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Ursula von der Leyen to Visit Vienna to Discuss Defence Issues

Published: April 29, 2016; 14:00 · (FriedlNews)

As part of an official visit to Vienna, Ursula von der Leyen, Minister of Defence of Germany, which currently holds the OSCE Chairmanship, will meet OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier. During their meeting, von der Leyen and Zannier will discuss the role of the OSCE focusing in particular on the crisis in and around Ukraine. They will also explore possibilities to strengthen the OSCE and its capabilities.

Ursula von der Leyen to visit Vienna to discuss the role of the OSCE / Picture: © Wikipoedia / Dirk Vorderstraße

As part of an official visit to Vienna, Ursula von der Leyen, Minister of Defence of Germany, which currently holds the OSCE Chairmanship, will meet OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier on Tuesday, 3 May 2016, and hold a joint news conference in the Organization’s Secretariat building on Wallnerstrasse at 10:00 am.

During their meeting, von der Leyen and Zannier will discuss the role of the OSCE in restoring trust and security in Europe focusing in particular on the crisis in and around Ukraine. They will also explore possibilities to strengthen the OSCE and its capabilities. The joint news conference will follow their meeting.

Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen is a German politician who has been the Minister of Defence since 2013, and is the first woman in German history to hold that office.

A doctor by profession, she previously also served as the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs from 2009 to 2013 and as the Minister of Senior Citizens, Women and Youth from 2005 to 2009.

She has sometimes been suggested as a possible future successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel due to personal loyalty to the Chancellor and her 'political instinct.

In 2013, Ursula von der Leyen was appointed as Germany's first female defence minister.

By placing a major party figure such as von der Leyen at the head of the Defence Ministry, Merkel was widely seen as reinvigorating the scandal-ridden ministry’s morale and prestige.

Along with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, von der Leyen is one of only three ministers to remain with Merkel since she became chancellor in 2005.

Von der Leyen chairs the EPP Defence Ministers Meeting, which gathers EPP defence ministers ahead of meetings of the Council of the European Union.

While some other party officials were, like Merkel, also elected with scores over 90% to the CDU executive board at a party convention in December 2014, von der Leyen scraped only 70.5%.

Within her first year in office, Von der Leyen visited the Bundeswehr troops stationed in Afghanistan three times and oversaw the gradual withdrawal of German soldiers from the country as NATO was winding down its 13-year combat mission ISAF.

In summer 2014, she was instrumental in Germany’s decision to resupply the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters with lethal assistance.

Following criticism from German officials of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's military crackdown against Kurdish militants in August 2015, von der Leyen decided to let Germany’s three-year Patriot missile batteries mission to southern Turkey lapse in January 2016 instead of seeking parliamentary approval to extend it.

In September 2015, she signalled that she was open to delaying the withdrawal of 850 German soldiers from Afghanistan beyond 2016 after the Taliban's surprise seizure of the northern city of Kunduz; German forces used to be based in Kunduz as part of NATO-led ISAF and remain stationed in the north of the country.

At the Munich Security Conference in 2015, von der Leyen publicly defended the German refusal to supply Ukraine with weapons.

Stressing that it was important to remain united in Europe over Ukraine, she argued that negotiations with Russia, unlike with Islamic State jihadists, were possible.

Germany sees Ukraine and Russia as a chance to prove that in the 21st century, developed nations should solve disputes at the negotiating table, not with weapons, she said.

In addition, she noted, Russia has an almost infinite supply of weapons it could send in to Ukraine.

She questioned whether any effort by the West could match that or, more important, achieve the outcome sought by Ukraine and its supporters.

On the contrary, von der Leyen said giving the Ukrainians arms to help them defend themselves could have unintended and fateful consequences. "Weapons deliveries would be a fire accelerant," von der Leyen was quoted as telling the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily. "And it could give the Kremlin the excuse to openly intervene in this conflict."

When Hungary used a water canon and tear gas to drive asylum seekers back from the Hungarian-Serbian border in September 2015, von der Leyen publicly criticized the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and called the measures “not acceptable and [...] against the European rules that we have."

Under von der Leyen's leadership, the German parliament approved government plans in early 2016 to send up to 650 soldiers to Mali, boosting its presence in the U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSMA in the West African country.

In 2014, von der Leyen introduced a €100 million scheme to make the Bundeswehr more attractive to new recruits, including by offering crèches for soldiers’ children, limiting postings to match school term dates, and considerable rises in hardship allowances for difficult postings.

Early in her tenure, von der Leyen pledged to get a grip on Germany’s military equipment budget after publishing a KPMG report on repeated failures in controlling suppliers, costs and delivery deadlines, e.g., with the Airbus A400M Atlas transport plane, Eurofighter Typhoon jet and the Boxer armoured fighting vehicle.

In 2015, she criticized Airbus over delays in the delivery of A400M military transport planes, complaining that the company had a serious problem with product quality. "At stake is not just the image of the company, but also Germany's reliability as an alliance partner," she stated.