Merkel “has great respect for Christian Wulff as a person and for Christian Wulff as president,” her spokesman Steffen Seibert said Friday, arguing that Wulff was addressing his scandal adequately. “She has great respect for the office he holds.”
Wulff, 52, publicly crossed swords with Germany’s most powerful newspaper on Thursday, a day after he went on national television to address criticism that he had tried to prevent a story about his private 2008 loan from being published.
Wulff, who claimed in the television interview – watched by 11.5 million – people that he had just sought to delay its publication by a day, later refused to authorize the release of a telephone message he had left for the newspaper’s chief editor, saying it was a private matter for which he had apologised.
Opposition lawmakers from the Social Democrats (SPD) have waded in, calling for Merkel to put more direct pressure on Wulff.
“If Mrs Merkel is interested in putting an end to this sanctimonious spectacle, she should convince Christian Wulff to agree to the publication,” SPD chief whip Thomas Oppermann said. “Only publication of the voicemail (message) can prove whether he lied or not.”
And the president, whose role is ceremonial but carries moral authority, was further challenged Friday when a bank reportedly contradicted his account of when he took out a loan.
Merkel faced further bad news as she gears up for a diplomatic flurry of eurozone crisis talks next week, hosting French President Nicholas Sarkozy on Monday and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti on Wednesday.
An opinion poll Thursday by ARD-DeutschlandTrend revealed that support for the junior partner in her coalition, the Free Democratic Party, had slumped to just two percent – well below the five percent needed to enter parliament.
Another poll published Thursday by the ARD television network showed that 60 percent of those questioned favoured giving Wulff a second chance, although 61 percent also said they had not been convinced by his television appearance.
Wulff landed in hot water last month when Bild reported that he had concealed a home loan at an advantageous interest rate he accepted from the wife of a tycoon friend while premier of Lower Saxony state.
Wulff kept quiet when opposition state deputies asked him whether he had business ties to the tycoon or any firms connected with him.
During the TV interview, Wulff apologised and admitted that he should have come clean about the loan earlier but insisted he will stay on in the job.