CDU party chief enters testing grounds as she takes up defence minister post

The extent to which the Christian Democrat leader is pleased about her appointment remains questionable. Chairing one of Germany's leading party and a whole ministry will undoubtedly entail a large amount of work. EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN [Clemens Bilan/ epa]

In a surprising turn of events, the leader of the German Christian Democrats (CDU), Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, was appointed Germany’s new defence minister. While the opposition is unhappy, observers are wondering whether she will do a good job, given that she had opposed  to take cabinet responsibility until recently. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s agenda is likely to be much fuller in the future than it is now.

From one day to the other, the current CDU party chief has been appointed Germany’s new defence minister, taking over the reins from newly appointed EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) had been refusing to join Merkel’s cabinet as of Tuesday (16 July), when the news was announced in an official statement. Until then, rumours had been circulating that the ambitious young Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) would take on the role.

According to information from the German news agency dpa, other candidates had also been under consideration and Parliament’s Secretary of State at the Ministry for Defence, Peter Tauber, was one of them.

On Wednesday, AKK obtained her certificate of appointment and will be sworn in next week, pledging to approach the job with “great heart and plenty of conviction”.

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Promoted or cast to the side?

The extent to which the Christian Democrat leader is pleased about her appointment remains questionable. Chairing one of Germany’s leading parties and an entire ministry, she will have her work cut out for her.

Besides, leading the German defence ministry is considered to be a test of fire, considering that the Bundeswehr continues to be heavily burdened with scandals and had been underfunded for years.

Von der Leyen, for instance, did “not leave a brilliant legacy behind,” according to her biographer Daniel Goffart.

Among other things, she got involved in a financing affair in which she allegedly spent at least €200 million on consultants. A parliamentary investigative committee of the German Bundestag is currently examining the matter.

According to Goffart, von der Leyen’s ‘rocky’ showing in the defence ministry might have been why AKK turned out to be Merkel’s favourite CDU leader.

However, leading Germany’s defence ministry could also be a unique opportunity for AKK. The position could even open up a new political path for her, according to Green MEP Franziska Brantner.

Because the CDU leader still has ambitions for the Chancellor’s office, it is in her interest to make a name for herself as a federal minister.

By leading a ministry that has a budget of almost €44 billion, this could be the political push she needs to become Merkel’s true successor.

Moreover, as defence minister, she will have the opportunity to present herself on the foreign policy stage.

“I hope that Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer will not only care about her career during her time as defence minister,” said Brantner. The challenges that come with the post are enormous and “it can either fail spectacularly or create something spectacular,” she added.

Does this mean that the CDU is using politics at the expense of the Bundeswehr?

After all, AKK appears to have no visible link to the military. Like von der Leyen, she will be entering the office with a blank sheet, at least that is how many politicians from the opposition see it.

“The Bundeswehr is not a playground for the CDU’s tactical games,” said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, a spokeswoman on defence issues for the parliamentary group of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).

Many also feel that accepting the post, after having rejected the idea before, is making AKK untrustworthy.

And CDU’s coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) also had some harsh words.

“A breach of promise is not a good start for a defence minister,” said Johannes Kahrs, the SPD’s budget policy spokesman. The Bundeswehr “did not deserve this,” he added.

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AKK’s views on the military are largely unknown 

Speaking of merit, defence and security professionals are wondering whether the new defence minister will advocate an increase in the country’s military budget.

After heavy criticism from Washington, Germany has committed to increasing its military expenditures to satisfy NATO’s spending target of 2% of GDP by 2024.

Von der Leyen, who lived in the US for four years, wanted to avoid snubbing the US and has always been in favour of increasing the defence budget.

CDU party chief wants Germany to reach 2% NATO spending target

The leader of German Christian Democrats, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK), stated on Wednesday (12 June) that German military expenditures would have to be raised to NATO’s 2% spending target, while former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel proposed splitting Germany’s military spending into two funds. EURACTIV Germany reports.

It remains to be seen whether AKK will follow suit.

Last year, she initiated a debate on the reintroduction of compulsory military service, but generally, little is known about her stance on defence policy issues.

In the past, she has also spoken out in favour of a ‘European army’, something that French President Emmanuel Macron also favours.

However, in setting up such an army, the Bundestag’s reservations right on foreign deployments would have to be “cut back a bit,” according to the newly-appointed defence minister.

Whether she supports foreign deployment generally is still not clear. Recently, AKK could not provide an answer when asked if German ground troops should be sent to war-ridden Syria, according to AFP.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Alexandra Brzozowski]

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