Schaeuble seen as new German finance minister

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Associated Press

Posted on October 26, 2009 at 1:07 AM

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's veteran interior minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is expected to take the key position of finance minister in the country's new center-right government, a senior conservative official said Friday.

The move would put the 67-year-old member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats in charge of tending Germany's strained budget as her new government tries to balance tax cuts and fiscal discipline.

Coalition talks, which started on Oct. 5, were in their final stretch on Friday. The conservative official spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations have not yet been concluded. He later confirmed other expected ministers in the new Cabinet, which Merkel was to formally announce on Saturday.

The leader of the junior coalition partners, Guido Westerwelle of the Free Democrats, is to take over the posts of foreign minister and vice chancellor, as widely expected.

Merkel is expected to carry over seven ministers from her previous government, including Schaeuble.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who was tapped in February to take over the Economic Ministry, is to become the new defense minister tasked with handling Germany's unpopular mission in Afghanistan. He replaces Franz Josef Jung, who is to take over at the Labor Ministry.

Ursula von der Leyen, who became one of the nation's most popular ministers, is expected to retain her post at the Ministry for Family Affairs, while the Health Ministry is to go to the youngest minister in the Cabinet, 36-year-old Philipp Roesler of the Free Democrats.

The new Economics Minister is to be Rainer Bruedele, also from the Free Democrats.

The Finance Ministry will be a central job in the new governing coalition of Merkel's conservatives and the pro-business Free Democrats.

Before the Sept. 27 elections, both parties advocated tax cuts in an effort to spur economic growth. However, they differed on how far to go at a time when efforts to combat the economic crisis have caused debt to swell.

Schaeuble is one of Germany's most experienced politicians. He has been interior minister since 2005 in Merkel's outgoing coalition of right and left, his second stint as the country's top security official.

Schaeuble has championed tougher security laws, in particular anti-terrorism legislation granting federal police the power to spy on computers.

During his first spell as interior minister, under former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Schaeuble guided negotiations of the treaty that reunited Germany.

Schaeuble became his party's chairman after Kohl's 1998 election defeat, but was replaced by Merkel in 2000 amid the fallout from a party financing scandal surrounding Kohl. He has used a wheelchair since being paralyzed from the waist down when a mentally disturbed man shot him at a rally in 1990.

Schaeuble's choice would put the Finance Ministry in the hands of Merkel's party after four years under Peer Steinbrueck, a center-left Social Democrat.

Steinbrueck and Merkel had a notably harmonious working relationship — in what was sometimes a fractious coalition — and together sought to defuse the financial crisis by pushing through a bank bailout program.

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