Deal to make Scholz German chancellor clears final hurdle

AP , Monday 6 Dec 2021

A three-party deal to form a new German government under center-left leader Olaf Scholz cleared its final hurdle on Monday, setting the scene for Scholz to succeed longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel this week.

German Social Democrats Leaders
(L-R) Designated German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, designated German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil and designated German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser attend a press conference where Germany s social democratic SPD party named it s members of the country s future cabinet, on Saint Nicholas Day, December 6, 2021 at the headquarters of their social democratic SPD party in Berlin. AFP

Germany's environmentalist Greens said their rank-and-file members approved the agreement reached last month, with 86% voting for it in a ballot. The other two parties _ Scholz's center-left Social Democrats and the pro-business Free Democrats _ overwhelmingly approved the agreement at weekend conventions.

``We are going into a strong new government, with a very strong and diverse Cabinet, with strong tailwind from the ballot,'' said Green co-leader Annalena Baerbock, who is set to become Germany's first female foreign minister.

The coalition aims to modernize Europe's biggest economy, step up efforts against climate change and introduce more liberal social policies.

Scholz is due to be elected as chancellor in parliament on Wednesday, ending the center-right Merkel's 16-year tenure. He will need the support of at least 369 lawmakers in the 736-seat lower house to take the top job. The three coalition partners have 416 seats between them, so he should be assured of a comfortable majority.

Hours before the Greens cleared the path for that vote, Scholz presented his party's nominees for the Cabinet, completing his 17-member team.

The most closely watched appointment was that of the health minister, as Germany struggles to bring down its highest coronavirus infection rates of the pandemic so far. Scholz chose Karl Lauterbach, an epidemiologist and media-savvy lawmaker who lacks executive experience but has been one of Germany's most prominent voices urging caution and strict measures against COVID-19 since the pandemic started.

``The pandemic is far from over,'' said Scholz, arguing that ``most people in this country certainly wanted the next health minister to be a specialist who can really do it well, and for him to be called Karl Lauterbach.''

Federal and state leaders last week announced tough new restrictions that largely target unvaccinated people. In a longer-term move, parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate.

Asked about prospects for the Christmas period, Lauterbach said that ``an important aim must be to bring the case numbers down so far that we can recommend travel without endangering people.''

Announcing his choices for the interior and defense portfolios, Scholz said that ``security will be in the hands of strong women in this government.''

Nancy Faeser, a lawyer who heads the party's branch in the central state of Hesse, was an unexpected choice to become Germany's first female interior minister, a post that includes oversight of federal police forces and the domestic intelligence agency. Faeser said that a major focus will be fighting far-right extremism, which she called ``the biggest threat'' to the country.

Outgoing Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht will become the new defense minister.

The Greens and Free Democrats already have named their ministers. Scholz's vice chancellor will be Robert Habeck, who leads the Greens along with Baerbock. He will head an economy and climate ministry, a new combination.

The party's five Cabinet members include Cem Ozdemir, who will be agriculture minister. Ozdemir said it was significant that he would become the first federal minister of Turkish origin, 60 years since the first so-called guest workers came to Germany from Turkey after World War II.

The Free Democrats' leader, Christian Lindner, will become finance minister and effectively the No. 3 official in the new government.

Scholz had pledged a gender-balanced Cabinet _ which it is, if one doesn't count the chancellor. He said his own party's choices reflected the fact that women should ``have half of the power.``

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