German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) officially announced her resignation on Monday, after a weekend of speculation over her future.
Lambrecht had been under intense pressure because of a video she posted to Instagram on New Year’s Day from the streets of Berlin, in which she attempted to recap her experiences of the war in Ukraine but was nearly drowned out by the sound of fireworks exploding around her.
Members of the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) called the message tone deaf and urged her to resign.
“The months-long media attention on my person hardly allows for objective reporting and discussion of the military, the Bundeswehr and security policy decisions in the interests of German citizens,” Lambrecht wrote in a statement on Monday. .
Scholz: replacement will be announced soon
Chancellor Olaf Scholz had stuck with Lambrecht until the end, describing her as “first class” as recently as December.
Scholz said Monday he had a “clear idea” of Lambrecht’s replacement plans and would make his intentions known soon, but said it was too early to discuss Monday. He praised Lambrecht for his work to introduce reforms in one of Germany’s most notoriously difficult ministries.
“She has worked with immense commitment to move away from the paths we have traveled for decades so that we can manage the major restart that is needed both for national defense and also for Ukraine,” he said. .
A difficult year in defense
Lambrecht’s tenure, even before the war in Ukraine, began inauspiciously. Military experts were uncertain of his experience, and his year in office became a succession of minor scandals. Lambrecht also had to respond to much of the criticism over the German government’s reluctance to send heavy weapons to Ukraine.
But it didn’t help that she took her adult son on an official trip to a military unit in northern Germany in a German armed forces helicopter, only to continue with him on vacation to Sylt.
But perhaps more important than the family scandals was an apparent loss of faith in the armed forces, with leaks appearing in German media in recent weeks.
A source said The mirror this weekend that the Ministry of Defense had fallen into a “deep lethargy” under Lambrecht’s leadership. “What ultimately led her to resign was essentially a complete loss of authority within the Ministry of Defence,” said Rafael Loss, defense expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). “I think that suggested that even if she had continued as minister it would have been largely a lost cause.”
Scholz hopes his new appointment will bring some stability to the ministry. Suggested candidates in the German media include SPD leader Lars Klingbeil, longtime labor minister Hubertus Heil and Eva Högl, the Bundeswehr’s special parliamentary commissioner for the army. A successor is almost certain to come from Scholz’s SPD, in order to maintain the balance in the Cabinet agreed upon in coalition negotiations. Scholz also promised to maintain gender parity in his cabinet.
Big job for the new person
Whoever the new minister is, he will have to get on track. The first order of business will be to prepare a “Ukrainian contact group” of NATO defense ministers on Friday at the US Air Force base in Ramstein, western Germany.
The loss at ECFR thinks Scholz could use the meeting to reset Germany’s policy on Ukraine, which has come under international pressure.
“The resignation opens up the opportunity for Scholz to change the narrative around Germany’s support for Ukraine,” he told DW. “If he had an interest in showing more leadership before the Ramstein Air Force Base meeting, then I think this resignation gives him a chance to tell how everything is going to change.”
Whoever he is, the German defense minister will ultimately have little to say about major decisions about weapons to send to Ukraine, but will have a lot to do.
“NATO has already imposed significant burdens on the Bundeswehr in terms of current deployment,” Loss said. “The next two years will dramatically increase the operational tempo and requirements of the Bundeswehr, and that will be a challenge. The job of the next defense minister will be to manage all of this, without losing the support of the armed forces, as apparently Christine Lambrecht did it.”
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