It was the first question and it was unequivocal: could he assure Ukraine that a decision on "Leopard" deliveries would be made without further delay? "Thank you very much for the question", replied the Federal Chancellor, Germany will continue to make decisions "always closely coordinated with all our friends and allies". Not more but also not less.
It is practically the same formulation that Olaf Scholz has been reeling off for weeks and months when it comes to German military aid to Ukraine, which is only given in international solidarity and not nationally alone - as was the case at the joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday in Paris.
The 60th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty was celebrated, the basis of Franco-German friendship (the star was there). The battle tank debate was to accompany the chancellor all the way to the Sorbonne University. This is probably due not least to Scholz himself, who only explains himself in monosyllables and in the same words over and over again. In doing so, he has obviously created a communicative gap that others fill - with the demand to deliver the "Leopard" tanks, the accusation of slowing down the aid and the fundamental question of what is actually behind Scholz's reluctance.
For the chancellor, the debate about the supply of main battle tanks is gradually becoming a stress test, with criticism pouring down from all sides. The USA in particular seems annoyed because the federal government is said to have imposed conditions on the White House for the "Leopard" deliveries. According to the "Süddeutsche Zeitung", there was a war of words between US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chancellor Wolfgang Schmidt. Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit denied that there had been a corresponding demand "at no point in time", and according to the German account there was also no dispute, but the impression that the federal government was slowing down was evident.
Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, for example, criticized that Scholz's (reluctant) attitude on the "Leopard" question was "unacceptable". After the Polish government had repeatedly promised to deliver the battle tanks to Ukraine if necessary without a German export license, Warsaw now wants to officially ask for a license. "We will apply for such a permit," Morawiecki announced on Monday. And: "If the Germans are not in this coalition, we will still move our tanks together with others to Ukraine."
This increases the pressure on Scholz to position himself and possibly grant delivery permits to other countries for tanks produced in Germany (read here why this is necessary). Most recently, the foreign ministers of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania also appealed to the chancellor to clear the way. But will he?
The federal government is sending out different signals. Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) defended the process of deliberation in the ARD program "Anne Will" on Sunday evening, saying that it was not just "a question of whether or not to deliver these tanks, but also to weigh up the consequences of non-action, but also the same of action". Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), on the other hand, went a lot further: According to her statements, Germany would not oppose the delivery of "Leopard" battle tanks from other countries. "We have not been asked so far and (...) if we were asked, we would not stand in the way," she told the French broadcaster LCI on Sunday evening.
Baerbock answered the question of what would happen if Poland were to deliver "Leopard" tanks to Ukraine - Warsaw now wants to make the corresponding request. At the time, it was unclear whether Baerbock actually represented a position that had been finally agreed upon by the federal government. On Monday she dodged corresponding inquiries.
The differences about Germany's course on the tank issue are also becoming clear in the traffic light coalition. The chairwoman of the defense committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann from the FDP, and SPD parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich delivered a violent public exchange of blows with mutual accusations over the weekend. Social Democrat Michael Roth even felt compelled to intervene: "Hey guys, our opponent's name is Putin!" he called out to the bickering on Twitter.
The coalition members seem to be getting the impression that Ukraine policy is being made primarily in the Chancellery - the public criticism from the traffic lights is getting louder. SPD General Secretary Kevin Kühnert defended Scholz against "excessive criticism and personal hostilities", co-party leader Lars Klingbeil also jumped into the chancellor's support and called it right to weigh things up in this phase of the war and to consult with the allies.
Greens and FDP, this argument is apparently no longer sufficient. They urge more speed in arms deliveries. "We now need to make a decision quickly about the delivery of battle tanks, and that should be made together with our European partners," said Green security politician Agnieszka Brugger to "Spiegel". FDP General Secretary Bijan Djir-Sarai said to the "Berlin.Table": "If you don't want Ukraine to lose this war, you have to act." It is true that Scholz "carefully weighs". At the same time, he warned that it would be problematic "if Ukraine and its allies got the impression that Germany was delaying necessary decisions."
It might already be too late for that. The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj had recently sharply criticized Germany's position in an ARD interview. On Monday, several EU politicians on the sidelines of the foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels expressed their disappointment at the hesitation in Berlin. Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, for example, said that Scholz had "a great responsibility to really take a step". Before the expected Russian spring offensive, the Europeans would have to make sure "that the material is available (...) so that Ukraine can defend itself." In other words: it's Scholz's turn.
Sources: "Süddeutsche Zeitung", ZDF, "Tagesschau", "Handelsblatt", n-tv, "t-online", "Spiegel", "Berlin.Table"