Germany’s first female defense minister has won some big fights, writes Constanze Stelzenmüller
Equality of the sexes will be achieved when mediocre women can land plum jobs – just as men can, or so we have all been led to believe.
The nomination of Ursula von der Leyen as Germany’s first female defense minister is not a case in point; the lady is formidable. The elegant, tough 55-year-old has ample ministerial experience. She last ran the ministry for labour and social affairs, whose budget amounts to a third of Germany’s national expenditure, three times as big as the defence ministry and armed forces budget, so she is unlikely to be impressed by the size of the new challenge. Ms von der Leyen is also a doctor and mother of seven children. She might teach the uniforms something about discipline.
Ms von der Leyen elicits strong feelings from friends and foes alike, but there is near consensus that a lack of ambition is not one of her problems. Better still, she can win big fights, notably with Elterngeld, an entitlement intended to raise Germany’s low birth rate, which infuriated her Christian Democratic party’s old-fogey wing. She enjoys emerging triumphant from a public tussle, as with the new legal right to a space in a public crèche, which she championed successfully.
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Constanze Stelzenmueller is a Berlin-based senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.