When Olaf Scholz leaves the meeting room in the Paul-Löbe-Haus shortly after 9 a.m. and is asked how it was, the Chancellor exclaims with a mischievous grin: “Great”. And walk back to the Chancellery. But apparently it wasn’t that “super” after all. In the end, a suboptimal picture of his traffic light coalition remains. And an FDP politician gets so tangled up that he draws personal conclusions.
But first things first. A special session has been scheduled for 8 a.m. for the Chancellor’s first appearance. Chairwoman Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (FDP), most recently his harshest critic within the coalition, greeted him with a handshake. “We do that every Friday the 13th now,” she says. Scholz grins: “Exactly.” Both sides are trying to show unity now – but that doesn’t last long, at least not with the other FDP committee members.
It is 9 a.m. and the meeting is coming to an end. However, when Scholz repeatedly did not answer and evaded inquiries about the status of arms deliveries to Ukraine and when the green light could also be given for Marder tanks, the FDP members of the defense committee left the meeting room.
An employee on site told the Tagesspiegel that they were angry about Scholz’s behavior. The trigger is a question from the FDP politician Marcus Ferber. When answering, Scholz digresses and talks 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,” says Faber afterwards. Unfortunately, he gave “hardly any answers” to the questions. The action was not planned and happened spontaneously, emphasizes Faber. “Unfortunately, many questions were not answered. That’s why we, as Free Democrats, decided shortly after nine that we would leave the session now,” said Faber into the microphones and cameras.
Strack-Zimmermann stays in the room and ends the session. She too had repeatedly criticized Scholz and accused him of acting too hesitantly. However, she does not join the protest in any way and then rather praises Scholz for his visit: “Not all questions can be answered in one hour, but it was a constructive exchange, more will follow.”
After the news of the scandal circulated, some of the FDP politicians were obviously called to reason. Faber tries to smooth things over: Nobody felt “cheated”, as the “Bild” newspaper rumored, and nobody issued a protest note.
Almost three hours after he left the meeting, the FDP faction 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 had been “follow-up appointments”, which had nothing to do with protest. But the line of defense of a media duck collapses, since the previous “video evidence” with Faber’s statements in front of the committee room after leaving the meeting early exists.
And the question arises, if there were follow-up appointments, why he continued to explain his protest behavior to the media long after the meeting on site. 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.
But that’s not all. The parliamentary group leadership convenes a special meeting, because it is quite a process to shoot in a coalition in the best opposition style against the chancellor, who was also elected by the FDP. Around 4 p.m., Marcus Faber announced on Twitter that he would be giving up his post as defense policy spokesman. “The comments made by today’s Defense Committee were inappropriate and did not do justice to the seriousness of the situation. I apologize for this and will offer my group to step down from my position as speaker at its next meeting on Tuesday,” tweeted the man from Stendal.
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 should appoint a coordinator for the difficult issue in the Chancellery went unheeded at the meeting. Instead, the Chancellor refers 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 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-design tanks and receive Marder tanks from Germany in return. He emphasizes that he never said he did not want to supply heavy weapons. Scholz is keeping a low profile on a possible trip to Kyiv.
Those around him emphasize that he has 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, said after the meeting with a view to another Rheinmetall application for the delivery of 88 Leopard battle tanks: A joint decision was made in NATO not to deliver heavy battle tanks like the Leopard.
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But these details do not play a major role in the one-hour session, Scholz remains vague in the non-public session. The Greens defense politician Agnieszka Brugger then emphasizes, with a view to the criticism also from Union politicians, that they know very well that arms exports are 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 emphasizes 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.