Germany’s new defence minister has demanded her country get serious about its military engagement in the world – and provide the financing to cover it.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer – widely known as AKK – head of Germany's ruling Christian Democratic Union, was sworn in during a special summer sitting of the German parliament on Wednesday.
The short, good-natured summer sitting belied the long-running tensions that await her in office: from growing tensions with Tehran – over nuclear energy, sanctions and piracy claims – to growing Washington pressure over Berlin's failure to meet Nato spending criteria.
In her first address to the Bundestag, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer said she was "committed" to the Nato target of defence spending equivalent to two per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). She flagged how German military spending would increase to 1.5 per cent by 2024 and signalled a greater willingness to engage militarily in hot spots around the world.
“For a long time, perhaps too long, we believed that the world around us would become more and more peaceful, and the order more stable,” the new minister said. “Developments in the last few years have shown that was deceptive. That’s why we have now flipped the switch.”
She promised to boost defence co-operation within the European Union, and vowed to do more to boost military morale in the German Bundeswehr. A series of scandals grips her ministry and the military: from accusations of far-right views among some soldiers, over-spending on external consultants and a long-running drama about non-flying military planes and dry-docked boats.
The defence portfolio became available last week when the incumbent, Ursula von der Leyen, was elected as president of the new European Commission.
Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer's new role gives her a seat at cabinet, greater political visibility and boosts her chances of inheriting the chancellery from her political ally, Angela Merkel.
But she had her wings clipped on Wednesday immediately by her Social Democratic Party (SPD) junior coalition partners, who insisted that more money did not always mean more security.
Rolf Mützenich, defence spokesman for the SPD and its interim Bundestag leader, said his party favoured "modern" European defence policy focused on crisis prevention, arms control, reduction in global tension and an inclusive approach to Russia.
The focus on Nato’s two per cent spending target, he said, resembled a “dance around the golden calf”.
“My advice to you is not to demand more money but to take the time to look at her portfolio to see the weak points and work to reduce them,” he said.
In the direction of the Trump administration – and others demanding Germany spend more on defence – he added that "the Bundestag has control of the defence budget and . . . no international organisation can claim that for itself."
All 709 MPs were summoned back from their holidays – business class – for Wednesday’s sitting: a 44-word oath of office and an hour of debate which took place outside the chamber in the Reichstag building, as it is closed for renovations.
Opposition politicians criticised the climate cost as immoral and estimated the financial cost, based on previous such sittings, at about €100,000.