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‘The right speech at the wrong time'

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‘The right speech at the wrong time'
Photo: DPA
11:55 CET+01:00
German President Christian Wulff gave a public apology Thursday for the personal finance scandal that has hounded him. But as The Local's media roundup finds, most pundits think the speech was too little too late.

"It wasn't forthright and I'm sorry about it," Wulff said in a televised address from his official residence in Berlin. "I have the need to address this matter. It's about trust in me and my office."

Wulff has been caught in a number of lies dating from his tenure as state premier of the state of Lower Saxony. Last week, it emerged that he had taken a €500,000 loan in 2008 from the wife of businessman Egon Geerkens, and failed to acknowledge it to the state parliament.

Anger then intensified when it was revealed that another businessman, Carsten Maschmeyer, paid to promote a book by the Christian Democrat Wulff in 2008 while running for re-election. Maschmeyer, for his part, denied that Wulff knew of his involvement.

While a recent survey found that 70 percent of the German population stood behind the president, believing that his faux pas were not enough to warrant his resignation, press opinion has been a little harsher.

The Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, thinks that Wulff's apology may have been sincere, but was too little too late. “A declaration offered under public pressure is worth little,” the paper writes in an editorial. “What did the president actually say about the matter in hand? Did he say it was wrong to take on a private loan? It was wrong to accept an invitation to a luxury holiday home? No. That shows that Wulff has only understood half of the issue. He might be more careful in the future. He hasn't become any cleverer.”

Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper also thinks Wulff's waited too long to make this short speech. “It was the right speech, but at the wrong time,” the paper commented. “Finally Wulff has admitted at least one thing to the German people: That what he did and said, and above all what he didn't do and say was not appropriate for a man in his office. That is true. It would have been better if we hadn't waited so long for this confession.”

Other papers were more forgiving, however. The conservative daily Die Welt admitted, “There's no question that Christian Wulff behaved stupidly, and several times.” But the paper said, “The important question is: Are his actions enough for a resignation? Was his mistake so great that we have to shield children's eyes when they walk past the presidential palace Bellevue?” The paper said the country would do better to forgive and forget: “Forgiveness is also a form of democratic hygiene. Someone who makes mistakes and is punished for them is maybe the better president, because he's reformed.”

Lamenting the relentless and unforgiving news cycles of the 21st century, the Süddeutsche Zeitung also argued that Wulff deserves a second chance. “As unappetizing as certain things about the loans-from-amigos affair are, they are clearly not enough grounds for resignation.”

The Financial Times Deutschland, meanwhile, had a slightly more original take. Giving the impression it was a bit bored of the whole affair, the financial paper suggested Germany should do away with the office of German president completely, which it says has degenerated into the role of a “benevolent uncle who greets foreign dignitaries and rewards deserving citizens.”

This was in marked contrast to the times of the Weimar Republic, when the president had the power to dissolve parliament and government by emergency laws. “The tasks of the head of state can be divided among the chancellor, the president of the parliament and the constitutional court. And we'd be able to come up with something for the Christmas speech too.”

The Local/bk

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