GERMANY – Despite his surprise resignation as chairman of the Social Democrats, Franz Müntefering is expected to honour his pledge to serve as Germany’s next pensions minister.

In a letter to the SPD membership Müntefering today signalled that he would in fact be part of the next government. “Fellow party members, the generation change at the top of the SPD is occurring earlier than I had thought,” he wrote. “I want to help it happen from within the government if it is established.”

“Although Müntefering decided to step down as SPD chairman, he didn’t say he wouldn’t serve in Chancellor_Angela Merkel’s cabinet,” Klaus Stiefermann, managing director of German occupational pensions lobby aba, told IPE. “I therefore assume that he will be the next pensions minister.”

Stiefermann noted that his expectation was underpinned by the fact that there were no other obvious candidates for the job within the SPD. “I haven’t heard any other name mentioned, not even Walter Riester,” he said.

Riester, a former senior union official and SPD pensions minister from 1998 to 2002, was the architect of the 2001 pension reforms which boosted the second and third pillars.

In a surprise move, Müntefering resigned as SPD leader on 31 October. The step appeared to undermine efforts to build a ‘grand coalition’ between the SPD and the conservative CDU/CSU under CDU head Angela Merkel as chancellor when CSU head Edmund Stoiber said that due to the new situation he no longer wished to serve as economics minister in Merkel’s cabinet.

Yet Professor Wolfgang Gerke, one of Germany’s leading experts on finance and pensions, observed that Müntefering was more or less obliged to honour his pledge, as otherwise the coalition talks would likely collapse.

“If Müntefering follows Stoiber’s example, the dam would simply break and I would expect the calling of new elections,” Gerke told IPE.

“New elections at this point are not in the SPD’s interest,” Gerke added, suggesting that the party would suffer greatly at the polls, prompting the election victory the centre-right was denied in the recent inconclusive election.