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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Defense Minister: Last act of a tragedy: who comes to Lambrecht?

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Just recently, the chancellor called Christine Lambrecht a “first-rate defense minister.” The successor debate is now underway, even before an official resignation.

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In the end, it might have been one mistake too many. The problems with the inadequate equipment of the Bundeswehr, the hesitant reordering of ammunition and the question marks after the Puma breakdowns.

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Then there were the blunders: from the internationally ridiculed announcement of a delivery of 5,000 safety helmets to Ukraine, to a photo of the son on tour in a military helicopter, to the bizarre New Year’s video in front of the Berlin New Year’s Eve fireworks display with the statement “A war is raging in the middle of Europe”. . Even before this video, which opposition politicians classified as “embarrassing,” articles about Christina Lambrecht in German satirical programs regularly caused amusement.

Lambrecht was accused of a noticeable alienation with everything military, professional disinterest, even lack of diligence. She always firmly and confidently denied such allegations. On Thursday in Saxony at an appointment with Panzergrenadiers, she made up her mind. When Lambrecht appeared before the press with armaments managers in Berlin at 3:46 p.m. the following Friday, there was no sign of official weariness. The defense department recently said that she could not see any mistakes in the administration and felt publicly harassed by critics.

“Defense Minister Lambrecht wants to resign”

A good four hours after Lambrecht’s appearance, the “Bild” newspaper sent a message out into the world that was surprising – at least as far as the timing was concerned. “Defense Minister Lambrecht wants to resign,” writes the newspaper. Without Lambrecht confirming the news, the successor debate broke out at the weekend. Several candidates are traded. One of them is Labor Minister Hubertus Heil, a politician who works comparatively quietly and who, for reasons of parity, might then have to be replaced by a woman in the current position. Or the military commissioner Eva Högl, who now knows the content well? Many are betting on Lars Klingbeil, the SPD co-chairman who is interested in security policy and a soldier’s son. Filling the position with a junior employee from the second or third row is probably not an option in these challenging times.

Lambrecht himself is silent at the weekend, the Chancellor does not respond to questions about the personnel. Is the notification of resignation a deliberate indiscretion from the closest management circle? How much Lambrecht wants to go or whether she might be pushed a little remains to be seen.

The lawyer started with a big announcement a few weeks before the start of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. “Helicopters that don’t fly and guns that don’t hit the target have often been the subject of ridicule,” she said in January last year, emphasizing that “a very tough job” had to be drilled. She wants to thoroughly modernize the procurement system, more flexible budget management, changed procurement law and more efficiency. She said confidently: “My saying is always: If it were easy, others would do it.”

No one had her on their list as Secretary of Defense

Hardly anyone had the politician on the slip for such an office before Lambrecht received her certificate of appointment in December 2021. Although she was Federal Minister of Justice in the last cabinet of Angela Merkel (CDU), she then decided – at a time when an SPD election success was still considered unlikely – to no longer run for the Bundestag. After more than 20 years in Berlin’s political establishment, Lambrecht was practically a dropout. When the tide turned in favor of the SPD after internal disputes, bankruptcies, bad luck and breakdowns at the Union and its top candidate Armin Laschet, Lambrecht was approached. A competent political manager was sought for an office that is commonly considered an ejection seat. Lambrecht agreed, although she might have preferred to become Minister of the Interior.

From 1998 to 2021, the Hessian was a member of the Bundestag and became deputy SPD parliamentary group leader in 2011. In 2014, the lawyer and party leftist became the first woman to hold the office of parliamentary manager of the parliamentary group, a job pulling the strings. Since Scholz chose Karl Lauterbach for a man in the office of Federal Minister of Health, an SPD woman in the defense department was practically set for reasons of parity. “For many, the nomination as Secretary of Defense will come as a surprise,” said Lambrecht when she was received with military honors when she took office in December 2021.

At that time, the security situation in Europe was already tense. But it seemed to be primarily about reforms, in an apparatus paralyzed by regulations, not about the rapid deployment of large units that could also be used for war if necessary. When the Chancellor announced that he wanted to rebuild the Bundeswehr with 100 billion euros from a special fund set up for this purpose, doubts arose as to whether she was the right person to put this mammoth program into practice. Actually, a kind of liberation would be necessary for this, in which the previous set of rules, which makes procurement a tough business, is sometimes overridden. Or, as the Commissioner for the Armed Forces put it in December, the 100 billion euros should not be allocated “within the existing structures and procedures” if progress is to be made.

Politicians from the traffic light coalition repeatedly emphasize that many problems in the Bundeswehr have their origin in the austerity measures of the Merkel years and that the ministers of the Union have set the course for this when the criticism of Lambrecht from the CDU and CSU becomes louder. In direct discussions with the minister, however, some of them repeatedly criticize their conduct of office.

Lambrecht’s stumbling, the Chancellor’s hesitation

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) stood by his minister the whole time. Lambrecht put away the criticism, including criticism that could have been directed more directly at the chancellor. Example of the Marder armored personnel carrier: Since the government did not plan ahead of time, it is now being considered how the 40 armored vehicles for the Ukraine can be assembled.

In the months since the Russian attack on Ukraine began, Germany has faced a lot of criticism, especially from its eastern allies. The German contribution to arms aid to Ukraine is considerable. But when it comes down to it, others lead the way, as Poland and Great Britain recently announced they would supply main battle tanks.

Lambrecht’s stumbling, the Chancellor’s hesitation. Not only the Union demands that a decision on the Lambrecht cause must be made quickly. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is expected in Berlin on Thursday. Ramstein talks on further military aid to Ukraine are scheduled for Friday. In one month, host Germany wants to discuss the course with allies and partners at the Munich Security Conference (MSC).

Source: Stern

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