CDU party chief Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has been sworn in as the new German defence minister before the Bundestag on Wednesday (24 July). In her first government statement, she emphasised Germany’s reliability as a member of NATO.
Kramp-Karrenbauer takes up the reigns in the defence ministry from Ursula von der Leyen, who has been elected by MEPs as the new European Commission President.
She will now have to handle the double hatting of being CDU party leader and the defence minister at the same time, with the task of securing the continuation of the shaky German grand coalition.
With her appointment, Kramp-Karrenbauer will also have to show that she can fill a ministerial position to potentially become Chancellor candidate and position herself as Angela Merkel’s successor.
In her first government statement, Kramp-Karrenbauer said that Germany bears responsibility “for an international order in which the law of the strongest does not apply, but the strength of the law”.
“We know which side of the table we’re sitting on,” she told German lawmakers in Berlin.
Recent developments have shown that the world is becoming more insecure and against this background it is crucial that the army is ready and well equipped, the new defence minister said.
“I therefore hold fast to the Federal Government’s goal of targeting 2% (of GDP), a goal on which all our allies have repeatedly agreed,” she told German lawmakers, announcing that she will aim for a further increase in the German defence budget in order for Germany to meet the NATO burden-sharing commitment of 2% of GDP.
The increase in commitments “is not about requests from outside”, she said alluding to the demands of US President Donald Trump towards Germany, adding: “We are a reliable ally.”
Earlier this year, German officials had been seeking to defuse tensions between Berlin and Washington after criticism from the Trump administration over Germany’s shortfalls in NATO contributions.
Germany, like its other NATO allies, has pledged that defence spending should move towards 2% of GDP by 2024. For 2020, however, only 1.37% has been targeted, and according to the current German budget plan, the rate should even drop to 1.26% by 2023.
The demand for a rising defence budget is in contradiction to the medium-term financial planning of Federal Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD).
According to projections, between 2023 and 2024 Germany’s defence spending would have to increase by tens of billions if the NATO target is to be achieved, but that will have to be decided by a new government, following the elections in 2021.
Furthermore, Kramp-Karrenbauer also announced that she wants to increase the presence of the Bundeswehr in the public sphere as the Federal Armed Forces remain “recognisable and visible in the middle of the towns and communities.”
For the 64th anniversary of the German army on 12 November, she said she would like to see a pledge to the German Bundestag. In a letter to the prime ministers of the federal states, she also proposed public pledges in the middle of cities and towns for this date.
Such a pledge to the German Bundestag would underline the role of the Bundeswehr as a parliamentary army, the minister said.
Her speech was met with cross-party criticism.
“We should rather talk about Bundeswehr capabilities which we can bring to NATO” than an increase in defence spending, SPD parliamentary leader Rolf Mützenich said. His statements were echoed by FDP parliamentary group leader Christian Lindner, who slammed the previous financial planning of the defence ministry as insufficient.
The swearing-in ceremony took place in the foyer of the neighbouring Paul-Löbe-Haus parliament building due to renovations in the plenary hall of the Reichstag hemicycle, with the 709 German lawmakers being recalled from the summer break to the special meeting in Berlin.
The timing of the oath-taking, however, caused discontent and many lawmakers were missing.
Liberal and Green opposition representatives criticised the need for the special session, saying that Kramp-Karrenbauer could also have taken the oath of office in the next regular session at the beginning of September.
[Edited by Samuel Stolton]