Merkel Cabinet reshuffled as junior coalition partner Social Democrats ready for election

Social Democrat Sigmar Gabriel became Germany's new foreign minister.
Social Democrat Sigmar Gabriel became Germany's new foreign minister. PHOTO: EPA

BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) - Social Democrat Sigmar Gabriel became Germany's new foreign minister on Friday (Jan 27) as Dr Angela Merkel's junior coalition partner prepares to take on the chancellor in the September's election.

Mr Gabriel this week ceded his party's candidacy for the September election as well as the SPD party chairmanship to Dr Martin Schulz, the former European Parliament president who polls show has a better chance against Dr Merkel.

Mr Gabriel succeeds party colleague Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is the governing coalition's choice to be elected Germany's president in a special election next month.

The reshuffle among Social Democrats comes as the party looks to boost its fortunes against Dr Merkel, whose Christian Democratic-led bloc remains well ahead of the SPD in every poll.

Dr Merkel and Dr Schulz were tied at 41 per cent in an ARD poll this week that asked who Germans would vote for if the chancellor were to be directly elected rather than appointed by the majority party.

Mr Gabriel's previous post as economy minister was filled by Ms Brigitte Zypries, a Social Democatic deputy minister who also was justice minister from 2002 to 2009.

Initial polling shows an early boost for the SPD, with the party up three points to 24 per cent, with Dr Merkel's faction unchanged at 36 per cent, according to a Forschungsgruppe Wahlen survey published on Friday.

That poll surveyed 1,303 voters from Jan 24-26, the three days after Mr Gabriel made the surprise announcement.

A reinvigorated SPD is opening a new front against Dr Merkel, who already confronts a threat on her party's right from the anti-migration Alternative for Germany party, buoyed by its criticism of Dr Merkel's open-border refugee policy.

Dr Merkel, in office for more than 11 years, will seek a fourth term as chancellor in the Sept 24 election.

Dr Steinmeier, who ended his second stint as foreign minister after just over three years, is expected to win an overwhelming majority on Feb 12 in the Federal Assembly, the body that elects Germany's head of state.

He's supported by both coalition parties in Dr Merkel's government to take the mostly ceremonial post, succeeding President Joachim Gauck.