Merkel has been stung by criticism from within the ranks of her CDU party after a tricky September election left her struggling to secure a continued “grand coalition” that would enable her to launch a fourth term governing Europe’s biggest economy.
Chancellor Angela Merkel named an ambitious young conservative as health minister in Germany’s new government on Sunday, signalling a desire to integrate critics as she embarks on her fourth term.
Merkel had pledged to put fresh faces in her Cabinet after reaching a coalition deal this month with the centre-left Social Democrats. The deal gave the Social Democrats control of the powerful finance ministry, which prompted public grousing from some members of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party.
A party congress is being held Monday to sign off on the coalition agreement, which will still need approval from the Social Democrats’ members to take effect. The outcome of that vote, expected to happen March 4, is hard to predict.
The naming of her proposed ministerial team and Merkel’s earlier announcement that respected ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will take over the CDU’s day-to-day management as general secretary signals that the German chancellor still is both very much in charge and heeding calls for her party’s renewal.
Her most prominent appointment was naming Jens Spahn, 37, as health minister. Spahn has been a leading advocate of the Christian Democrats building a sharper conservative profile that contrasts with Merkel’s centrist approach.
Spahn has talked tough on Germany’s approach to integrating immigrants. In 2016, he helped engineer a party conference vote calling for the scrapping of rules that allow the children of immigrants to be dual citizens – defying CDU leadership.
There was considerable speculation over whether Merkel, 63, would promote or ignore Spahn, currently a deputy finance minister. Spahn, who is openly gay, backed approving gay marriage last year but is more traditionally conservative on other issues.
“I had the not entirely easy task … of ensuring that this personnel roster is oriented toward the future, that it contains a good mixture of experience and new faces,” Merkel told reporters. She said that demanded “painful changes,” including the departure of outgoing Health Minister Hermann Groehe, a longtime loyalist.
Merkel pointed to Spahn’s past experience in health policy and said that, as a younger conservative, he’s well-placed to lead a ministry that is “of the greatest significance for cohesion in society, for fairness between generations.”
Other Cabinet newcomers are Julia Kloeckner, 45, a deputy party leader who is set to become agriculture minister; lawmaker Anja Karliczek, 46, tapped as education minister; and Helge Braun, 45, as Merkel’s new chief of staff.
Ursula von der Leyen is set to remain defence minister, with Peter Altmaier — Merkel’s current chief of staff and caretaker finance minister — taking the economy and energy portfolio. That means the CDU ministerial team has equal numbers of men and women, which Merkel said is “a signal I am very glad of.”
The Social Democrats and the CDU’s Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union, don’t plan to propose their ministers until the vote on the coalition deal is over. However, Christian Social Union leader Horst Seehofer is to become interior minister.
If Social Democrat members reject the coalition deal, that will leave a Merkel-led minority government or a new election as the only realistic options.