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Wulff thrown to the wolves

by DoDo Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 05:33:14 AM EST

The scandals engulfing Germany's figurehead, Federal President Christian Wulff, elicited considerable discussion in the Salon yesterday, so here is a diary to continue the discussion, with a short summary of the main facts for a wider audience.

Summary of the summary: the media first attacked Wulff over various 'gifts' he received from businessman friends before he was President, then for his way of always admitting only what was already in the public, then for his attempt to supress the first media report that launched the scandal. While Wulff's career is on the line, the bigger question marks are over the motivations of the media group that set off and fuelled the scandal, the person of Wulff's eventual successor and the re-shuffle that would bring in the really important political positions, and the future of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her current conservative-liberal coalition government.


First, about the post: in Germany, while the Chancellor is the head of government, elected by the Bundestag, the lower house of the federal parliament; the Federal President (Bundespräsident) is the largely representative and ceremonial head of state, elected by a special assembly (the Bundesversammlung = Federal Assembly) consisting of all members of the Bundestag and delegations of the regional parliaments of Germany's 16 states. The Federal President has little power beyond forcing a check of selected laws, is supposed to stand above parties and represent all, and play a grandfather of the nation.

Christian Wulff was a politician of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU). He was the prime minister of Lower Saxony state for seven years – a post earlier held by Gerhard Schröder before he became chancellor, and Wulff beat Schröder's mid-term successor Sigmar Gabriel for the post, who is the present chairman of the Social Democrats (SPD). Wulff nurtured the image of a smooth operator with mild manners and good looks, although in truth he was part of a network of ambitious CDU hotshots (who were the main obstacle Merkel had to overcome on her way to hegemony in her party), all of them knowing how to wield power against the masses, launch intrigues against rivals, and instrumentalise the media. When the then Federal President resigned in 2010, Merkel thought to get rid of her last remaining rival of significance by nominating him for the post, and the apparently party-politics-weary Wulff accepted. (Read all of this in greater detail in Merkel Above All.)

As a final context-establishing note before the scandals, let me note the main player: the tabloid Bild Zeitung resp. its owner, the Axel Springer Verlag. The role of the two in Germany is similar to that of The Sun resp. the Murdoch empire in the UK: the number one mass daily superficially catering to the entertainment interests of the lower classes (football, formula one, crime, celebs, boobs) but in truth doing the most manipulative right-populist propaganda in the process, lifting or demolishing individual politicians and advocating various ideological positions (most notably xenophobia) – a political force heeded by (and in doing so bolstered by) politicians. (For more details, see Spiegel vs. Bild.) For a long time, Bild supported Wulff, but initially supported another candidate when he was nominee for Federal President, and switched to attacks when Wulff made gestures towards Muslims in Germany and fired Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin over the controversy he kicked off with a notorious anti-immigrants book (which was promoted by Bild and other media).

The Wulff scandal started on 13 December, when Bild revealed that Wulff got a €500,000 loan on preferential terms from a businessman (Egon Geerkens) who was a personal friend via Wulff's late father. Wulff tried to defend himself by splitting hairs over circumstances like nominally getting the money from Geerkens' wife, but his half-truths only earned him more attacks for being economical with the truth and only admitting what is already in the public.

To me the original loan scandal appears borderline, because Geerkens was retired and seems to have been more of a lifetime father figure than a corrupting funder. However, other improper dealings emerged: holidays for free with various businessmen (remember French President Nicolas Sarkozy's post-election holiday?), and a second preferential loan: Wulff refinanced the first loan with another low-interest-rate loan from a subsidiary of Baden-Württtenberg state's state bank, and this one became effective after the first scandal broke.

Once the previous scandals started to run out of steam over the festivities (as far as public opinion is concerned), Bild set off an even bigger scandal at the start of this week with leaks that were first published by the main conservative broadsheet Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: on the day before the publication of the first loan story, Wulff called Bild's chief editor in an attempt to prevent its publication. Bild then promptly "confirmed" the reports, adding that Wulff actually made multiple telephone calls to muliple Springer executives. Wulff's defense was that he only wanted to delay publication, not prevent it, saying that this is standard procedure behind the scenes (and he's quite likely right about the last), and saying that he called again to say sorry a few days later. Bild retorted by publicly announcing that they would like to publish the transcript of a voicemail. Yesterday, Wulff refused to grant permission, saying his "sorry" should have been the end of that affair, so Bild again retorted that Wulff is violating his promise to the public about total transparency. In the meantime, they again tried to instrumentalise other media by spreading excerpts of the transcripts to other journalists.

