The ongoing scandals surrounding German President Christian Wulff make a mockery of his arrogant denial of Russian aspirations for a visa-free regime with Europe. Read on….
Corruption in High Places: Germany under the Spotlight
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
It is with wry satisfaction that I follow the day-by-day unfolding of what will surely end in the early departure from office of Germany's President Christian Wulff.
His travails date from the public disclosure in the popular German daily Bild that the President had taken a 500,000 Euro loan from the wife of a friend at below market rates in order to buy a house. The problem was not the loan itself, but the President’s earlier denial before the Reichstag that he had had any business dealings with the friend in question from his native State of Lower Saxony (former GDR).
In the Federal Republic of Germany, lying to parliament is simply not done. But even if this (near) perjury does not carry the same penalty as it would in the U.S. Congress, what we have here is a case of questionable moral judgment. And that is taken very seriously in Germany, since the President has virtually no other function in their constitution than to serve as the moral authority for the country.
Last week the mini-scandal surrounding Wulff seemed to be abating. The general prosecutor appeared to drop the case. The Opposition decided against pressing its advantage and pursuing the allegations.
However, the New Year has opened with new and unsavory details. The Süddeutsche Zeitung carries an article suggesting Wulff had threatened Bild with cut-off of all ties if it proceeded (as it did) with the story about the loan.
Even as Wulff’s office issued a statement that the President has the highest respect for freedom of speech, the scandal moved still further afield. Today’s German papers speculate on a second loan to Wulff at very favorable terms, this time from a regional bank in Bad Wurtemberg. The loan is being interpreted as a payback for Wulff’s facilitating state assistance in 2009 to the Bad Wurtemberg automaker Porsche’s sister company Volkswagen.
My interest in the poor judgment, possible perjury and corrupt business relations of German President Christian Wulff goes back to something he said on November 8th at the opening ceremony of Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipeline in Germany. Normally such events are little more than photo opportunities. But Wulff ensured it would not go unnoticed by the Russian public even if the Western media overlooked his words.
At the opening, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke first. He expressed the hope that the free movement of goods between Russia and Europe which the starting operations of the pipeline symbolized would be followed by the free movement of people. For the n-th time, Medvedev was calling for the elimination of visa requirements on Russian travelers to the EU. In his response, President Wulff said that any alleviation of the visa regime could come only when Russia fully respected freedom of the press, which, he insisted, was an essential condition for the Kremlin to effectively crack down on corruption, Germany’s second concern with its neighbor to the East.
In light of his ongoing personal scandals, it seems that Herr Wulff knows a thing or two about intimidating the press and about corrupt business dealings.
It is time for European political leaders to stop moralizing, to stop preaching to the world at large and at Russia in particular. It would do better to clean up abuses at home which make a mockery of high-minded values. It is also time to heed the legitimate and earnest ambition of Russia to rejoin the community of Europe from which it was cut off in 1917 by eliminating visas.
* * * *
Update, 17 February 2012
Today the second shoe dropped. After dancing to and fro for two months, Christian Wulff has done the right thing and resigned his office now that he lost the public trust. The only pity is that the person who installed him in his position, fellow Ossie Frau Merkel repeatedly shows poor judgment in choosing her close collaborators, and tends to put politics above principle. Like the USA, the UK and France, present day German leadership has forfeited the right to moralize on the world stage.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2011
* * * * *
G. Doctorow is a 2010-2011 Visiting Scholar of the Harriman Institute of Columbia University and author of Great Post-Cold War American Thinkers on International Relations. ISBN-13 9781453764473. Now available from www.amazon.com in paperback and downloadable e-book edition, as well as via Amazon sites in Europe and Japan. At Barnes & Noble and select book stores.