Defense Minister Fired in Cabinet Shake-Up; Eight Posts Changed
BONN, West Germany (AP) _ Chancellor Helmut Kohl on Thursday fired the defense minister and replaced seven other Cabinet ministers in a long-awaited shake-up aimed at boosting his government’s appeal to voters.
The reorganization appeared to be mostly a seat-swapping exercise, with some important posts rotating among Kohl’s closest advisers and others going to political allies to ensure their continued support.
Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union has suffered badly in recent local elections, losing control of both the West Berlin and Frankfurt city governments to a rival coalition of left-leaning Social Democrats and environmentalist Greens.
Kohl’s party has been trailing the Social Democrats since the first of the year in nationwide polls.
Kohl said the changes were in preparation for next year’s federal election campaign and not a direct result of the Frankfurt and West Berlin losses.
″I had planned this cabinet rebuilding long before that,″ Kohl told a news conference.
Also Thursday, Kohl indicated he planned a sharp change in the nation’s immigration policies by making it more difficult for ethnic Germans to immigrate to West Germany.
″We are not of the view that immigrants from every region of the world where there are Germans should all be able to come to us,″ he said in an interview aired on ZDF television Thursday night.
Kohl has faced increasing criticism over the growing number of ethnic German immigrants who compete with West Germans for scarce housing and jobs.
More than 200,000 ethnic Germans immigrated to West Germany in 1988, most of them from East bloc countries. It has long been official government policy that ethnic Germans have a right to immigrate to West Germany.
The Cabinet appointments, effective April 21, replace Kohl’s chief of staff and the ministers for defense, finance, interior, transport, economic cooperation, construction and information.
He named Finance Minister Gerhard Stoltenberg to head the Defense Ministry. The ministry has been the target of public criticism in the past year because of a string of deadly NATO jet crashes and NATO plans to replace short-range nuclear missiles in West Germany with rockets of a longer range.
Kohl praised the outgoing defense minister, Rupert Scholz, who he said was ″confronted with many problems for which he cannot be made responsible.″
Scholz, a former law professor, was appointed in May and had no military experience. He was often left to publicly defend the government’s most controversial policies and absorbed the brunt of criticism over NATO war games and noisy low-flying exercises.
Stoltenberg became finance minister in 1982, when Kohl’s party joined forces with the liberal Free Democrats to wrest the leadership from the Social Democratic Party.
The Social Democrats declared the changes ″Kohl’s Last Stand″ and ″blatant political tradeoffs.″ The Greens called them ″boring and desperate.″
In addition to the change at the Defense Ministry, the most significant appointment was the replacement of Stoltenberg with Theo Waigel, head of the Christian Democrats’ Bavarian sister party, the Christian Socialist Union.
Some government officials said privately the appointment was demanded of Kohl to ensure the Bavarian party’s continued loyalty.
The Christian Socialist Union now holds six of the 19 Cabinet posts. The Christian Democrats have nine and the Free Democrats four.
Finance officials said Waigel planned to repeal or sharply limit a new 10 percent withholding tax that took effect this year and drove some investments out of the country.
In other changes:
- Friedrich Zimmermann switched from interior minister to transport minister.
- Chief of Staff Wolfgang Schaeuble was promoted to interior minister.
- Rudolf Seiters, head of the Christian Democrats’ parliamentary delegation, was named the new chief of staff.
- The current transport minister, Juergen Warnke, was appointed to oversee international aid projects as minister for economic cooperation.
- Hans Klein, the economic cooperation minister, became Kohl’s official spokesman and head of the federal Press and Information Office.
That post, currently held by Friedhelm Ost, will be elevated to Cabinet level. Kohl said Ost resigned, but sources within the federal government have said he was forced to leave.
- Construction Minister Oscar Schneider was assigned to oversee the government’s controversial national museum projects in Bonn and Berlin.
- Gerda Hasselfeldt was named construction minister, boosting the number of women in Kohl’s Cabinet to three.