New German cabinet under chancellor Olaf Scholz 'strives towards progress' in post-Merkel era

by Polina Khoroshevskaia

 

“Let's do it” (Germ. “Packen wir es an”) – were the words of the newly elected chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), signalling that his government is ready to tackle all the challenges of the upcoming legislative period. Ever since the success of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) on the election night of 26 September, it was clear that Olaf Scholz will become the next German chancellor and will have the honour to select his cabinet members for at least the next four years. Now it is final, the coalition partner-parties have voted with overwhelming majority (each over 90% of votes) in favour of the new coalition agreement and therefore announced their representatives for the minister posts.

With the announcement of Olaf Scholz (who was previously the finance minister in Angela Merkel’s cabinet of the previous legislative period) as the future chancellor of Germany, Wolfgang Schmidt, his right hand and close confidant, was assigned chief of Chancellor's Office. Under Scholz, he was already State Secretary in the Ministry of Finance. Schmidt is therefore considered his protégé. Being a senior coalition partner, the SPD has received the right to assign heads of six crucial ministries. The SPD-part of the minister cabinet was presented by the chancellor-to-be on Monday, 6 December at a press conference. In his speech, Olaf Scholz especially mentioned that it was very important for him to have a „gender“ balance, that is to have an equal amount of male and female ministers and, most importantly that the roles are not dependent on stereotypical gender roles. The example of this was the assignment of Christine Lambrecht as minister for Defence. She is the third woman in this post, after Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Ursula von der Leyen, who in 2019 resigned from the post to be the President of the European Commission. Hubertus Heil was the only minister who has retained his post as Minister of Labour and Social Affairs as a result of his satisfactory work during the Grand Coalition. The Building and Housing Ministry will be led by Klara Geywitz, one of only two East-German politicians in Scholz’s new cabinet (along with Steffi Lemke from the Green Party). She will have the important task to implement the ambitious plan of the traffic-light coalition to build 400,000 new apartments in Germany per year. Moreover, the SPD had the right to assign a new Minister of the Interior - Nancy Faeser. The former SPD Hesse state chairwoman, she is considered relatively unknown. However, Faeser is by no means inexperienced since she has been an SPD-member for 30 years and has been at the helm of the SPD in Hesse since 2019. She will succeed Horst Seehofer (CSU), a politician that polarised the public, in her new post. Furthermore, the SPD has an upper hand for the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development. Svenja Schulze from Münster will remain a Federal Minister, moving from the Ministry for Environment, Nature Preservation and Nuclear Safety to the “Development Ministry”. In her own words, she wants to ensure that "there are good development prospects everywhere”.

The Green Party, as the second biggest coalition party, have received the honour of leading five ministries. In addition to former chancellor-candidates Robert Habeck, becoming a "super minister" for the economy and climate, and Annalena Baerbock, becoming foreign minister, they will also head the ministries for Environment and Consumer Protection; Family, Seniors, Women and Youth; Food and Agriculture. Anne Spiegel is destined to be the new Minister for Family Affairs. However, she is still rather unknown to the general public. She has expressed her desire to support “non-traditional” forms of family such as single parenting, same sex parenting, patchwork families or bonus parents. Spiegel describes herself as a feminist. Steffi Lemke from the Green Party takes over Svenja Schulze’s former office – the Ministry for Environment and Consumer Protection. From now on she will also be responsible for nuclear safety and consumer protection. We will have a closer look at the Ministry for Food and Agriculture shortly.
Lastly, the remaining FDP ministers have also been confirmed by the party. Accordingly, the former chancellor candidate Christian Lindner is now the Minister of Finance, Volker Wissing takes over the Ministry of Transport and Digital Affairs and Bettina Stark-Watzinger will become Minister of Education and Research. The fourth FDP-led ministry is the Ministry of Justice, which will be led by Marco Buschmann

Let us have a more detailed look into some of the personalities of the future ministers:

 

Health

On 6 December Olaf Scholz announced that the post for the Ministry of Health in his Cabinet will go to Karl Lauterbach (SPD). Prof. Lauterbach is a medical doctor and a university lecturer by profession. He studied medicine at the University of Aachen and acquired his doctor title at the University of Harvard. He became a member of the German Bundestag in 2005 and was a health policy spokesperson of the SPD parliamentary group between 2009-2013. Since 2013 he has been the deputy leader of the SPD parliamentary group and a member of the Health Committee since 2014 as well as deputy member of the Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment.

