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Germany

Analysis: New Economy Minister Signals Strains in Ruling Coalition

The unexpected resignation of Germany's economy minister has revealed stress fractures in Chancellor Angela Merkel's unhappy political alliance.

CDU and SPD flags in front of German parliament

Stress lines are starting to show in Merkel's coalition as campaign positioning begins

The resignation tendered by Economy Minister Michael Glos comes just months ahead of general elections due Sept. 27, and in the midst of an unprecedented global financial crisis.

Glos, 64, said that at his age he no longer sought a position in a new post-September government. It's no secret, however, that there were strains in his relationship with Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer.

Both men are leading figures of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), whose alliance with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) makes up a sizeable proportion of the conservative camp's national support.

Just over three years after being shoehorned into a job intended for Bavaria's then Premier Edmund Stoiber, Glos announced Saturday that enough was enough.

Seehofer confirmed Glos' resignation Monday at a press conference in Munich, revealing at the same time the ministerial appointee who would fill the gap.

He spoke openly of Saturday's unexpected, and "unhappy developments" that had distracted him from an annual security conference in Munich and his international guests, who included new US Vice President Joe Biden.

Request initially denied

Former economics minister Michael Glos

Michael Glos says he doesn't want to be in the political limelight anymore

Glos' decision had reached Seehofer via media reports, sending him scrambling frantically for the resignation letter waiting at his home address.

The Bavarian premier initially countered Glos' request with an equally unexpected "no," but changed his mind over the course of the weekend.

In light of the pressing demands of the international security conference, Seehofer had said he "could not meet" the request, adding that Glos should stay in office until the general election.

A series of consultations followed within the CSU and at national level with Merkel and the CDU, and a successor was found Sunday in Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a 37-year-old aristocrat who has been rising quickly through the CSU party ranks.

Rapid rise

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, left

Guttenberg, left, rose rapidly through the ranks

Guttenberg was first elected in 2002 as a member of parliament in Berlin and promoted 2008 to become the CSU's general secretary in Munich.

He had barely completed 100 days in this role, when the decision was made Sunday to nominate him as Glos' successor.

With a keen eye on the September elections, Guttenberg has little time to make the most of this unexpected opportunity and prove himself on the national stage.

His combination of foreign affairs experience, media acumen and political hunger will make him a figure to be reckoned with in the coming months.

Both Merkel and Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck (SPD), who are currently sharing the duties of managing Germany's response to the financial crisis, will likely notice the eager snapping at their heels as the electoral clock ticks towards Sept. 27.

CSU, CDU chided

Hubertus Heil

Heil has labeled Glos' departure as symptomatic of a crisis in the conservative Christian parties

The SPD has spoken critically of the weekend's political circus. The party's General Secretary Hubertus Heil called the CDU-CSU infighting an "undignified game."

"To me, this is a symptom of a crisis," Heil said, adding that Merkel needed to keep Seehofer in check.

SPD leader Franz Muenterfering said Glos' unfair treatment by his own party was behind the soon-to-be former minister's poor performance.

"If you want an economy minister to act more strongly than he did at such a crucial time, you need to support him, rather than saw off the legs of his chair from behind," Muenterfering said Monday.

Head of the free-market liberal Free Democrats (FDP) Guido Westerwelle described the weekend's events as "clownery," giving the impression that Merkel "evidently has little authority."

"The confusion is bad for our country," Westerwelle said, adding that Germany couldn't afford any missteps during the ongoing economic crisis.

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