Olaf Scholz and Christine Lambrecht: How the chancellor drives his training minister

BSo far, the Berlin Security Conference has been a kind of intra-industry meeting. Organized by “Behörden Spiegel”, according to its own description, “the leading media of the public service”, the army met with representatives of the armaments sector. There were special lectures, but no money for business. In the audience, along with several former generals, were defense attachés from Berlin embassies seeking information for their diplomatic cable reports. A special event.

However, the conference was given a political boost in the wake of the war in Ukraine. Money for weapons is also sudden. So on Wednesday and Thursday of this week 1,500 participants gathered at the Berlin Hotel in Prenzlauer Berg, including two heads of government, the NATO secretary general, six military chiefs and a dozen ministers from across Europe.

Apart from Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Kerstor, Olaf Scholz (SPD) was among the participants, which fits the chancellor’s defense policy course. Scholz has been particularly concerned with the German armed forces and defense policy since he announced his “turnaround” at the end of February after the Russian offensive.

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As finance minister under his predecessor, Angela Merkel (CDU), he joined the ranks of government politicians who were verbally open to the Bundeswehr but refused to provide them with the funds they needed to carry out their tasks. Now Scholz will have to look at how he can whip back into shape the troops that have been neglected under Merkel.

In any case, the president did not want to leave it to his defense minister alone. Scholz chose Christine Lambrecht (SPD) a year ago to meet various quota requirements for his cabinet. Also, he may have believed that the former attorney general could easily run the department in normal times.

But now there is war in Europe, and Lambrecht’s status as Bundesliga coach is proving increasingly problematic. Your first year in office was a tolerable understanding of the Bundeswehr system. His thirst for action was limited to a few amendments to the Public Procurement Act, an area he was familiar with as a lawyer. Otherwise, the newspapers mainly reported on matters such as private family trips with the son in the service helicopter.

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Lambrecht’s failure

Additionally, Lambrecht’s approach, emerging from uncertainty, was to make as little change as possible to the structures of the Bundeswehr as a whole, which former military commissar Hans-Peter Bartels (SPD) called a “bureaucratic monster”, which many leaders attempted. A handful of Indians leading a dysfunctional corporate model doesn’t fit Scholson’s claim of a breakthrough. The Bundeswehr is prepared for overseas missions such as Afghanistan, but the procedures are no longer relevant to national and alliance defense within the framework of NATO, which is now again required. Lambrecht implemented only a few pieces of the reform concept developed by the Inspector General under his predecessor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU). Most of the papers are considered contaminated because they were written during the CDU politician’s tenure.

Olaf Scholes and Christine Lambrecht (both SPD) speak at the Bundestag

Olaf Scholes and Christine Lambrecht (both SPD) speak at the Bundestag

Source: dpa/Kay Nietfeld

“You’ve never heard from any soldier that there’s an urgent need for structural reform,” Lambrecht said. “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”. The chancellor seems to be talking to other players. “The Bundeswehr’s breakthrough is about more than a lot of money,” Scholes told the conference. “From procurement to equipment, from strategy to operations, we need more decision-making, more willingness to take risks and more efficient structures.”

Another sentence from the chancellor’s speech was mentioned to Lambrecht by some listeners. “Act before it’s too late to regret,” Scholes quoted Nobel Peace Prize winner Fridtjof Nunns. Although Lambrecht must have been aware of the lack of ammunition in the armed forces, the minister failed to prioritize negotiating more money for the main budget in the 100 billion euro special loan pot or as an alternative in budget negotiations.

After Schalls convened a munitions summit at the presidential palace on Monday evening, according to Lambrecht, the Ordnance Department there said it could “temporarily supply or at least produce a significant amount of urgently needed munitions.” In the short to medium term,” the defense minister wrote aloud “Spiegel” A begging letter to Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP). To accept the offer, they need cash immediately and “significantly,” it says.

Lambrecht’s secret is why he did not negotiate with the industry in the last nine months, did not record the necessary funds in the budget process that was completed on time, and instead is now trying to publicly pressure the finance minister. Along with the traffic light alliance, it is now considered Scholes’ biggest concern in the cabinet. The question is being asked more and more bluntly why a minister who enjoys the patronage of the Chancellor and is paid more than his predecessors is making primarily negative headlines.

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Patriot anti-aircraft missiles are used by 18 countries worldwide, including Germany.  The GEM-T version may be used by the Bundeswehr in the future

Either way, that won’t be enough to hide behind Scholes in the long run. At the Berlin Security Conference too, the minister had hinted at the start of his speech that the important part would come later when the president appeared. The rest is a summary of previous decisions taken by the head of government since the outbreak of war: arms deliveries to Ukraine, promises made to NATO at the Madrid summit, the European anti-aircraft defense initiative and, of course, a 100 billion euro loan fund to equip the German armed forces.

The only remaining contribution was Lambrecht’s announcement that he wanted to add two points to the national security strategy being developed under the Federal Foreign Office: anchoring a two percent spending target on defense and less restrictive export guidelines for arms to cooperate. Other Europeans must allow. On both counts, however, he will need the support of the presidency to assert himself against the more vocal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbach (Greens), who is skeptical of both.

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On the other hand, the substantial news came back from Scholz himself. On Tuesday, the head of government had already promised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj to expect further deliveries of Cheetah anti-aircraft gun tanks. When he appeared with Norway’s Premier Storr at the defense conference, Scholz announced a joint initiative: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg should be asked to protect gas pipelines and internet links in the northern seas, according to the wishes of Germany and Norway. Sea and Baltic Sea from Attacks – Reaction to recent attacks on two Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea.

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A leopard tank in Qatar, photo taken in 2018

Scholz assured the Bundeswehr that the first orders for fighter jets, tanks and other items from the 100 billion euro loan package would be delivered this year: “We want to conclude this year the first supply contracts for the purchase of the F-35, the retrofitting of the Puma infantry fighting vehicle and the procurement of more snow vehicles.” Chancellor puts pressure on Lambrecht.

“He has again found good and clear words about Germany’s role in defense policy,” praised Colonel Andre Wastner, head of the German Bundeswehr Association. According to him, the speech was well received by the international audience that came to the conference: “It underscores that, together with our partners, it is more than ever about deterrence and deterrence.”

However, prevention is not only about “willing” but also about “able,” according to Wastner: “And from Bundeswehr’s point of view, work must continue on more efficient structures and the acceleration of procurement processes.” Shortages of staff also need to be addressed, requiring “an attractive show worthy of its name”. These are tasks that are not handled in the President’s House. “The Ministry of Defense has to be measured against that,” Wüstner said.

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