Angela Merkel's new chief of staff: Helge Braun – the all-rounder

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Q&A with Merkel's chief of staff

Hardly anyone knew who Helge Braun was before now. From now on, though, as minister of the chancellery, he will coordinate all the work of governance. Peter Altmaier's successor is more of a man behind the scenes.

Helge who? This was the question on many people's lips when he was appointed to the post. The 45-year-old CDU politician has been part of the government machinery for years, but until now he's remained in the background. In Merkel's second cabinet he was a parliamentary undersecretary in the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Merkel then drew him into her inner circle back in 2013, when she brought him to the Chancellery as a Minister of State to the Federal Chancellor in her third cabinet. Braun was primarily in charge of overseeing relationships between the federal and the individual state governments. The refugee crisis also fell within his sphere of responsibility, and with his handling of this, in particular, Braun seems to have proven himself in Merkel's eyes.

Politics | 13.03.2018
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He also knows, though, how controversial Merkel's policies were, and continue to be. "I think many people who voted for the AfD [Alternative for Germany] in the general election were unhappy with the policy on refugees,” Helge Braun admitted in an interview with DW. In this regard, though, he said that the government wants to "solve problems, and win back these AfD voters in so doing.”

Helge Braun had an indirect path into the Berlin political world. He joined the youth wing of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in his home state of Hesse at the age of 17 and was involved in politics at local level. Then, though, he went on to study medicine and became an anesthetist. He sees parallels between the two worlds: "Regardless of the situation, if someone gets nervous very quickly – this applies to both political challenges and to a situation in the operating theater – they end up not making good decisions.” He evidently considers himself as a calm person, and others have confirmed this. With his background, he could perhaps also have become minister for health or research. But what particularly attracted him to his new task is the fact that he has to deal with pretty much every issue of governance. "That's why my new position as head of the Office of the Chancellery is my chosen task,” he told the local newspaper in his hometown of Giessen.

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Out of the background and into the spotlight

His quiet work in the background is over, once and for all. The Minister of the Chancellery is in a particularly exposed position: He coordinates the entire work of government, is in constant communication with other ministers, the Bundestag, and the individual states, and he heads up a department with around 600 employees. As minister of the Chancellery, what Helge Braun particularly needs is, therefore, the ability to mediate, to find compromises, resolve conflicts. He seems to have plenty of these qualities. He is described as friendly, matter-of-fact and pragmatic – not the kind of man to parade himself in the limelight. In this, Helge Braun seems to be very like his boss.

Apparently, Braun made a particularly positive impression on the Chancellor during the coalition negotiations. Together with Dorothee Bär from the CSU, he headed up the working group for digital strategy. Digitalization will remain one of his focus areas. "We have to lay fiber-optic cables all over the country. We plan to spend between ten and twelve billion euros on this in this legislative period, more than ever before,” Braun told DW.

At 45, Helge Braun brings down the average age of the cabinet, which now stands at just over 51. He's also part of the reason why this CDU ministerial team is considerably more Catholic than the last. Braun's predecessor, Peter Altmaier, was the only Catholic on a team of Protestants. Now it's Angela Merkel, the daughter of an evangelical priest, together with Ursula von der Leyen who are the only Protestants among their Roman Catholic CDU cabinet colleagues.

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Chancellor: Angela Merkel (CDU)

The new chancellor will be the same as the old one: Christian Democrat (CDU) Angela Merkel. It will be her fourth term as leader of the German government and the third time she heads up a grand coalition between the CDU, its conservative Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democrats (SPD). It is also expected to be her last term as chancellor.


Chief of Staff at the Chancellery: Helge Braun (CDU)

Helge Braun, who is currently minister of state at the Chancellery, has been nominated by Merkel for the promotion to Chancellery head. He would take over from Peter Altmaier. Braun's rise within the body would ensure a certain continuity.


Minister of the Interior, Heimat and Construction: Horst Seehofer (CSU)

Seehofer, Bavaria's soon-to-be former state premier and chairman of the CSU, will head Germany's newly expanded Interior Ministry. This will be the first time that the vaguely patriotic "Heimat" concept (roughly "homeland") is included in a federal minister's domain. Bavaria, however, has had a state Heimat Ministry for five years.


The fight for the Foreign Ministry: Heiko Maas (SPD)

The most-talked about position in the upcoming Cabinet is that of foreign minister. After the SPD and CDU/CSU agreed on a policy blueprint, it became apparent that Sigmar Gabriel would not keep his position as head of the Foreign Ministry. He will be succeeded by former Justice Minister Heiko Maas.


