Sizeable pension for Wulff prompts further debate | News | DW | 29.02.2012
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Sizeable pension for Wulff prompts further debate

The office of Germany's head of state has decided that ex-president Christian Wulff is entitled to a 199,000 euro annual pension, two weeks after he resigned amid a scandal over alleged political favors.

A decision to grant Germany's ex-president Christian Wulff an annual pension of nearly 200,000 euros (roughly $265,000) has prompted further criticism after his 20-month tenure ended in scandal and a prosecutors' inquiry.

The Office of the Federal President ruled on Wednesday that Wulff, a 52-year-old member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, was entitled to the pension for the rest of his life. This was because, the office said, he had resigned for political - and not personal - reasons that objectively had impaired his duties as president.

Under legislation dating back to 1953, the German state currently funds five living former presidents, including Walter Scheel, Richard von Weizsäcker and Horst Köhler, who was Wulff's predecessor and once headed the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Each ex-president is entitled to an honorary stipend, currently worth 199,000 euros per year, plus his own secretarial office, personal advisor, chauffeur and expenses account.

The presidential pension alone is worth 16 times the average German pension and about five times the average Germany salary.

Mixed reactions to pension ruling

The deputy head of the Left Party's Bundestag caucus, Dietmar Bartsch, slammed the grant to Wulff.

"For a population in which 67 has become the pensionable age, the decision is not communicable. All pension rules need to be urgently reassessed," Bartsch told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

But, the General Secretary of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), Andrea Nahles, said her party accepted the decision as legally binding for the moment. SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel recently suggested to Chancellor Angela Merkel that a cross-party review of the 1953 legislation be launched.

Newspaper commentators weighed in on Wednesday, with the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung saying ironically the Wulff had drawn a "great lottery" prize. "Whoever becomes president draws a full salary lifelong."

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung said the pension "is paid out of respect for the (presidents') office. It is not recognition for (his) input and hard work."

Legal challenge predicted by constitutional expert

Constitutional expert Hans Herbert von Arnim told the news agency dapd that he doubted the presidential office's assessment that Wulff had resigned for political reasons, saying its ruling was legally challengeable.

Wulff resigned on February 17 at Berlin's Bellevue Palace after mounting allegations about funding obtained during his previous term as Hanover-based premier of the state of Lower Saxony. This included a cheap home loan made to Wulff.

In resigning, Wulff preempted state prosecutors in Hannover who on the previous day had asked the federal Bundestag parliament to lift his immunity.

The presidential office said Wulff's other pension entitlements from his term as regional state premier of Lower Saxony and as a parliamentarian before that would be deducted from the 199,000 euros.

Next president to be elected 18 March

On 18 March, a special assembly, the Federal Convention, made up of more than a 1,000 parliamentarians and delegates from Germany's 16 regional states elects a new federal president.

Most political parties, including the CDU and SPD, back former East German pastor Joachim Gauck, who formerly headed a post-German reunification archive that scrutinized files of the east German Stasi security agency. The Left Party has nominated Beate Klarsfeld, who, together with her French husband, spent years tracking down former Nazis.

The office of German president has few legislative prerogatives but he or she is expected to act as a moral compass for the nation.

ipj/msh (dapd, Reuters, AFP, dpa)