Actually, it should be a liberation for Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) – but his appearance in the defense committee ended in a small scandal. And it shows how fragile his traffic light coalition currently looks.
When Scholz repeatedly failed to answer questions about the status of arms deliveries to Ukraine and when the green light would also be given for Marder tanks and instead avoided doing so, the FDP members of the defense committee left the meeting room on Friday morning shortly before the end.
This was confirmed to the daily mirror on site. They were angry about Scholz’s behavior. A special session was scheduled for 8 a.m. for the Chancellor’s first appearance.
The trigger was a question from FDP politician Marcus Ferber. When answering, Scholz digressed and came to talk about China, the Global South and the looming food crisis. “Today he had the opportunity to explain how the federal government would like to continue to support Ukraine,” said Faber afterwards. Unfortunately, he gave “hardly any answers” to the questions. The action was not planned and happened spontaneously, emphasized Faber.
The chairman of the committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (FDP), stayed in the room and ended the session. She too had repeatedly criticized Scholz and accused him of acting too hesitantly. However, she did not join the protest in any way and rather praised Scholz for his visit.
“Not all questions can be answered in one hour, but it was a constructive exchange, more will follow.” She received Scholz in the morning with the words: “We’ll do that every Friday the 13th.” Exactly.” He had walked the short distance from the Chancellery over to the Paul-Löbe-Haus in the Bundestag.
After the news of the scandal circulated, some of the FDP politicians were obviously called to reason. Faber tried to smooth things over: no one felt “cheated”, as the “Bild” newspaper rumored, and no one issued a protest note.
Almost three hours after he left the meeting, the FDP parliamentary group sent a message: “I am grateful to the Chancellor for the constructive exchange. Today it became clear again that the traffic light is solid behind the decision to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine,” Faber is quoted as saying.
I’m sorry I gave the wrong impression. There were “connection dates”.
The FDP spokesman for military technology, Alexander Müller, also said that he had left earlier because he would have had to go to a follow-up appointment. On site, however, FDP representatives initially spoke of deliberate protest behavior.
There is a lot of nervousness in the FDP at the moment, as there is a risk of a debacle in the state elections on Sunday in North Rhine-Westphalia. Polls put the Liberals at six percent, which would halve the 2017 result and could lead to the loss of government participation in the home country of FDP leader Christian Lindner. In the FDP it was said that one had to distinguish oneself more – therefore a defeat in NRW could also have a significant impact on the climate in the traffic light coalition. The Friday and the committee posse could have given a foretaste.
Strack-Zimmermann’s demand that Scholz appoint a coordinator for the difficult issue in the Chancellery went unheeded at the meeting. Instead, the Chancellor referred to the coordination by the Inspector General of the German Armed Forces – who, however, does not conduct negotiations with industry, for example, about possible arms deliveries. And the Bundeswehr itself, as is well known, has hardly any weapons left to give up.
Scholz once again made his principles clear internally, but also referred to the difficult negotiations with other states, for example about an exchange of rings, so that these states could give up their Soviet-designed tanks and receive Marder tanks from Germany in return. He emphasized that he never said he did not want to supply heavy weapons. Scholz kept a low profile on a possible trip to Kyiv.
Those around him emphasized that he had once again made the points that are important to him clear: to support Ukraine as much as possible. NATO and Germany will not become war parties. There is no German going it alone and no rushing forward with arms deliveries. Germany is acting in close coordination with its closest allies.
However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the approval granted to the Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann company to deliver up to 50 Gepard tanks to the Ukraine might not help at all. Switzerland blocks the release of ammunition produced only there. And the training of Ukrainian soldiers in Germany, which has already started, is lengthy, since the cheetah is a technically very complex device.
It would be easier with the Marder infantry fighting vehicle, but a request from Rheinmetall for the delivery of up to 100 tanks has not yet been decided by the Federal Security Council. The hesitation is justified by the fact that Marder might still be needed for a ring exchange with Eastern European countries, which in return could supply the Ukraine with immediately deployable tanks of Russian or Soviet design. FDP and Greens insist on more speed for a decision.
The SPD chairman in the committee, Wolfgang Hellmich, emphasized with regard to another Rheinmetall application for the delivery of 88 Leopard battle tanks: A joint decision had been made in NATO not to deliver heavy battle tanks like the Leopard.
But these details did not play a major role in the hour-long session, Scholz remained vague in the non-secret session. The Greens defense politician Agnieszka Brugger emphasized with regard to the criticism from the Union that they knew very well that arms exports were subject to strict confidentiality guidelines. This is also referred to in the Chancellery, and they do not want to endanger any transports with information that is too precise.
And on Twitter, Brugger emphasized with a view to the behavior of the coalition colleagues from the FDP: “Not every storm in the teacup is equal to a scandal.” There was amazement and smiles in the room when some MPs left earlier.