Updated February 13, 2020, 7:26 p.m.
Was there nepotism in the Federal Ministry of Defense? And why are millions of dollars being spent there for external consultants? Former Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen declared the employment of external consultants in this department to be indispensable and at the same time admitted mistakes in the awarding of the contract.
As the last witness, a Bundestag investigation committee interviewed ex-Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. “There have been violations of public procurement,” said today’s President of the EU Commission on Thursday in the Bundestag’s investigative committee on the advisory affair. According to her, the digitization of the Bundeswehr in particular “could not be achieved without outside help”. The CDU politician emphasized: “There have always been support and advisory services in the Ministry of Defense.” They will continue to be necessary in the future.
With the interrogation of the Leyens, the committee concluded its questioning after around a year. He examines the awarding of contracts to external consultants. Their use cost a three-digit million amount in the tenure of Leyen alone. It is about allegations from incorrect order placement to nepotism. In 2018, the Federal Audit Office strongly questioned the profitability and legality of the advisory service in the Ministry. As a result, the FDP, Left and Greens had set up the Defense Committee as a committee of inquiry.
Von der Leyen: “In the remarkable construction work, mistakes also happened”
Von der Leyen described that the digitization of the troops in 2013/2014 was “very low”. “It was all done manually.” Counting weapon systems and determining their operational readiness as well as keeping all medical records. According to von der Leyen, the Bundeswehr was not able to manage the necessary modernization with its own options. “We needed outside help.”
Von der Leyen portrayed a Bundeswehr that had taken a long course of austerity and shrinking when it took office, but at the same time faced new challenges. It listed the Afghanistan mission, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the war in eastern Ukraine, the advent of IS, the severe terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, the migration crisis in Europe and even the outbreak of the Ebola crisis in Africa. The Bundeswehr has “done a lot of good things”, said the ex-minister. “But mistakes have also occurred in the remarkable performance.”
The committee has heard around 40 witnesses in the past twelve months and consulted more than 4,000 files. Ministry of Defense officials, generals, former Secretary of State Katrin Suder and representatives of consulting firms were interviewed. There were a lot of excitements: At times the Ministry of Defense sent blackened and incomplete files. Then it turned out that the data on the Leyens cell phone had been deleted. The opposition spoke of the destruction of evidence.
She has long seen the accusation of nepotism as proven. “The question is: How did it come to this? Who is to blame?” Said the FDP chairman in the Defense Committee, Alexander Müller, before the interrogation. He expects answers from the ex-minister. The Green Defense politician Tobias Lindner put it this way: “It is about what she says about her own responsibility to the whole mess.”
MP: “Von der Leyen lacks any awareness of the problem”
So high expectations of von der Leyen. This comes to the examination committee on time – a black handbag in one hand, a blue folder with documents in the other hand. She sits down at the table in the middle of the hall, which could seat three people, the members of the committee in a semicircle in front of her. In preparation, she studied files in the Ministry of Defense again. She answered the questions of the MPs swiftly, she seldom fits with sentences like “This is beyond my knowledge”. However, there is sometimes a nervousness in her voice.
Leyen asks a lot about the details – and finally about the key question: “Do you see any mistakes in yourself?” It doesn’t really answer the question. Instead, she refers to her “dismay” when she found out about the allegations and the countermeasures taken. And she issued her state secretary, Suder, who was in charge at the time, a kind of blank check: “Her job was done with flying colors and brilliance”
In a short break after three hours, the SPD, FDP, Left, Greens and AfD draw a sobering balance. The answers are “very soft,” says Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann from the FDP, quite diplomatically. Greens MP Lindner misses “some feeling of error awareness”. And Matthias Höhn from the left also says that there is no “problem awareness”. Rüdiger Lucassen from the AfD complains that only the subordinate areas are to blame. He attests from the Leyen “total refusal of responsibility”.
After almost five hours of interrogation, von der Leyen leaves the Bundestag building almost in a hurry – shielded by a bunch of resolute security officers. (Ash / dpa)
Members of the Bundestag have the Minister of Defense a. D. asked about controversial consultancy contracts.