Merkel faces in-fighting as new cabinet named

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The Independent Online

Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats were forced to concede eight of the 16 cabinet posts to the centre-left Social Democrats under a power-sharing deal reached last week.

However, her own cabinet nominations did little to suggest that she would retain the upper hand at the head of the coalition as several key posts were earmarked for her erstwhile conservative rivals. "Angela Merkel will preside over her cabinet like a lion tamer in a circus ring," wrote Der Spiegel magazine yesterday. "She can be eaten."

Wolfgang Schäuble, the veteran conservative foreign policy expert whom Ms Merkel ousted as CDU party leader five years ago, was named as the prospective interior minister. Edmund Stoiber, the Bavarian conservative leader and rival of Ms Merkel in the running for the Chancellor's job, was selected as the economics and development minister.

Both appointments indicated that Ms Merkel's influence within her party had waned considerably since Germany's inconclusive 18 September general election. Meanwhile, the post of defence minister was handed to Franz Josef Jung, a close friend of one of Ms Merkel's most serious party rivals, the Hesse state prime minister Roland Koch.

The only true allies of Ms Merkel to emerge from yesterday's line-up were the prospective education minister, Annette Schavan, and Ursula von der Leyen, appointed family minister, while Thomas de Maziere, one of Ms Merkel's few trusted supporters, was given the key post of minister to the Chancellor's office. Thecabinet announcement got off to a bad start after Mr Stoiber publicly accused Ms Merkel of going behind his back to recruit Michael Glos, one of his Bavarian allies, as defence minister. It was a demonstration of the Bavarian leader's power that he was able to block the appointment and oblige Ms Merkel to accept his own candidate, Horst Seehofer, as the agriculture minister.

With Ms Merkel already facing the prospect of stiff opposition to her reform programme from the Social Democrats, she also appeared likely to be given a rough ride by her own party. "It will be interesting to see how Angela Merkel manages this tightrope act," remarked theconservative Bild newspaper.

The enemy within?

* Wolfgang Schäuble, the interior minister under Helmut Kohl who led plans for reunification, returns to the post. His relationship with Ms Merkel is marked by resentment; when he was ousted as party chairman, she was his replacement.

* The new foreign minister will be Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Gerhard Schröder's chief-of-staff who helped put through the former Chancellor's controversial labour reforms.

* Franz Josef Jung, close associate of one of Ms Merkel's enemies, Roland Koch, will be defence minister.

* The Bavarian conservative leader, Edmund Stoiber, will be the new economy minister. He and Ms Merkel were rivals in the running for the Chancellor's job.

* One of the sharpest thorns in Ms Merkel's side is likely to be the new agriculture minister, Horst Seehofer, one of her bitterest political enemies within her own party, who angered many conservatives last year by opposing welfare cuts.

* One of the former Chancellor's closest allies, the SDP chairman Franz Muentefering, will serve as Germany's vice-chancellor and labour minister.