Germany’s defence minister Christine Lambrecht plans to step down, according to a German government source, following a series of errors that badly hurt her credibility as commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces.
The person said Lambrecht could announce her decision to resign as early as next week.
Her resignation will trigger huge uncertainty at a time when Germany is facing a momentous decision on whether to break with longstanding policy and supply battle tanks to Ukraine, a move that chancellor Olaf Scholz has so far been reluctant to make.
Lambrecht was seen as a weak leader of a ministry that is at a critical juncture in its history. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Scholz’s government promised a massive increase in military spending and created a €100bn investment fund for the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, marking a fresh start after years of underfunding.
But the new equipment and weapons systems that Scholz promised for the military have yet to materialise, with Lambrecht often being blamed for the slow implementation of the spending reforms.
Anger at the poor state of the Bundeswehr boiled over last month after a training exercise when all 18 Puma infantry vehicles deployed in the drill had to be taken out of service. The Puma is one of the army’s most modern and advanced pieces of kit.
Bild Zeitung, the mass circulation daily, first reported Lambrecht’s intention to resign, saying she herself had taken the decision and was not being sacked by Scholz.
Potential replacements include Eva Högl, the parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces, and Siemtje Möller, the junior defence minister.
Another possible successor is Lars Klingbeil, leader of Lambrecht’s party, the Social Democrats (SPD), who comes from a military family.
But Klingbeil’s chances are seen as slim, because Scholz is committed to having an equal number of male and female ministers in his cabinet, and bringing in the SPD leader would upset the gender balance.
Lambrecht has long been one of the least popular ministers in Scholz’s cabinet. But calls for her resignation intensified after an awkward New Year’s address on Instagram in which she struggled to make herself heard above the noise of exploding fireworks and firecrackers in central Berlin.
In the video she referred to the war raging in Ukraine and then added that the conflict was associated for her with “many special impressions, many encounters with interesting, great people”.
The address was seen as spectacularly misjudged, even by close allies in the SPD, while many cabinet colleagues were left speechless with embarrassment. “After that debacle she was a dead woman walking,” said one person familiar with the situation.
The opposition Christian Democrats called on Scholz immediately to sack her after the Instagram scandal, but he stood by her. Only a few days ago, his spokesman said that the chancellor had a good and trusting relationship with all his cabinet colleagues, and “that holds true” for Lambrecht too. In an interview in December, Scholz described her as a “first-class defence minister”.
The Instagram faux pas was the latest of a series of gaffes that had left Lambrecht’s reputation in tatters. In December 2021 she admitted in an interview that she did not know the various army ranks: five months later she told another newspaper that she still did not know them.
She was widely mocked shortly after the start of the Ukraine war when she was asked if Germany would provide military aid and replied that it would send Kyiv 5,000 helmets.
She also garnered widespread criticism after flying on holiday with her son using a government helicopter. He paid for the trip himself, but the public furore that broke out was seen as highly damaging, both to Lambrecht and the ministry.
Many observers said Lambrecht had never really wanted to be defence minister — she would have preferred to be named interior minister.
In a recent poll by the organisation Civey for news portal t-online, 77 per cent of people called for her to be sacked, with only 13 per cent saying she should remain in office.