Merkel Picks AKK to Take Over Troubled German Defense Ministry

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Angela Merkel unexpectedly picked Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to succeed Brussels-bound Ursula von der Leyen as defense minister, handing the head of Germany’s Christian Democrats a difficult portfolio as she seeks to develop her bid to become chancellor after Merkel’s term ends.

The German leader, who has said she intends to remain in charge until the next scheduled election in 2021, moved quickly to replace von der Leyen, whose nomination as the next president of the European Commission was approved by the bloc’s parliament on Tuesday.

The 56-year-old Kramp-Karrenbauer, known in Germany as AKK, inherits a job considered something of a poisoned chalice. Critics say the country’s armed forces are chronically underfunded. They have been plagued by allegations of inefficiency and reports of faulty equipment, with helicopters that can’t fly and submarines unable to sail.

“When such an important position — a core job in the cabinet — becomes available, then a CDU leader must step up and take responsibility, and she is doing that,” Ralph Brinkhaus, head of the CDU parliamentary caucus, said in an interview with ZDF television Wednesday.

“If you want to show leadership you don’t think about the risk, you just get on with the job,” he added. “In life, just as in politics, there are always risks, but if you don’t trust yourself to take on difficult tasks, then you don’t belong in politics.”

Germany has been a regular target of calls by President Donald Trump for U.S. allies to boost funding for the military. Merkel, who turns 65 on Wednesday, has stood by a NATO-sponsored target of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defense, even if it takes longer to get there than Trump wants.

However, officials in the Social Democratic Party — Merkel’s junior coalition partner which controls the Finance Ministry — say the 2% target is an arbitrary distraction that they have no intention of implementing.

(Adds Brinkhaus comments beginning in fourth paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Arne Delfs in Berlin at [email protected];Iain Rogers in Berlin at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at [email protected], Chris Reiter

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