The embattled politician, a member of Scholz’s Social Democrats, is under increasing pressure to resign after her widely-slammed New Year’s Eve message and her son’s vacation in northern Germany in a military helicopter. The public relations blunder adds to broader criticism of her handling of the Department of Defense’s war response and plans to overhaul the country’s military.
Ukraine to Germany: Send armored vehicles to continue pressure on Russia
Her resignation left the government scrambling ahead of a key meeting this week of Western allies led by the United States at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to coordinate military support for Ukraine. Germany is under pressure to bolster support by sending Leopard 2 main battle tanks and give Poland the green light to re-export German-made tanks from its stockpile to Kyiv.
Government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said at a news conference on Monday that Schulz had accepted his resignation and would make a decision on his replacement “as soon as possible.”
Lambrecht, who was appointed defense minister in Schulz’s first government more than a year ago, has been criticized from the start for his inexperience. In January last year, she was mocked for making a statement announcing Germany’s decision to send Ukraine 5,000 helmets instead of weapons, and in her first interview she admitted not knowing the rank.
Last spring, she allowed her son to join her in a government-owned helicopter to the German island of Sylt for the Easter break.
However, the New Year’s greetings were seen as the last straw to crush a series of embarrassments. In a video posted to her Instagram account, she stood outside a Berlin street with fireworks behind her, reflecting on a year when “Europe was at war”.
“What’s tied to that for me is the many special impressions I’ve been able to have, the many, many encounters with interesting and great people,” she said. “For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
“Lambrecht shames all of Germany!” read the headline in German tabloid Bild, Europe’s most read newspaper. It criticized production values as an “embarrassing emeritus village chief” and described her remark that did not mention Ukraine’s suffering as “disgraceful”.
But there are also concerns about her ability to guide German defense policy at such a critical time. Her ability to execute correctly on spending on Germany’s more than $100 billion military transformation fund has been called into question.
Nearly a year after Scholz announced the funding in his “Zeitenwende” speech as part of a turning point in German defense policy, some analysts say the German army is worse underfunded than it was to begin with.
Germany has struggled to meet its commitment to NATO’s quick-reaction force after all 18 Cougar infantry fighting vehicles earmarked for deployment failed during a training exercise last month. The Ministry of Defense said it would use the decades-old Marders instead.
The German army has been poorly equipped for years, and the new funding is expected to improve that. But Germany backtracked on finally meeting its NATO pledge to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.
Scholz is under pressure to find a replacement before allied defense ministers, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, arrive in the country on Friday for the Ramstein conference.
Ahead of the meeting, Germany softened its stance on sending tanks to Ukraine. Economy Minister Robert Habeck said last week that Berlin should not block Poland’s decision to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine. Since the tanks were built in Germany, they needed to be dispatched from Berlin in order to be dispatched to the battlefield.
But German arms maker Rheinmetall said it would take until next year to refurbish and repair its stockpile of Panther tanks, dashing hopes that Berlin could quickly send its own tanks.
“The vehicles had to be completely dismantled and rebuilt,” chief executive Armin Papperger told Bild newspaper on Sunday.
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