Boris Pistorius as Christine Lambrecht’s successor – Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz has chosen a down-to-earth politician whom he can trust. That was more important to him than parity.
When Olaf Scholz made the “promise” on November 27, 2020 that “at least half of the cabinet I lead as Chancellor will be made up of at least half women”, the research group elections for the SPD determined that 16 percent of voters approved. The Union came to 37 percent, the Greens were five percent ahead of the SPD. When Scholz made his “parity” promise, everything spoke against the fact that he would ever have to fulfill it.
Olaf Scholz has already promised that the SPD will not enter into a coalition with the Union. That was when the Union, Greens and FDP were negotiating a Jamaica coalition. After their failure, Federal President Frank Walter Steinmeier forced the SPD into a grand coalition.
Promises are always relative in politics, they depend on the situation, so it makes little sense to dig up five-year-old tweets by Boris Pistorius in which the Interior Minister of Lower Saxony spoke out against sanctions against Russia. Times have changed, the counting of time in defense policy began anew on February 24 last year. The old no longer counts.
“Parity” in a ministerial team is an identity politics approach, and this is not the right time for identity politics. Apart from the fact that two state constitutional courts have already classified parity as unconstitutional.
Scholz was just of the opinion that Boris Pistorius is the right new Federal Minister of Defense. And not Eva Högl, the military commissioner, who recently attracted attention with the demand that the Bundeswehr not only be given 100 billion euros, but 300 billion. From Scholz’s point of view, this was improper because it made his own contribution, the 100 billion, appear as gross underfunding and thus a wrong decision. With that, Högl was out.
In the SPD, they are now reminiscent of Peter Struck, who was down-to-earth, robust and, as Minister of Defense, a troop leader. Just like Pistorius was down-to-earth, robust and a troop leader as Lower Saxony’s police minister.
Something else is at least as important from Scholz’s perspective: Pistorius was Interior Minister for nine years, which also means that he has learned to serve his boss, the Prime Minister, faithfully and loyally. Scholz is particularly interested in this quality – he doesn’t have to fear Pistorius going it alone any more than Lower Saxony’s head of government Stefan Weil did.
The appointment of Pistorius from a state to the federal cabinet can also be read as follows: Germany’s defense policy is made in the Federal Chancellery. Pistorius may reform the Bundeswehr, hopefully buy the right weapons with the 100 “Zeitenwende” billion and explain his politics better than Christine Lambrecht, which again is not art.
But the decision as to what, when and why Ukraine will be supplied with weapons is still made by Olaf Scholz. Whatever applies to the decision on how Germany deals with Russia – that will remain ambivalent as long as a Social Democrat leads the federal government.
“Give him three months and then make your verdict,” says defense expert Carlo Masala. That’s as decent as it is naive. Pistorius is representing the Federal Republic of Germany this Friday at the Ukraine Helpers’ Conference in Ramstein, so he certainly doesn’t have 100 days to get used to it.
And that’s also why Scholz’ decision for Pistorius is understandable – the chancellor has chosen a politician who has more ministerial experience than most other members of his federal cabinet. Trusting a newcomer with this key ministry would have been Russian roulette. Plus: It had to be a social democratic veteran and Pistorius has been a social democrat since he was 16 years old. At least that got rid of Siemtje Möller, Lambrechts state secretary who acted as her successor in the SPD.
Pistorius has a very calm way of explaining things and he is an approachable person. A popular figure that inspires trust. Not the type of Basta politician – and that’s also behind Scholz’s decision for Pistorius: to take someone who comes across as authentic.
In this context: It is no coincidence that Pistorius was politically socialized in local politics. For seven years, in politics half an eternity, Pistorius was mayor of Osnabrück, the city in which he was born. But before that he was a local politician in Osnabrück for seven years. So 14 years as close to the people as you can only get to your audience as a local politician.
In terms of his career, Pistorius is the complete opposite of federal career politicians like his cabinet colleague and future political double partner Annalena Baerbock. Apart from the fact that Pistorius, unlike Baerbock, is a fully qualified lawyer.
Double partner, because the Federal Defense Minister and the Federal Foreign Minister have to play as a duet. In these uncomfortable times, foreign and defense policy can no longer be strictly separated. Whether the two complement each other or compete with each other remains to be seen. The idealistic approach that Baerbock pursues in foreign policy is rather alien to the pragmatist Pistorius.
What connects him with Olaf Scholz. The chancellor has chosen someone he can personally trust. This is always worth more than parity riding on principles.