fails, the question is who gets the blame: he himself, Merkel (for weakness), or the CDU/CSU.

Consumer protection minister: Horst Seehofer, for years the conservatives' man for social, especially health policy. He was social undersecretary, then health minister under Kohl. Represents the more humane wing of the CDU/CSU, but also some traditional guild interests. He was publicly against Merkel's 'reform' plans in his field, so he'll be another strong internal opposition. Unlike Stoiber, he is respected widely.

SPD MINISTERS (old post from here)

Vice-Chancellor and Labor minister: Franz Müntefering, outgoing fraction and party leader. He is an old party soldier, not too charismatic, with a rhetoric liked by the party traditionalists ("locusts" speech), but in practice very loyal to Schröder. (The second image is Hartz IV generation fun from satire magazine ZYN.)

Foreign minister: Frank-Walter Steinmeier, outgoing chief of the Chancellor's Office. Think of the a rough equivalent of Peter Mandelson in Britain (years ago) or Karl Rove in the USA: a strong man in the background, very loyal to Schröder (see image), expect the same from him minus populism and charisma.

Finance [treasury] minister: Peter Steinbrück, ousted PM of Northrhine-Westphalia province, his losing of the provincial elections earlier this year was what triggered the early elections at federal level. He is supposed to be a technocrat. I disliked very much his predecessor both as NRW PM and now finance minister, Wolfgang Clement - he was a big business and coal lobby man. That may or may not be true for Steinbrück, but he earned bad points with me for writing a common economic 'reform' proposal with the CDU's far-right, Hessen PM (and would-be-successor to Merkel) Roland Koch.

Justice minister: Brigitte Zypries, the SPD woman with the strongest post; she is the incumbent. As far as I could see, she is responsible for neither big errors, nor big positive reforms, she is fine but could work on her profile.

Development aid [foreign aid] minister: Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, photo above, she too is the incumbent. I like her, she is outspoken, and can think independently of Schröder, but was rather powerless.

Health minister: Ulla Schmidt, yet again an incumbent. She is not very popular, both among poor people for her 'reforms', and doctors for - yeah - her 'reforms' (doctors are upper middle class in Germany, and guard a lot of privileges that generally make services more expensive for consumers).

Transport minister: Wolfgang Tiefensee, major of Leipzig. One of the SPD's bright new stars from East Germany, from what I read he managed his city rather well, and didn't ignore public transport - he may well be an improvement upon the outgoing (Manfred Stolpe, also from East Germany).

Environment minister: Sigmar Gabriel, he is the ousted PM of Lower Saxony province, where he inherited the post from Schröder. He is a macho like Schröder, with a similar economic outlook paired with some populism (he likes to attend televised debates, the above photo was made in one). However, Lower Saxony became the province with the by far most installed wind power in his time, so maybe he won't destroy completely what he takes over from outgoing Green Party minister Jürgen Trittin.

I wonder if the other bright new SPD star from East Germany, Brandenburg province's PM Matthias Platzeck, is 'sheltered' for a later higher role (maybe even the next chancellor candidate?)

DoDo, you are truly shameless. You knew which pic to put above the fold so people would read the story. (Thank goodness you didn't put Müntefering...)

What do you think Steinmeier's authority will be to prevent Merkel drifting into Bliar's waiting arms?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 12:07:12 PM EST
Hehhehe, yellow press day...

Regarding your question, I'm not sure. Schröder showed it ample times with Fischer that the chancellor can make foreign policy over the head of the foreign minister. On the other hand, this coalition is supposed to come with guarantees that ministers won't be blocked by the other party - and, after all, the SPD is not a small unior parter easily blackmailed.

