BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel named Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) as her new defence minister yesterday, a surprising choice that could vault the ambitious ally into the lead as the front runner to one day succeed the chancellor.
Merkel, 59, will begin her third term tomorrow — three months after winning the September 22 election — now that her junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats, voted on Saturday to join her in a “grand coalition”.
Even though Merkel has an aversion to the unexpected, she pulled a rabbit out of her hat in picking the spirited von der Leyen to lead defence, one of the top jobs in her cabinet with a ¤33bn budget.
“Those who know her know that she has always had an interest in international issues alongside social policies,” Merkel told a news conference. “It’s an exciting job filled with challenges that I’m confident she’ll master very well.” Merkel has no designated successor and has denied speculation she would step down midway through her next term. But the remarkable turn of events will revive all that if the 55-year-old von der Leyen is successful as Germany’s first woman defence minister.
“Those who know von der Leyen know she’s got the toughness needed for the difficult job,” wrote Bild am Sonntag columnist Michael Backhaus on Sunday. “Merkel showed a lot of courage picking von der Leyen, courage she lacked in the negotiations.”