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Politically problematic

February 17, 2012

German Chancellor Angela Merkel accepted Christian Wulff's decision to resign as German president. While Merkel remains popular, Wulff's move could ultimately leave her in a politically complicated situation.

Merkel sitting with her eyes closed next to Wulff as the Federal Convention meets
Image: dapd

The resignation of Germany's head of state is problematic for Chancellor Angela Merkel. The chancellor is busy trying to resolve the euro crisis and Wulff's resignation Friday morning forced her to cancel a state visit to Italy, where she was due to meet with that country's premier, Mario Monti.

The search for Wulff's successor will, for a while at least, divert the chancellor's attention from the ongoing eurozone crisis. 

Power struggle

However, finding a suitable successor for Wulff is also crucial for Merkel's power base. A president is obliged to sign all laws passed by parliament. Without the president's signature planned legislation can not be enforced.

Wulff and Merkel shaking hands
Wulff and Merkel enjoying happier times at the president's traditional New Year's receptionImage: dapd

Therefore the chancellor has a vested interest in finding a president with a political inclination. The candidate needs sufficient support from the governing coalition center-right coalition when it comes to electing the president in the Federal Convention. This body consists of lower house parliamentarians and an equal number of delegates who are determined by Germany's upper house or Bundesrat. 

A critical Convention

During the Federal Convention in 2010, it took three rounds of voting for Merkel's candidate, Wulff, to win the assembly's approval. Now the vote could become even more difficult for the chancellor. The convention must assemble to elect a new president by March 18.

That's good news for Merkel since she will be able to count on her coalition having a majority in the Convention - a situation that could have been different if the vote didn't take place until after state elections in May in Schleswig-Holstein.

Not hurt yet

While Merkel is facing a host of problems, mainly concerning the euro, there is one difficulty she doesn't yet have - damage to her image, which would make it harder for her to govern.

Merkel at a press conference
Polls recently showed Merkel's popularity at its highest in yearsImage: Reuters

The German population has a fairly positive assessment of Merkel's handling of the euro crisis. The scandal surrounding Wulff and allegations that he saw private gain from his relationships with people in the business world while he was in office seems not to have stuck to her.

Potential trouble

Wulff's squeaky clean image was meant to be beneficial to the office of the president and to Merkel herself. In 2010, then-President Horst Köhler resigned unexpectedly due to criticism over statements about the German Army being used to protect economic interests. Wulff was the person meant to be a safe choice who would help people forget an episode that was quite embarrassing for Merkel.

If in the course of their investigation, state prosecutors find substance to the allegations against Wulff, it could be harder for Merkel to avoid being tarnished by the now former president. Members of the opposition have already made comments that she was willing to put her trust in someone who didn't deserve it.

On Saturday, coalition leaders will gather to discuss a successor to Wulff and Merkel's agenda, already full, will have to be changed over the course of the next few days.

Author: Wolfgang Dick / jam
Editor: Sean Sinico