An ill-advised New Year’s Eve video has come back to haunt Germany’s Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, who is now contending with a growing chorus of voices calling for her immediate removal.
The video in question, a New Year’s message that Lambrecht posted on her personal Instagram page, and which was subsequently picked up by various news agencies, has failed to hit the mark—both in terms of messaging as well as technical proficiency.
In the video, Lambrecht (Social Democratic Party) marked 2022 as the year which, through the war in Ukraine, brought her into contact with many “wonderful and interesting” people. She then went on to note the “special experiences” she enjoyed as a result; a piece of autobiographical trivia many regard as irrelevant at best and tone deaf at worst, considering the topic’s seriousness.
Moreover, since the video was shot during New Year’s Eve in Berlin, fireworks and firecrackers could be heard going off, causing parts of the message to be barely intelligible. The video appears to have been filmed with a smartphone, without an external microphone for Lambrecht to cut through the din.
Lambrecht’s capital with the German press is quickly running out. According to Germany’s largest newspaper, Bild, she “brings shame” to Germany. Süddeutsche Zeitung in turn questioned her motive for the amateurish message and why no one in her entourage “pointed out the potential for embarrassment.”
Opposition parties have eagerly jumped to exploit the defense minister’s latest gaffe.
According to the CDU/CSU alliance, the SPD politician must resign. On Tuesday, January 3rd, CDU (Christian Democratic Union) leader Friedrich Merz stated that Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) should not hesitate.
“Every hour that Ms. Lambrecht remains in office weakens the chancellor’s authority,” he told Münchner Merkur. Meanwhile, “all of Germany is just shaking its head, not only our servicemen and women, but defense experts around the world are speechless at how embarrassing and incompetent a minister in our country can appear in public.” At least since the war in Ukraine, he added, “we have had a federal defense minister who is completely overwhelmed by this new task.”
CSU (Christian Social Union) leader Markus Söder also wants a dramatic course of action. “Ms. Lambrecht sticks tighter to her office than a climate sticker on the street,” Söder told Merkur. “The minister must finally resign—or be fired. The chancellor appointed Ms. Lambrecht; he must now also solve this personnel problem,” he urged. Söder went on to state that Germany’s soldiers “do not deserve this minister.”
So far, Lambrecht’s own party, the SPD, has not come out in droves to its minister’s defense. Ralf Stegner, a member of the Bundestag, is one of the few who has done so in a public fashion. In a radio interview with Deutschlandfunk, he denied allegations that Lambrecht lacked empathy, as he had often heard her speak about the war. While Stegner conceded that her video was certainly not professional, it obviously was not intended to be.
The question remains whether public statements by a European defense minister, done through a private channel, should even be considered during a time of war.
Throughout 2022, Lambrecht has been stacking one scandal on top of another. Back in January, she was the target of scorn for her promise that Germany would send 5,000 helmets to Kyiv while the Ukrainian government was asking for heavy weapons to fend off an imminent Russian invasion.
Even more controversy surrounded Lambrecht in May when she took her son on a private flight in an army helicopter. “The defense minister should be more tactful and not confuse the Luftwaffe with Lufthansa, Germany’s most important airline,” Thorsten Frei (CDU/CSU) said at the time.
Late last month, yet another blow to the minister’s credibility came when it turned out that the ultra-modern (and ultra-expensive) German armored vehicles, the Pumas, all suffered breakdowns during a training exercise.
While there is a clear desire within much of the political establishment for Lambrecht to be replaced, Chancellor Scholz has not seemed too keen on sacrificing his fellow party member. As recently as mid-December, he said he was “puzzled by some of the criticism” being levied against Lambrecht since he considered her to be a “first-class defense minister.”
Additionally, it would be a shakeup within the cabinet—one some expect could still happen within mere weeks—that Scholz can ill afford. In October, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser is set to run as the top candidate in the Hessian state parliamentary elections and would have to relinquish her current position in the event of a win.
Since the SPD faithfully maintains a women’s quota in the cabinet’s composition, the loss of Lambrecht, together with Faeser, would jeopardize that pledge.
In that scenario, maintaining one superficial optic could supersede a far more critical one—(potential) adversaries’ healthy respect for a nation’s military leadership.