New government

Heiko Maas to be foreign minister as Gabriel loses job

Heiko Maas und Sigmar Gabriel
No longer in the background. Source: dpa

Sigmar Gabriel is one of the most popular politicians in Germany. But on Thursday, the acting foreign minister announced that he will not be a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s new government.

The Social Democrat was not offered another term amid tense relations with Andrea Nahles, who is expected to become the new party leader in April. The 58-year-old said in a written statement that Ms. Nahles and Olaf Scholz, the acting chairman and incoming finance minister, told him he would no longer have a cabinet post.

Mr. Gabriel’s successor was announced on Friday, along with the choices for several other cabinet posts won by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in coalition talks.

Justice Katarina Barley Up until now, Ms. Barley served as the minister for family affairs. She will be swopping portfolios to take charge of the ministry of justice, a position she appears to have been destined for. The German-British lawyer has worked as a judge and inside her own state’s justice ministry. With her generally liberal politics, she is seen as a good balance to conservative Bavarian minister, Horst Seehofer’s ministry of the interior. Source: Imago
Environment Svenja Schulze The SPD senior politician, who acts as party chairman in North Rhine-Westphalia, will take on the ministry for the environment. Ms. Schulze was previously the state minister for innovation, science and technology in her home state. Source: DPA
Labor Hubertus Heil The new minister of labor from Lower Saxony has been a member of the German parliament since 1998. At one stage, he was the SPD’s general secretary but gave up the post after election losses in 2009. A sociologist, Mr. Heil appears to have an interest in employment and economics, proposing a special commission on labor shortages in 2012. Source: DPA
Family Franziska Giffey Ms. Giffey is perhaps the most surprising nomination because she has not had experience at a federal level. Some have described the next minister for family and youth as the token east German, that the new cabinet badly needs. But Ms. Giffey has proven herself, as the down-to-earth mayor of one of Berlin’s “problem” suburbs, Neukölln. As the last mayor of Neukölln said of Ms. Giffey, “it can’t hurt the federal government to have someone sitting at the table who knows what a social flashpoint is.” Source: Imago
Finance Olaf Scholz The mayor of Hamburg is still one of Germany’s most-liked politicians and it is generally thought that the finance ministry will be in safe, conservative hands when he takes over. For more on Scholz, read Handelsblatt Global's profile. Source: AP

Heiko Maas served as justice minister in the last grand coalition. Nonetheless the move to the Foreign Office would be a big jump on the career ladder for the 51-year-old. Since having joined the cabinet in 2013, Mr. Maas introduced several laws, including measures against hate speech online, a women’s quota, rent control, and anti-terrorism legislation. But critics accuse him of taking action just for the sake of doing so and of self-promotion.

However, Mr. Gabriel said Mr. Maas would be an excellent successor. He would leave the Foreign Office reassured, “if it is true that [Mr. Maas] will be the new foreign minister.” But the SPD leadership’s decision to not nominate Mr. Gabriel as Germany’s top diplomat could lead to unrest in the party, warned the political scientist Lothar Probst. “Mr. Gabriel still has many supporters in his party and the country, despite his unpredictability,” Mr. Probst told Handelsblatt. “It is possible that even more people will turn away from the party.”

A long list of challenges awaits Mr. Maas. US president Donald Trumps formally announced steep tariffs on steel and aluminum on Thursday, the UK is preparing its exit from the European Union, Russia is boasting about nuclear weapons, China is edging further away from democracy and there is still no solution in sight to the Syrian war.

Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their Bavarian ally, the Christian Social Union, have already announced their cabinet choices. Nearly six months after the elections, the next German government is gradually taking shape.

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Dietmar Neuerer and Martin Greive cover politics for Handelsblatt out of Berlin. Stephanie Ott in New York City adapted this story to English for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the authors: and

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