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World Perspective | GOVERNMENT

Chancellor-Elect Deflects Allies' Power Plays

Gerhard Schroeder refuses to cave in to fellow Social Democrats bickering over posts in German Cabinet.

October 17, 1998|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BERLIN — Doling out high-profile posts in a coalition government is always fraught with hard bargaining and hurt feelings. But Chancellor-elect Gerhard Schroeder of Germany probably never expected to hear the loudest squabbling from his closest allies.

Contrary to expectations that Schroeder would be tangling with the environmentalist Greens party, with which he is negotiating to form a new government, the power plays grabbing headlines here are being waged by his fellow Social Democrats.

Shortly after his party won the biggest share of the federal vote Sept. 27, Schroeder promised that he would keep his Cabinet appointments secret until he and Greens parliamentary leader Joschka Fischer finish their negotiations, scheduled to wrap up Monday.

But when Oskar Lafontaine, chairman of the Social Democrats, threatened to reduce the roles to be filled by the Greens, and Rudolf Scharping, the Social Democrats' parliamentary leader, balked at vacating his current post, Schroeder had to quiet the bickering by tipping his hand on key appointments.

Other conflicts in the Cabinet-drafting still loom.

Lafontaine has vowed to make the Finance Ministry, which he will direct, a superagency empowered to represent Germany in international forums that traditionally have been the bailiwick of the foreign or economics minister.

Schroeder won a partial victory by refusing to appoint as parliamentary leader either Scharping or party campaign manager Franz Muenterfering--Lafontaine's choice for the post--showing that he will resist being a puppet of his ambitious party leader.

"It's not about what individuals would prefer to do in government but what appointments would give the government the strength it needs," Schroeder said in announcing that Scharping will be the next defense minister and that Muenterfering will get a Cabinet post but not the more powerful parliamentary title.

As party leader, Lafontaine views himself as the real power behind the telegenic Schroeder, and he quickly challenged the incoming chancellor by trying to position Muenterfering so as to control the fate of Schroeder's legislation.

Although Schroeder won election claiming to represent "the new middle," Lafontaine is an old-style leftist with more appetite than the new chancellor for higher taxes and government spending.

Schroeder's swift deflection of Lafontaine's attempt to call the shots suggests that Germans may get the more moderate change in leadership they voted for--not the political about-face Lafontaine would prefer.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Choices for the Cabinet

Chancellor-elect Gerhard Schroeder has named to his Cabinet--or hinted broadly that he will name--these figures, all of whom belong to his Social Democratic Party unless otherwise noted:

Foreign Ministry--This post is expected to go to Joschka Fischer, 50, leader of the Greens party. A longtime activist, he has moved toward the political center in recent years.

Finance Ministry--Oskar Lafontaine, 55, governor of Saarland state, has been appointed. He will shepherd Germany through European monetary union but is expected to resist tax and welfare reforms needed to make German industry more competitive.

Defense Ministry--Rudolf Scharping, 50, accepted the job after failing to stay on as the Social Democrats' parliamentary leader. An expert on foreign policy, he has good contacts with the U.S. and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization members.

Interior Ministry--Otto Schily, 66, was a member of the Greens party. He switched parties and politics over the past decade and now represents the Social Democrats' law-and-order faction.

Economics Ministry--Jost Stollmann, 43, a wealthy software entrepreneur, has long been referred to by Schroeder as his planned economics minister. But Stollmann has said he will accept the job only if it retains traditional responsibilities--a swipe at Lafontaine's ambitions.

Labor and Social Affairs Ministry--Walter Riester, 55, deputy chairman of the IG Metall trade union, is expected to head Schroeder's Alliance for Jobs program that will seek to reduce 10.6% unemployment.

Environment Ministry--Juergen Trittin, 44, is expected to take this post, one of the Greens' three seats.

Family, Youth and Health Ministry--Christine Bergmann, 59, a pharmacist, is the only Eastern German expected to join the Cabinet.

Agriculture Ministry--Karl-Heinz Funke, a 52-year-old Bavarian farmer, has already been named by Schroeder.

Ministries for education, justice, and science and research, as well as the parliamentary faction leadership, remain under negotiation, with a Greens member expected to fill at least one post.

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