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Minister of Defence - a man's job?
The news that 40 firemen were called out on Sunday to the Berlin apartment of outgoing Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht was the final humiliation of a painful 13 months in office.
The fire, spotted through the window by passersby, was set off by a candle that had burned through an advent wreath. That is an advent wreath, it should be noted, which had been lit close to a month after Christmas…
Let’s just say that punctuality doesn’t appear to have been a strong suit of the minister, who stepped down on Monday after being hammered by the media over her stuttering efforts to rebuild the German army.
Her record in office - a delivery of 500 helmets for Ukraine while Russia amassed troops on the border, repeated assertions that Germany had run out of weapons to give Kyiv, the failure to spend any of the €100 billion special military budget by early December, and a tone deaf New Year’s post to Instagram - has been universally seen as an unmitigated disaster for a ministry that badly needed good leadership during times of war.
And that failure has led some to raise a highly delicate subject: Did Lambrecht only get the job in the first place because she was a woman?
When Olaf Scholz was putting together his cabinet last year he promised to split his cabinet 50-50 along gender lines. Because the liberal Free Democrats refused to play along, Scholz had to appoint four women to the seven ministries controlled by his Social Democrats.
As Justice Minister in the last Merkel government, Lambrecht was the most senior of those female ministers. But she also had no previous experience in defence policies. Other more qualified male candidates, such as SPD chairman Lars Klingbeil, had to give way.
For conservatives, it is clear that the left’s love of identity-based quotas has come back to bite them.
“The superficially equitable idea of gender parity is an indictment of this government, especially when it so obviously comes at the expense of aptitude in the role,” fumed Reinhard Müller in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Robin Alexander, deputy-editor of the conservative daily Die Welt, reminded readers that Lambrecht is the second female minister to have resigned from Scholz’ cabinet in less than a year. In April, families minister Anne Spiegel (Greens) quit after she was found to have lied in her pervious job as a minister in the state government in Rhineland-Palatinate.
“It’s clear that the two ministers who were picked to meet the gender parity rule were Christine Lambrecht and Anne Spiegel, and I don’t think anyone can say that that went well,” Alexander claimed.
Unsurprisingly, those are accusations that have raised hackles on the left.
No one could have predicted that Lambrecht would fail so miserably, writes Rebekka Wiese in Die Zeit. Given her experience, “it was not an outlandish idea” to hand her the job. And besides, the last three male ministers of this famously tricky ministry were all also failures. The fact that Lambrecht failed probably says something about her as a person, it certainly says a lot about the task of running the army… “but it says nothing about whether gender parity is a good idea.”
At any rate, the calls for Scholz to ditch gender parity in his cabinet and instead appoint the most qualified person for the job went far beyond conservative circles.
Public broadcaster ARD even intervened, saying that “in these serious times, Scholz should not give the impression that he has made an appointment to this key ministry on the basis of quotas alone.”
That is advice that Scholz appears to have headed when, on Tuesday, he appointed a male, Boris Pistorius, as Lambrecht’s successor.
Pistorius was up until now interior minister in Lower Saxony. While he has little direct experience of military affairs, he has a long record of working with the police, something that seems to have persuaded Scholz of his credentials.
But, let’s face it, the interior minister of Lower Saxony is a pretty obscure figure to promote to one of the key national ministries. Was there really no female politician with better qualifications for the job?
Two spring to mind. One is the Bundestag’s current army commissioner, Eva Högl, who is said to be popular with the troops due to her commitment to cataloguing their (very) long list of grievances. The other is the chairwoman of the Bundestag defence committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann.
While the later is admittedly a member of junior coalition partner the Free Democrats, what is likely to have counted against both is their forthright demands for more military support for Ukraine.
Perhaps the Green politician, who observed on Tuesday that “Scholz has no space in his cabinet for strong women,” had a point.
And - for the record - the end of the saga of Lambrecht’s scorched advent wreath proves that she isn’t so incompetent after all. According to local news reports, she managed to put out the flames before the fire crew arrived.
All they were left to do was open the hallway window to air out the smoke.
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