German president resigns in big setback for Merkel
Published 18/02/2012 | 05:00
ANGELA Merkel's hand-picked choice for the ceremonial post of president resigned yesterday in a scandal over political favours, dealing a blow to the German chancellor in the midst of the eurozone debt crisis.
In a curt five-minute statement at the Bellevue presidential palace, Christian Wulff acknowledged he had lost the trust of the German people, making it impossible to continue in a role that is meant to serve as a moral compass for the nation.
"For this reason it is no longer possible for me to exercise the office of president at home and abroad as required," said Mr Wulff, standing next to his wife Bettina.
Ms Merkel postponed a trip to Rome where she was to hold talks on the eurozone's debt crisis with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.
She made a brief statement after Mr Wulff's announcement, saying she regretted his departure and would seek talks with opposition parties to find a candidate to replace him.
The chancellor is riding a wave of popularity in Germany for her handling of the crisis, but the departure of Mr Wulff raises questions about her judgement because she forced through his appointment in 2010 over a strong opposition candidate most Germans favoured.
He is the second president to step down in less than two years. His predecessor, former IMF chief Horst Koehler, resigned unexpectedly after coming under fire for comments he made about the German mission in Afghanistan and failing to get strong backing from Ms Merkel. The resignation is likely to embolden the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, who have shied away from criticising her too strongly in recent months.
Despite her vow to find a consensus candidate to replace Mr Wulff, the choosing of a successor could prove divisive, distracting her just as EU governments are trying to cobble together a second aid package for Greece to avert a chaotic default and eurozone exit.
A member of Ms Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) who served as premier of the western state of Lower Saxony, Mr Wulff was once seen as a potential rival to Ms Merkel and many in Germany saw his appointment as a ploy by the chancellor to push him out of the political arena. He has long cultivated a schoolboy image, but his reputation took a hammering when 'Bild' newspaper reported late last year that he had misled the state parliament about a cheap €500,000 home loan from a businessman friend before becoming president.
Last month he admitted making a "grave mistake" by threatening the editor of top-selling 'Bild' with "war" if he published the story about his private financial dealings.
The chancellor has been criticised in the past for what has often looked like a concerted policy of sidelining capable figures in her party who she sees as potential rivals. (Reuters)