Merkel appoints former adviser as defence minister

 

CHANCELLOR ANGELA Merkel moved swiftly to restore stability to her cabinet yesterday, appointing a capable deputy to head the defence ministry after Tuesday’s resignation of Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg.

Interior minister Thomas de Maizière (57), a safe pair of hands and Dr Merkel’s former chief of staff, has been moved to the defence ministry. To retain cabinet proportionality, Mr zu Guttenberg’s party, Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), has taken the interior portfolio for its parliamentary leader in Berlin, Hans-Peter Friedrich (53).

After two weeks of plagiarism allegations over Mr zu Guttenberg’s thesis, Dr Merkel’s swift action was a sign she wants to return to business as usual ahead of three looming state elections.

“What’s important is to show clarity and our ability to act,” said Dr Merkel of her appointments, to be confirmed today by President Christian Wulff.

The German leader has no time to waste on personnel decisions: an opinion poll out yesterday ahead of a crucial March 27th vote in Baden-Württemberg puts her Christian Democrat-Free Democrat coalition in a dead heat with the opposition Social Democrats and Greens.

The German leader is likely to face a challenge to her authority should her party lose power there after an almost half a century of uninterrupted power.

Announcing her appointments, Dr Merkel praised the “brilliant intellect and exemplary sense of responsibility” of Mr de Maizière who, for four years until 2005, headed her team of advisers in the chancellery. He is a cousin of Lothar de Maizière, the former East Germany’s last and only democratically elected prime minister and the man who gave Dr Merkel her start in politics.

As interior minister, Mr de Maizière has been a moderate figure who restored calm after the “gung-ho” law-and-order style of his predecessor, Wolfgang Schäuble, raised the hackles civil rights activists and privacy groups. His low-key, conciliatory style will come in useful as he executes a plan to shrink Germany’s armed forces by a quarter to 185,000 soldiers.

New interior minister Mr Friedrich is likely to continue Mr de Maizière’s moderate, discreet style, though since moving to Berlin as CSU parliamentary party leader in 2009 he has demonstrated he exercises his political independence from party leader Horst Seehofer in Munich.

Neither man can be considered glamourous in the style of Mr zu Guttenberg: however, Dr Merkel appears to have lost her appetite for political superstars.