So I suspect Merkel's love affair with the Anglo-Saxons, if it develops, will mostly be symbolical gestures.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 12:18:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is SPD putting their best team on the field? What could have been better, if this isn't...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 04:26:27 PM EST
Indeed it seems only Platzeck and Verheugen is missing (that is beyond Schröder, and Struck who will be faction leader).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:11:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Steinmeyer to Karl Rove, I don't come back to Germany ever. What is it, don't you understand Rove, or don't I understand Steinmeyer?
by mimi on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 11:19:03 PM EST
Maybe both :-)

But, the analogy might have been a troublesome one; I only meant that Steinmeyer was a strong man in the background who did spin control, campaign planning and regulated the party. But I still feel Mandelson (when he was under Bliar) is a rather good analogy.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 09:13:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In my case: "I certainly don't understand both". :-)

As I don't know Mandelson and Steinmeyer and read for the first time about them here, I didn't really mean to mistrust your judgement. I am just worried that you compared both to Rove and so I wanted to joke a bit.

by mimi on Sun Oct 16th, 2005 at 07:24:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What is apparent is the total absence of CDU big guns: none of the powerful provincial PMs are present, nor Merkel's estranged onetime ally, 'financial expert' Friedrich Merz. (Funny story about the latter: to counter a boring image, he invented a wild past of himself as a motorbike rowdie - only to be exposed by former classmates...)

As I have written elsewhere, Merkel's main opponents are the members of the so-called Anden-Pakt, a power alliance now including three provincial PMs. One of these is Hessen's Roland Koch whom I mentioned in the defense minister's description, another (Christian Wulff, head of Lower Saxony) is the most popular politician at present (it seems to me, basically for looking good and not doing anything spectacular).

In the current setup, most CDU ministers are Merkel's followers. This could allow the Anden-Pakt guys to establish themselves as the shadow government of a virtual opposition, ready to take over after the next elections. That possibility can be realised if they can focus the public's eventual blame on the SPD and Merkel's circle rather than the CDU, and of course surviving as viable alternatives at hand.

Furthermore, I think it may be that it wasn't Merkel's decision to keep them out: they might have passed down offers from Merkel, hoping for something better after her. At any rate, they can limit Merkel's power through the second chamber of the German federal parliament (the Bundesrat), which consists of delegates of the state governments. And this analysis hasn't even considered what SPD ministers might be up to.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 06:21:03 AM EST
Three on-topic English-language articles Fran posted in the Breakfast thread:

The FT on Merkel with an opposed point of mine, about being forced to name party rivals - they focus on the CSU ministers.

SPIEGEL interview with Merkel (in English), with some stupid questions on her woman-ness, and a ridiculous claim from her that she is immune to the seduction of power. (As I see it, succumbing to it describes her career over the last 15 years...)

The Times on opposition to highway privatisation, another of those flunky ideas.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 06:44:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There was decision on the persons, but not yet on a government program - coalition talks will take four weeks. (Here is a SPIEGEL ON-LINE article in German.)

A first result: no income tax cut for the rich until 2009. A first disagreement: about nuclear power (CDU wants to revoke the law on its phasing out, the SPD so far holds against with surprising firmness). The SPD also declared the regenerative energy feed-in law as taboo (again something surprising - their former economy minster was a big proponent of curbing it) -, while the CDU already signaled a climbdown (now they ony want to 'review' wind power in regions of weaker winds 'on the longer term').

Interesting stuff from the same SPIEGEL article: the youth section of the CDU thinks they should talk about conservatives' successive failure to take 50+% of the vote. (I suspect they'd take soe 'lessons' from Rove/Bush and Berlusconi...)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 06:35:00 AM EST
I see some parallels with the situation in the Spanish Socialist (PSOE) Party a few years back.

After Gonzalez stepped down Almunia, an old faithful, took over. He then lost a primary to Borrell, who was undermined by the "Barons" (incumbent regional presidents). After he and Almunia left the scene, there was a 4-way race between Bono (Baron), Matilde Fernandez (apparatchik close to Gonzalez's VP Guerra), Rosa Diez (hip Basque leader) and a young parlamentarian called Zapatero that nobody outside the PSOE had ever heard about. The rest is history.

