‘Absurd’: Tensions arise in Merkel’s cabinet over von der Leyen nomination

The nomination of German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen as new European Commission chief has sparked fresh tensions within Chancellor Angela Merkel's fragile coalition.

'Absurd': Tensions arise in Merkel's cabinet over von der Leyen nomination
Ursula von der Leyen entering a cabinet meeting in Berlin on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

While the Brussels-born, multi-lingual political veteran secured the nod of
28 European leaders, at home, her naming as Jean-Claude Juncker's successor has been greeted with a sneer.

SEE ALSO: Could Germany's defence minister take EU top job?

Minutes after EU leaders announced their deal on the bloc's top jobs, Merkel's junior coalition partner, the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), rejected the deal done among EU leaders.

The SPD's trio of interim leaders said von der Leyen “never stood for (EU) elections, and therefore is not convincing”.

Installing her as European Commission president would make an “absurd” mockery out of the attempt to democratise the EU.

Markus Söder, the leader of Merkel's Bavarian allies CSU, also cried unfair.

The CSU chief argued that his party's Manfred Weber, who had stood as the leading candidate for the EPP centre-right bloc that came in top in the European Parliament polls, should be the one replacing Juncker.

But Weber was humiliatingly knocked out of the race, with French President Emmanuel Macron criticising his lack of experience in political leadership

“It leaves a bitter taste that democracy lost and back room dealings won,” Söder told national news agency DPA.

Bild daily in a commentary called the EU jobs deal “horrifically short-sighted”, complaining that it would perpetuate the idea that ultimately “the bosses will do their own thing” and disregard the people's vote.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: DPA

It called on the European Parliament, which will have to vote on the appointment, to reject it outright.

“If the European parliament still has an ounce of pride, it would said 'no.' Out of principle. Out of self-respect.”

'Escape to the top'

Von der Leyen emerged as a surprising compromise option, winning the backing of rival factions from France to Italy to the so-called Visegrad 4 bloc of Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.

Born in Brussels and fluent in French and English, the perfectly coiffed mother of seven and trained medical doctor has run a series of ministries in Germany.

While she was previously touted as Merkel's crown princess, her star has waned at home — with voters rating her the second least liked cabinet minister in a poll published Sunday.

Under fire for her record in particular as defence minister, von der Leyen has been battling problems from far-right extremists within the army to controversial contracts with business consultancies to cost over-runs, including for the renovation of a vintage naval vessel.

SEE ALSO: Trump 'has no strategy' says EU defence minister

Even within Merkel's CDU, criticism flew over her nomination as it sparked a new round of jostling for power as the veteran leader stumbles.

The party's conservative wing said in a statement that the fact that such an “unsuccessful minister” was given such a promotion is an “indication of another failure in the foreign policy of the chancellor”.

At the same time, it jumped at the chance to place its own demands on any cabinet reshuffle if von der Leyen is confirmed to the Brussels post.

Merkel, it said, must use the cabinet change to bring in Friedrich Merz, a conservative former investment fund boss with designs on Merkel's job, “ideally in the economy ministry”.

Spiegel Online, describing von der Leyen's nomination as an “escape to the top”, noted however that in the end, none of the outrage would prove truly genuine.

“The anger is justified, but it is also naive — if principles had prevailed, we would have no nominations today. And Ursula von der Leyen is without doubt an experienced, eloquent, and above all, a pro-European candidate.”

By Hui Min Neo

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.