European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has conceded that mistakes were made when she used external experts during her time as German defence minister.

European Commission President and former German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a Investigation Committee of the German parliament in Berlin, Germany, February 13, 2020.
European Commission President and former German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a Investigation Committee of the German parliament in Berlin, Germany, February 13, 2020. (Reuters)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen defended the use of external experts during her time as German defence minister as she testified Thursday before a parliamentary inquiry, but conceded that mistakes were made.

Von der Leyen, a fixture in Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinets for nearly 14 years, was Germany's defence minister from late 2013 until her unexpected nomination in July to lead the European Union's executive commission. 

Her tenure as defence chief drew mixed reviews, and a parliamentary inquiry has been looking into questions about whether proper procedures were followed in the expensive appointment of outside experts at the ministry.

Von der Leyen conceded that there were breaches of the rules on awarding contracts, but insisted that bringing in outside experts was necessary. She said that work on digitizing the military, in particular, "couldn't be done without help from outside," news agency dpa reported.

She added that the defence ministry has always used support and advice, and will need to in the future as well.

The case

Last year, the Berlin prosecutor's office had confirmed that it was reviewing a complaint that the ministry failed to pay proper benefits for external advisers who had essentially worked full-time at the ministry.

The ministry denied it had sought to evade the payments, and said it had asked for a federal review of filing requirements for six individuals on Sept. 25, before the complaint was filed.

According to German media reports, German auditors estimated that the defence ministry had spent up to $108 million on external consultants, but only officially declared $2.34 million for the purpose.

They also fault the ministry for improperly hiring outside help under an umbrella IT contract, something the ministry blames on a mistaken assessment by experts at its procurement agency and the failure to properly document the process.

Opposition lawmakers also have raised questions about the deleting of data on two cellphones von der Leyen used — one that was replaced in January 2019 and a second that she used after that. Von der Leyen has said she handed the phones back to the ministry and wasn't aware of the data being deleted.

Von der Leyen's appearance is meant to conclude testimony after about a year, during which the panel has heard about 30 witnesses.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies