Karl Lauterbach to become Germany’s next Health Minister

The Social Democrats' Karl Lauterbach, who has emerged as a high profile yet sometimes controversial figure in the pandemic, is to become Germany's new Health Minister.

Incoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) stands with next Health Minister Karl Lauterbach in Berlin.
Incoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) stands with next Health Minister Karl Lauterbach in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The SPD announced on Monday that Lauterbach will take over from outgoing Health Minister Jens Spahn who belongs to the Christian Democrats (CDU).

Lauterbach, 58, who is trained as a doctor and epidemiologist, has pushed for tough Covid restrictions throughout the pandemic, making him controversial to some. 

He has also been calling for stricter measures during the current fourth wave hitting Germany hard.

Commenting on his new appointment, Lauterbach said he was optimistic that Germany could overcome the Covid crisis.

He said the pandemic was far from over, but added: “We will manage it, though. Vaccination will play the central role, but not the only role. We will win the battle with the pandemic.”

Lauterbach said the health system would be strengthened and made more robust. “With us, there will be no cuts in health care services,” he said, adding that Germany would be equipped for any future pandemics.

Incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the newest appointments at the SPD headquarters in Berlin. Here’s how it looks:

The Labour and Social Affairs Ministry is to be headed up once more by incumbent Hubertus Heil.

The new Construction/Building Ministry will be led by Brandenburg SPD politician Klara Geywitz. Hesse politician Nancy Faeser is to become Interior Minister, taking over from the CSU’s Horst Seehofer.

Christine Lambrecht, the current Justice and Family Affairs Minister, is to take over the Ministry of Defence, stepping into the shoes of former CDU leader and Angela Merkel ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

READ ALSO: Petrolhead, novelist and trampolinist tipped for Germany’s post-Merkel cabinet

Svenja Schulze is set to become Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development. And Wolfgang Schmidt is to become the new Minister of the Chancellor’s Office.

The new federal cabinet will be sworn in after the election of the new Chancellor, scheduled for Wednesday.

What about the other coalition partners?

The SPD is entering into a coalition government with the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP).

The Greens occupy the Foreign Affairs Ministry and it will be headed up by Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock.

READ ALSO: Annalena Baerbock to become Germany’s first woman foreign minister

The Ministry of Economy and Climate Protection has the next Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck at the helm. The Family Affairs Ministry will be led by Anne Spiegel. The Environment Ministry is headed up by Steffi Lemke, and the Agriculture Ministry by Cem Özdemir.

The FDP provide the Finance Minister (FDP leader Christian Lindner), the Transport Minister (Volker Wissing), the Justice Minister (Marco Buschmann) and the Education Minister (Bettina Stark-Watzinger).

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.