Germany's financial fire-fighter steps back, but for how long?

Tue Dec 17, 2013 7:17am EST
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By Annika Breidthardt

BERLIN (Reuters) - Leaving the spotlight of the European Central Bank for a back-office position in a German ministry that pays a fraction of the salary might look at first glance like professional suicide for Joerg Asmussen.

But the slim 47-year-old with the shaved head, at the center of German financial crisis-fighting efforts for over half a decade, may be hoping a strategic step backwards will set him up for bigger and better things down the line, possibly even the German finance ministry.

"There's no question, he's got bigger plans," said one veteran lawmaker from Asmussen's Social Democrats (SPD).

Asmussen's announcement on Sunday that he would return to Berlin after just two years on the ECB's six-member executive board was one of the big surprises of a weekend filled with personnel decisions for Angela Merkel's new government, a "grand coalition" that includes the conservative chancellor's center-left rival, the SPD.

The fireman's son from Flensburg on the Danish border said he was leaving Frankfurt in order to spend more time with his two young daughters in the German capital.

His new job: state secretary in the German labor ministry under fellow Social Democrat Andrea Nahles, a left-winger four years his junior who has no experience as a minister, let alone hob-nobbing with the elite of international finance.

Among Asmussen's new responsibilities will be pensions, European coordination on social policy and the integration of the disabled into the labor force.

After taxes, he will earn just a third of what he did at the ECB, where he was on an annual salary of nearly 270,000 and taxed at low EU rates.   Continued...

European Central Bank (ECB) Executive Board member Joerg Asmussen attends an interview with Reuters in Berlin, February 22, 2013. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski