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Wulff case 'a chance to open up German politics'

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Wulff case 'a chance to open up German politics'
Photo: DPA
07:22 CET+01:00
As President Christian Wulff remains mired in allegations of impropriety, anti-corruption group Transparency International (TI) has called for politicians to use the case as a chance to open up German politics.

“We are very concerned that people seem to be starting to think that all politicians behave like Wulff, and that would be fatal,” Christian Humborg, TI Germany's managing director told The Local.

“I think the Wulff affair is a wonderful opportunity for German politicians to react to the cynical attitude that this is normal, and improve things,” he said.

He said that Germany already had the laws necessary to ensure neither Wulff nor his close associates had broken the law. But for Wulff, the problem was one of the credibility invested in his constitutional office.

“The president doesn't have power in Germany; the only power he has is his word. And the power of the word is a function of his integrity. He doesn't fulfil the level of integrity necessary for his position. I wouldn't assume that the people who want him to stay (in office) approve of his behaviour.”

The question of whether Wulff should resign was one for him to answer personally, and although opposition politicians were increasing pressure on the president, Chancellor Angela Merkel's continued support for him was questionable, said Humborg.

“We have to ask ourselves why the chancellor is still publicly supporting his behaviour and allowing the public image of politicians to be tainted further. She has some responsibility to safeguard our democracy so that people do not lose trust in the system as a result of politicians' questionable practices.”

Most of the allegations against Wulff date back to his state premiership of Lower Saxony between 2003 and 2010.

Asked whether the dense web of overlapping personal, business and political relationships that Wulff seemed to have spun during this time were normal for a man in his position, Humborg said, “We don't have enough empirical data to say to what degree politicians have such relationships in general, but I would be surprised if that was a widespread phenomenon.”

Humborg said he recognized that state politicians must promote their regional economy, but that high moral standards could still be expected of them.

“I don't think it is so difficult to have a close interaction with people and businesses while still respecting a responsible distance when it comes to personal advantage,” he said.

While Humborg acknowledged that the laws concerning Wulff's case were sufficient, he called for four major changes to increase transparency elsewhere in Germany's political life.

He pointed out that there was currently no regulation to force transparency in sponsoring political parties, that Germany has not signed up to the United Nations convention against corruption, and that the law against bribing politicians was too weak.

And he said there needed to be more public information on how federal MPs earn money outside their parliamentary remuneration.

The final additional measure would be to govern what is known as revolving door employment – where ministers and deputy parliamentary ministers who have had contact with businesses in their public positions then go to work for them.

Other countries impose a quarantine period after politicians leave office, during which they cannot work for a firm with which they have had dealings.

Overall, Humborg said Germany had a high levels of integrity, but that there was a need for greater transparency.

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