“Everyone up to the age of 65 is needed by the Bundeswehr”

Eva Högl has been the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces since May 2020 and is therefore the “lawyer” for the approximately 183,000 soldiers. In an interview, she says what the troupe needs – and settles accounts with radical pacifism.

t-online: Ms. Högl, the number of new recruits in the Bundeswehr has plummeted. In 2021 there were 16,000 recruits, in 2020 16,430, in 2019 there were still 20.170. Are young people tired of risking their skin for this or an allied country?

Eva Högl: Yes, the young people have a high level of motivation to get involved in our country. The war in Ukraine has reinforced this even more. Since then, many more people have wanted to join the Bundeswehr and help defend peace and freedom.

What are you up to?

We don’t have any specific figures on this yet, but in many conversations I get feedback that interest has increased.

What does the Bundeswehr have to do in principle to become more attractive?

It’s not just about attracting young people. We also need to appeal to and woo the middle and older age groups. All up to 65 are needed by the Bundeswehr. It’s not just about the core of the troops, but also about the reserve and the many civilian activities in the Bundeswehr. Well-qualified men and women are in demand everywhere.

Almost every seventh position is vacant, especially in the higher ranks. Why is that?

Not all of them are vacant, but the candidates are just completing their training or courses. After all, despite the pandemic, we managed to keep the workforce. However, it remains true that the Bundeswehr has a huge task ahead of it when it comes to recruiting, retaining and developing personnel. The goal must be 100 percent occupation, plus a reserve.

Eva Högl, born in 1969, joined the SPD in 1987. After studying law, she worked in the Federal Ministry of Labor and was a member of the Bundestag from 2009 to 2020, before becoming the Commissioner for the Armed Forces in 2020.

How to achieve this goal? With advertising campaigns with martial slogans like “You can’t extinguish trouble spots by waiting and drinking tea”? Or with the promise of a better work-life balance and flat-screen televisions in the living room, as ex-defense minister said Ursula von der Leyen once tried?

The respective target group must be reached with the first address. For the young you need an upbeat youth language, for the middle-aged you have to aim more at the abilities. Beyond that, however, the framework conditions must also be right. If the new recruits don’t even find protective vests or have to spend the night in moldy accommodation with non-functioning toilets, then they’ll be gone again quickly. Even the best advertising campaign doesn’t help.

The lawyer and SPD politician Eva Högl (53) has been the Bundestag’s military commissioner since May 2020. (Source: Imago Images / Janine Schmitz)

Does the Bundeswehr need more respect in society as a whole?

The problem in recent years has not been lack of respect, but disinterest. But that changed during the corona pandemic and during the floods last summer, because people saw how the Bundeswehr provided administrative assistance there. And now it’s changing massively again Ukraine war. The topics military, defense and security policy have a lot of attention.

The Bundeswehr also has a problem with women. In 2021, the proportion of female soldiers in the Bundeswehr was just under 13 percent and has therefore remained almost unchanged for five years. What has to happen here?

The Bundeswehr needs more women. Mixed teams are always better. Soldiers don’t want special treatment, they want equal rights. This requires good framework conditions, respect and recognition.

It looks even bleaker at the higher levels: in the general rank there are just two women – in the medical service.

Yes, the Bundeswehr needs more women in management positions. Women must be visible as superiors. Women have been able to serve in all areas of the Bundeswehr for 20 years. It takes a while to get promoted to General. That’s why we only have two female generals in the medical service. In the army, navy or air force, it will still be some time before women are promoted to the rank of general.

Is the Bundeswehr still too patriarchal?

Of course, the Bundeswehr is still a male domain. But that is changing. The young soldiers are happy that there are also women in the troops.

The criticism of the Federal Minister of Defense Christina Lambrechtwho like you a member of the SPD is, does not tear off. Is she a miscast?

Christine Lambrecht is a strong Secretary of Defense. She has achieved a lot for the troops: 100 billion euros in special funds, a quick decision on the successor to the Tornado aircraft. It accelerated the award procedure and Bundestag convinced that around 2.4 billion euros will be made available for personal equipment by 2025.

