He is the most prominent of Germany’s new ambassadors: Steffen Seibert’s face and voice are familiar to most Germans, because the former ZDF journalist was Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman for eleven years. This week, the 62-year-old introduced himself in a video on Twitter as the designated German ambassador to Israel. No wonder: the longtime moderator of the “Heute Journal” was also the first German government spokesman to use Twitter as a medium.
The future ambassador greeted his followers in English and Hebrew: “Shalom, I am Steffen Seibert” (Shalom, I am Steffen Seibert). After the “monstrous crimes of the Shoah”, Germany and Israel now have a special friendship, he said, after all both countries are “partners and friends” today. One of the “most important lessons” from their own history for the Germans is to “stand by the State of Israel and be committed to its security”. Merkel’s ex-spokesman introduced himself as ambassador-designate because he will only officially take up the post once he has handed over his credentials to Head of State Jitzchak Herzog.
Seibert is a career changer in the diplomatic service, but one who, thanks to his intensive involvement in international politics alongside the Chancellor, who is highly respected in Israel, is likely to have more knowledge of the relationship with his host country and also of protocol practices than previous ambassadors who, like he had not completed a two-year attaché training course at the Federal Foreign Office (AA), but came from politics. Chancellor Olaf Scholz had promised his predecessor that her spokesman could become an ambassador.
At 45 German embassies, general consulates and consulates, there are changes in management this summer, as the Federal Foreign Office announced on request. This means that a fifth of the nearly 230 missions abroad will be taken over by a new manager. The rotation occurs as part of what is known as the uniform rotation date, which is a multi-week period in July and August. It is therefore not always the 1st of July for new ambassadors or consuls general to take up their duties.
Some similarly important and therefore high-ranking embassies like the one in Tel Aviv now have new leaders. So Patricia Flor takes over the post in Beijing. In the meantime, this position was occupied on an interim basis after predecessor Jan Hecker died unexpectedly in the autumn of last year shortly after taking office. Like Seibert, Hecker also worked closely with Merkel and had been her foreign policy adviser from 2017. Flor was previously EU Ambassador to Tokyo and Head of AA’s International Order, United Nations and Arms Control Division.
There had been a lengthy struggle for the important position in Washington because the FDP claimed the position for their parliamentary group leader, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff. He comes from the Foreign Office and completed his in-house training before rising to become a respected foreign and security politician in the Bundestag. But Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) prevailed and extended the regular term of office of Emily Haber, who had previously been the first State Secretary in the AA.
Baerbock is also responsible for Miguel Berger taking over London. Shortly after taking office, she decided in December 2021 to entrust the state secretary, who was highly respected in the house, with a new task, possibly because he was considered close to the SPD and had already worked in the SPD parliamentary group. Baerbock replaced him with the then ambassador in London, Andreas Michaelis.
The diplomat, who is a member of the Greens and once served as spokesman for Joschka Fischer, returned to a post he previously held from 2018 to 2020. As then, he is still seen today as an extremely power-conscious state secretary with a pronounced will to reform, who also takes care of a surprising number of personal details. In the Michaelis/Berger case, one can almost speak of a diplomatic merry-go-round: Berger first followed Michaelis as state secretary, then he replaced him again, and Berger succeeded him in his previous post as ambassador.
Apparently party political considerations played less of a role in the appointment of Thomas Bagger as ambassador to the difficult post in Warsaw. Bagger served as foreign policy advisor to Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier for many years. Unlike his former colleague Jens Plötner, who is now foreign policy advisor to Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Bagger’s role in German Russia policy under Foreign Minister Steinmeier (2005 to 2009 and 2009 to 2017) has not been critically examined in German politics.
There are probably several reasons for this: He also served the liberal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (2009 to 2013) as office manager and head of planning staff and does not seek publicity. Plötner recently gave a lecture to the German Society for Foreign Affairs, and a quote from it was then scandalized, especially by Union politicians, including parliamentary group leader Friedrich Merz (CDU), and interpreted as a sign of an alleged pro-Russian attitude. But the experienced diplomat Bagger should be aware that his Polish hosts could formulate questions for him in this regard. In the eastern EU and NATO countries, Steinmeier’s Russia policy at the time was considered too naïve compared to the aggressive policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin and not tough enough on Moscow. Important politicians in these countries do not consider Berlin’s current foreign and security policy to be decisive enough since the outbreak of the war against Ukraine.
In an emerging country that is currently being courted by the federal government and that has a lot of influence, a diplomat who used to serve as a speechwriter for Fischer takes over: Philipp Ackermann, previously head of Political Department 3, which is responsible, will become ambassador to the Indian capital New Delhi for relations with the countries in the Near and Middle East, in Africa and in Latin America.
Ackermann replaces Walter Lindner, probably the only top German diplomat with long hair tied in a ponytail. The passionate musician, who also once served as a spokesman for Fischer and later became State Secretary, is retiring.