Social Democrat Christine Lambrecht, the German defense minister, is once again at the epicenter of the hurricane. The opposition, which has attacked her relentlessly since the invasion of Ukraine, has found a new way to criticize her: an army helicopter flight in which she took her 21-year-old son Oleksandr with her. In Germany, family members can accompany ministers on their official trips, but they must pay for their seat according to established rates. So it was in this case, according to the Ministry of Defense. But just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s ethical, say its critics.
The trip became known a few days ago, after Business Insider published a photo that Alexander posted on his Instagram account. In the picture, he is sitting in a military helicopter with his seat belt fastened and looking out the window. Lambrecht flew from Berlin to Schlewsig-Holstein in the north of the country to visit the battalion based in the city of Stadum. A trip like any other, if not for what he did next. As it happens, Stadum is opposite the island of Sylt, a holiday destination in the North Sea, where the minister and her son later moved to spend a few Easter weekends.
Christine Lambrecht in 2020, when she was the German Minister of Justice, with her son Alexander at the Berlinale. MICHEL TANTUSSI (Reuters)
The German press has calculated that the use of the Cougar helicopter in which the minister flew to Sylt is around 5,000 euros per hour. No one doubts that Lambrecht paid the sum due for attracting the companion, but his political opponents accuse him of using army funds to move, at least in part, the private. The suspicion that he chose to visit this battalion and not the other because it was close to Sylt emerges in many of the analyzes that have been written these days. Also questionable is the moment when he took a vacation at the height of the war in Ukraine. Family Affairs Minister Green Anna Spiegel resigned last month after admitting she went on vacation last summer a week after severe floods devastated Rhineland-Palatinate, where she was head of the environment.
The tabloid newspaper Bild targeted the minister, in particular, with flashy headlines joking that she had confused the Luftwaffe (Air Force) with the Lufthansa (Germany’s main private airline), or calling her “helicopter mother”, in a pun that describes overprotective parents. “The use of army resources for personal and partisan purposes is unaesthetic. He should be more tactful,” said Thorstein Frei, CDU representative in the Bundestag. “The minister is not doing his job,” he added.
Lambrecht acknowledged that she could have arranged the trip differently, but assured that she did everything according to the rules and asked for understanding for wanting to spend time with her son in the midst of her busy work as a minister. . Lambrecht, a member of the government led by Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, has taken on a huge role since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in late February. As commander of the German army, she was responsible for clarifying decisions about the military aid that Berlin provided to Kyiv. She was accused by her critics of obstructing the delivery of the material. Even before the war, when the Ukrainian government asked Germany for defensive weapons in the face of the Russian threat, one of its decisions drew international ridicule. Under pressure, Lambrecht announced the delivery of 5,000 helmets. “What will Germany send next to support us? pillows? – reacted the mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko.
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The Christian Democratic Party CDU, which went into opposition after last September’s elections, has been particularly harsh on Lambrecht, one of three women holding national security ministries. For the first time in a German government, there are women in the Ministry of Defence, the Interior (Nancy Faezer) and Foreign Affairs (Annalena Burbock). They will be responsible for the historic shift in security and defense policy announced by Berlin, especially the rearmament of its army. According to a recent poll, Lambrecht is one of the members of the executive branch that citizens value the least.
From the very beginning, the opposition assumed that Lambrecht was not the best option to lead a ministry of this caliber. The controversy comes at a delicate moment for the Social Democrats, who in a few days will face the Christian Democrats of the CDU in regional elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous state in the country. The two candidates walk shoulder to shoulder in the polls. The SPD suffered a crushing defeat in Schleswig-Holstein last Sunday and is now trying to oust conservative Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst.
Lambrecht, who was Minister of Justice in the previous Grand Coalition executive led by Angela Merkel, traveled more frequently with his son. According to the Ministry of Justice, Alexander accompanied her on at least seven official visits abroad. Now the media sensationalists are scouring the young man’s Instagram for other shots and wondering if the mere act of posting photos in a military vehicle could constitute a crime.
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