The cancellation of an official visit by Germany’s foreign minister to Oceania after her government plane twice developed a fault has drawn widespread scorn and derision and led to calls for change.
The German tabloid Bild called Annalena Baerbock’s “50-hour odyssey” a “disgrace” and a “humiliation” for Germany and said it could result in the rest of the world no longer taking Europe’s largest economy seriously.
Baerbock and a delegation including advisers and journalists had set off on Sunday. After a refuelling stopover in Abu Dhabi, the pilot of the Konrad Adenauer Airbus 340 reported problems with its back wing flaps three minutes into the next flight.
He had to circle around the airport for about 90 minutes dropping 80 tonnes of kerosene in order to make the plane light enough to land safely. The plane was met by a fire engine on landing.
After an unscheduled stay in the United Arab Emirates while engineers reportedly worked through the night to try to fix the problem, the plane was deemed fit to fly on Tuesday. But a second attempt to get to Australia was thwarted 15 minutes after takeoff when the pilot said the same problem had arisen and he would again have to circle, dump fuel and land.
The pilot explained to those onboard that the damaged flaps, which he could not close, would greatly slow the plane down, leaving it with insufficient fuel for the planned journey.
On Wednesday it was reported that after the first mishap Baerbock initially sanctioned the purchase of seats on a commercial flight, which would have got her and her delegation to Australia quicker than the government plane. But when engineers gave the green light to fly, that booking was cancelled.
After the second failed attempt, Baerbock was driven 60 miles through the desert to Dubai from where she took a commercial flight to Hamburg, landing on Tuesday evening before being taken by government limousine to her home in Potsdam, 25 miles south-west of Berlin. She tweeted that the decision to cancel her trip was “beyond annoying”.
Cultural artefacts that Baerbock had been due to hand back to representatives of the Indigenous Kaurna people in Canberra were to make their journey separately with Birgit Scheps-Bretschneider, an ethnologist who had spent 16 years working for their return.
Germany’s military has said the 23-year-old Airbus, which had been due to be decommissioned next month, and another government Airbus due to run until next year would now be scrapped. The question of how German authorities will get the damaged plane back from Abu Dhabi remains unanswered.
Alice Bota, a journalist for Die Zeit who travelled on the ill-fated plane, described the trip as a “political disaster” for the government and, in a time of climate crisis, a “grotesque symbol” that would be hard for ordinary Germans to understand, especially the dumping of kerosene that she said could have “filled the tanks of 4,571 Fiat Pandas”.
But she said it would be a mistake to call into question, as some were doing, the importance of face-to-face diplomacy amid the challenges of intense international rivalry, for example with China.
“Australia is way ahead of Germany in terms of its China policy and is searching for allies as the political confrontations in the Indopacific increase and China is fighting for its power,” she wrote on Wednesday.
The last German foreign minister to visit Australia was Guido Westerwelle in 2011.
Baerbock had said before her trip that even small countries such as Fiji, a nation of fewer than 1 million inhabitants that has never been visited by a German government minister, had a significant role to play in the new world order. Visits to it from Chinese, Australian and US diplomats are not uncommon.
A leading Green, Baerbock had been due to visit the island nation to discuss in particular its challenges in the climate crisis, most notably rising sea levels that could wipe out its land within the foreseeable future.
Source : The Guardian