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Who will be the SPD's new ministers?

March 8, 2018

Germany's Social Democrats are about to announce who will take on their six ministerial posts in Angela Merkel's next government. The SPD has pledged to install three men and three women in the new Cabinet.

A blurry Olaf Scholz in front of a red SPD sign
Olaf Scholz is getting ready to be Germany's next finance ministerImage: imago/Bildgehege

Rumors were pinging around inside Berlin's political bubble on Thursday as the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's centrist coalition government, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), prepared to announce the six people it would bestow with a ministerial post in the new Cabinet.

In the long and strenuous coalition negotiations, political pundits widely judged that the SPD had won some significant concessions from Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which took significant losses in last September's election.

Read more: SPD approves coalition with Merkel's conservatives

The SPD tanked just as badly in the election (both parties scored their worst results since World War II) and is desperate to renew its fortunes — and so is visibly straining to bring some fresh, dynamic figures into the Cabinet.

In the week leading up to the decision, the biggest question mark hung over one of the most prestigious of top jobs — the Foreign Ministry. Incumbent Sigmar Gabriel — who fell out of favor in the SPD after some unguarded criticism of the leadership — announced on Thursday that he would not be part of the new government. That left the post open for a variety of Social Democrat bigwigs to jostle over.

Olaf Scholz
Scholz has been mayor of Hamburg since 2011Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. MacDougall

Most likely candidates

Finance Ministry

Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz is already considered the designated choice for the role. He has federal government experience: he was labor minister from 2007 to 2009 in Merkel's first tenure, before returning to Hamburg when the SPD was voted out for her second term. He is considered popular in the party, though he ran into a wall of criticism in Hamburg after rioting broke out in the city during the G20 summit last summer and police appeared to lose control of certain districts.

But he has a few points to prove: the Finance Ministry has been held by CDU veteran Wolfgang Schäuble since 2009, and the erstwhile Merkel rival has kept an iron grip on Germany's public purse. Schäuble virtually made a mantra of what Germans call "the black zero" — balancing accounts — and Scholz has already indicated he would stick to that fiscal conservatism, despite being a Social Democrat.

Foreign Ministry

Heiko Maas
Maas 'will do an excellent job,' according to Sigmar Gabriel, the outgoing foreign ministerImage: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

Heiko Maas. Rumors abounded on Wednesday that SPD parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann would take on the role (after all, he needed a reward for ceding his job to new SPD leader Andrea Nahles). But on Thursday, news magazine Der Spiegel — citing its secret sources in political circles — reported that current Justice Minister Heiko Maas would take on the role.

The 51-year-old Maas has implemented a number of high-profile new laws in the past four years, such as a controversial crackdown on hate speech. He "will do an excellent job," according to current Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who was forced to answer questions about his successor at his last public appearance at the ministry on Thursday.

Katarina Barley
Barley was the SPD's general secretary from 2015 to 2017Image: picture alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

Labor and Social Affairs Ministry

Katarina Barley is thought to be lined up as Germany's next labor minister.

The ministry is one of the most important roles in the German government, since the fact that it is responsible for social benefits means it commands the biggest budget of all ministries — some €130 billion ($160 billion).

Barley, daughter of a British former DW editor, has been family minister since last year, before which she was the SPD's general secretary.

Justice Ministry

Thomas Oppermann
Oppermann was reportedly considered as foreign ministerImage: picture alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

If Maas is to be the new foreign minister, Thomas Oppermann, also a lawyer by education, would likely take over the justice brief.

Oppermann has been a major SPD figure in Berlin since at least 2013, when he took over as the Social Democrats' parliamentary leader, which meant he often set out the SPD's position in Bundestag debates.

Family Ministry

Perhaps the most eye-catching appointment is the elevation of the mayor of the Berlin district Neukölln, Franziska Giffey, to the Cabinet as minister for family affairs, senior citizens, women and youth. It is very rare for a local politician to bypass the Bundestag completely to ascend to the Cabinet, and many consider her interest in social affairs makes her an apt choice.

Franziska Giffey
Giffey has tried to make the Berlin district of Neukölln into a model of integrationImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini

Neukölln, whose northern part is home to many Arab and Turkish communities, is routinely described as "troubled" by Germany's white-dominated newsrooms. The 39-year-old Giffey has made a point of trying to turn the district into a model of integration. At the same time, she has announced a "zero tolerance" policy toward Lebanese organized crime networks in the district. She has also come out against teachers wearing headscarves in schools, considering hair-covering a "religious symbol."

Maybe also significant: Giffey could well be the only minister in the new Cabinet born in East Germany. In spite of Merkel's prominence, East Germans have consistently been underrepresented in Germany's political elite since reunification.

Environment Ministry

Svenja Schulze
Schulze could be the next German environment ministerImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R.Vennenbernd

Incumbent Barbara Hendricks announced Wednesday that she would not be in the new government, making way to give the SPD a chance to install another fresh face.

If the party is to keep its promise of balancing men and women in its Cabinet positions, a favorite for the role is thought to be Svenja Schulze. Schulze, another relatively young newcomer, was previously minister for innovation, science and research in her native state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight