But a lot: the defense minister, whose resignation is apparently imminent, leaves a modest balance sheet after 13 months.
BERLIN taz | Christine Lambrecht showed full commitment in the last meters. retirement plans? Not a trace. On Wednesday, she put on a navy uniform jacket and opened a shipyard in Rostock. On Thursday she inspected Marder tanks in Saxony. Then on Friday she met with generals and industry bosses in Berlin to discuss to advise on the future of the breakdown-prone Puma infantry fighting vehicle. “There is homework that needs to be done,” she told the arms companies and her own people at the subsequent press conference.
Almost as if she finally wanted to polish her reputation and shake off the accusations that she was not at all interested in the Bundeswehr and had not familiarized herself with her job to this day. During this little farewell tour, she must have at least realized that the end was near: Less than four hours after the Puma press conference, she reported picturenewspaper that the SPD politician wants to resign. Someone had leaked the news ahead of schedule. Lambrecht’s ministry did not then deny the report.
An actually meritorious political career – beginnings in local politics, various positions in the SPD parliamentary group, then two and a half passable years as Minister of Justice – is therefore likely to end prematurely and with little glory. In December 2021, new Chancellor Olaf Scholz made the 57-year-old Minister of Defense. With the Russian attack on Ukraine shortly thereafter, the office became one of the most important government departments. In fact, she did not do justice to her task in the months that followed.
In a recent Infratest poll, only 13 percent of voters surveyed said they were satisfied with Lambrecht’s work. If the survey had been carried out in the Bundeswehr or within the traffic light group, the values would not have been higher. Rather the opposite.
Above all, the poor public image has cost trust. Lambrecht is not responsible for everything himself, some of the media criticism was petty to misogynistic from the start. Among other things, she was accused of not wanting to memorize the 83 ranks of the Bundeswehr or of wearing high-heeled shoes when visiting troops in Mali.
Media literacy was lacking
Much else, however, was home-made, not least Lambrecht’s social media activities with a recognizable low social media competence. On Instagram she appears on two accounts as Secretary of Defense. One officially and managed by the Ministry, the other ostensibly private and without professional advice. On New Year’s Eve, she published amateurishly shot and slanted New Year’s greetings: She is pleased, she said, that thanks to the Ukraine war, she has met many interesting people.
Even those who up until then had been on good terms with Lambrecht in political Berlin were now slowly losing faith in a happy ending. Even the SPD no longer really wanted to defend the minister’s appearances.
There was criticism of Lambrecht not only because of her public image, but also because of her substantive work – although the balance here must be somewhat more differentiated. For a change, foreign assignments do not play the greatest role. As the first German defense minister in two decades, Lambrecht did not have to deal with the Afghanistan mission, which finally ended in the summer before she took office. Apart from Mali, there are no other major foreign missions.
Lambrecht also preferred to end the Mali mission sooner rather than later. She argued with the harassment of the Malian military junta and the dangers to which the German soldiers are exposed. This brought Lambrecht into conflict with the Greens and the Foreign Office, who feared a hasty withdrawal and were annoyed by the defense minister’s advances.
As a compromise, a deduction in installments came out, which should be completed by May 2024. So far, the fundamental question of what role foreign missions will play in the future when the main task of the Bundeswehr is to defend the alliance against Russia remains unanswered. Lambrecht did not set any major impetus in this debate.
In the shadow of the chancellor
In any case, the question of military support for Ukraine, specifically arms deliveries, has been a greater public focus in recent months. Here Lambrecht was overshadowed by the Federal Chancellor, who preferred to clarify fundamental issues on his own. A weak defense minister was probably not entirely inconvenient for him.
Lambrecht was left with the thankless task of then managing the deliveries from the Bundeswehr’s meager arsenal and somehow underpinning the Chancellor’s about-faces in communication. Most recently, this applied to the deliveries of Marder armored personnel carriers, which she had described as indispensable for months and was now suddenly able to hand over.
However, the greatest task currently facing the Ministry of Defense is to bring the Bundeswehr into shape, use the 100 billion euros from the special fund sensibly, and prevent new money wasting. Structurally, Lambrecht already presented the first changes in the procurement system in the months after the start of the war. The troops are now allowed to carry out orders under a value of 5,000 euros without a bureaucratic award procedure. This relieves the Bundeswehr Procurement Office and allows it to focus more on large projects.
A major structural reform, which some hoped for, is not in sight. Lambrecht relied more on individual steps that could be implemented quickly.
With a view to specific procurement projects, it is debatable whether Lambrecht has made enough speed after the Federal Chancellor proclaimed the turning point. She ordered new uniforms for the soldiers, which they had wanted for a long time, even before the 100 billion euros from the special fund were sealed. On the other hand, according to the criticism from the traffic light, it took too much time with repeat orders for the empty ammunition depots of the Bundeswehr.
In addition to the question of speed, there is also the question of thoroughness. Lambrecht deliberately took his time with the Puma armored personnel carriers. In December, new breakdowns on the vehicles became known shortly after the Bundestag decided on an expensive retrofit program. Lambrecht stopped the order for the time being and made the manufacturers publicly responsible.
The damage has now been repaired. They were less serious than originally feared. Nevertheless, there are still unanswered questions about the matter, so that Lambrecht stuck to her order freeze even after the meeting with the arms bosses on Friday.
stress for the chancellor
She will no longer decide about the future of the project. It was unclear until Saturday afternoon who would succeed Lambrecht. The Federal Chancellor would certainly have preferred an orderly handover. Since Lambrecht’s plans to resign have become public in advance, Olaf Scholz now has to present a solution under increased time pressure.
A political professional would not be bad: the Department of Defense has traditionally been difficult to lead. It was no surprise that Lambrecht had to struggle with leaks – she had struggled with piercings before her plans to resign. Previous experience in terms of defense policy does not hurt either: in times of war there is little time for familiarization. Because of the desired gender parity in the cabinet, the election would also have to fall on a woman if Scholz wants to avoid a major cabinet reshuffle.
Two names are therefore obvious: Eva Högl, currently Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces, and Siemtje Möller, Parliamentary State Secretary already in the ministry. The SPD’s wing logic speaks against both: Unlike Lambrecht, they are not partisan leftists. Either way there will be a perfect solution than not.