Friday, October 14, 2005

Schröder Ally is Foreign Minister Nominee

The Wall Street Journal:
Germany's Social Democrats chose a close associate of departing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as the country's next foreign minister, raising questions about how much conservative Chancellor-designate Angela Merkel will be able to mold foreign policy.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Mr. Schroeder's chief of staff, was chosen by his party colleagues for the post, one of eight the party has in the new cabinet under a power-sharing deal struck with Ms. Merkel.

In other top picks, Social Democratic party chairman Franz Muntefering will serve as Germany's vice chancellor and labor minister, party officials said. Peer Steinbrück, the former governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, is the Social Democrats' choice as finance minister to replace Hans Eichel as the official in charge of Germany's strapped state finances.

Mr. Steinmeier, a 49-year-old lawyer, has been a powerful but relatively low-profile figure in Mr. Schroeder's government. He has worked for Mr. Schroeder for 14 years, beginning when Mr. Schroeder was governor of Lower Saxony. It fell to Mr. Steinmeier to hear out then-U.S. Ambassador Dan Coats in a 2002 meeting in which Mr. Coats expressed U.S. concerns about Mr. Schroeder's heated campaign rhetoric against the possibility of war in Iraq.

The choice of a close Schroeder associate as foreign minister underscores the limits Ms. Merkel may face in putting her stamp on foreign policy. She has vowed to reinvigorate ties with the U.S. frayed by Mr. Schroeder's opposition to the Iraq war, and to balance Mr. Schroeder's close partnership with France with improved relations with other neighbors such as Poland. But she had to bargain away key ministries in order to get the Social Democrats to join in a coalition. READ MORE

In a Sept. 21 speech, Mr. Steinmeier listed the government's "clear public positioning against the Iraq war" as one of its foreign policy achievements, along with the U.S.-supported diplomatic effort by Germany, France and Britain to persuade Iran to give up its uranium-enrichment program.

Mr. Schroeder himself called Wednesday for the new government to maintain his "independent" foreign policy and back the use of force to counter international terrorism only as a last resort and with United Nations backing, as with Germany's deployment of troops to Afghanistan.

Germany's inconclusive Sept. 18 election has forced Germany's two largest parties of the right and left toward sharing power in a so-called grand coalition with Ms. Merkel as chancellor of a 16-member cabinet divided equally between the two parties.