During the week, Wulff's popularity took a plunge in public opinion, although polls still see a thin majority against his resignation. On the other hand, wide majorities also think that there is a media campaign against him.

What is Bild's motivation behind this obvious campaign to bring Wulff down, and why now? So far, other media didn't dig up much, one can only speculate.

Who could succeed Wulff? There aren't many obvious candidates. But one possibility is federal finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a senior politician of the Kohl era already, who did want the post in the past. Since Schäuble plays a key role in the Euro crisis, his replacement would be of a greater importance than that of Wulff. It is of note that due to losses in recent regional elections, the conservative-liberal majority in the Federal Assembly (would it be called together now) is only a couple of seats. Due to the fact that some regional parliaments include prominent persons with weak party allegiance alongside MPs in their delegations, this majority is shaky.

What about the future of Merkel and the government? Since both Wulff's failed predecessor and Wulff himself were picked by Merkel, this scandal has the potential to damage her. However, so far no sign of that. In fact, in the last polls of both ARD and ZDF (the two public TV channels), Merkel returned to the top spot in the popularity list of politicians. It seems her fake statesmanship and cynical allusions to chauvinistic sentiments in her alliance to the EU shock doctrine advocates within the finance ministry and the Bundesbank since early 2010 did work out: she still understands like no other how to come out on top from every crisis.

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The latest is that the bank that gave Wulff his refinancing loan contradicted him on the timeline he claimed in his TV address: Wulff claimed that he got that loan in November 2011 (before the scandal broke), the bank says that in November, only an agreement was reached, which was then finalised in the week after the scandal broke.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 05:38:13 AM EST
Forgot to note in the diary the circumstance that the government parties are now left with a very slim majority in the Federal Assembly; amended.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 12:00:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Glossy magazine Stern now wrote about the leaked transscript. It appears Wulff told the truth insofar as he really asked for a delay, not a stopping of the publication. But then he talked about war with Bild and issued a series of incoherent threats.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 12:57:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the media first attacked Wulff over various 'gifts' he received from businessman friends before he was President

Were there gifts from more businessmen, or just from Geerkens?

tens of millions of people stand to see their lives ruined because the bureaucrats at the ECB don't understand introductory economics -- Dean Baker

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 05:51:53 AM EST
I mentioned the holidays for free in the diary, there was also another businessman who financed book adverts during an election campaign.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 06:05:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I finally found another afair, one which is still too murky. Nine days after the scandal broke, Wulff fired his speaker and spin doctor Olaf Glaeseker. He, too, was under suspicion of holidays for free (since then he is under investigation), this time with party organiser Manfred Schmidt. Schmidt also organised Wulff's private Federal President election party. Furthermore, Schmidt organised a series of events called North-South Dialogue, possibly with public money, at which North German and South German politicians (among them Wulff and Günther Oettinger) and businessmen met. According to the Wikipedia page on Wulff, the talks about Wulff's refinancing loan were intitiated on the same day as the last North-South Dialogue meeting in December 2009.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 06:29:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Checking the German Wikipedia, three of his holidays for free were with the Geerkens couple, and one each with three others, among them the businessman who financed the book adverts.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 06:11:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"the businessman who financed the book adverts" is an interesting figure who has bribed cultivated friendship with every politician in Hannover ever. That would include Sigmar Gabriel. Here is a bit more.
by Katrin on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 11:54:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I read somewhere that his 2007 support for Wulff was to win back favours after Wulff got angry at him for his support for then ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 11:59:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wulff is very critical of all corrupt politicians except one.
by Katrin on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 12:05:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Financial Times Deutschland:

Wulff Indeed Threatened BILD With War
One Can't Play For Time Anymore
According to the Definition of Office, Wulff Is Incompetent

Spiegel says it's The Last Act, and also discovers that Frau Wulff was given free dresses to wear to events.  And One commentator says: Christian Wulff has decided: He wants to stay in the Castle Bellevue, despite everything. Can he? Formally yes, but the truth is his time expired long ago. His presidency is now threatening a torturously long process of decay.

And Süddeutsche Zeitung finds a new charge: Anger at Wulff


New allegations against the President: In connection with the claim for damages against Volkswagen and Porsche investors see a responsibility during his time as prime minister. He is said to have violated his obligations as VW's supervisory board.

(site temporarily down (for me?) so no link)

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 10:16:33 AM EST
Frau Wulff was given free dresses to wear to events.