Finance Minister: Olaf Scholz (SPD)

Scholz nomination for finance minister had been rumored for weeks. Currently the mayor of Hamburg, he is considered the high-level SPD politician with the most financial expertise. Scholz has been in Merkel's Cabinet once before, as minister of labor and social affairs from 2007 to 2009. The Finance Ministry's capture was a significant win for the SPD. Scholz will also serve as vice-chancellor.


Minister of Defense: Ursula von der Leyen (CDU)

Von der Leyen has been defense minister since 2013 and has now been tapped by Merkel to keep the job. This comes despite numerous scandals within the Bundeswehr, Germany's military, that broke since she took over the Defense Ministry. Her relationship with the troops has suffered, but Merkel trusts her. German media has speculated that Von der Leyen could be a potential successor to Merkel.


Economic and Energy Affairs Minister: Peter Altmaier (CDU)

Altmaier, currently Merkel's chief of staff at the Chancellery, has been nominated to take over the Economy Ministry. This would be the first time in more than 50 years that a CDU politician holds that post. Altmaier is regarded as extremely loyal to the chancellor. Questions of renewable energy and energy networks will also fall into Altmaier's portfolio.


Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection: Katarina Barley (SPD)

Heiko Maas was justice minister during the last government's term, but he's now taken over the reigns at the Foreign Ministry. Trained lawyer Katarina Barley will take on the post. She served as both minister of family affairs and minister of labor in 2017 as part of the previous government.


Minister of Labor and Social Affairs: Hubertus Heil (SPD)

Andrea Nahles will step down as labor minister to lead the SPD following Martin Schulz's decision to resign. Her successor, Hubertus Heil, was the surprise announcement when the SPD unveiled its Cabinet ministers. A member of the Bundestag since 1998, Heil has twice served as the party's secretary general.


Minister for the Environment: Svenja Schulze (pictured) or Matthias Miersch (both SPD)

Barbara Hendricks, Germany's outgoing minister for the environment, nature conservation and nuclear safety has reached retirement age. While she may well have liked to stay on in her job, the SPD leadership announced it was seeking a successor. Svenja Schulze will take over, having previously served as minister for innovation, science and research in North Rhine-Westphalia.


Minister for Health: Jens Spahn (CDU)

Merkel's nominee for health minister stands out: The 37-year-old Jens Spahn not only represents a new political generation within the CDU, but was also heavily critical of Merkel's welcoming policy toward refugees. In the last government he served as the parliamentary state secretary for the finance ministry, but prior to that he helped lead the CDU's health policy in the Bundestag.


Minister of Education and Research: Anja Karliczek (CDU)

Anja Karliczek, a former hotel manager who is relatively unknown, was nominated by Merkel to take over the Education Ministry. The new education minister will have a lot of money to spend: The ministry's budget was recently increased by €11 billion ($13.6 billion) to pay for school and university improvements, especially with respect to digitalization.


Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.

Franziska Giffey's elevation from the mayor of Berlin's Neukölln district to Cabinet minister is perhaps the most eye-catching appointment. Giffey will bypass the Bundestag altogether to ascend into the government, but the SPD leadership believes her experience in charge of what has often been described as Berlin's "troubled" district makes her the most suitable candidate for the role.


Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development: Gerd Müller (CSU)

Gerd Müller, 62, has been tapped to retain his position as development minister, which he has held since December 2013. He won the job over fellow CSU member Dorothee Bär, who was also in the running. The CSU has thus chosen three men for its Cabinet posts, while Bär will become the state minister for digital affairs in the chancellery, a newly created job.


Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure: Andreas Scheuer (CSU)

Scheuer, considered a close ally of CSU party head Seehofer, is to take the Transport Ministry. He has had experience in the area: From 2009 to 2013, he held the position of parliamentary state secretary in the Transport Ministry. Right now, he is the CSU's Secretary General.


Minister for Food and Agriculture: Julia Klöckner (CDU)

Klöckner has been tapped to head the Agriculture Ministry, where she worked as parliamentary state secretary from 2009 to 2011. She is currently a deputy federal chairwoman of her party and leads the CDU in the western German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Klöckner is the perfect candidate for Merkel, who has been called upon to assemble a younger and more female Cabinet this time around.

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