Time off for commander-in-chief: kramp-karrenbauer sworn in

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was sworn in as defense minister in a special session of the Bundestag. Military spending is to increase.

Kramp-Karrenbauer during her first speech as defense minister Photo: dpa

The actual act was quickly completed. Punctually at 12 noon, Wolfgang Schauble opened the special session of the Bundestag on Wednesday. After a few whimsical words of welcome, the Bundestag president administered the one-and-a-half sentence oath of office to new Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer at 12:03. Then followed a few nice farewell sentences to her predecessor Ursula von der Leyen. At 12:05 p.m., Schauble closed the agenda item. That was the end of the formalities of democracy.

But at least there was a second item on the agenda. To ensure that the members of parliament had not just traveled from near and far for a five-minute ceremony from their summer vacation, Kramp-Karrenbauer then delivered her first government statement as defense minister. She spoke for just under twenty minutes in the tubular atrium of the Paul Lobe Building, to which the parliament had to relocate because the plenary hall of the Reichstag is currently being renovated.

In her speech, AKK placed herself entirely in the continuity of previous government policy. For example, she is sticking to NATO’s two-percent target. "Along the way, we must and want to achieve a defense budget of 1.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2024," the new commander-in-chief of the Bundeswehr said. This is precisely what Chancellor Angela Merkel had already announced at the Munich Security Conference in the spring.

"The Bundeswehr is growing again," Kramp-Karrenbauer was pleased to say. After 25 years of austerity, he said, the "switch has been flipped." All "trend lines" were "finally pointing upward again. She was "sincerely grateful" to all those who had contributed to this.

In all parliamentary groups, seats remained empty. The gaps were largest in the Union

The thanks are due not least to the SPD, even if the CDU/CSU’s small coalition partner is not quite so keen on being talked about too loudly at the moment. Rolf Mutzenich, the acting chairman of the SPD parliamentary group, was somewhat critical in the ensuing debate. He urged Kramp-Karrenbauer to hold back on demands for more money for her department. "Before you talk about theoretical issues, you should work with the concrete numbers," said Mutzenich.

However, this was not a fundamental rejection of further increases in military spending. And so it is, when at the same time Mutzenich promised Kramp-Karrenbauer good cooperation "on the basis of the coalition agreement. The black-red agreement states that Germany will "follow the target corridor of the NATO agreements" in a "binding" manner, albeit in a cloaked, but nonetheless unambiguous manner.

The Green Party’s Agnieszka Brugger spoke of a "pointless coalition dispute. What is needed instead are good ideas on arms control. Dietmar Bartsch, head of the left-wing parliamentary group, expressed similar sentiments. The FDP and AfD, on the other hand, spoke in unison in favor of higher military spending.

At 1:39 p.m., Parliament President Wolfgang Schauble closed the special session. Opinions differ on whether it was actually necessary. "We could have solved this differently," said Dietmar Bartsch, head of the left-wing parliamentary group. In the view of the federal government and the Bundestag administration, however, it would have been too late to swear in Kramp-Karrenbauer until September during a regular session. Individually, a whole series of deputies decided otherwise: Despite the threat of penalties for non-attendance, seats remained empty in all parliamentary groups. The gaps were largest in the CDU/CSU.