BERLIN: The new secretary general of Germany's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) on Monday chided the incoming health minister, Jens Spahn, after a media backlash over comments he made on poverty.
Poverty and abortion are the latest faultlines to emerge in the new government, hours before Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) sign their coalition agreement on Monday.
The government, a rerun of the 'grand coalition' that has governed since 2013, takes office on Wednesday, nearly six months after Germany's election.
Spahn, who is a member of Merkel's CDU, told the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper those who received unemployment aid under financial reforms known as Hartz IV were not poor because their basic needs were met.
Secretary general Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said Spahn was correct to say Germany's social system was reviewed regularly to ensure basic needs were met, but said it was impolitic for politicians with higher incomes to tell welfare recipients how they should feel.
Spahn and Kramp-Karrenbauer are both seen as possible successors to Merkel. Spahn sits more on the right-wing of the CDU and Kramp-Karrenbauer is more of a centrist.
Kramp-Karrenbauer told broadcaster ZDF the government would focus on reducing chronic unemployment and preventing people from needing the Hartz IV assistance.
"I always warn that ... people like him and me who earn well should not try to explain how people who receive Hartz IV should feel," she said.
The SPD also criticised Spahn's remarks.
"Our country needs social cohesion, not cold-hearted debates about statistics," said incoming Labour Minister Hubertus Heil of the SPD.
SPD Secretary General Lars Klingbeil said the coalition partners specifically agreed to tackle the issue of old-age and childhood poverty in their agreement.
"Mr Spahn apparently didn't pay enough attention during the coalition negotiations," he said. "We talked explicitly about the fact that there are people in our country who are not doing well."
Merkel was forced to negotiate a deal with the SPD after her talks on a three-way alliance with two smaller parties collapsed last November.
Both the mainstream political blocs suffered their worst post-war election result in the September election, which swept the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) into parliament for the first time amid widespread frustration about the influx of more than a million migrants since 2015.
AfD leader Alexander Gauland told reporters on Monday that his party's gains had already forced the appointment of ministers like Spahn, a frequent critic of Merkel.
"Spahn would not have become minister if his views weren't resonating in the CDU," he said, adding that the election results had spurred Merkel to focus on more critical voices in her party. "And this new insight is thanks to the fact that the AfD has such a great result in the election."
Kramp-Karrenbauer said the two blocs would strive for "constructive" cooperation, but criticised efforts by the SPD to reverse a ban on abortion advertising.
"I think it is notable that the SPD's answer to the fact that we had 100,000 abortions in Germany last year, and that number rose last year, is to lift the ban on advertising for abortions, instead of engaging in the debate to ensure that fewer children are aborted each year," she told ZDF.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Gareth Jones)