Bankruptcies, bad luck and breakdowns: Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) is controversial.  (Source: Imago Images)Bankruptcies, bad luck and breakdowns: Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) is controversial. (Source: Imago Images)

But it’s not just a communication problem: Many don’t necessarily think it’s the right sign for a defense minister to go for a manicure first thing in the morning after the start of the war in Ukraine.

I measure the secretary of defense by what she achieves for the force.

On Wednesday, the Bundestag will be discussing the traffic light project for the first time to decide on a special fund for the Bundeswehr in the amount of 100 billion euros. Where is the money most needed?

I can only appeal to everyone that the special fund is decided in the Bundestag and anchored in the Basic Law. The Bundeswehr urgently needs the 100 billion. In addition, the money must reach the Bundeswehr quickly. It’s about getting it operational again. This starts with radios and night vision devices and ends with large devices such as heavy transport helicopters.

The Union has announced that it will only approve the law if all of the assets are invested in the Bundeswehr and if there is a guarantee that Germany will permanently invest two percent of its gross domestic product in defense. Is this the right approach?

Yes, the Bundeswehr must be well equipped. That is why the approach of the Federal Chancellor Olaf ScholzIt is absolutely correct to earmark the 100 billion exclusively for the Bundeswehr and primarily for material. However, it is just as important that the Bundeswehr is permanently and solidly financed. This is not only a task for this Bundestag, but also for the next.

However, the Greens would like to link the special fund to civilian crisis prevention.

The good thing is that the special fund will be in addition to the current budget. This opens up other possibilities for financing tasks such as civilian crisis prevention from the current budget. So one does not exclude the other. However, the special fund must be reserved for the Bundeswehr.

There is concern that the 100 billion could seep away. What needs to change in the Bundeswehr Procurement Office and the Public Procurement Act?

Defense Minister Lambrecht has already ensured that the exception for the military sector is used in European public procurement law. In this way it can be determined that an order does not have to be advertised throughout Europe, but can be awarded to a German company. This can speed up the process. In addition, the minister has ensured that the threshold for direct contract award is raised from 1,000 to 5,000 euros.

And that is enough?

no In order to make things even faster, the procurement processes will have to be further streamlined in the future, for example by reducing responsibilities and requiring fewer signatures for an order. In addition, the troops have to be listened to more when decisions are made.

With a view to the Ukraine war, Olaf Scholz is concerned that the delivery of heavy weapons could lead to Germany being perceived by Russia as a participant in the war. If you don’t take over the narrative of Wladimir Putin?

International law is crucial.

International law experts see it differently. Some say: the delivery of heavy weapons would make Germany a participant in the war. The others doubt it.

There are also several opinions on international law. And first of all, it is a political decision.

And what do you think?

That we should do everything to support Ukraine. On the other hand, we have to ensure that the Bundeswehr has enough equipment to be ready for action.

Isn’t Germany just gambling away its reputation with its reticence?

I am sure that everything will be done in the federal government to support Ukraine. Namely together with our international partners. Sometimes there is a discrepancy between what is publicly communicated and public opinion on the one hand, and what actually happens on the other.

The German peace movement takes the position that Ukraine should surrender in order to reduce the loss of life. You used to be pacifist yourself. Can you understand this attitude?

I cannot understand a pacifist attitude that consists in demanding that Ukraine capitulate and be annexed by Russia. I think they are wrong. My understanding of pacifism has always been to be able to defend yourself in an emergency. Ukraine must win this war. That is why we must also support them with weapons.

Your party continues to have a lot of trouble with the ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who just once again defended his friend Putin in an interview with the “New York Times”. How should the SPD deal with it?

The party executive asked Schröder to leave the SPD. I think it’s right. With his positions, he no longer belongs in the party.

You yourself and others personally campaigned for Schröder in Lower Saxony in 1990 with the slogan “Gerd on the horse”. How big is the personal disappointment with his behavior today?

The personal disappointment is very great and I’m not the only one in the SPD. Gerhard Schröder was a good prime minister in Lower Saxony. I campaigned for him happily and out of conviction three times – in 1990, 1994 and 1998. He was also a good chancellor who didn’t do everything right, but did a lot of things right. What he is doing now is no longer understandable. That’s sad.

Ms Högl, thank you very much for the interview.

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