Germany may replace defence minister who has become magnet for negative publicity

Chancellor has only days to find a replacement ahead of a meeting on Friday at the US airforce base

Chancellor Olaf Scholz is reportedly hunting for a new defence minister after his original choice, Christine Lambrecht, indicated she would resign this week after a year of gaffes and bad luck.

After Russia invaded Ukraine last February, prompting Mr Scholz to announce a €100 billion “watershed” military response, Ms Lambrecht was already viewed as a weak spot in his strategy.

With little experience in the defence field and, senior army figures lamented, little apparent interest in learning, Ms Lambrecht soon become a magnet for negative publicity.

Images of her inspecting troops in the field in a flak jacket and high heels prompted widespread mockery, as did her court battles to cover social media traces of trips with her son on official planes that mixed work and holidays.


The final straw was a wobbly New Year’s video posted to her private Instagram account where Ms Lambrecht, struggling to be heard above fireworks in Berlin, reflected on nearly a year of war in Ukraine.

In what could be heard, the defence minister said that the conflict made her think of “many special impressions, many encounters with interesting, great people”.

After the video went viral, and two-thirds of Germans in a poll insisted she had to go, not even her previous defenders in the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) stood by her in public.

When a spokesman for Mr Scholz insisted last week that the chancellor had a “close and trusting” relationship with his defence minister, political Berlin started its resignation stopwatch.

Now the chancellor has only days to find a replacement ahead of a meeting on Friday at the US airforce base in Rammstein. Two SPD women’s names are in circulation: deputy defence minister Siemtje Möller and Eva Högl, Bundestag armed forced commissioner.

If Mr Scholz disregards self-imposed cabinet gender-balance rules, he could draw on SPD co-leader Lars Klingbeil, a senior ally who comes from a military family.

Even with a new minister, however, Germany’s old problems remain, in particular the ongoing battle to reverse two decades of military underinvestment – in a drastic new security environment.

As well as joining long waiting lists for military equipment, any new minister will have to do battle with dysfunctional procurement policies that could yet collapse Germany’s watershed defence plan.

With new military equipment increasingly a distant dream, making do is becoming increasingly impossible. Bundeswehr training manoeuvres were ended prematurely last month when all 18 Puma vehicles involved broke down. With military planes and helicopters in a similar state of disrepair, Germany has told Nato allies it is struggling to meet additional alliance commitments triggered by the Ukraine war.

Despite these struggles, Germany continues stepping up its military contributions to Ukraine: machine guns, ammunition, grenades, anti-aircraft missiles, Patriot air defence systems and, last October, an IRIS ground-based air defence system.

Along with the US, France and the UK, Germany announced last week that it would supply additional troop transport vehicles and light tanks.

Later this week in Rammstein, southwest of Frankfurt, German officials will face growing pressure from allies to pass on to Ukraine its own heavy Leopard 2 tanks.

Some Nato sources told Bloomberg that they were confident Germany would make a decision on the Leopards at or before the meeting. Last week, senior German cabinet ministers said Berlin would not stand in the way of other countries – including Finland and Poland – passing on their German-made Leopard tanks to Kyiv.

However, German government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said the terms of sale of Leopard tanks make it illegal for Leopard owners to pass on their tanks without Berlin’s permission.

“The approval by the federal government is needed; those are the rules,” Ms Hoffman said, adding that Poland had yet to file a request.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin