Merkel to appoint key party critic to cabinet

German Chancellor Angela Merkel / AFP PHOTO / Tobias SCHWARZ

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has decided to give a cabinet role to an outspoken critic within her conservative party, as she looks to quell surging discontent in the right wing of the group, a senior party official said Sunday.

Merkel is to name 37-year-old Jens Spahn as health minister in her new cabinet later Sunday, Saxony state leader Michael Kretschmer of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party said, confirming media reports.

“It’s a good sign because he is a dedicated politician who has shown for years that he is acting in the interests of this country,” said Kretschmer, who belongs to the CDU’s right wing.

“He will certainly be a good health minister.”

Merkel has been stung by criticism from within the ranks of her CDU party after a tricky September election left her struggling to secure a continued “grand coalition” that would enable her to launch a fourth term governing Europe’s biggest economy.

Spahn has been at the forefront of the backlash, slamming Merkel’s centrist policies, particularly on immigration, and advocating a sharp conservative shift.

The country’s major parties are all facing pressure from the far-right AfD party which has railed against a mass influx of refugees that peaked in 2015.

Loyalists in key posts

The potential inclusion of Spahn in her cabinet line-up could help to defuse the internal rebellion ahead of a CDU congress set for Monday.

Beyond the health post, Merkel is expected to fill the remaining CDU ministries with loyalists, keeping Ursula von der Leyen at the defence ministry, putting close ally Peter Altmaier on the economic affairs brief and placing Julia Kloeckner in the agriculture job.

However Merkel’s conservatives have had to relinquish key cabinet positions — including the powerful finance minister — to convince the Social Democrats (SPD) to again govern in coalition.

The SPD still needs to approve the arrangement, with the results of a crunch membership ballot due to be announced on March 4.

If its members vote “no” in the postal and online ballot, Germany faces more political paralysis and likely snap elections that would threaten an end to Merkel’s 12 years in power.

The CDU is set to vote on the deal at its meeting on Monday, but with the expected move to assuage her critics, approval is thought likely to be a formality.

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Angela MerkelCDU

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