It was a surprise when German chancellor Angela Merkel last December chose Ursula von der Leyen, up to then minister of labour in her previous conservative-liberal government, as the first female German minister of defense in her new ‚grand coalition‘ cabinet. Predecessor Thomas de Maizière (pictured above with von der Leyen and German chief of defense Gen. Volker Wieker) returned to the ministry of interior, a post he had held previously.
On Januar 8, the new minister, the defense ministry and the troops bade farewell to de Maizière with a Grand Tattoo (Großer Zapfenstreich). The speech de Maizière held at the reception prior to the Tattoo can be heard and read in German here; when adressing the international obligations and missions of the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, the outgoing minister chose to lash out at some European allies. For my international readers, here’s my translation of this paragraph:
As acting minister of defense, I had to be reluctant in my wording sometimes. Today, this is not as necessary as before. So I would like to mention one thing with regard to our missions: Germany does not need any advice from anyone in Europe on the way and the extent of our international missions. Also not from France or the UK. (Applause) In international missions, our engagement is several times larger than that of France. France, however, has other strong obligations, out of national interest. Germany stands to its obligations, even when this might be difficult domestically. No German government has been let down in parliament when asking for parliamentary approval for a mission. Especially in Afghanistan, the most difficult mission, we made clear very early our readiness for a sustainable engagement, more than all our European allies, including the UK. I would not have said this while still being minister of defense. But that’s what I thought.
(Addendum: My English has become a bit rusty since my wire service days with the Associated Press decades ago; so I’m happy to offer an alternative translation by one of my readers that comes closer to the officialness de Maizière conveyed in his speech…
As acting minister of defence I had to be reluctant and sensitive about my statements. Today not so much anymore. Therefore I’d like to state one thing regarding our international missions/operations: Germany is in no need for any lecturing by anyone in Europe about how we conduct our missions and to what expand. This includes France and the United Kingdom. On many international missions our engagement/involvement is scaling out France’s. Nevertheless France has other significant military involvements out of its own national interests. Germany fullfills its obligations, despite the struggles coming with it in domestic politics. There has not been a single negative vote on a gouvernment proposed military involvement in german parliament. Especially in Afghanistan, the most difficult mission, we, at a very early stage, expressly underlined our willingness for a sustainable engagement, more than anyone else in Europe – including the United Kingdom.
(Picture by Bundeswehr/Sebastian Wilke via Flickr, CC-BY-ND license)