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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 13:51 GMT
Schroeder rebuilds cabinet team
Renate Kuenast
Kuenast will have to work to recover lost ground on BSE
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has named two new cabinet ministers and unveiled a food safety policy - in a dual attempt to rebuild his cabinet and restore public faith in his handling of the BSE crisis.

Senior Green Renate Kuenast becomes agriculture minister and takes responsibility for the new safety policy. Social Democrat Ulla Schmidt will head the health department.

It's high time we changed the course of agriculture...We want food safety through appropriate farming methods that are good for the environment.

Gerhard Schroeder
Their predecessors, Social Democrat Karl-Heinz Funke and the Greens' Andrea Fischer, quit on Tuesday amid accusations of complacency - leaving Mr Schroeder with a political as well as a consumer confidence problem.

His solution - reappointing one Green and one Social Democrat, but switching their departments - will be seen as an attempt to maintain the delicate balance of his red-green coalition.

But he must also steer a path through the public anger which has erupted since the discovery that Germany was not, after all, BSE free.

Andrea Fischer at resignation news conference
Emotional: Fischer announces her resignation
Ten cases have been discovered since testing started last autumn.

Mr Schroeder said his announcement of a new consumer protection role for the agriculture ministry was an important step forward in the crisis.

"The BSE crisis has made it compellingly clear that we have to make several organisational, and not just personnel, changes," Mr Schroeder told a news conference.

As well as taking responsibility for consumer protection, Ms Kuenast will also be expected to try to steer farming away from intensive methods and towards more traditional practices.

Renate Kuenast
Age: 45
Co-leader of Green Party since June
Former prison social worker
Trained as lawyer
Protege of Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
Correspondents say consumers, whose confidence has been shattered by the BSE revelations, may well back her, but big farmers are likely to be worried by her appointment.

Though neither of the two departing ministers admitted being sacked, a prompt and terse statement from Mr Schroeder left little doubt that the chancellor had taken the initiative.

'Business as usual'

Andrea Fischer stood down in a tearful news conference on Tuesday, saying she hoped the move would reassure consumers.

Ulla Schmidt
Age: 51
Eight years in parliament
Trained to teach children with learning difficulties
Oversaw Germany's pension reform
"I hope that by resigning I can contribute to an end of the revelations and help promote a return to business as usual," she said.

Ms Fischer also reflected on the irony of a Green Party minister resigning due to the mistakes of the intensive industrialisation of farming.

The problem, she said, lay with the pressure for lower and lower food prices.

There has been speculation that the two resignations could spark a wider German cabinet reshuffle, but Mr Schroeder denied he had any plans to move anyone else.

Some parts of the German media have been calling the situation a "government crisis" - and point out that Mr Schroeder has lost a succession of ministers for different reasons.

Other ministers are still under pressure - including Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who has admitted involvement as a young radical left-winger in violent street protest.

The BBC's Peter Morgan in Berlin
"The blow to consumer confidence here is difficult to overstate"
Berliner Zeitung Correspondant, Tom Levene
"The German politicians did not believe BSE was a German problem"





See also:

05 Jan 01 | Europe
Fresh ban on European beef
01 Dec 00 | Europe
Germany approves animal feed ban
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