German vice-chancellor puts aside one afternoon a week to be dad

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 January, 2014, 12:13am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 January, 2014, 12:13am


As the vice-chancellor of the largest economy in Europe and the leader of Germany's second largest party, Sigmar Gabriel has a full work schedule this year - except for Wednesday afternoons.

The second most powerful person in German politics revealed he will take off an afternoon each 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, who is in charge of managing the phase-out of nuclear power in Germany.

But he said there had to be time for politicians to spend 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 leave their offspring while they go out to work.

My wife has a job, and on Wednesdays it’s my turn to pick up our daughter

But Gabriel's announcement could signal a 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 labour ministry - a demotion which meant he would lose out on an estimated €150,000 (HK$1.6 million) 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".

German parents are entitled to up to 14 months of parental leave at 65% of pay, to share how they wish. The number of men using it has risen and reached more than a quarter last year - most only for about two months.

Reactions have been mixed. Daily newspaper Die Welt was critical of "part-time" ministers: "Those who aim for an exceptional career ... should know that it can only work with 100% commitment."

But Der Spiegel praised the new cabinet for showing how things can be done: "The days when only childless female politicians like Angela Merkel could make it to the top are over."