Germany’s No. 2 politician takes time off to be a dad

The Guardian, BERLIN

Tue, Jan 07, 2014 - Page 7

As the vice chancellor of Europe’s largest economy and the leader of Germany’s second-largest party, Sigmar Gabriel has a full schedule this year — but not on Wednesday afternoons.

In an interview with the tabloid Bild over the weekend, the second-most powerful person in German politics revealed that he was planning to take off an afternoon every week to spend with his two-year-old daughter.

“My wife has a job, and on Wednesdays it’s my turn to pick up our daughter from nursery. And I’m looking forward to it,” Gabriel said.

“Some things are achievable only if you go through files in the car, on the train or at home,” said the 54-year-old “super minister” in charge of managing the nuclear phase-out.

He said there had to be space for politicians to spend time with their family, “otherwise we don’t know what normal life is like.”

Germany has a reputation as a country where mothers are either hausfrauen or rabenmutter: stay-at-home mums or career women who, like ravens, abandon their offspring while they go out to work.

Gabriel’s announcement could signal a wider shift in attitudes.

Late last year, Jorg Asmussen, an executive board member at the European Central Bank, announced he would become an undersecretary of state in the new labor ministry — a demotion which meant he would lose out on an estimated 150,000 euros (US$203,700) a year.

The reason? To spend more time with his family.

“If you are constantly commuting, you are not a regular part of family life. You’re out of it,” Asmussen, 47, told Stern magazine.

Getting men to spend more time with their children was “about creating culture change” so that a father who stayed at home “wasn’t looked on as a ‘wuss’ by his colleagues,” he said.

German parents are entitled to up to 14 months of parental leave at 65 percent of pay, to share how they wish.

The number of men using it has been rising, and reached more than a quarter last year — but most only do so for about two months.

While the percentage of women in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s new Cabinet is the same as in her last, for the first time, four of six female ministers have children.

German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen told Bunte magazine: “I hope that I will be able to continue to steer many things from home.”

Die Welt was critical of “part-time” ministers: “Those who aim for an exceptional career ... should know that it can only work with 100 percent commitment.”

However, Der Spiegel praised the new Cabinet for showing how things can be done: “The days when only childless female politicians like Merkel could make it to the top are over.”