German defense minister set to resign after string of mistakes

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht is considering resigning, according to a German government source, following a series of mistakes that seriously damaged her credibility as commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces.

The person said Lambrecht could announce his decision to step down as soon as next week.

His resignation will trigger enormous uncertainty at a time when Germany faces a momentous decision on whether to break with long-standing policy and supply battle tanks to Ukraine, a decision that Chancellor Olaf Scholz has so far been reluctant to take.

Lambrecht was seen as a weak leader of a ministry that is at a critical juncture in its history. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Scholz’s government promised a massive increase in military spending and created a €100 billion investment fund for the Bundeswehr, German armed forces, marking a fresh start after years of underfunding.

But the new equipment and weapons systems promised by Scholz to the military have yet to materialize, with Lambrecht often blamed for the slow implementation of spending reforms.

Anger over the poor state of the Bundeswehr erupted last month after a training exercise in which all 18 Puma infantry vehicles deployed in the exercise had to be taken out of service. The Puma is one of the most modern and advanced pieces of equipment in the army.

Bild Zeitung, the mainstream daily, first reported Lambrecht’s intention to quit, saying she made the decision herself and was not being sacked by Scholz.

Potential replacements include Eva Högl, the parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces, and Siemtje Möller, the young defense minister.

Another possible successor is Lars Klingbeil, leader of Lambrecht’s party, the Social Democrats (SPD), who comes from a military family.

But Klingbeil’s chances are seen as slim, as Scholz has pledged to have an equal number of male and female ministers in his cabinet, and bringing in the SPD leader would upset the gender balance.

Lambrecht was for a long time one of the least popular ministers in Scholz’s cabinet. But calls for her to step down intensified after an awkward New Year’s Eve speech on Instagram in which she struggled to be heard above the sound of exploding fireworks and firecrackers in central Berlin.

In the video, she refers to the war raging in Ukraine, then adds that the conflict for her is associated with “many special impressions, many meetings with interesting and great people”.

The address was seen as spectacularly misjudged, even by close SPD allies, while many cabinet colleagues were left speechless with embarrassment. “After that debacle, it was a dead woman walking,” said a person familiar with the situation.

Opposition Christian Democrats called on Scholz to fire her immediately after the Instagram scandal, but he backed her up. Just days ago, his spokesman said the chancellor had a good, trusting relationship with all of his cabinet colleagues, and “that goes for as well” for Lambrecht. In a December interview, Scholz described her as a “first-class defense minister.”

Instagram faux pas was the latest in a series of blunders that had left Lambrecht’s reputation in tatters. In December 2021, she confessed in an interview that she did not know the different ranks of the army: five months later, she confided to another newspaper that she still did not know them.

She was widely mocked shortly after the start of the Ukrainian war when asked if Germany would provide military aid and replied that she would send 5,000 helmets to Kyiv.

She also drew widespread criticism after flying on vacation with her son using a government helicopter. He paid for the trip himself, but the public furor that erupted was seen as highly damaging, both to Lambrecht and to the ministry.

Many observers have said that Lambrecht never really wanted to be defense minister – she would have preferred to be appointed interior minister.

In a recent poll conducted by the organization Civey for the t-online news portal, 77% of respondents called for her to be fired, and only 13% said she should stay on.

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