Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Angela Merkel and the politics of scandal

I'm sure it's only a coincidence that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely to have her already considerable power enhanced by this. (Warning: some "ick" factor involved.)

But that's likely to be the outcome of the current scandal around the just-resigned SPD member of the national Bundestag, Sebastian Edathy, who resigned his seat on February 8 as part of the fallout of being investigated for possibly possessing child pornography. It's important to mention here that Edathy has not been charged and he denies the allegations. (Ermittlungen wegen Kinderporno-Verdacht: Edathy bestreitet Kontakt mit Tippgebern Spiegel Online 15.02.2014)

Current Cover of Der Spiegel on the Edathy scandal

Deutsche Welle has an English-language account of the scandal, Vera Kern/mll, The Edathy affair: The story so far 17.02.2014.

That's highly embarrassing for the SPD in itself, even if Edathy is innocent and no evidence is found for the charges. But the most important political repercussions have been in Merkel's Grand Coalition Cabinet and government. As Deutsche Welle reports in its chronology for October 2013:

The BKA [Federal Criminal Office] informs the Federal Ministry of the Interior: Deputy minister Klaus-Dieter Fritsche informs his boss, the then-Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, that the international investigation has turned up Edathy's name. According to public broadcaster NDR, the 16 state criminal police agencies were also informed about the suspicions against Edathy.

Meanwhile, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats are involved in tough coalition negotiations. Edathy is being seen as a possible choice for a senior position in the interior ministry. Friedrich, a member of the Christian Democrats' Bavarian sister party, the CSU, decides to tell Sigmar Gabriel, head of the Social Democrats (SPD), that Edathy was the object of international criminal investigations.

Gabriel passes on that information to the then-head of the SPD parliamentary group, Frank-Walter Steinmeier - now foreign minister - and his successor, Thomas Oppermann - then parliamentary group manager - and the three decide to handle the matter in confidence.
The Bavarian CSU functions in practice at the national level as the Bavarian branch of Merkel's CDU, though it's actually a separate party and the CDU maintains a nominal separate presence in Bavaria. Hans-Peter Friedrich is a CSU guy who switched to be Minister of Agriculture after last fall's elections and the formation of the Grand Coalition of the CDU/CSU and the SPD. For a German chronology, see Der Fall Edathy - eine Chronik Süddeutsche Zeitung 17.02.2014.

More from the DW chronology:

February 14

Friedrich finds himself under pressure. The prosecutor confirms at a press conference that Edathy is under suspicion. Friedrich initially says he would only consider resignation if he is investigated for some offense. But by 5 pm, Friedrich, who had become agriculture minister in the new government, announces his resignation. In his resignation statement, he says he's convinced that he had "behaved politically and legally correctly," but that he had been pushed to make the move by the chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Gabriel insists that neither Steinmeier nor Oppermann had spoken to Edathy about the investigations.

February 15

Horst Seehofer, head of the CSU, of which Friedrich is a member, accuses the SPD and especially Oppermann of "gossiping" and "breach of trust."

In "Der Spiegel," Edathy denies that he had been warned: he was merely reacting to the reports of the Canadian investigations. But what he'd bought from the Canadian website, he insists, was "unambiguously legal." Nobody knows where Edathy is.
Merkel knows how to shove the knife. Though from what has been reported, it looks like she took the right action in this case.

Now the CSU is angry at the SPD leadership and wants some SPD blood (figuratively speaking, of course). (Thorsten Denkler, Koalition der Widersprüche Süddeutsche Zeitung 18.02.2014) Since Finance Minister Sigmar "Sigi Pop" Gabriel and Vice Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier could be implicated in misconduct if they somehow tipped off Edathy about the criminal investigation, the scandal could claim one or more major SPD political scalps.

So, the CSU is embarrassed by one of their national Ministers having to resign because of misconduct. Leading SPD figures could be embarrassed or discredited, in addition to Edathy's own case.

This sounds like a politically strengthened Angela Merkel to me. She's gets to play to mediating stateswoman on this at the moment, as Erik Kirschbaum reports in Germany's Merkel convenes allies to restore confidence after scandal Reuters 02/18/2014.

But I'm sure it's all a coincidence.

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