Merkel protege AKK given defence job seen as poisoned chalice

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Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer succeeds new EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen as German defence minister

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, right, and Ursula von der Leyen
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (right) and Ursula von der Leyen at a ceremony after Kramp-Karrenbauer???s appointment as defence minister on Wednesday. Photograph: Omer Messinger/Getty Images

Angela Merkel???s favoured successor as chancellor has been appointed Germany???s new defence minister in an unexpected and potentially risky move after Ursula von der Leyen???s confirmation as European commission president.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, widely known in Germany as AKK, formally took over the role during a ceremony on Wednesday, a day after MEPs narrowly backed Von der Leyen???s nomination, and will swear her oath of office in the Bundestag next week.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, narrowly won the leadership of Merkel???s centre-right Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) last year and had no cabinet role, a reason given by some opponents for objecting to her as a candidate for the chancellorship.

But the job of defence minister is widely seen as a poisoned chalice. Germany???s armed forces, which critics maintain have long been chronically underfunded, are consistently accused of inefficiency and of having inadequate or defective equipment.

Originally thought likely to go to the ambitious young health minister, Jens Spahn, the defence job has been labelled ???the ejector seat??? of German politics, after derailing the careers of several ministers who have held it.

Von der Leyen, once seen as a potential chancellor, became one of Germany???s least popular politicians during her five years in the post.

Kramp-Karrenbauer???s colleagues welcomed the appointment. ???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,??? said Ralph Brinkhaus, the leader of the CDU parliamentary caucus.

???If you want to show leadership you don???t consider the risk, you get on with the job. In life as in politics, there are always risks. If you don???t trust yourself to take on hard tasks, you don???t belong in politics.???

Sometimes called the ???mini-Merkel???, Kramp-Karrenbauer has been poised to take over as chancellor since becoming CDU leader in December after Merkel announced she would not seek another term when her current term ended in 2021.

But she has failed to connect effectively with voters, many of whom see her as out of touch, and came in for strong criticism after the party???s record-low performance in the European parliamentary elections in May.

After a succession of gaffes obliged Merkel to publicly dismiss reports that she had reached the conclusion her chosen successor was not up to the job, Kramp-Karrenbauer recently said she wanted to concentrate on reforming and reuniting the party rather than taking a ministerial job.

Germany has faced calls from Donald Trump to boost its defence spending to the Nato target of 2% of GDP, which Merkel has said the country will work towards but her junior coalition partner, the centre-left Social Democratic party (SPD), has dismissed as arbitrary.