BERLIN: As vice-chancellor of Europe’s largest economy, leader of Germany’s second-largest party and minister in charge of one of the most pressured ministries, Sigmar Gabriel (pictured) has a busy schedule in 2014 — but not on Wednesday afternoon.
In an interview with the tabloid Bild this weekend, the second most powerful man in German politics revealed that he plans to take one afternoon off a week to spend with his two-year-old daughter. “My wife works and on Wednesdays it’s my turn to pick up our daughter from kindergarten. And I look forward.”
“Some things only work if you go through files in the car, on the train or at home,” says the 54-year-old so-called “super minister”, who is in charge of Germany’s phase-out of nuclear power. But he said there must be room for politicians to spend time with their families, “otherwise we don’t know what normal life is like”.
Germany still has a reputation for being a country where mothers are either housewives or naughty mothers: dedicated housewives or ruthless career women who, like ravens, abandon their offspring while they go to work. But given the recent reshuffle at the top of German politics, Gabriel’s announcement could signal a broader shift in attitudes towards parenting.
Late last year, Jörg Asmussen, a board member at the European Central Bank, announced he would become Under-Secretary of State in Germany’s new Labor Ministry – a demotion that meant he would lose an estimated €150,000 (£124,000) a year. The reason? To spend more time with his family.
“Anyone who constantly commutes is not an integral part of family life. You’re out,” Asmussen, 47, told Stern magazine. Encouraging men to spend more time with their children is not something that can be legislated for, it is more about “creating a cultural change”. Since 2007, German parents have been entitled to up to 14 months of parental leave at 65 percent of pay, which they can split as they please. The number of men using it has increased, hitting more than a quarter last year – but most only do so for about two months.
While the proportion of women in Angela Merkel’s new cabinet is the same as in her last, four out of six female ministers have children for the first time. Federal Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Family Minister Manuela Schwesig want to reconcile their new tasks with family life.
“I hope that I can continue to control many things from home,” said von der Leyen of the magazine “Bunte”.