I'm hesitant to speculate about what backdoor maneuvers may be involved in German President Christian Wulff's current troubles. But, being a political junkie, it's hard not to do so.
I doubt that Princess Angie von Merkel wanted a scandal over the President to distract from her effect to bring the eurozone to heel under her Ordnungsökonomik austerity policies in the middle of this depression.
And Wulff was her boy, handpicked to succeed her previous pick, Horst Köhler, who had to resign the Presidency in 2010 because he was too frank in public about the motivations of Angie's support for NATO operations, saying on a trip to Afghanistan:
A country of our size, with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that ... military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests -- for example when it comes to trade routes, for example when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes.As Spiegel International explained, "It sounded as though Köhler was justifying wars for the sake of economic interests, in the context of the Afghan mission which is highly controversial in Germany and throughout Europe." (Controversy Over Afghanistan Remarks: German President Horst Köhler Resigns 05/31/2010)
One of Angie's marked characteristics as a political leader has been her lack of sentimental hesitation in cutting loose a political ally or mentor as soon as it becomes uncomfortable for her. Not that her support of Wulff for the Presidency was entirely a matter of loyalty. Wulff could have been a competitor for leadership in the CDU and getting him into Bellevue Palace (the Presidential residence) took him out of that potentially threatening position.
As the controversy over President Wulff's cozy relationship with generous one-percenters and his lack of self-restraint in bullying the press not to publish about it, Angie's probably getting ready to dump him: Demonstration gegen Wulff.Schuhprotest vor dem Schloss Spiegel Online 07.01.2012.
It's also the case that her coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), is falling so low in the polls that their continued existence as a party may be in question. They hit as low as 2% in one poll this past week, with 5% being the minimum hurdle for having seats in the Bundestag (lower House of Parliament). Even the Christian Social Union (CSU) - which tends to act on the national stage as the Bavarian branch of Angie's Christian Social Union (CSU) but which is actually a separate party - is worrying about their strength in Bavaria.
The next Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2013, and Angie needs to look for alternative governing partners to the FDP. During her first years as Chancellor (2005-9), Angie had a Grand Coalition, with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) as the junior partner. This is basically what she would have to have again if the FDP fails to win parliamentary seats in 2013. But she would likely prefer to have a Grand Coalition again to strengthen her hand in anti-social measures like raising the retirement age to 67, which was passed in her first Grand Coalition but with a provision that it be reviewed. (CSU chief Horst Seehofer was griping about that retirement age change this past week.)
A new campaign for President could be the basis for forming a new Grand Coalition with the SPD. It would be yet another terrible surrender to the neoliberal orthodoxy of austerity economics for the SPD to play ball with Angie on this. But if they were deep enough in it to agree to the increase of the retirement age to 67, it's entirely conceivable that they would sign on again to enact Angie's destructive austerity vision for Germany and the EU.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reports (Affäre des Bundespräsidenten.Planspiele für Wulffs Rücktritt 07.01.2012) reports from FDP sources that Angie is discussing possible successors to Wulff, which doesn't in itself mean that she's intending to dump him.
A Left Party spokesman, Wolfgang Neskovic, suggested impeachment proceedings against Wulff. The SPD is also making public pressure against him, not failing to remind people that Wulff is Angie's boy. But surprisingly, Ralf Fücks, head of the Green Party's Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (Institute), has a weird commentary on Wulff in Zum Interview von Christian Wulff.Kleinstes Karo statt großes Kino Süddeutsche Zeitung 05.01.2012 that makes him anything but a part of the shoe-waving crowd calling for Wulff's dismissal. He gives the impression he thinks the controversy is silly. I really don't get that.
The Green Party Chair, Claudia Roth, on the other hand, calls for Wulff's resignation, although in diplomatic language that technically (but only barely) calls short of explicitly saying he should resign, as reported by J. Gaugele und M. Kamann, Bundespräsident unter Druck.Grünen-Chefin Roth wirft Wulff Weinerlichkeit vor Welt am Sonntag 08.01.2012. In that same interview, though, Roth supports keeping the retirement age at 67, putting the Green Party to the right of Seehofer on that issue at the moment! If the left parties in Germany are acting this dingy, no wonder Angie is getting away with wrecking the euro and the EU with her one-percenter austerity policies.
Der Spiegel suggests that two members of Angie's party, Former Environment Minister Klaus Töpfer und Bundestag President Norbert Lammert (CDU), are high on the list of possible alternatives. Töpfer was one of her top candidates for President in the 2004 election in which the CDU/CSU eventually agreed to back Köhler. She was his deputy when he was the national Environment Minister and succeeded him in that post. Lammert is also a long-time inner party ally of Angie's.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is also a prominent possibility. But even though Angie appointed him to her Cabinet, she also stuck a serious political shiv in his back in 1999 around a CDU financial scandal. She wouldn't trust him in the Presidential position, and he'd be an awful pick anyway. Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière and Labor and Social Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen, both longtime Merkel cronies, would be other options.
Joachim Gauck is also a likely candidate because of his highly respected status in public opinion (Ulrike Dimitz reports on an recent interview with him in "Anpacken statt Angst haben.Gauck fordert die Bürger" Nordkurier 06.01.2012) SPD head and presumptive Chancellor candidate for 2013 Sigmar Gabriel is suggesting a "Grand Coalition" agreement with the CDU on a new President, and Gauck would presumably be the leading option for such a pick. (Nachfolgesuche für Wulff.Gabriel bietet Kanzlerin Merkel Kooperation an FAZ 08.01.2012) But he was the candidate backed by the SPD and the Greens in 2010, so Angie may be unwilling to accept him this time around. In response to a direct question about Gauck as a successor to Wulff in case Wulff resigns, the Greens' Claudia Roth obliquely endorses the idea. See Kate Connolly, Joachim Gauck: the dissident hero who holds the destiny of Germany in his hands The Observer 06/19/2010 for more on Gauck's history.
Tags: angela merkel, christian wulff