So, I wonder whether Merkel will go the way of Almunia and Borrell, and the Anden Pakt will go the way of Fernandez and Bono.


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 06:48:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It would be nice if that would happen, with the slight modification that they still shall fail at gaining majority :-)

But, let's start a fun game for those who know German politics (where is our German crew, BTW? Jandsm, Saturday, brainwave, Detlef, anyone I missed?): who could be the CDU's Zapatero?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 06:57:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nah, I don't mind conservatives. It's socially reactionnary economic neoliberals posing as conservatives that I worry about. (When they pose as Labour they are even more dangerous, especially if they get away with it for 12 years.)

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 07:17:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I spotted Saturday on another thread the other day, so he is still about, and jandsm seem to have been rather busy....
by PeWi on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 07:47:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
jandsm currently is without phone and internet. Two telephone companies are battling over the right to have him as customer, and he has to suffer...
by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 03:52:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Small correction regarding Seehofer, he was the undersecretary under Nobert Bluem, the only minister to have survived the whole of the Kohl era, and one of the slightly more respecable, (definitely with at least personal integrety) Bluem was responsible for work and social issues. But in 1992 Seehofer was made health minister.

He is seen as quite a big fish to swallow for Merkel, since he is more to the left on social issues.

Apparently Merkel does not like him much as well, and Stoiber might have pulled over his weight to get him back into position.

It could also be a clever ploy, to role out the more "social" side of the conservatives. Which afterall was very strongly represented with aforementioned Nobbi Bluem.

by PeWi on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 06:41:41 AM EST
Damn was I sloppy... thanks for the reminders, I corrected Seehofer's part. (Also added a further line on Schäuble's significance.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 06:53:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It could also be a clever ploy, to role out the more "social" side of the conservatives.

Yep. If there is one person who stands for the "S" (Social) in "CSU", it is Seehofer. Stoiber is afraid of him like Dracula of garlic. That's why (Sun Tzu!) Stoiber got him on board, against the heavy opposition within his own party.

Apart from that, I think Seehofer is a good choice for a grand coalition.

But, DoDo, one thing I disagree with: I don't think Schavan will play a significant role in the new government. She is in charge of education, and that is a field in which the "Länder" (regions) traditionally claim more competences than on other political fields. The Länder are mainly governed by CDU personnel, many from the "Anden Pakt". It will be important for Merkel to give them their share, and quite likely it will be more competences in the field of education policy. That means pulling away power from Schavan, who will either have a hard time fighting against this or a pleasant time as the most underemployed minister.

by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 06:43:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Stoiber is afraid of him like Dracula of garlic.

LOL! I just pictured what you said... :-)

I don't think Schavan will play a significant role in the new government. She is in charge of education, and that is a field in which the "Länder" (regions) traditionally claim more competences than on other political fields.

D'oh, you're right!

BTW, we missed you, and the rest of the German crew: would you write us some diaries about what's happening now?

For example, what's up with the Greens, any internal changes? What's this with the votes on deputy parliamentary heads? What comes out of the coalition talks?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 04:32:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll love to do some more diaries again - as soon as I have the time to do so. (You know, people searching for a job have the least spare time...).

What's this with the votes on deputy parliamentary heads?

Oh, yes. The fuzz about Lothar Bisky not getting the votes to become deputy parliamentary heads, although every faction is guaranteed one deputy post. Since the other factions can not hope to prevent the Linke from getting one of the posts, there seems to be only one explanation: They could offer their yes-vote to a different member of the Linke-faction, maybe one of the WASG-part. The strategy behind this could be to divide the (quite heterogenous) parts of the Linke and play PDS vs WASG.

by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 11:01:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Seehofer is what in German lingo politikese is aptly called a 'Heart of Jesus Socialist'. (Herz Jesu Sozialist)

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819
by Ritter on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 05:27:38 PM EST

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