UPDATE 2-Weakened Merkel offers German cabinet job to arch critic

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BERLIN, Feb 25 (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday she would promote her most prominent critic from within her conservative party, Jens Spahn, to a coalition cabinet, in a sign she is heeding calls for renewal.

Although she has agreed a deal with the leaders of the Social Democrats (SPD) for a new "grand coalition", Merkel needs the blessing of both camps to be sure of a fourth term. Approval from SPD members is far from certain.

She announced her choice of six cabinet ministers from her Christian Democrats (CDU) before the party votes on the deal on Monday.

She said she had put together a dynamic and young team.

"It was my task to present a tableau of people that is future-oriented and that offers a good mix of experience and new faces," said Merkel, noting that she was the only one to be over 60 years old. "This is anything but easy."

Giving Spahn the post of health minister is an indication that she wants to assuage her critics who have called for fresh blood and a new direction.

Spahn is a champion of the party's right who has fiercely attacked her open-door policy on immigration. The 37-year-old has been a deputy finance minister since 2015 and prior to that he was a health expert in the party. He makes little secret of his ambitions to rise to the top.

She said she believed Spahn was interested in working with her to get things done and that she did not have a problem that he had, like others, expressed criticism previously.

However, the decision is a sign of how much Merkel's position has weakened since the conservatives' poor showing in September's national election. Commentators also say it is a shrewd move to stretch an olive branch to her most outspoken critic to keep him on board.

Merkel also, as expected, said she would put long-standing ally Peter Altmaier in charge of the economy ministry and keep Ursula von der Leyen, whose star has faded after being tipped as a possible successor to Merkel, as defence minister.

The CDU head in the state of Rhineland Palatinate Julia Kloeckner will take agriculture. Other CDU ministers are new faces. Anja Karliczek, 46, will take over as education minister and Helge Braun, 45, is set to take over the chancellor's office, said the source.


After 12 years as chancellor and almost 18 years as CDU chief, Merkel's authority is waning and the party is starting to think about who will succeed her.

Her conservative bloc, which also includes Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU), scored its worst result since 1949 in last year's election after bleeding support to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Merkel faced parliamentary revolts from some conservatives over international bailouts for Greece, and much grumbling over her liberal refugee policy.

A further blow came in November when she failed to agree on a coalition deal with two smaller parties, forcing her to turn to the SPD with which she shared power from 2013 to 2017.

A reluctant partner, having seen support fall to its lowest since World War Two, the SPD announces the result of a postal ballot of members on March 4. The outcome is unclear although there are some signs that members will approve the deal.

If members vote "no", the most likely outcome is a new election or possibly a minority government.

Some analysts say the prospect of a new election will spur SPD members into voting 'yes' because their party has slumped further in opinion polls. An Emnid poll on Sunday showed the SPD down two points from a week ago at 17 percent.

In response to growing rumblings in her party about her future, Merkel had promised to "renew" her government.

She took a big step to grooming a successor last week by nominating ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, premier of the tiny western Saarland state, to take over as CDU general secretary.

The SPD and CSU will announce their cabinet choices later. (Additional reporting by Thorsten Severin; Editing by Jane Merriman, John Stonestreet and William Maclean)