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Tuesday, 12 November 2019

German media attack president after he vows to stay

German President Christian Wulff's moral authority is challenged for attempting to prevent Germany's Bild newspaper from publishing details about loan from businessman

Reuters , Thursday 5 Jan 2012
Newspaper front pages showing German President Christian Wulff are pictured in Berlin, Thursday, (Photo: Reuters).
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German media and opposition lawmakers renewed their attacks on President Christian Wulff on Thursday after he went on television to try to defuse an escalating home loan scandal and made clear he intended to cling to his job.

Wulff looks set to ride out the storm for now, not least because he still has the backing of Chancellor Angela Merkel who pushed for his election to the largely ceremonial post in 2010.

She is keen to avoid the distraction of a prolonged and potentially divisive debate about a successor and, as his main sponsor for president, would herself be vulnerable to accusations of bad judgement if he quit just 18 months after taking up the post.

Under pressure to resign, an earnest-looking Wulff admitted in the television interview late on Wednesday that he had made a "grave mistake" in trying to stop the Bild newspaper from publishing an embarrassing story about his private home loan.

However the appearance, in which he portrayed himself as the victim of an aggressive media, was not enough for many newspapers which said the scandal was not over.

"Real understanding and open remorse were missing. Instead, Wulff made himself small and hid behind the people. That is unworthy of a president," wrote the Financial Times Deutschland, striking a similar tone to other papers.

"The affair is not over with this television interview. The president has not won back the moral authority that enables him to exercise his office."

While most politicians in Merkel's conservative party welcomed his statement, opposition members were critical.

"There are still open questions that need to be resolved," said senior Social Democrat (SPD) lawmaker Hubertus Heil. "This did not clear him and will not end the debate," he said.

Wulff's claim in the interview that he had not been trying to quash the story, but only to delay its publication by a day to give him time to respond could come back to haunt him.

The head of Bild's Berlin bureau Nikolaus Blome told German radio after Wulff's appearance that the message the president had left on the voicemail of the newspaper's top editor in mid-December "had the clear aim of stopping the report".

German media have reported that Wulff threatened Bild with "war" and legal consequences if it published the report. The newspaper could now come under pressure to release the transcript of the message Wulff left for Bild editor Kai Diekmann.

Despite the threat, Bild went ahead and published the story last month. In it, the paper reported that he had received a home loan in 2008 at cheap rates from the wife of a wealthy businessman friend Egon Geerkens when he was conservative premier of the northern state of Lower Saxony.

He stands accused of misleading the state parliament when he denied having any business links to Geerkens.

Germans take the office of president seriously. The person in the post is expected to act as a moral authority for the nation, defending constitutional laws, including a commitment to press freedoms.

Public support for Wulff has fallen to 47 percent from 63 percent in a matter of days, a poll by ARD television showed.

However, the crucial backing of the chancellor on Wednesday seems to have saved him for now. Analysts say the scandal reflects badly on her as he was her choice for president.

The Berliner Zeitung summed up what many papers wrote.

"He will stay our president. For now. But he has forfeited his authority," wrote the paper in an editorial.

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