Berlin: Social Democrat interior minister of the state of Lower Saxony Boris Pistorius is to serve as Germany's next defence minister, several German news outlets reported on Tuesday.
German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht resigned Monday after her government came under rising pressure to allow allies to send German-made heavy tanks to Ukraine, at the start of what is likely to be a pivotal week for Western plans to further arm Ukraine.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has chosen a man who is rather unknown abroad: Boris Pistorius has been the interior minister of Lower Saxony for nine years. He is popular there and is seen as someone who gets things done.
Since 2013, Pistorius has been dealing with internal security, cybercrime, migration, and sports in the SPD-led state government in Lower Saxony. So the 62-year-old lawyer has experience running a ministry, and he brings with him another prerequisite that will certainly be in demand in the coming years: Boris Pistorius is regarded as assertive and a go-getter.
Pistorius joined the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) at age 16, he later completed his military service in 1980/81 but has no experience in the military field.
However, he does have experience in dealing with the police force and its restructuring to bring in young officers and reach out to the citizens. Pistorius sees the security apparatus as an important pillar of democracy. This is reflected in his project to make the police sustainably strong against political extremism.
When party SPD leader Saskia Esken spoke of "latent racism" in the ranks of the security forces in the summer of 2020, he opposed her. With her remarks she was exposing the 300,000 police officers in Germany to "unjustified general suspicion," he said.
Big challenges await Pistorius
Chancellor Scholz pledged €100 billion to the German armed forces following the Russian attack on Ukraine. At least 20 billion euros would be needed for the procurement of ammunition alone. New frigates, tanks or F-35 combat aircraft also cost billions, plus investments in infrastructure and digitisation. An acceleration of procurement procedures is needed.
But former Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht made headlines as recently as December when she put the purchase of Puma infantry fighting vehicles on hold. During a firing exercise, all 18 infantry fighting vehicles used in the exercise failed. In retrospect, this may have been a bit hasty. It has since emerged that most of the Puma's problems were minor, and 17 of them were swiftly repaired.
The chancellor will expect Lambrecht's successor to get the Bundeswehr on track as far as possible and, beyond that, implement administratively what is decided in the chancellor's office – such as the initiative for German and European missile defense with the Israeli Arrow-3 system.
The discussion on whether or not to supply battle tanks to Ukraine is no different. The chancellor is putting on the brakes and does not want to be driven. All decisions will be made exclusively in coordination "with our friends and allies," he says again and again, and most recently last Friday at a press conference in the Chancellor's Office.
"We will also maintain this principle," Scholz stressed. "So it will not come about that we in Germany publish excited statements, quick statements or have the need to have to say something every ten minutes. We decide on serious things that are related to war and peace and the security of our country as well as the security of Europe."
In other words, no matter how much debate there is in Germany and Europe about Leopard 2 deliveries, Scholz stands by his opinion not to weaken the Bundeswehr with weapons deliveries to Ukraine.
Whether Germany can stick to its line, however, appears questionable in light of the international debate on combat tanks. On January 20, NATO defence ministers will meet again at the US Ramstein Airbase in southwestern Germany to discuss further arms deliveries to Ukraine.
The UK wants to give Ukraine 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks. Poland wants to supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine, and Finland is also in favor. However, since the Leopard tanks were developed in Germany, the delivery hinges on the permission of the German government for the transfer of German-made armaments to third parties.
Finally, the appointment of Pistorius also means that the cabinet no longer has gender parity. At the beginning of his term in office, Chancellor Olaf Scholz had said that men and women each make up half of society — and therefore women should also have half of the power. If Scholz wants to maintain parity, another cabinet reshuffle would be necessary.