Frau Ministerin

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The big surprise of yesterday's naming of ministers in the new grand coalition in Germany was that Labor and Social Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen will become defense minister. The Christian Democratic politician will be Germany's first female defense minister, overseeing a Bundeswehr which reportedly only has one woman in its senior officer corps.

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One interpretation of her naming to the post of defense minister is that she is being groomed to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel. But she will face major challenges as she will have to learn the defense portfolio and outgoing minister Lothar de Maizière, who goes back to head the Interior Ministry (and has been mentioned as a possible canditate for NATO Secretary-General) leaves her the unfinished business of completing the transformation of the Bundeswehr. In addition, the post of defense minister has proven to be a hot seat for her predecessors, with de Maizière having faced calls for resignation over the cancelled Euro Hawk program, Karl-Theodor von Guttenberg forced to resign because of accusations that his Ph.D. was plagiarized, and Franz Josef Jung quitting after German forces in Afghanistan ordered an air strike that killed many civilians.

Von der Leyen is considered to be open to more European defense integration, one of the planks of the government program agreed on by the grand coalition. She was born and grew up in Brussels, where her father was a European Commission official.

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