Spanish politicians are as we speak standing trial for getting €6,000 suits tailored for free...

tens of millions of people stand to see their lives ruined because the bureaucrats at the ECB don't understand introductory economics -- Dean Baker

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 04:01:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That has a thirties sound, doesn't it?

Nowadays it is more prosaic: the state goverment in the Saar state, until now a CDU-FDP-green coalition (black-yellow.green or Jamaica) has failed. Mostly because of the disarray of the FDP in the saar.

http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/0,1518,807597,00.html

Haven't found any english language link yet.

by IM on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 11:23:57 AM EST
As for the Saarland Greens: now is the time to cut all the ugly ties with the FDP...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 11:52:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And this will change the numbers in the electoral group that elects a new federal president. This might be the game-changer.

With this, CDU offers to switch the coalition in Berlin to one with SPD. Steinbrück can become President, and some posts will be available for Steinbrück and Gabriel 8-)

Sounds like a plan 8-)

One year to go !

by pi (etrib@opsec.eu) on Sat Jan 7th, 2012 at 08:23:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No. The majorities in the Bundesversammlung remain the same until Saarland elects a new parliament.  
by Katrin on Sat Jan 7th, 2012 at 09:06:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And as we know now, there willl be a new government but not a new election.
by IM on Sat Jan 7th, 2012 at 02:09:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But Saarland state SPD boss Heiko Maas insists that the option of new elections is not yet off (probably a transparent pressure tactic for the upcoming talks).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 7th, 2012 at 06:26:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Right now, the discussion about Wulff leads to SPD infighting: Gabriel fights with Nahles on whether SPD asks for new federal elections (!)

Gabriel suggests a joint SPD/CDU/FDP search so that no new elections have to take place. Nahles asks for elections if Wulff steps down.

You can't make this stuff up. SPD desintegrates over Wulff.

One year to go !

by pi (etrib@opsec.eu) on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 12:52:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Gabriel suggests a joint SPD/CDU/FDP search

"I wanna be junior partner in Merkel's next Grand Coalition!"

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 01:39:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I see just a superficial offer of bipartisanship, to look good in the event of an resignation.

The greens offer the same. I don't really think that is a signal towards a black.green coalition.

by IM on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 01:45:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Greens suggested a joint candidate of "the government and the opposition" (and Roth pointed again at Gauck, though after his missives on Sarrazin and the Occupy movement she shouldn't have). Gabriel's leaving out the Greens does have a message.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 01:57:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nonsense. He is suggesting exactly the same.

And strictly speaking Roth didn't mentioned the SPD either. Just implied them.

(His leaving out the left is a message, but that is another story)

by IM on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 02:01:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a bit simpler: this is a very grand coalition against Die Linke. It's not a new game either. Blackredgreenyellow will rescue the republic and Die Linke is in opposition without making sense and displaying responsibility.

I note that today the focus is on Wuff's successor, not if he is resigning or not. I assume he will resign tomorrow (or else the media will unpack a nuclear bomb, the story of Bettina Wulff's life for instance).

by Katrin on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 02:04:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So now after Greece and Italy, Germany is to get a national unity government?

tens of millions of people stand to see their lives ruined because the bureaucrats at the ECB don't understand introductory economics -- Dean Baker
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 05:42:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In a way we already have one. We have a government that doesn't govern (only Merkel does) and an opposition that doesn't oppose. A colourless mass of politicians, and if one of them becomes remarkable, it's by corruption or stupidity.
by Katrin on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 06:41:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Meanwhile, the CDU and Wulff seem to be set to try to keep Wulff in power. Meanwhile, Bild's Sunday issue continues the attacks, this time with an alleged leak of Wulff's words to aides during a New Year's Day meeting (he reportedly told that in one year, everything will be forgotten) and a poll. Worse yet for the SPD, Nahles demanded new elections in an interview with Bild am Sonntag, too...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 01:52:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So the bild is attacking a christian democratic president and that is bad news for the SPD?

What's next, this is good news for McCain?

by IM on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 01:57:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What I mean is that Nahles made herself a mere weapon of Bild.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 02:00:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think she just overstepped in trying to exploit an opportunity.
by IM on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 02:08:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why on earth would there have to be new elections over this!?

tens of millions of people stand to see their lives ruined because the bureaucrats at the ECB don't understand introductory economics -- Dean Baker
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 05:40:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nahles basically said that the resignation of two successive Federal Presidents chosen by Merkel makes this a Merkel scandal. (Since then, she signalled loyalty to Gabriel and the party line.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 06:10:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So, from Bild's perspective, Wulff is insufficiently xenophobic and Schäuble is excessively concerned about the stability of other euro-zone countries to the detriment of Germany?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 11:33:34 AM EST
That's about what they say on the right edge. And don't forget that Merkel is an East German.
by Katrin on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 11:45:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Who could succeed Wulff? There aren't many obvious candidates. But one possibility is federal finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a senior politician of the Kohl era already, who did want the post in the past. Since Schäuble plays a key role in the Euro crisis, his replacement would be of a greater importance than that of Wulff.

