- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

BERLIN — Germany’s Social Democrats yesterday appointed one of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s closest allies as foreign minister in the new coalition government to be led by conservative Angela Merkel.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, 49, Mr. Schroeder’s most important fixer as head of the chancellery since 1999, helped him devise Germany’s policy of strict opposition to the U.S.-led Iraq war.

Mr. Schroeder once said he could trust only three persons — wife Doris, his personal secretary and Mr. Steinmeier.

Little-known outside Berlin, Mr. Steinmeier is regarded as more of a bureaucrat than a politician and lacks the charisma of his predecessor, Joschka Fischer — a street-fighting protester during the 1970s who became leader of the Greens and won respect abroad as Germany’s top diplomat since 1998.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Franz Muentefering said at a press conference: “I’m sure he’ll represent our country well in the world, and that that will soon be realized by everyone who doesn’t at present know him as a politician.”

The SPD leadership also named seven others who will enter a Merkel-led Cabinet. Peer Steinbrueck, the pragmatic and popular former prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, was named finance minister.

Talks aimed at forming a so-called “grand coalition” between Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democrats and Mr. Schroeder’s Social Democrats begin Monday and are expected to run until mid-November.

Mrs. Merkel, who is set to become Germany’s first female leader, has been forced to share power with the SPD because she failed to win an outright majority in the Sept. 18 election.

Mr. Schroeder, who agreed to step aside for Mrs. Merkel after three weeks of political stalemate, said Wednesday that he would not take a role in the new government.

Analysts said Mr. Steinmeier, a trained lawyer, was unlikely to continue Mr. Schroeder’s feud with President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair — not the least because Mrs. Merkel is expected to seize control of foreign policy, the only area in which she is likely to have room to maneuver.

“Important areas such as European policy and relations with strategic allies like the United States, France, Russia or China are formulated in the chancellery, and I don’t think Merkel will allow that to be taken away from her,” said foreign policy analyst Henning Riecke.

“It’s an opportunity for her to develop a profile abroad because her reform agenda is being watered down through compromises in the coalition talks. … That puts a question mark on how much room will be left for Steinmeier.”

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