Germany names first ever Turkish-origin Cabinet member

Germany names first ever Turkish-origin Cabinet member

Germany names first ever Turkish-origin Cabinet member

Aydan Özoğuz (2nd from R), has been named as Germany's new state minister for immigration, refugees and integration. AFP Photo

Deputy leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), Aydan Özoğuz, has been announced as the country’s new state minister for immigration, refugees and integration, thus becoming the first ever Turkish-origin minister to make it to the German federal Cabinet.

Özoğuz, who was trained as a linguist, is a second-generation Turk in Germany and the daughter of a merchant family that imported nuts from Turkey in the 1960s. She received 89 percent of the vote at a SPD congress on Dec. 5 and was chosen as one of five vice presidents of the party. She also became the first Turk and the first foreigner to become a deputy leader of the SPD.

Germany’s center-left SPD overwhelmingly approved the formation of a “grand coalition” government under Chancellor Angela Merkel on Dec. 14, removing the final obstacle to her third term.

Sigmar Gabriel, the leader of SPD, the junior partners in Angela Merkel’s new government, yesterday said he would become her vice-chancellor and head up a super ministry responsible for the economy and energy policy.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier will return as foreign minister, a job he held under Merkel during her first term 2005-9 when she also led a left-right “grand coalition.” The SPD kept the pledge to fill half of the Cabinet seats allotted to it with women.

Left-wing firebrand Andrea Nahles, the SPD’s general secretary, is to become labor minister, sharing responsibility for rolling out Germany’s first ever minimum wage - a condition that the SPD set for joining Merkel in a power-sharing government.

Party vice-chairwoman Manuela Schwesig is to take charge of family affairs, while SPD treasurer Barbara Hendricks is destined for the environment ministry.

Heiko Maas, economy minister in the western state of Saarland, will head up the justice and consumer affairs ministry.

The super-ministry that will be led by SPD leader Gabriel, a former environment minister, will take charge of managing Germany’s transition away from nuclear power and toward greater use of renewables. Given the complexity of the task, many analysts see Gabriel’s appointment as a poisoned chalice handed to him by Merkel.

“We have hard work ahead of us,” he acknowledged. “This Cabinet make-up fulfills the wishes of the SPD.”

Merkel was set to hold a news conference later on Sunday to announce her conservatives’ selections for the Cabinet.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, the main architect of Germany’s tough-love response to the Eurozone crisis, is set to remain in his post. But a surprise appointment widely reported in the media over the weekend was mother-of-seven Ursula von der Leyen as Germany’s first female defense minister.

Merkel is to be formally elected by the Bundestag lower house of Parliament on Tuesday, when the new Cabinet will also be sworn in.