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Waigel calls for cabinet clear-out

Chancellor Helmut Kohl was forced to make an intervention yesterday from his holiday hide-out in Austria, after one of the most senior members of the German government publicly called for a reshuffle.

In a series of newspaper interviews over the weekend, Theo Waigel, the Finance Minister, had urged his boss to clear the dead wood out of his cabinet before embarking on next year's general election campaign. Mr Waigel, leader of the Christian Social Union of Bavaria, also made a bid for one of the cabinet seats currently controlled by the Free Democrats, the smallest of the three parties which make up Mr Kohl's government.

Through his spokesman in Bonn, the Chancellor let it be known that such discussions about a reshuffle were "superfluous".

But that put-down may not be enough to thwart another round of bickering among the coalition partners.

In a startlingly frank interview with the magazine Der Spiegel, Mr Waigel suggested that some of his cabinet colleagues were merely serving time. These, he advised, should be booted out. "If there is a minister or two wanting to quit but would still like to hang on for another year until the elections," Mr Waigel said, "then one should tell him: `Comrade, it would have been nice, but we must build our new team now'."

Though the Finance Minister refused to name any of the tired faces he had in mind, there is little doubt that Gunter Rexrodt, the Economy Minister, would be on top of such list. Mr Rexrodt does not even enjoy the confidence of his own party, the Free Democrats, and is believed to have flirted in the past with the idea of leaving the government.

The Economy Minister's departure would seem to fit in well with Mr Waigel's game plan, namely to swap portfolios with the FDP. Klaus Kinkel, the Free Democrat Foreign Minister, would thus take over the hot potato of Finance, allowing Mr Waigel to fulfil his cherished ambition of straddling the world stage.

This could only happen, however, if the FDP were eased out of the Economics Ministry. Mr Waigel also noted that one minister from his party, Wolfgang Botsch, will drop out of the government when his fiefdom, the post office, is privatised later this year.

The CSU, he said, will have to be given something else, otherwise it will only have the same number of government seats - three - as the Free Democrat minnows.