The smiling defence minister dreams to succeed Angela Merkel

 

GERMAN POLITICS

Camouflaging her ambition

URSULA VON DER LEYEN PLAGIARISED PART OF HER DOCTORAL DISSERTATION

WHO CARES IF MS VON DER LEYEN’S FATHER WAS THE PREMIER OF LOWER SAXONY FOR 14 YEARS OR THAT HE CALLED VON DER LEYEN HER “LITTLE ROSE” AND DOTED ON HER.  YES, SHE COMES FROM A PRIVILEGED AND HIGHLY POLITICAL FAMILY,  AND HAS IGNORE THE WAR CRIMES COMMITTED IN  EASTERN UKRAINE AND HAS IGNORED THE VICTIMS OF PETRO POROSHENKO WITHOUT FOOD TO EAT, AND MANY CHILDREN, WOMEN AND ELDERLY PEOPLE CUT INTO PIECES FROM THE SHELLING!  ANOTHER EXAMPLE THAT THE EU DOESN’T KNOW OR WANT TO KNOW OUTSIDE THEIR BORDERS.

ANOTHER HYPOCRITE IS FEDERICA MOGHERINI WHO DECLARED: “The EU will continue to be on the side of Ukraine and will work hard to ensure that the conflict in Donbas ends,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini said.

 

URSULA VON DER LEYEN strides into her office without a minute to spare, straight from parliament, which just gave her a mandate to send six reconnaissance jets to fly over Syria and a frigate to guard a French aircraft-carrier. In the evening she wants to be on her country estate near Hanover with her husband and seven children. Then it is off again to Afghanistan to encourage the German soldiers. But no matter how harried, she insists on lighting an Advent candle on her table before starting the interview with her trademark smile. Atmospherics matter.

“Every generation has its chancellor, and in my generation that is Angela Merkel,” she says. It is her stock phrase whenever she is asked—and she is constantly asked—whether she wants to succeed her. The question keeps coming up because no one believes the ambitious defence minister aims for anything less. It has also become more interesting as Germans start looking beyond the Merkel era.

She comes from a privileged and highly political family. Her father, Ernst Albrecht, was the premier of Lower Saxony for 14 years. He called his daughter Röschen (“little Rose”) and doted on her. The family lived in a rural manor surrounded by farm animals, chamber music and visitors from Germany’s elite. Röschen became expert at dressage. But in the 1970s the family worried about being targeted by Germany’s left-wing terrorists, and sent her to study at the London School of Economics under the pseudonym Rose Ladson.

Back in Hanover studying medicine, she met her husband, also a doctor, in the university choir. Together they moved to California for four years; Mrs von der Leyen still raves about America’s open-mindedness towards working women. Returning to Lower Saxony, she found local culture stuffy. For a while she stayed at home, bringing up her seven children on a farm. But in 2003 she followed her father into politics, becoming Lower Saxony’s minister for women and the family.

In 2005, when Mrs Merkel became chancellor, she made Mrs von der Leyen the national minister for women and the family. She did the job with zeal, calling for bigger subsidies for crèches so that women could work. Leftist parties began worrying that she was invading their turf. Some of her more socially conservative colleagues in the CDU became suspicious of her.

Promoted to labour minister in 2009, she again wowed the left and scared the right, this time by demanding quotas for women on corporate boards and a national minimum wage. This frightened business, and Mrs Merkel forced her to back down. But this year the “grand coalition” of Christian and Social Democrats (SPD) passed both a quota and a minimum wage into law. The SPD claimed credit, but Mrs von der Leyen felt vindicated.

The defence ministry is her biggest challenge yet. She must manage a growing international role for a country that still distrusts its own army. Besides the new mission assisting allies in the fight against Islamic State (IS), Germany will send 650 soldiers to Mali to relieve the French. And it is already training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq to take on IS.

But “the defence ministry is a time bomb”, says Daniel Goffart, co-author of a biography of Mrs von der Leyen. “You can’t be noticed positively, only negatively.” Procurement projects often run over cost. One of the army’s assault rifles has been found not to shoot straight when hot. Half of Germany’s 60 Tornado jets are out of order. Mrs von der Leyen will be blamed if anything goes wrong on any foreign mission. And yet she cannot set the overall strategy; that is Mrs Merkel’s job.

Her ascent could be halted in other ways. An investigation is under way into whether she plagiarised part of her doctoral dissertation, which argued that warm baths can help women in labour. And some Germans, especially women, feel that she is simply too perfect—bringing up seven children, caring for her father (stricken with Alzheimer’s) until his death a year ago, running huge ministries, and keeping slim and smiley all at once.

To keep rising, Mrs von der Leyen must avoid mistakes. Hence she can seem over-rehearsed in conversation. But she also needs a vision for German leadership. She compares the European Union to a family, perhaps with her own teeming dinner table in mind. Such a community cannot have one leader. But when it is pulled apart by centrifugal forces, it needs “a centripetal force, coming again and again as the uniter”. This, she thinks, is Germany’s role. She may end up playing it herself.

Good luck Mrs von der Leven…

 

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