German President Wulff resigns amid scandal, diverting Merkel's attention

German Chancellor Angela Merkel canceled a trip to Italy in order to deal with the fallout of President Christian Wulff's resignation, who was one of her political allies.

Michael Sohn/AP
German President Christian Wulff announces his resignation during a statement at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Feb. 17. At right is his wife Bettina Wulff. Wulff has been embroiled in an ongoing scandal over political favors for two months, but maintained his innocence throughout.

German President Christian Wulff has stepped down following the announcement that a prosecutor in his home state of Lower Saxony requested that parliament lift Mr. Wulff’s immunity from prosecution in order to open a criminal investigation. Wulff has been embroiled in an ongoing scandal over political favors for two months, but maintained his innocence throughout.

The president had faced growing calls to resign amid a steady drip of corruption allegations involving a dubious home loan and free holidays from business executives and film producers. In his resignation speech Friday morning at Bellevue Palace, the presidential residence in Berlin, Wulff admitted mistakes, but denied breaking any laws.

“I have lost the trust of the people,” he said. "For this reason it is no longer possible for me to exercise the office of president at home and abroad as required.” 

His resignation is a blow for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who cancelled her trip to Italy in order to deal with the affair. Wulff was Mrs. Merkel’s candidate for the presidency two years ago. She pushed hard for her conservative party colleague, who served as governor in the state of Lower Saxony, to fill the prestigious, yet mainly symbolic post. Never before in postwar German history has a president been subject of a criminal investigation.

In a short statement, Merkel thanked Wulff for his services to the German people, saying she “deeply regretted, but respected his decision.” At a time when the European sovereign debt crisis demands Merkel’s full attention, the search for a new president is an inconvenient distraction for the chancellor. Even though the post holds no real power, Merkel has always been keen to have a political ally at Bellevue. 

Merkel’s is still very popular with the German people. In a recent national poll, almost 70 percent of Germans expressed satisfaction with her work. But the fact that Wulff is now associated in the public eye with the image of corrupt politicians could reflect badly on her.

“This affair is a stain on Merkel’s reputation,” says Frank Überall, political analyst from Cologne’s University of Applied Sciences HMKW. “While Germany is lecturing other Europeans on how to run an effective and trustworthy administration, the president she basically chose falls over corruption allegations.”

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