This is the new Secretary of Defense

Berlin In mid-September, Boris Pistorius is standing between two large fire engines in the fire service center in Stadthagen and is talking about cyber security since the outbreak of the Ukraine war. On this day, however, the Interior Minister of Lower Saxony is just a kind of sidekick for SPD leader Lars Klingbeil, who is touring through Lower Saxony on a summer trip.

In the future, however, Pistorius will be in the spotlight like few other politicians in Germany. The 62-year-old succeeds Christine Lambrecht and becomes the new Secretary of Defense. A larger and more difficult task could hardly wait for Pistorius.

Pistorius is considered a man of clear words. The SPD describes him as “assertive and tried-and-true”. And as experienced: After seven years as mayor of Osnabrück, Pistorius has now been in office for the third time since 2013 as Lower Saxony’s interior minister.

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The long-serving department head is familiar with security and cyber policy and is considered to be well connected in the security authorities. So there is at least a substantive proximity to defense issues. Through his membership in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, he also has at least a few connections to the international defense scene. In order to gather all these skills at his cabinet table in the future, Scholz even renounced the promised gender parity in the federal cabinet.

Scholz: Pistorius has “a lot of experience in security policy”

“Boris Pistorius is a very good choice,” says Andreas Schwarz, the SPD budget politician responsible for defense policy. “He comes from the security sector and knows how to run a ministry and deal with the media.” The defense department was also relieved after the personnel decision. “Pistorius is the right one,” said one manager, “the best of all traded solutions”.

Pistorius attitude suits the Bundeswehr

Unlike his predecessor, Pistorius should hardly be strangers to the troupe. Rather the opposite. Because of his direct approach, he was already considered one of the most popular ministers in Lower Saxony. His political attitude also fits in well with the Bundeswehr: Pistorius is considered to be extremely pragmatic, he has repeatedly advocated a more effective security architecture and has not only made friends in his party.

In 2017, for example, in a paper on social democratic domestic policy, Pistorius called for resolute action against terrorist threats, a significant increase in the number of staff in the federal police force and improved combating of cybercrime.

Among the SPD interior ministers, he was the most noticeable in recent years. He made a number of points, for example in the fight against hooligans, in the debate about Islamist threats or in questions of deportations. On the other hand, he received harsh criticism in 2019 with his proposal to link penalties for driving on German roads to income.

At the interior ministers’ conferences, Pistorius clearly enjoyed arguing with conservatives such as former Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU). Pistorius will also be able to use belligerence and perseverance in his new office. Most recently, the Federal Chancellery had taken over defense policy, the defense department was practically out of business, Pistorius will have to assert himself against Scholz here.

Federal political ambitions suspected for a long time

Pistorius joined the SPD at the age of 16 and completed an apprenticeship as a wholesale and foreign trade merchant. He then did his military service in the Steuben barracks in Achim. The fact that Pistorius “served” should help him in the squad.

>> Read here: Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht resigns – ten lines to say goodbye

After his service, he studied law and then worked his way up the political ladder in Lower Saxony. In the meantime, he also made headlines through his liaison with Doris Schröder-Köpf, the former wife of ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Pistorius has long been said to have federal political ambitions. In 2017 he was a member of the shadow cabinet of the then chancellor candidate Martin Schulz. In 2019, Pistorius ran for the federal presidency of the SPD together with Petra Köpping – against Olaf Scholz, among others.

Boris Pistorius

The 62-year-old has years of experience in domestic politics.

(Photo: imago images/photothek)

Originally, the duo had been given realistic chances of winning. In the long application process, Pistorius remained surprisingly pale. A Willy Brandt parody, which he performed at one of the events, was particularly memorable.

>> Read here: First Lambrecht, then fibers? Union demands clarity about the future of the interior minister

Despite the defeat, Pistorius continued to be traded for ministerial posts in the Confederation. There were rumors that he could become Federal Minister of the Interior if Nancy Faeser stands as the top candidate for the SPD in the state elections in Hesse this year.

Now he is actually sitting at the cabinet table, albeit in a different position than everyone had expected – and perhaps the most difficult. The defense department is considered an “ejection seat”. Many seasoned politicians have failed in the office. As a defense minister, it feels like you “stand with one foot in resignation every day,” says a defense politician.

Olaf Scholz and Boris Pistorius at a regional meeting of the SPD

Pistorius will not have time to familiarize himself. On Friday, the defense ministers of the Ukraine contact group will discuss further support for Ukraine at the US air base in Ramstein. The German government is expected to position itself on the delivery of battle tanks to Ukraine.

The new defense minister must also rush the Bundeswehr back into national and alliance defense. It is also important to order urgently needed ammunition and replacements for the military equipment that has been delivered to the Ukraine from the Bundeswehr stocks. A further acceleration of the procurement system is also one of the tasks of the new department head.

At the age of 62, Pistorius is nearing the end of his political career. Should he fail in office, that would at least not be a career killer for him personally. But maybe for Chancellor Scholz.

Scholz has made the turning point the core of his policy, and he is measured by its implementation. And for that, after the breakdown minister Lambrecht, he now needs a successor who can also meet the new demands. Or as an SPD politician martially puts it despite the war: “This second shot has to hit the mark now.”

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