Questions mount over Germany's proposed new government

A senior conservative’s participation in Germany’s proposed new left-right government was in doubt today as politicians struggled to digest the implications of a sudden leadership crisis in the centre-left Social Democrats.

The ZDF and n-tv television channels, citing unidentified conservative officials, said Bavarian Governor Edmund Stoiber would not become economy minister as planned under chancelor-designate Angela Merkel.

ZDF said another politician from his conservative Christian Social Union, Michael Glos, would likely take his place.

The crisis began yesterday, when Social Democratic chairman Franz Muentefering announced he would relinquish that post after fellow party leaders nominated a young leftist as the party’s new general secretary – rejecting his candidate.

Muentefering suggested he also might not join the government. He was to become vice chancellor in the proposed “grand coalition” under Merkel.

That move, along with fears of a future shift of direction in the party, unsettled his prospective partners.

Stoiber had described Muentefering, with whom he has worked successfully in the past, as a “cornerstone” of the proposed government.

An official with Stoiber’s Bavaria-only Christian Social Union said Stoiber had not yet made his decision.

“Right now, it is an open question whether there will be this grand coalition,” Juergen Ruettgers, the conservative governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, told ARD television earlier today.

The Social Democrats, or SPD, “must now create clarity,” added Ruettgers, a Christian Democrat.

“We need economic growth, and the SPD must now say not only with whom it wants to enter this coalition, but with what policies it wants to enter this coalition.”

The SPD was bitterly divided over outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s decision in 2003 to push through limited reforms of the costly welfare state and the labour market. Monday’s nomination of Andrea Nahles, 35, as general secretary appeared to signal a leftward shift.

Despite yesterday’s events, both sides have vowed to carry on as planned with coalition negotiations, which they hope to complete in time for party conferences to endorse them in mid-November and for Merkel to be voted in by parliament on November 22.

However, Stoiber sowed new doubts last night when he said his party leadership would consider the implications of Muentefering’s decision. Stoiber is the leader of the CSU, the sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats – and is an awkward, but powerful, ally of the chancellor-designate.

Stoiber challenged Schroeder for the chancellorship in 2002.

The Social Democratic leadership was to meet again on Wednesday in an effort to resolve its crisis. Two state governors – Brandenburg’s Matthias Platzeck and Rhineland-Palatinate’s Kurt Beck – figured strongly in speculation over a possible successor to Muentefering.

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