Germany’s embattled defence minister, who was criticised over the pace of a massive project to modernise the military and for Berlin’s stuttering response to the Ukraine war, has resigned.
Christine Lambrecht said in a written statement on Monday that “months of media focus on my person” had stood in the way of a factual debate about the military and Germany’s security policy.
“The valuable work of the soldiers and many people in my department must stand in the foreground,” she said.
Pressure on Lambrecht mounted recently after an ill-judged New Year’s video message.
Posted on Instagram, it showed a barely audible Lambrecht speaking as New Year’s Eve revellers celebrated with fireworks behind her on a Berlin street.
“A war is raging in the middle of Europe,” she said. “And connected with that for me were a lot of special impressions that I was able to gain – many, many meetings with interesting, great people.”
A spokesperson for Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he had accepted Lambrecht’s resignation and a replacement would be announced soon.
The 57-year-old had been in her post since Scholz became chancellor in December 2021. Both are members of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD).
Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Berlin, described Lambrecht’s resignation as a “headache” for the chancellor and said her replacement would likely be picked from within the SDP.
“That person is going to have to get up to speed pretty quickly in so far as the war in Ukraine and Germany’s contributions to Ukraine are concerned,” Kane said.
“There are lots of things in the in-tray for whoever emerges as the new minister, but it is unlikely that there will be a profound change in German policy brought about solely by whoever replaces Christine Lambrecht,” he said.
Critics have long portrayed Lambrecht as out of her depth.
She was blasted for a string of incidents, including describing Germany’s delivery of 5,000 military helmets to Ukraine in January last year as “a very clear signal that we stand by your side”.
Three months later, she took her 21-year-old son along on a military helicopter flight. The trip became a scandal after he posted a photo to Instagram that the minister had taken.
Lambrecht’s ministry said she had applied for permission and paid the costs herself, but critics said it showed poor judgement.
She resigned at a sensitive moment as Scholz faces mounting pressure to make another significant step forward in German military aid to Ukraine by agreeing to deliver Leopard 2 battle tanks.
Berlin has already provided substantial military support to Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion last February and earlier this month agreed to provide 40 Marder armoured personnel carriers and a Patriot air defence missile battery to Kyiv.
But critics, some inside Germany’s governing coalition, have accused Scholz of being hesitant to step up aid.
As the former justice minister and minister for families and women, she was respected in those roles but was widely viewed as one of the Scholz government’s weakest links at the defence ministry.
The notoriously unwieldy department has a history of diminishing ministers’ reputations.
Its importance increased with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That prompted Scholz to announce a special 100bn-euro ($108 billion) fund to upgrade the German military, the Bundeswehr, which has suffered for years from neglect and in particular from aging, poorly functioning equipment.
Last month, Lambrecht dismissed suggestions that the government had been too slow to get going on its spending drive.
She said officials have moved fast but that “such projects must be carefully negotiated – this is tax money.”