The SPD's Olaf Scholz, Germany's next chancellor, has presented his Cabinet ministers for the new government, to be sworn in on Wednesday. He included a popular choice for health minister.
The next German Chancellor Olaf Scholz threw in a number of minor surprises as he nominated the Social Democrats' much-awaited Cabinet ministers on Monday morning.
Inviting each designated minister to speak alongside him at SPD party headquarters in Berlin, Scholz announced that popular physician Karl Lauterbach would take over the Health Ministry, whose importance has increased dramatically in recent months.
Lauterbach, who has become the public face of his party's health policy and a fixture on political talk shows during the COVID-19 pandemic, expressed thanks for the support he had received from the general public over the last few days as speculation over who would get the post circulated widely.
"Probably most citizens of this country had been wishing that the next health minister would be a specialist in the field who would truly be able to do it well, and that he would be called Karl Lauterbach — he will," quipped Scholz.
"We have to fight this pandemic. The pandemic will last longer than many think, but we will do it," Lauterbach told assembled reporters. "Vaccination will play a central role, but not the only one, and on top of that we will strengthen the health care system." He promised that Germany's health care system would be better equipped to deal with the next pandemic.
Who are the new ministers?
For political observers in the German capital, however, the bigger surprise was the nomination of Nancy Faeser as interior minister. Faeser, SPD leader in the state of Hesse, where the party is currently in opposition, had not been on pundits' radar in the last few weeks, and her elevation to a major ministry that oversees Germany's entire domestic security apparatus was unexpected.
In her acceptance speech, Faeser — who will be the first-ever woman to take the post — spoke of fighting far-right extremism. She has been active in the Hesse parliamentary committees investigating previous failures by police and intelligence agencies in uncovering far-right terrorism.
Many thought the Interior Ministry would be taken over by a different woman, current Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht, who has now been handed the Defense Ministry instead. Lambrecht, like her predecessor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has no particular military expertise, though several years of experience in the federal government as both minister and state secretary in the Finance Ministry.
Klara Geywitz, an SPD deputy leader and only one of two eastern Germans in the new Cabinet, will take over the Ministry for Construction and Housing — a new office that Scholz said had to be a key part of the party's coalition negotiations. The new government plans to build 400,000 new apartments every year to ease Germany's massive shortage of affordable housing in urban areas.
Hubertus Heil will remain Labor and Social Affairs Minister to oversee reorganization of the country's unemployment benefits system, and introduction of a new minimum wage of €12 an hour ($13.60) within the next few months. Heil has also promised to focus on raising salaries for care home workers, which Germany currently faces a shortage of.
Svenja Schulze, who served as environment minister in the last government under Angela Merkel, will take over the Development Ministry.
Altogether, the SPD will hold eight of the 17 Cabinet positions, including the chancellorship, while the other nine will be shared among coalition partners the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP).
The new Cabinet will also see an equal number of male and female ministers — one of Scholz's key promises.
On Saturday, an SPD party conference overwhelmingly approved the new coalition agreement, with 598 delegates voting in favor of it, seven voting against the plan and three abstentions. The FDP also overwhelmingly approved the coalition agreement on Sunday, while the Greens are expected to follow suit on Monday afternoon.
The new government is set to be sworn in on Wednesday.
Germany's new government: Dawn of a modern age?
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