Last Tuesday, Alexander Müller (52, computer scientist and lieutenant colonel in the reserve) took over the post of defense policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group.
His predecessor Marcus Faber had drawn the displeasure of his own parliamentary group leadership because he had criticized an appearance by Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) in the Defense Committee as insubstantial and left prematurely.
WORLD: Mr. Müller, your predecessor Marcus Faber considers the support of Ukraine by the federal government to be too hesitant – and has also articulated that. Since when does a member of the FDP have to resign because he freely expresses his opinion?
Alexander Müller: That wasn’t the reason. The opinion is legitimate and I share it. But the resignation took place because the colleague publicly claimed that there had been a protest by the FDP parliamentary group, which never took place.
WORLD: Faber and other FDP politicians left the meeting with Scholz early. They also. Why did the parliamentary group leadership nevertheless unanimously nominate you as Faber’s successor?
Müller: My departure from the session was planned because I had a follow-up appointment. Incidentally, nobody expected the chancellor to stay with us for more than an hour. We could have had him with us in the regular session on Wednesday. But he only had 30 minutes. That’s why Chairwoman Strack-Zimmermann scheduled a special meeting for Friday, in which Scholz wanted to be available for 60 minutes. It was even a few minutes longer, but I couldn’t wait for my next appointment and got out a little earlier – without any prior arrangements. It is completely normal that one in five MEPs leave early. This has nothing to do with a protest against the chancellor.
WORLD: How satisfied are you with the head of government?
Müller: Overall, I’m satisfied with the government’s course. In his government statement on Thursday, the chancellor once again made the line of the traffic light coalition clear, which I fully support. We are on Ukraine’s side with extensive aid and are making diplomatic efforts to find a negotiated solution that is acceptable to Kyiv. Only with regard to heavy weapons, that is my conviction and that of the FDP as well, that we could do more.
Müller: We could simply deliver more. I can certainly see that this is a difficult discussion because now – unlike at the beginning – it is primarily about heavy weapons. And there are also fears among the population, fears in particular from inveterate pacifists, which I fully respect. Nevertheless, I am convinced that it is our duty to support Ukraine by all means against this war of aggression, which violates international law.
WORLD: How satisfied are you with Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD)?
Müller: The defense minister is also tackling major issues such as procurement reform and the digitization of the Bundeswehr. She is present, also comes to the committee and discusses the important issues with us. In short: she works diligently through our joint program.
WORLD: Nevertheless, Ms. Lambrecht is criticized for many reasons – most recently because she had her son accompany her in a Bundeswehr helicopter on a visit to the troops and then go on Easter vacation on Sylt. Was that legally and politically correct?
Müller: I’m not a lawyer, so I won’t allow myself any legal judgement. Everyone has to judge for themselves whether it was politically clever. Mistakes happen occasionally in the FDP parliamentary group too, we talked about that at the beginning. So I don’t want to criticize her.
WORLD: Actually, the Bundestag should finally advise on a 100 billion euro special fund for the Bundeswehr last week. Why was this postponed?
Müller: Negotiations are still ongoing between the traffic light coalition and the Union because votes from the opposition are needed to change the Basic Law. And apparently no agreement has yet been found in detail that everyone can live with.
WORLD: Should the money flow completely into the equipment of the Bundeswehr, as the Union wants – or are you, like the Greens, in favor of a broader security policy approach when using this money?
Müller: We should only use the money to equip the Bundeswehr, as the chancellor announced. After all, the 100 billion euros weren’t pulled out of thin air, but exactly the amount that is needed to achieve the Bundeswehr’s capability profile again. The special fund must quickly become part of the Basic Law so that industry can also begin to hire staff and invest in production facilities and raw materials. They don’t do that as long as the legal basis is not secured. That’s why I’m calling for the special fund to be resolved quickly now – the Union must bear state political responsibility here.
WORLD: In view of the investment needs of the troops, would it be reasonable to decide the issue only after the summer break?
Müller: No, I see an urgent need. If we only decide after the summer break, we will delay it again by several months. We have to come to terms, the Bundeswehr needs material.
WORLD: The inspector of the army, Lieutenant General Mais, has just described the dimensions of the problems again. His people can’t even transmit bug-proof. You are a computer scientist and know the poor state of digitization in the Bundeswehr. How can this be solved quickly?
Müller: I have good news, it will be resolved very quickly. The procurement processes are so mature that it is now only a matter of money and industrial capacities. If the special fund is there, we can get started immediately.
WORLD: What investment needs are we talking about in this area?
Müller: That will be a low, double-digit billion amount for digitization as a whole. It’s not just about radios, it’s about leadership as a whole.
WORLD: Should the planned 100 billion euros flow: are you sure that the money can be spent efficiently by the Bundeswehr procurement department?
Mueller: Yes. It is commonly said that the office in Koblenz is a black hole through which money seeps away. That’s not the case. Our problem in procurement is simply that we have very bureaucratic processes that greatly delay procurement. We have just passed an acceleration law for the construction of LNG liquid gas terminals in the Bundestag. We will soon introduce a similar law for the Bundeswehr. It will enable simplified procurement processes for a period of five years – without all this superfluous bureaucracy. We are getting a Federal Armed Forces Equipment Acceleration Act.
WORLD: Away from the procurement office, political influence often causes dubious armament decisions. The purchase of a heavy transport helicopter in the USA is currently being discussed. There is a model from Sikorsky that meets all the requirements of the Bundeswehr. And there is an older Boeing model that is apparently favored by the Chancellery. How do you see the case?
Müller: I assume that both models meet the requirements. But my feeling is indeed that there is some kind of preference for a model in the Department of Defense. We MEPs now have to decide whether we want to support this – or whether the information available is not enough and the government needs to improve it so that we can answer the question with certainty: which model is more powerful, more operational and cheaper? That will now be decided within a few days, weeks at the latest.