The Bavarian CSU arm of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats has not had its best ever week. With Bavaria plastered over the front pages anyway, now the CSU's regional parliamentary head has quit over nepotism.
In the same week that Bavarian icon and president of Bayern Munich football club Uli Hoeness admitted to a Swiss bank account, the state's CSU might have preferred an otherwise uneventful time. The dominant regional party did not get its wish.
The parliamentary chairman of the CSU at state level, Georg Schmid, resigned his post on Thursday amid heavy criticism for perceived favoritism.
Schmid employed his wife as a secretary for 23 years, affording her a state salary that reached monthly highs of 5,500 euros ($7,150). Opposition politicians were particularly critical, considering that Schmid's own monthly salary - according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper - stood at 24,145 euros; or less than 1,000 euros per month shy of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Schmid said in a personal statement that he was certain that he had "always acted legally and correctly within politics," but said that "the public discussion however binds me to a situation that no longer allows me to carry out my work at the head of the CSU parliamentary group in the manner that I expect from myself."
A loophole in laws governing Bavarian state parliamentarians made it possible and legal for them to employ family members; including Schmid, 17 CSU parliamentarians currently provide their wives or children with a job. This practice was made illegal in 2000, but any such contracts begun before this date were deemed permissible. Opposition Social Democrat parliamentary leader in Bavaria, Markus Rinderspacher, said any politicians within state premier Horst Seehofer's cabinet doing this should step down.
"The CSU sleaze cannot be overlooked. It's not going to automatically dissipate just because Mr. Schmid steps down," Rinderspacher said.
Bavaria votes in regional elections in September, just before the German federal election. Recent polls suggested a commanding 49-percent public support for a state controlled by the CSU - currently as senior partner in a coalition government with the liberal FDP - ever since 1958. This dominance is a crucial component in the national success of the Merkel's Christian Democrats.
In the shadow of Hoeness
"I respect the decision from Georg Schmid in a situation that is difficult for him and also for his family," State Premier Horst Seehofer said in a statement.
Seehofer himself was under fire from the opposition Green party on two fronts, not just regarding Schmid. In the aftermath of Bayern Munich President Uli Hoeness' weekend confession of having a secret Swiss bank account, the Greens had filed a parliamentary request to be told when Seehofer and his government knew about a possible tax avoidance case involving Hoeness, who is not a CSU member, but is known for his conservative opinions and his shoulder-rubbing with CSU and CDU politicians.
Bavaria's Finance Ministry issued a response on Thursday, saying that Hoeness had filed amended tax returns on January 17 and that Seehofer was informed of the matter on January 25.
Hoeness was briefly taken into custody on March 20 and released in exchange for a bail payment broadly reported in Germany at 5 million euros. The story went public via the news magazine Focus' online portal on Saturday, April 20.
Amid criticism over his perceived closeness to football leader Hoeness, Bayern's top politician said on Wednesday that "tax evaders are pursued just as vigorously in Bavaria as elsewhere."
He called called the Hoeness case "serious," and said "I may foster partnerships, but there's no chumminess in my office."
msh/hc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)