German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht has resigned after enduring a year of heavy criticism over repeated public blunders, her response to the war in Ukraine and slow progress on a planned military buildup.
Ms Lambrecht is the most senior member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government to step down so far, and her departure is likely to be seen as a blow to him and his party, the Social Democrats, leading members of his three-party government coalition. .
Mr. Scholz had repeatedly defended Mrs. Lambrecht, a former justice minister and fellow Social Democrat, calling her a “first-rate defense minister” in a recent interview with the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Since taking office when Mr Scholz’s government took office last year, Ms Lambrecht has been dogged by critics and has become a focal point of attack for conservative Christian Democrats, the main opposition party.
She had no previous military experience and was widely seen by fellow politicians and security experts as lacking interest in leading the Ministry of Defense. According to Germany’s top-selling daily Bild, Ms Lambrecht had been unable to name German military ranks in an interview with the paper.
“The media that has focused on me as a person for months hardly allows objective reporting and discussion of the German military, armed forces and security policy decisions in the interests of German citizens,” said Ms. Lambrecht in a statement released on Monday. Morning.
The resignation came at a difficult time for Mr Scholz, whose government faces increasing pressure to send its Leopard 2 heavy tanks to Ukraine – or to allow other European countries to send their Leopard tanks. Countries are required to receive approval from Berlin before sending German-made weapons. But his departure is not expected to change Germany’s reluctance so far to send tanks: that decision has always been seen as a chancery decision.
A successor to Ms. Lambrecht has yet to be announced, and finding one could present another challenge for Mr. Scholz. The Ministry of Defense is often very difficult to fill in Germany, especially in the ranks of the Social Democrats, a party which is still struggling internally to abandon a pacifist foreign policy in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. . Another option he has is to redesign the cabinet.
Ms Lambrecht had faced growing public scorn since the start of the war in Ukraine. As European nations debated sending weapons to Kyiv at the start of the invasion, Ms Lambrecht trumpeted a delivery of 5,000 helmets. She was the face of the government’s repeated procrastination over arms shipments, despite pursuing a policy largely led by Mr. Scholz.
“She was the wrong person for the job at such a critical time, when everyone was looking to Europe’s greatest power to do more,” said Ulrike Franke, German defense expert at the European Council. foreign relations.
Criticism intensified last summer when it emerged that Ms Lambrecht had used a government helicopter to take her son on a family holiday.
More recently, opposition parties in Germany claimed that Ms Lambrecht was responsible for the slow rollout of a defense fund worth 100 billion euros, or about $108 billion, as part of a government’s plan to significantly strengthen its army in response to the war. in Ukraine. Germany has limited supplies of basic ammunition, sufficient for only hours or days of combat.
Ms Franke said that while the outgoing Defense Minister had often been attacked for decisions actually taken by the Chancellery, Ms Lambrecht’s main flaw was her inability or unwillingness to embrace the Chancellor’s proclaimed plan of a “Zeitenwende “, or turning point, in Germany’s foreign and military policy.
One of the main goals set by Mr. Scholz was to prepare the German armed forces for an era of heightened insecurity in Europe, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“She didn’t seem to want to drive any real reform efforts,” Ms. Franke said. “With the Zeitenwende there was a real openness to change things, and it didn’t seem like she had the ambition to do that.”
The final straw appears to have been a goofy video posted on New Year’s Eve on Ms Lambrecht’s personal Instagram account. In it, Ms Lambrecht discussed the war in Ukraine and offered seasonal greetings against the noisy backdrop of fireworks in Berlin. Critics called her deaf, and even her own ministry distanced itself from the video, saying it was a personal statement.
Last week, the cover story of German news magazine Der Spiegel took aim at the government’s progress in revitalizing the military, and in that story, Ms Lambrecht again came under heavy criticism, from members German forces accusing him of letting the army fall into a state of “sepsis”.
In her statement, Ms Lambrecht said she hoped her resignation would put the public’s attention back where it belonged. “The valuable work of the soldiers and the many motivated people in the area of operations must be front and center,” she said.
Christopher F. Schuetze contributed report.