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August 13, 2022
EDITORIAL

A normal resignation

Friday morning, on February 7, 2012, German President Christian Wulff resigned live on TV. In a five-minute statement he explained the reasons of his decision, of which the main one stands out: the highest ranking office in the German state can no longer be correctly fulfilled given the circumstances he is in. A similar resignation in Bucharest, for example, but also in other European capital cities and beyond, would have immediately triggered cohorts of scenarios, conspiracy theories and, not in few cases, as it regularly happens in such cases, divagations on the mistakes made by the resigning official in the course of his political career. His personal life, his wife/wives, children and remotest relatives would have been put under severe scrutiny in an attempt to identify the deepest motivation of his resignation. All because, in such capitals, the fact that the genuine reason could be the issue of a loan/ some loans offered with an interest below the market rates would seem virtually impossible. His position different from the chancellor’s and his supporting political party in the matter of salvaging Greece from possible financial default or his different position on the treaty on financial discipline required by the recent European summit, therefore a fear regarding its consequences for Europe and Germany’s global prestige, would be more likely reasons behind his resignation. Or… and such speculations could have been made also on the situation in Syria or regarding the relations with China, Russia, America, France or Great Britain. Well, President Wulff resigned exactly for the reasons he stated. Twenty-four hours prior to his announcement, the prosecutors had requested the German Parliament to lift the president’s immunity in order to carry out their investigations into the alleged material benefits obtained by Wulff, they deemed incompatible with his position while being the governor of Lower Saxony. They also made such request in order to investigate the contradictory recent circumstances of a loan the official obtained with an interest smaller than the regular market rate for building a house. Although the president had denied such allegations published by the large circulation press, he even resorted to some impermissible attempts to ‘calm down’ such newspaper reports, equalling an abuse against the right to information of the general public. Although in his short statement announcing his resignation, Wulff had said that, even if he had made mistakes, he didn’t consider himself guilty of what was being held against him, he did say: ‘Our country needs a president who can address the massive national and international challenges unhindered.’… ‘The developments of the last days and weeks have shown that this confidence, and with that my effectiveness, has continued to be affected. For this reason it is no longer possible any more for me to perform the office of the federal presidency either domestically or abroad, as it is necessary.’Naturally, the German president’s resignation has drawn the attention of the German and international media, especially since, only two years before this, his predecessor had proceeded to an identical gesture, following some statements on the country’s military participation in Afghanistan which inflamed the public opinion. The headlines displayed by some of the German or foreign publications fully reflect the way in which this event is being evaluated: ‘Germany Breathes a Sigh of Relief’ (Der Spiegel); ‘A Man Too Small for the Presidency’ ( Idem ); ‘German President  Resigns in ‘Favour’ Scandal’ ( NYT ); , but also ‘The Mess in Angela Merkel’s Own Backyard: Who Will Be Her Third President?’ (Time); ‘German Crisis Imperils Eurozone Leadership’ (UPI). Therefore, on the one hand, the expression of the public’s satisfaction with the fact that a critical moment has been overcome, where the highest office in the state, reserved for ‘a role model’ had become the target of an unfavourable scandal but, on the other hand, also the issue of the impact the event might have on the stability of the leading coalition in Germany or on the crisis Europe is now going through regarding the sovereign debts of its southern countries. While the German press was excelling at mentioning the character of consolidation of the rule of law where all individuals are equal before the law, evinced by the event, the foreign press seems more concerned about the external impact of the resignation, which only shows the cardinal importance Germany currently has in the world as well. Both positions are justified. As it has been stressed in the various positions taken in German these past few days, President Wulff’s resignation consolidates German democracy. The representation of the Green Party expressed a broad current of opinion when stating that ‘what Mr. Wulff was no longer able to accomplish, namely to represent this country both domestically and abroad in a democratic way’, and, reflecting another major trend of opinion, the President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops evaluated Wulff’s resignation as ‘an important step to protect his high office and himself.’ Quite a few opinions expressed an admiration of the resignation gesture, seeing it as the expression of the defence of the prestige of the office which, in spite of its rather ceremonial powers, is highly representative for Germany. The head of Bavarian Conservatives, for example, emphasised the fact that, ‘with this move, Wulff puts the dignity and meaning of the state’s highest office in first place.’But for part of the foreign press, the event is also a sign of the weakness of the current ruling coalition in Germany, confronting Chancellor Merkel who now has to look for a third candidate for this high position, with a constant problem: who will be the next president? ‘Time’ quotes a German expert stating that, ‘for Merkel, the damage is mostly a domestic one. German political culture has taken a blow. Germans have lost trust in politics, politicians and political parties.’ Other comments in the international press mention that the resignation occurs at a bad time for Chancellor Merkel’s agenda, encumbering it and hindering its focus on Europe’s stringent issues. The Greek crisis and the identification of the best answer to it are – it is noted – a priority for the German leadership that is also presented with other challenges, Such as the fact that, in France, opinion polls suggest that the German Chancellor’s main partner in finding a solution to the European crisis, President Nicholas Sarkozy, has been overtaken by the Socialist candidate, less, if at all malleable to Berlin’s approach on the European crisis dossier. Therefore, an expected resignation – the allegations regarding ‘the favours’ Wulff has enjoyed being already two-month old in the German media, but one that also reflects a leadership crisis in Europe at a critical moment for EU’s evolution.

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