BERLIN: As the vice-chancellor of Europe’s largest economy, the leader of Germany’s second largest party and the minister in charge of one of the most pressured government departments, Sigmar Gabriel (pictured) has a full schedule in 2014 — but not on Wednesday afternoons.
In an interview with the tabloid Bild this weekend, the second most powerful person in German politics revealed he was planning to take off an afternoon a 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.”
“Some things are achievable only if you go through files in the car, on the train or at home,” said the 54-year-old so-called “super minister” in charge of managing Germany’s nuclear phase-out. But 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 still has a reputation as a country where mothers are either Hausfrauen or Rabenmütter: Committed stay-at-home mums or uncaring career women who, like ravens, abandon their offspring while they go out to work. But if the latest reshuffle at the top of German politics is anything to go by, Gabriel’s announcement could signal a wider shift in attitudes to parenthood.
Late last year, Jörg Asmussen, an executive board member at the European Central Bank, announced he would become an undersecretary of state in the new German labour ministry — a demotion which meant he would lose out on an estimated €150,000 (£124,000) 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 not something that could be legislated for, but was instead “about creating culture change”. Since 2007, German parents have been entitled to up to 14 months of parental leave at 65 percent of pay, to share however they wish. The number of men using of 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 Angela Merkel’s new cabinet is the same as in her last, for the first time four out of the six female ministers have children. The Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, and the family minister, Manuela Schwesig, have said they aim to balance their new responsibilities with family life.
Von der Leyen told Bunte magazine that “I hope that I will be able to continue to steer many things from home”, while Schwesig said that she was planning to get much of her work done from her home in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.