Is ‘mini-Merkel’ AKK’s move to join cabinet a risky bid for power?

Chancellor Angela Merkel's favoured successor joined her cabinet Wednesday as defence minister, a high-profile job often called a poisoned chalice in Berlin's fraught political landscape.

Is 'mini-Merkel' AKK's move to join cabinet a risky bid for power?
AKK speaking on behalf of the CDU earlier this year. Photo: DPA

The surprise appointment of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer late Tuesday came just hours after the current head of the German military, Ursula von der Leyen, was elected as the first woman to lead the European Commission.

The decision by AKK, as she is commonly known, to take charge of a sprawling administration widely seen as unwieldy and scandal-prone was described as a risky gambit to shore up political support.

SEE ALSO: Merkel's favoured successor AKK to become German defence minister

At a naming ceremony at the presidential palace in Berlin in Merkel's presence, the 56-year-old formally accepted the portfolio from von der Leyen.  

“The men and women of the Bundeswehr (armed forces) deserve the highest political priority and my full commitment,” she said. 

“I am aware of my great responsibility and want to live up to it.”

Shakuntala Banerjee of ZDF public television said AKK was “stepping up and taking over the most difficult ministry”. 

“The chances to win big are there – but the risk of failure is also greater.”

News weekly Der Spiegel said the defence ministry, rocked by a series of mismanagement allegations on von der Leyen's watch, could prove to be a “minefield” for AKK.  

“But because that's the case, the ministry also offers a chance for her to sharpen her profile, in an area where she lacks it: in foreign and security policy — an area where a chancellor needs some experience,” said its commentator Philipp Wittrock.

“The chancellery remains the big goal and the defence ministry can serve as a stage for her to prove herself.”

SEE ALSO: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer: The reason behind the mini-Merkel headlines

'Abusing the Bundeswehr' 

However opposition politicians seized on AKK's lack of expertise in military affairs at a time when the Bundeswehr has suffered chronic equipment problems and accusations of underfunding, not least from US President Donald Trump.

“The chancellor and the CDU have shown once again that the needs of the Bundeswehr don't interest them at all,” Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann of the Free Democrats told the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

“They are abusing the stricken Bundeswehr for their little personnel games.”

AKK has had a rocky tenure since December as Merkel's handpicked successor as head of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), with her poll ratings in freefall.

She had said as recently as this month that she was not interested in a cabinet post, preferring to focus her energy on strengthening the CDU.

Merkel, who turned 65 on Wednesday, is the EU's longest-serving leader and often called the most powerful woman in the world.

She has said she will leave politics at the end of her fourth term, in 2021.

After a series of shaking spells at public ceremonies in the last month, Merkel remained seated for most of the naming ceremony, along with von der Leyen and AKK.

By Deborah Cole

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.