Lauterbach is an advocate of a just and solidary healthcare system. In his book “Die Krebs-Industrie” he criticised the AMNOG process and stated that the high prices established by the pharmaceutical industry are disproportionate to the benefits of medicinal products. Moreover, the high research costs as a justification for high prices are in fact not as high as claimed. He also considers that a few large companies have a de facto monopoly, because only they have enough funds, contacts, and experience to carry out (cancer) studies quickly. For these reasons, he is considered rather critical of the industry. However, as a former CDU-member (member of the SPD since 2001) and a scientist by profession, he is considered a rather moderate and reasonable politician. He could be best described as someone who is a realist and not a “left-leaning” idealist. During his speech at the press conference on 6 December he stated that “there will be no budget cuts as long as he is minister”.

 

Food and Agriculture

With the Green Party being part of the governing coalition, environmental protection and the development of a sustainable agricultural system occupies a central part of the new coalition agreement. Animal welfare is amongst one of the new government’s priorities and the European One Health principle is also mentioned in the agreement.

Cem Özdemir (Green Party) has been assigned to the important task of leading the Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture - after the 1994 Bundestag elections, he entered the Bundestag for the first time; at that time, he and the Social Democrat Leyla Onur were the first members of the Bundestag of Turkish origin. Now he will also be the first minister of Turkish origin/with migration background. He is best described as someone looking out for compromise and realistic options and is not an ideologist. Although in the last years Özdemir has never been actively working on agriculture or animal health / welfare, he was quite active in the social media on the topic of "Agrarwende" – “agricultural turnaround” as well as criticized buying meat from industrial mass animal farming.

 

Education and Research

Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP) from North-Rhine Westphalia will be the Federal Minister of Education. She is also one of the less well-known ministers but wants to strive for an "education revolution"- better educational opportunities for all and more digitalisation within education are two key points for her. In her previous position she was chairwoman of the finance committee in the German Bundestag. She is also known for taking part in the parliamentary question to the Federal Government on the federal funding of digital security education programs.

 

Next steps

The final constitution of the committees in Bundestag is expected in the coming weeks. What we know right now, is that Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (FDP) is expected to take over the chairmanship of the Bundestag's Defence Committee. She has been a member of the Bundestag since 2017 and has proven herself as an expert in questions of defence and security. Before that, she was active in local politics in Düsseldorf. It is expected that in addition to Defence, the FDP will select chairs of two further committees – Human Rights as well as Building and Housing. The SPD and the CDU/CSU are both entitled to seven committees’ leaderships respectively. The SPD is said to take over Labour and Social Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Family, Culture, Petitions, Sport and Traffic. The CDU/CSU is expected to assign the chairs for the Finances, Standing Orders, Budget, Agriculture, Law, Tourism and Economy committees. After Anton Hofreiter’s (Green Party) loss in the battle for the Ministry of Agriculture against Cem Özdemir, he was offered a committee chairmanship as a compensation. He will most certainly become chairman of the European Affairs Committee. In addition to this, the Green Party will lead the committees on Environment, Education and Digital Affairs. As a surprise to most political observers came a piece of news that the two most important Committees - Internal Affairs and Health are destined to be run by representatives of the right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – Alternative for Germany.

The final decisions on the thematic competencies are expected shortly. RPP will be closely monitoring and analysing the further political and legislative developments. Next up we will be glad to present you a short overview of the MPs who will eventually land in the Health Committee. Stay tuned!

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