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Germany

New German Economy Minister Gets Green Light

Bavarian aristocrat Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has been formally appointed as Germany's new economy minister, despite little expertise in economic matters.Merkel's choice has drawn both criticism and praise.

New economics minister Karl-Theordor zu Guttenberg

Choice of Guttenberg signals a makeover for Bavarian politics

German President Horst Kohler gave his stamp of approval to Chancellor Angela Merkel's choice of a new economy minister on Tuesday following the abrupt resignation of the 64-year-old veteran politician Michael Glos.

Baron Karl-Theodor von und zu Guttenberg will be tasked now with finding a way to steer Germany through the global financial crisis and its worst recession in its postwar history.

The appointment brings in a Bavarian aristocrat with expertise in foreign policy and disarmament who, at 37 years of age, will be the youngest economics minister in the Germany's post-war history. He is a member of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrat party (CDU).

Image makeover for conservatives

Merkel's choice of Guttenberg signals an attempt at an image makeover for the two Union parties from a somewhat dowdy, traditionalist political grouping to one that appeals to a younger, modern and more outward looking constituency.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, with Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer

Guttenberg was Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer's (right) protege

Guttenberg, who was elected to parliament in 2002 and recently promoted to a position as secretary general of the Christian Social Union, has made a name for himself on foreign-policy issues -- arms control, Russian relations and Germany's military role in Afghanistan -- although his regional party is better known for pushing the domestic agenda rather than foreign policy issues.

As heir to an old Franconian fortune, he managed his family's insulation business, but is not known for his command of economic policy, a fact which has drawn criticism from CDU veterans within Merkel's own party.

Qualified?

The financial spokesman for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Otto Bernhardt, told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper, "Mr. Guttenberg is capable of taking over a ministerial post, but up to now he's been a foreign-policy politician."

Another CDU parliamentarian, Andreas Laemmel, added, "Especially at the height of our current crisis, (Merkel) should have nominated an economics expert."

The chancellor however defended her choice of Guttenberg, who is also an international lawyer, saying he shares her commitment to strengthening trans-Atlantic relations. She praised his "large global spectrum of experience."

Guttenberg's appointment was also welcomed by Social Democrats in Merkel's coalition government and Guenther Verheugen, the deputy head of the European Commission responsible for enterprise and industry.

"He's a very capable colleague. I'm looking forward to working with him. It's important that Europe's biggest economy is represented by someone in touch with what's going on in Brussels," Verheugen said in a television interview on Monday.

End to internal bickering in conservative bloc

German chancellor Angela Merkel with outgoing economics minister Michael Glos

Outgoing economics minister Michael Glos (left) clashed with Merkel

By choosing Guttenberg only seven months before the general elections in September, Merkel and CSU chief Horst Seehofer hope to put an end to months of bickering and internal power struggles within the conservative bloc. Outgoing Economy Minister Glos had clashed with Merkel by demanding tax cuts to encourage spending and condemning the government's stimulus package.

Speaking of the weekend's turmoil, Merkel emphasized the importance of finding a successor quickly, saying, "A new start is the right thing at this time."

With his youthful appeal and speech devoid of a regional Bavarian accent, Guttenberg said he was eager to take-on a new role.

"We are now going through a phase that demands energy and passion in economic policy," he said in a television interview. And to his critics, who say he is a foreign policy man without expertise in economics, he added that he has "developed a passion" for the task ahead of him.

As economics minister, Guttenberg would still be overshadowed by the more politically important finance ministry led by Social Democrat Peer Steinbrueck, but will face tremendous pressure in weathering the recession in the countdown to the elections in September.

Guttenberg's position as CSU general secretary is expected to be filled by federal legislator Alexander Dobrindt.

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