Visiting the troops in Afghanistan last week -- Germany's first female defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen.
December 30, 2013 Spiegel.de
Ursula von der Leyen has clinched the defense ministry and positioned herself as potential heir to Chancellor Angela Merkel. She's the star of the new cabinet, but she also has formidable rival in Thomas de Maizière, whom she ousted to get her new job.
Ursula von der Leyen smiles the smile of someone who made it. Relaxed, almost nonchalant, she approaches German President Joachim Gauck, who has in his hand the document officially naming her Germany's first female defense minister. Gauck gives von der Leyen a firm handshake. Von der Leyen smiles. Both turn to face the photographers.
The cameras click for four seconds, she holds the pose longer than any of the other ministers. Von der Leyen thanks Gauck. Next, she turns to Angela Merkel who says, "I look forward to working with you." Soon after, she's standing in front of Thomas de Maizière, her predecessor as defense minister.
De Maizière wants to simply extend his hand and offer brief congratulations -- for him, that would be enough. But von der Leyen is faster: She takes him by surprise, opening her arms and enveloping her colleague in a hug. De Maizière is startled, but then plays along, valiantly smiling as the cameras click away. A kiss on each cheek, then von der Leyen moves on.
It takes quite an amount of chutzpah to hug a man after you've just taken away his beloved job. But von der Leyen is capable of doing whatever it takes to get a good photo op, and did so at the Bellevue presidential palace, in Berlin on December 17, when she was officially appointed to her new post. Von der Leyen has always had a talent for easing the bitter taste of her ambition with a sweet coating of harmony. It's a method that has brought her far.
Germany now has a new government -- it has a few surprises in store, and one of them has been Ursula von der Leyen. Not only has she battled her way up to become the first female defense minister in German history, she has also managed along the way to reorganize the hierarchy of her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Within the CDU, two women are in charge now. Merkel at the top, and von der Leyen as her second in command. Then there's a considerable gap between them and the next in line. De Maizière, who had been all set to slip into the role of crown prince, was forced to make way so that von der Leyen could receive a ministerial post. That step fits in with her ambition and her desire to invent a new story for herself.