Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht is loyal to the point of departure.
Saturday 14 January in Lubmin. Here in the Greifswald region, where the GDR operated a nuclear power plant, Germany’s second import terminal for liquefied natural gas went into operation. An opportunity for the Chancellor to present himself as the saviour of all citizens who might suffer from frost this winter. But the press corps that travelled with him was interested in something else: “Mr. Chancellor, when will Ms. Lambrecht’s resignation be announced?” Olaf Scholz apparently ignored the question. Then someone shouts, “Who will succeed her?” This question, too, fades into nothingness.
The fact that Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) is a miscast in office for which she alone is responsible is not just being bandied about by the media. Scholz is under pressure. He is struggling to keep his red-green-yellow government coalition together.
Green Party Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck, who was excused from Lubmin with a fever, is erratically rebelling, and his party colleague, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, doesn’t care about advice from the Chancellor’s Office.
Christian Lindner, the “treasurer”, is also raising the profile of his FDP against the Social Democratic head of cabinet. Energy worries and inflation are robbing Scholz of his already dwindling popular support, and his allies are leading him through the war arena on the Ukrainian tank issue. Germany’s leadership in the EU is crumbling. And then there is Christine Lambrecht…
The best thing Scholz and his SPD can say about Lambrecht is: she was and is a loyal soul. She proved that as justice minister in Merkel’s fourth cabinet, and in an emergency also took over the duties of Franziska Giffey, who had resigned as minister of family affairs. Before that, she kept the SPD parliamentary group in line. After his election victory, Scholz made the reliable woman Defence Minister.
Lambrecht is not a self-promoter, she does not even try to be politically creative. Even now, when demands for the export of heavy weapons to Ukraine are hitting the Chancellery almost hourly, Lambrecht makes herself available as a bogeywoman. She carries out what she is told. It is well known that the chancellor is not very forthcoming, and this explains the often weeks-long silence of his minister.
Allegedly, Lambrecht would have preferred the interior portfolio. In fact, as head of the justice department, she has shown steadfastness in the permanent dispute with the former incumbent Horst Seehofer (CSU). But of course Lambrecht complied with Olaf Scholz’s wishes. Which was not so difficult, because: If you don’t have a recognisable profile of your own, you don’t have to fear any difficulties in discarding your own claims.
There is the accusation that Lambrecht is incapable of fulfilling her office. I agree, although the bar set by her predecessors is not high. She did not even begin to gain the profile of her party colleague Peter Struck, who gained much approval in the armed forces because of his direct ways of expression.
Even after one year in office, Lambrecht has hardly any idea of the military profession.
She has not developed a feel for the troops, and even in the closest military leadership circle the most she can hope for is loyalty through self-discipline. Although Lambrecht filled several political functions in her ministry with people close to her, she was never able to gain a foothold in the Bendler bloc. She also never arrived in the circle of her NATO colleagues. Moreover, the fact that the 57-year-old made no attempt to talk to journalists cost her additional sympathy points. These points were lost when the self-inflicted clumsiness became more frequent. The latest example: Lambrecht’s – well-intentioned and subsequently described as private – New Year’s speech.
The chancellor’s fault lies not so much in the wrong choice of personnel he made a good year ago.
At the latest since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it was clear that the defence portfolio was permanently assuming growing political importance.
Scholz proclaimed the Zeitenwende, the turnaround, and set up a 100-billion-euro “special fund” to better equip and modernise the Bundeswehr. What he did not consider, however, was that the minister in charge is not in a position to manage this huge project. One year after the start of the war, it is not clear how the material that the Bundeswehr handed over to Ukraine in an ad hoc procedure will be replaced. Honesty demands the addition: Decades of mismanagement cannot be remedied in months.
Sure, Lambrecht signed the order for new nuclear bombers, but ordinary soldiers are still waiting for protective waistcoats, radios and ammunition. The breakdown with the “Puma” tanks appeared to her as a chance to show profile. But putting herself on the map against the industry is beyond her strength.
Those who expected Lambrecht to set security policy accents in view of the war in Europe and to come to an agreement with the Foreign Office and the scientific community on ways to reduce tensions were completely out of touch with reality. Instead, Lambrecht allowed herself to be dismissed by self-appointed military experts such as Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (FDP), who chairs the parliamentary defence committee. In sergeant-at-arms style. Not so the CDU/CSU. They cleverly left it at adding up embarrassments and wrong decisions. According to the opposition’s calculations, the minister is really getting Scholz and his coalition into a mess.
Scholz was in a quandary. The loyal Lambrecht freed him from it. For the time being. Because – unlike once SPD comrade Rudolf Scharping, who remained in office until he had to be fired – Lambrecht herself offered to resign. After the departure of Family Affairs Minister Anne Spiegel (Greens) in April 2022, this would be the second change in the Scholz cabinet.
Whoever follows Lambrecht, he will have little time to prepare for the next Ramstein meeting, chaired by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin. There, the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine is to be discussed.
This article has been first published in German by Neues Deutschland, Cross-Border Talks’ partner within the framework of transform!italia-led Media Alliance. It has been translated and adapted by Cross-Border Talks team.