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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
17 Feb 2024
James Rothwell

Olaf Scholz blocked Ursula von der Leyen as Nato chief ‘because she would be too tough on Russia’

Olaf Scholz blocked Ursula von der Leyen from becoming the new head of Nato because he believed she would be too tough on Russia, German media reported on Saturday.

The German chancellor, who has faced criticism for his cautious approach to diplomacy with Vladimir Putin, reportedly told Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, that he was against the appointment.

“Scholz was categorically against von der Leyen becoming Nato head,” German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported, citing officials in Brussels and European diplomats.

Ms von der Leyen had been too critical of Putin, and this could “prove to be a disadvantage in the long term” in the view of Mr Scholz, the sources added.

Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of Nato, is due to step down from the role in October, having extended his tenure three times.

The name of Ms von der Leyen, a former German defence minister who is currently the European Commission president, has been floated as one potential successor.

Another is Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, whose chances of receiving the role had increased due to Mr Scholz’s opposition to Ms von der Leyen, Welt am Sonntag reported.

Mr Rutte is said to be keen on the role, but has tried to play down his enthusiasm for the job in recent weeks. “After 13 years in this job you still make mistakes,” he told students at a school in Berlin last December. “And the mistake was that I spoke about a possible shift for me, to secretary-general, and I’m absolutely not sure whether it will happen.”

An April 2023 report in The Sun newspaper said that Britain might also veto Ms von de Leyen for the role, citing her poor performance as German defence minister in Angela Merkel’s cabinet.

During her tenure as defence minister from 2013 to 2019, she faced frequent criticism for depending heavily on the use of outside consultants and gaps in the German army’s military preparedness.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced major reform and spending increases in the German armed forces, which is overseen by Boris Pistorius, the defence minister. He has vowed to make the nation “war-ready,” amid concerns that Russia may attack a Nato member state within the next three years.

Ben Wallace, the former UK defence secretary, is also being discussed in Nato circles as a potential candidate to succeed Mr Stoltenberg, along with Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish prime minister.