Germany to get new foreign minister as Sigmar Gabriel loses job

Abby Young-Powell
Sigmar Gabriel has had a broken relationship with the SPD's new leader - REUTERS

Germany’s acting foreign minister announced on Thursday that he will not be a member of Angela Merkel’s new coalition government.

Sigmar Gabriel, from the Social Democrats (SPD), Mrs Merkel's coalition partners, had been widely expected to leave after tense relations with Andrea Nahles, the new SPD leader.

Mr Gabriel, who last year polled as Germany’s most popular politician, posted on Twitter on Thursday morning that Ms Nahles and Olaf Scholz, the SPD's acting chairman, told him he would no longer have a ministerial post.

His successor, set to be announced on Friday, is expected to be Heiko Maas, 51, who served as justice minister in the last grand coalition.  Katarina Barley, 49, family minister since 2017 who is a passionate pro-European with a British father, and Thomas Oppermann, 63, current vice president of the Bundestag, are also in the running.

Mr Gabriel is said to have a broken relationship with Mr Scholz and Ms Nahles. In February he complained of a lack of respect, after he said he learned from the media that Martin Schulz, the party’s previous leader, would take over as foreign minister.

Heiko Maas and his partner German actress Natalia Woerner  Credit:  TOBIAS SCHWARZ/ AFP

"The only thing left, really, is remorse over how disrespectful we've become with one another in our dealings and how little someone's word still counts," Mr Gabriel said pointedly at the time.

But on Thursday he struck a more gracious tone. In a post on social media he said that it had been a “big honor for which I am deeply grateful” to serve his party and his country. He added that “it was an exciting and eventful time which opened up big opportunities and experiences that went way beyond what I would have dared to dream”.

Mr Gabriel has been vice chancellor of Germany since 2017. In his nearly 30-year political career, he has served as leader of SPD from 2009 to 2017, before stepping down and becoming the party’s foreign minister. Before that, he served as environment minister from 2005 to 2009 and minister of economic affairs from 2013-2017.

Mr Gabriel was respected by some for his plain speaking and his clear stance with countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey. But others saw him as a loose cannon.

Last month, when tensions between Mr Gabriel and other party leaders spiked, he told German media that his young daughter Marie had said "don't be sad, Papa, you will have more time for us now".