I have the impression that Merkel's disagreements with Schaeuble were a big factor in her joint push with Sarkozy to sideline the EcoFin and transfer decision-making authority on the Euro crisis to the heads of state or government. The process continues, and the state of play is that now a new intergovernmental treaty is being attempted. This means the EcoFin and Schaeuble in particular are irrelevant.

Merkel could even do as Monti and make herself her own Finance Minister.

tens of millions of people stand to see their lives ruined because the bureaucrats at the ECB don't understand introductory economics -- Dean Baker

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 6th, 2012 at 05:46:53 PM EST
Hm, from what I read, Schäuble still plays a central role at all levels (within the party, within the coalition against the FDP, and within the EU in the backroom treaty change negotiations). The one disagreement I can remember was over EFSF borrowing from the ECB, when Merkel called him back. And just before Christmas, Schäuble revealed that Merkel rejected his resignation twice when he was sick a year earlier. He didn't oppose Merkel's intergovernmental power grab, either, even proposing ways to get a treaty change without too much trouble (and even when Euro-idealist, he doesn't appear to intend the German federal model for the EU, either: he proposed a directly elected EU President). Seems like he is not bothered by having the role of a loyal soldier.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 7th, 2012 at 09:44:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, a third possible candidate I read mentioned is Klaus Töpfer, who was Merkel's predecessor as environment minister in the Kohl government, and later the boss of the United Nations Environment Programme. With him, Merkel could keep alive the bridge towards the Greens after the Saarland debacle and thus the Black-Green option.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 7th, 2012 at 09:49:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Neither he nor Merkel will be able to justify keeping him. (As if i knew anything about German politics, or whether Sigmar Gabriel is guilty of similar Hannoverian transgressions.)

First there's the coming investor suit (by large funds and insurance companies) against the supervisory board of VW (where Wulff sat)  alleging negligence, dereliction of duty and possibly malfeasance, for €1.8 Billion.

Then there's coming publication of the next issue of Micky Maus, where President "Wuff" is lampooned with all the current charges... which may be even worse in his position as "moral figurehead."

Die Linke have already brought up possible impeachment, which can only happen (i believe) if he's broken the law. They suggest discovering if he meets the standards for attempted coercion. There may also be legal problems with the way he put the house loan through originally.

This has become quite a circus, including commentators wondering why Germany even has a president.

Frankly, as the transfer window is now open, i think Germany should sell him to a nation needing a bit of glamour on the defensive right wing.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Sat Jan 7th, 2012 at 11:57:39 AM EST
Oh yes, good idea, we can sell him. He is saner than everything the repugs have, so they ought to be interested. Or we could give him away for free, as development aid to Swaziland. Don't say he wouldn't be an improvement there. But he must resign first.

An impeachment needs a two thirds majority in the Bundestag believing he has broken the constitution or federal law and the constitutional court finding that he has done so. Not a very realistic scenario.

by Katrin on Sat Jan 7th, 2012 at 12:51:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]


"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 12:15:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Eurointelligence: IMF has given up on Greek programme (09.01.2012)
Merkel weakened by the ongoing scandal about the president

Angela Merkel looks increasingly weakened by the ongoing scandal about the federal president Christian Wulff and his half-truths and contradictions surrounding a doubtful real estate credit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes. SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel told the paper that he would cooperate with the chancellor to find a replacement of the embattled head of state. But according to Süddeutsche Zeitung, leading coalition politicians deny that Merkel will engage into negotiations to replace Wulff, whose office is largely ceremonial. The president himself hopes that ordinary people will forget the scandal and forgive him. FAZ's Günter Bannas, one Germany'sof the leading domestic policy commentators, warns that Merkel's coalition is under so much strain that it might well collapse should the pressure on Wulff really lead him to resign.



tens of millions of people stand to see their lives ruined because the bureaucrats at the ECB don't understand introductory economics -- Dean Baker
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jan 9th, 2012 at 04:50:25 AM EST


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