Monday 19 March 2018

Germany gets first woman defence chief as part of new 'grand coalition'

Ursula von der Leyen and Angela Merkel
Ursula von der Leyen and Angela Merkel

Geir Moulson Berlin

GERMANY'S new government will feature the country's first female defence minister and the return of a respected ex-foreign minister, while Chancellor Angela Merkel's influential finance chief will stay on as she starts her third term.

Mrs Merkel's new "grand coalition" government of right and left is to take office tomorrow -- nearly three months after her conservatives won elections, but fell short of a parliamentary majority and saw their previous pro-business coalition partners lose their seats.

Ursula von der Leyen will become defence chief, Mrs Merkel said yesterday. The 55-year-old mother of seven inherits the job of modernising the military, which is being overhauled after Germany abandoned conscription in 2011, and overseeing its deployment in Afghanistan as combat troops depart.

Ms Von der Leyen has helped modernise the image of Mrs Merkel's party in her previous roles as minister for families and labour.

"She has always been interested in international affairs," Mrs Merkel said. "It's an exciting job, also a challenging job, but I trust that she will master it very, very well."

Veteran conservative Wolfgang Schaeuble will stay on as finance minister after four years as Mrs Merkel's co-pilot in fighting Europe's debt crisis -- underlining continuity in Berlin's approach.

The 71-year-old "stands for the stability of the euro and the policies linked with that, for everything that's important in Europe," Mrs Merkel said.

The current defence minister, Thomas de Maiziere, returns to his previous job as interior minister, Germany's top security official. He is one of 10 members of the new cabinet from Merkel's Union bloc; the other six seats went to their new partners, the centre-left Social Democrats.

Meanwhile, Mrs Merkel said an extra official would be added at the chancellery to handle intelligence matters as "a consequence of the NSA affair".

Irish Independent

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