Agriculture Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has resigned his post after a lawmaker from another party was accused of buying child porn. Members of Friedrich's CSU party are asking if his ouster was justified.
A longtime member of the German parliament from Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU), politician Hans-Peter Uhl is stunned.
"How can it possibly happen that a SPD lawmaker is alleged to have bought child porn and the only consequence is that a CSU minister resigns," Uhl asked, summing up his party's feeling on Friday's forced resignation of now-former Agriculture Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich.
Friedrich is suspected of passing on information in October, when he was interior minister, to Social Democratic Party (SPD) head Sigmar Gabriel, who currently serves as Germany's minister for economics and energy, about a child pornography investigation. Authorities are reported to have found the name of SPD lawmaker Sebastian Edathy on a customer list for kiddy porn.
Friedrich said he believed he acted in a "politically and legally" correct manner in telling Gabriel about the investigation and trusted Gabriel would not inform anyone else. To some it's a plausible explanation as Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the CSU and SPD were in the midst of negotiations to form a new governing coalition after German parliamentary elections in September.
Prosecutors, however, have questioned his motives and are considering charging him with suspected betrayal of official secrets. There do not appear to be similar charges under consideration for SPD members. The party's parliamentary group leader at the time, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and his successor Thomas Oppermann are reported to have also been aware of the Edathy case. Steinmeier is currently Germany's foreign minister.
According to Germany's "Focus" newsmagazine, Uhl has called for the SPD politicians to give statements under oath on who they shared the information with.
Another CSU minister caught in a scandal
Regardless of how the current affair turns out, the CSU seems to again be a loser in Germany's national political scene. The Bavarian sister party to Merkel's CDU, the Christian Social Union saw party member and former Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg forced to resign in a plagiarism scandal. It was his resignation and the ensuing cabinet reshuffle that opened the Interior Ministry spot for Friedrich three years ago in the first place. Guttenberg's disgrace was an especially painful blow for the CSU as the charismatic politician was regarded by some as being an eventual contender for the Chancellery.
In the two months since the newest "grand coalition" of CDU, SPD and CSU took over governing Germany, the CSU has seen its influence diminish as it no longer leads any of the ministries regarded to be especially powerful. This was made apparent by Friedrich's "demotion" from the head of the Interior Ministry to top spot in the Agriculture Ministry. Ilse Aigner, a fellow CSU member, willingly left the Agriculture Ministry to Friedrich for a position in Bavarian state politics.
The overwhelmed economics minister
Aigner was not the first CSU minister to choose to turn her back on Berlin's political machine. Michael Glos, who served as German economic minister from 2005 to 2009, voluntarily left his position - a job many observers said he was unprepared for and overwhelmed by. Friedrich cut a similar figure in the Interior Ministry when he was surprisingly named its head in March 2011.
CSU party head Horst Seehofer will determine who will take the newly vacated position on Monday. At the moment there does not appear to be a bidding war going on for the position - and it's no wonder since successful CSU politicians do not seem to be thriving in the German capital. Some changes may need to be made, according to Seehofer, "We will have to talk about the form of cooperation." Germany's three governing parties have a meeting scheduled for Tuesday in Berlin. Chancellor Merkel and SPD leader Gabriel should get ready to face a feisty CSU.