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FEBRUARY 17, 2012 6:20AM

Germany's president gives up

Rate: 13 Flag

 Christian and Bettina
Germany's former First Couple,
Christian and Bettina Wulff


MY NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBOR IS moving out the same week I’m moving in. There’s nothing remarkable about that, particularly when the neighbor in question happens to be the Federal President of Germany and has been absorbing political attacks for weeks. For Berliners, President Wulff’s resignation this morning is overdue, and has felt like waiting for one’s upstairs neighbor to drop the other shoe.


President Wulff, who replaced President Horst Köhler following the latter’s own sudden resignation in May of 2010, has been dodging corruption charges since last December, when the influential Bild tabloid reported that Wulff had accepted a low-interest loan to the sum of over half a million euros for the purchase of a private home while serving as minister president (governor) of Lower Saxony (I wrote about it HERE). It turned out he had subsequently lied about the affair in front of the state legislature in Hanover. As Wulff tried to wiggle himself out of a full accounting of just what his millionaire benefactor hoped to gain from this sweetheart deal (and also threatened the editor of Bild via voicemail), the charges just kept coming. Most of them dealt with private vacations that jet-setting Christian and Bettina Wulff took on the property of some of their wealthy friends. Further accusations arose about improper conduct relating to campaign financing, support for various political initiatives, and travel expenses Wulff arranged for a filmmaker friend.


Once the snowball had started rolling down the hill, journalists started digging up seemingly trivial matters, such as Wulff’s use of a brand-new Audi car and even his borrowing of an associate’s cell phone. Soon his attractive wife was the target of investigations into her allegedly illegal acceptance of designer clothing and her own potentially chequered past as a high-end call girl – a claim that has never been proven, but that has been titillating bloggers for months now.


If these charges appear trivial to many people inside and outside of Germany (I mean, one of our own presidential candidates, Rick Santorum, is publicly talking about bombing Iran and banning contraceptives, while our Current Occupant regularly murders people from the air in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other countries), their cumulative impact is devastating: Christian Wulff comes off looking like a corrupt politician with no business residing in Bellevue Palace.


Actually, Wulff has only himself to blame. Karma is a bitch, and all his earlier claims of high principles and the need to avoid even the slightest hint of impropriety in politics have caught up with him in full.


When the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Hanover filed an application to suspend Wulff’s immunity from prosecution this week, the President finally took action. In an appearance at 11 a.m. today he briefly announced his resignation, effective immediately. He stated that he while he had made mistakes in office, he had always acted “correctly,” and he was certain that he would be exonerated following the conclusion of all ongoing investigations.


The Federal Assembly, Germany’s Electoral College, must meet to appoint a new president within the next thirty days. Of course, everyone’s first reaction has been to speculate on Wulff's successor. So far, a list of usual suspects has been presented, including two women – Ursula von der Leyen, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, and the Green politician Kathrin Göring-Eckardt, vice president of the Bundestag – but in my opinion none of these figures has the format Germans so sadly missed in the last two occupants of Bellevue Palace. But perhaps we're all asking the wrong question. The German presidency is a largely symbolic office, but just what does it symbolize? It could be, as some are saying, that, in a stable twenty-first century democracy, the days of the pseudo-kaiser that the Federal President was designed to impersonate have come to an end, and good riddance too. 

Personally, I’m sad to see the Wulffs go, particularly since we never did get a chance to invite them over for tea and crumpets, nor did they get a chance to have us over for dinner before today’s announcement. But I’ve got some stiff cardboard boxes they can borrow for the move back to Hanover, and I know a cheap and efficient moving company they can hire. And while I'm at it, I’ll give them your regards.


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Not much to say here I guess except that I'm the first commenter. Am going to have to reread your post carefully and caringly. But meanwhile -- as a part Germanicised USA-er (never mind for the moment what that means), my special thanks to you for all your posts here on Open Salon. You are, for me -- at the moment -- my kind of OS "Eyes and Ears" in Berlin. Will be following this particular thread of yours with special interest and appreciation.
Thank you for posting this story, Alan. I like to keep up with German current events. Politics is a b***ch, isn't it?
I've enjoyed following your on the scene reporting Alan and I'm glad that another unworthy got tumbled. Yet another manifest6ation of the "Power corrupts" maxim.
Thanks for this analysis. I had heard about it and wondered what the people were thinking....ah...long overdue.
As an italian I am troubled by this affair:

on the one hand I can only applaud the german system given the swiftness and finality of the resignation; as you know in Italy we have politicians (lead by our great Silvio) who, with far greater "crimes", remain glued to their positions favoured by their colleagues in Parliament that periodically deny requests by the magistrates to let justice follow its course, as it should for all citizens

on the other, I hear a tiny jingle from an alarm bell in my mind as to the first(?) signal of the "berlusconization" of Europe? Let's hope not and that in fact Monti and his government will start on a new path, a small but significant step was the resignation of one of the undersecretaries for having accepted a paid vacation in a luxury resort in the Argentario

Thanks for an enjoyable read
Thanks everyone. It's an interesting story, in equal parts melancholy and mysterious. Of course there are a number of conspiracy theories swirling out there, including suspicions about resentment at Wulff's positions on the euro crisis and matters relating to his Catholic background, namely his rather messy divorce and remarriage and his disagreements with the Pope on social issues. (I suspect the stories about his wife are part of a Catholic smear campaign against the couple's character.) But Wulff has collected so much baggage of his own that no conspiracy is necessary to bring him down. While Guttenberg is essentially a con man and hardly worthy of sympathy, I can't help but feel a bit sorry for Wulff, who is essentially guilty of bad decisions.

As with the Guttenberg scandal, I wish I could listen in to the couples' kitchen and bedtime discussions. I'd wager that neither Bettina Körner nor Stephanie von Bismarck chose their husbands with the expectation they would end up leaving office in disgrace.

As a matter of fact, my ex-wife and I were invited to a reception at Bellevue Palace some years back. It's a beautiful place, and I can't imagine who is going to reside there next. Still, I'd take my elegant new flat over that draughty old palace any day.
OMG thanks for the info here.
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