Germany’s least attractive ministerial post was left vacant on Monday after defence minister Christine Lambrecht walked out after a turbulent year in office.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised a “prompt” and “speedy” decision on a successor, saying he had a “very clear idea” of his next defence minister – but he named no names.
“I know how, from my perspective, things should develop,” he said after touring a brewery and arms supplier.
On Thursday US defence secretary Lloyd Austin travels to Berlin but it is unclear if, by then, he will have an opposite number to meet or bring along on Friday to a military support conference for Ukraine at the US military base in Ramstein, southwest of Frankfurt.
A government spokeswoman said Mr Scholz “respects Ms Lambrecht’s decision and thanks her for the good work that she did during this difficult and challenging time as defence minister”.
After months of critical coverage of her performance, in particular her level of engagement in Germany’s response to the Russia-Ukraine war, Ms Lambrecht handed in her resignation on Monday morning saying media interest in her person had become a distraction for the office.
“The media focus on my person for months now barely allows for factual reporting and discussion about soldiers, the Bundeswehr and security policy decisions,” she said in a statement before leaving the ministry complex in Berlin.
Her spokesman was unable to say where she was going, leaving confusion over whether she was staying on in an acting capacity.
The 59-year-old politician inherited a ministry that, after two decades of neglect and cutbacks, was already struggling to reinvent itself. Dropped in on that, last February’s Russian invasion and a €100 billion military investment plan left Ms Lambrecht and her officials stretched in every direction.
But it was a growing number of hair-raising private anecdotes from her officials, and a regular stream of public gaffes, that left the Social Democratic (SPD) minister with few friends in political Berlin.
From social media posts with her son in an official plane to troop inspections in high heels, the defence minister soon became a regular butt of jokes and memes and increasingly harsh newspaper editorials.
The worst came after she posted to Instagram an amateurish new year greetings video in which her first thought after nearly a year in Ukraine was the “many special impressions, many encounters with interesting, great people”.
Given the chancellor has a very shortlist of candidates, it remains unclear whether Mr Scholz will merely appoint a successor to the defence ministry or use Ms Lambrecht’s departure for a wider cabinet reshuffle.
Given the security situation in Europe, opposition leaders and coalition partners urged the SPD chancellor not to leave the position unfilled for long.
Ms Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, defence spokeswoman for the Free Democrats (FDP) junior coalition partner, said that – after a run of weak defence ministers – Germany’s defence ministry and armed forces needed a figure who was “assertive towards the ministry, does not abuse the defence ministry for other political ambitions and, above all, brings with them understanding and feeling for the soldiers