BERLIN (AFP) – At a prominent carnival season event this year, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock admitted she thought about turning up disguised “as a leopard”.
“But then I was afraid the chancellery would not grant me permission to travel for weeks,” she said. It was a clear jibe at Chancellor Olaf Scholz over his delay in approving the sending of German Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
Carnival season is a time of fun in Germany, with people donning silly outfits and joining parades. But politicians feature prominently, and their speeches are often a sign of the times.
No surprise then that commentators seized on the ostensibly light-hearted comment as an example of a deepening rift between the foreign minister and the chancellor, warning that it is hurting Germany on the world stage. The pair’s difficult relationship is “paralysing the coalition – and Germany’s foreign policy”, said influential news magazine Der Spiegel earlier this month.
The tensions should not come as a surprise – it is hard to imagine two more different characters.
While Scholz, 64, is a taciturn figure who prefers to take decisions behind closed doors in the chancellery, 42-year-old Baerbock is in her element speaking in public, projecting a confident, well-crafted image.
Scholz is from the left-leaning SPD and Baerbock the Greens. The two parties were election rivals before coming together to form a coalition, along with the liberal FDP. Baerbock is the first woman to head Germany’s Foreign Ministry.
She “respects the traditional control of the chancellery, without however giving up her own ideas”, political scientist Gero Neugebauer told AFP.
But Scholz does not want to be dictated to when it comes to diplomacy, which means their relationship is increasingly marked by tensions, he added.
The clearest evidence of this is over military aid to Ukraine in its war against Russia: Baerbock has been pushing for Berlin to increase support, but Scholz has been accused of foot-dragging.
As the debate raged over whether to send Leopard tanks to Kyiv, and with Scholz still apparently reluctant, Baerbock told a French TV channel Germany would accept if Poland asked permission to deliver them.
Scholz finally yielded to pressure and agreed the German-made Leopards could be sent to Ukraine – but was reportedly not pleased that his minister had appeared to force his hand.
Weekly Die Zeit described how Baerbock had in recent months told Britain and the United States that Germany would ultimately agree to send the armaments. This, it said, had encouraged Washington and London to ramp up pressure on Berlin.
Another example of tensions is a reported row over the government’s “national security strategy”. It was supposed to be ready this month, according to an agreement signed by the coalition last year.
But it has not appeared due to disagreement over where a planned “security council” should be located – in the chancellery or the foreign ministry, Spiegel reported. Asked about the security strategy on Wednesday, a government spokesman insisted it was “in the very final stages”.