Despite the tense situation in Germany, Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser treated herself to a short vacation in Mallorca. She received massive criticism for this. Rightly so?
Going on vacation is a delicate matter for top politicians. Because instead of getting relaxation, it costs some people their jobs. Federal Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping was fired in 2002 because, among other things, he was photographed splashing in a pool on Mallorca with his new partner while the Bundeswehr entrusted to him was about to deploy abroad.
He was fired by then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who would probably be happy today if pool photos were the only thing he could be accused of. But this is another story.
The Green Party politician Anne Spiegel’s fate came when she went on a four-week family vacation ten days after the devastating Ahr Valley flood. She came under so much pressure that she ultimately had to resign from her position – even though at that point she was no longer state environment minister but had been federal family minister for four months.
Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) is currently facing allegations of vacation. The “Bild” photographed her in a summer dress and sandals on Mallorca and made the headline: “Flip-Flop-Faeser: Germany is going down the drain – Faeser is going swimming.” This shouldn’t make the situation any easier for the minister, who was counted after her unsuccessful election campaign in Hesse.
Merkel’s spokesman’s trick
Angela Merkel’s former government spokesman Steffen Seibert had such dangers in mind. Whenever he was asked by journalists where the Chancellor planned to spend her vacation, he replied: “You know, the Chancellor is NEVER on vacation.” When pictures of Angela Merkel appeared in a hiking outfit in South Tyrol or in a swimsuit in Ischia, it always seemed as if the Chancellor had just laboriously wrested a few short hours of time off.
From a strategic perspective, this may be a successful trick, but it leaves the basic question unanswered: Are top politicians allowed to go on vacation? Or does the immense responsibility they bear not require (at least temporarily) giving up such forms of leisure?
Of course politicians should go on vacation too! In fact, you have to. Even though many of them have a more robust constitution than the average citizen, they are not machines. They also need rest in order to fulfill their tasks as well as possible. Studies show that people with persistently high levels of stress and little sleep experience a decline in the quality of their work. Holidaying politicians should therefore be in our own interest.
There is a rule of thumb
However, symbolism also plays an enormously important role in politics. And the rule of thumb applies here: the more tense the situation, the less likely it is to take a vacation. Because it sends the message that no one cares. Or that you can actually do without him or her.
As understandable as it may be that Faeser urgently needed a break after the (self-chosen) double burden of the ministerial office and the Hesse election campaign, she is so unhappy that she is taking it now. After the Hamas attacks in Israel, there is also an increased risk of terrorism in Germany. Islamists are trying to bring anti-Semitic hatred onto German streets, Jews are receiving death threats and Jewish institutions are being attacked. At the same time, the refugee issue is still simmering.
This all falls into the department for which Faeser is responsible. When she’s on vacation at times like this, she quickly gets the impression that she doesn’t care enough or perhaps no longer has the skills to do so.
If in doubt, it is better to avoid or postpone
This may all be wrong. But it shows that top politicians need a good instinct as to when they can afford something that is normal for other people. If in doubt, it is better to forego or postpone if you do not want to risk a loss of trust. Then you can have a carefree vacation.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.