Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wheelchair user becomes member of German Chancellor's cabinet

From Deutsche Welle:

As talks between Chancellor Merkel's conservatives and the business-friendly FDP near completion, German media say top cabinet posts have been filled. The key finance ministry will be headed by Wolfgang Schaueble (pictured).

German public broadcaster ARD said on Friday that the conservative bloc - made up of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) - and the FDP had reached agreement on key ministry posts.

The most significant appointment is that of Wolfgang Schaueble as the next finance minister. Germany is emerging from its worst recession since World War II and the finance ministry is seen as a crucial post in the new government.

The 67-year-old Schaueble served as Merkel's interior minister for the past four years and has a reputation for being a hardliner on domestic security.

Schaeuble succeeded former Chancellor Kohl as head of the CDU but Merkel was instrumental in pushing him out of the post after a party funding scandal in 2000.

His likely appointment sparked mixed reactions in Germany on Oct. 23.

"He's an unknown entity when it comes to financial issues," Dennis Snower, head of the Kiel-based Institute for Economic Research told news agency Reuters. "You can't make any predictions about his future financial policy based on what he's done so far."

"I think he's a tough cookie and this is what will be needed," Carsten Brzeski, senior economist at ING Financial Markets told news agency Reuters. "He is someone who would not be afraid of ruining his public image due to unpopular decision-making."

Schaueble, who is confined to a wheelchair since a 1990 assassination attempt, opposed Merkel's plans to offer 15 billion euros ($23 billion) in tax cuts citing Germany's strained finances.

Merkel's conservatives and the business-friendly FDP won a parliamentary majority in last month's election. The two sides are struggling to reconcile their promises of tax cuts with pledges to get Germany's budget deficit under control in order to take office next week as planned.

The business-friendly FDP, led by Guido Westerwelle, promised in its election campaign 35 billion euros ($53 billion dollar) worth of tax cuts and to scale back government spending.

Several policy directions are already known, such as scrapping a 2000 decision to phase out Germany's nuclear power program by 2020. The life of some reactors will be extended. The two sides also want to increase spending on education by 3 billion euros ($4.5 billion) annually.

The two sides are expected to continue horse-trading over key posts and policies until the Oct. 24 deadline.