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Merkel's challenger under fire for extra earnings

Peter Steinbrück has caved in and agreed to publish details on his income. His extra earnings as an orator are at the center of a heated debate on transparency of parliamentarians' income in Germany.

Peer Steinbrück has come out in the face of criticism and has announced he'd disclose details of his extra earnings after all.

The SPD's newly appointed challenger to Chancellor Angela Merkel was finance minister in her cabinet until 2009, and is still a member of the German parliament, the Bundestag, with a yearly income of 95,520 euros ($123,670).

Over the past three years, he regularly accepted invitations from private companies, mainly banks and insurance companies, to speak on financial issues. And he earned over 7,000 euros ($9,105) each month through these speaking engagements.

It is not illegal in Germany for lawmakers to have an extra income, but they need to report the rough amount to the parliamentary president.

There have been calls, mainly from the ruling conservative parties, for Steinbrück to fully disclose the amount of his additional earnings, although he is not obliged by law to do so.

Steinbrück caves in

Steinbrück, however, had refused to give any details, claiming that he was being unfairly targeted by his political opponents.

He has now told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper that he would disclose the details on his earnings as an orator.

Steinbrück was responding to criticism mainly by politicians from the conservative camp, who raised the suspicion that his speaking engagements amount to peddling the influence he gained from having been finance minister.

Referring to Steinbrück's calls for stricter control of European banks, Horst Seehofer, the head of Merkel's coalition partner, CSU, had said that those who demand full transparency from the banks shouldn't be surprised when transparency is demanded of them as well.

“This is not just a legal matter,“ said Rainer Brüderle, of the free market Free Democrats (FDP). “If someone can give 80 speeches a year, for which he also needs time to prepare, it makes you wonder how he finds the time for his regular job.”

Calls for more transparency

Now German politicians are discussing whether to change the existing provisions on disclosing extra earnings.

The Berlin-based NGO Transparency International has demanded that elected representatives disclose every detail of their incomes.

“Parliamentarians should be required to completely disclose their entire income down to the last cent,” said Transparency's CEO Christian Humborg.

Germany is not alone in aiming to increase transparency on politicians' incomes.

The European Parliament, for example, has a code of conduct, which requires representatives to disclose their financial interests before they take office.

The idea is to track the influence lobbyists may have on policymaking. During the first half of 2012, the European Parliament adopted measures for the disclosure of gifts and trips, but critics say this is not enough.

rg/jr (dpa, Reuters)