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Wulff case 'a chance to open up German politics'

Hannah Cleaver · 7 Feb 2012, 07:22

Published: 07 Feb 2012 07:22 GMT+01:00

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“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.

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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.

Hannah Cleaver (hannah.cleaver@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

20:00 February 9, 2012 by Kennneth Ingle
It is sad but true, large numbers of politicians in Germany seem to regard using their political positions for personal advantage as quite normal. Here in NRW a majority have agreed to raise their own incomes again, without giving any improvement in service to the public. It is not only accepting presents from friends or business acquaintances which is totally dishonourable, but also the self-service attitude towards taxpayer's money. This is hardly more than legalised theft!

As a guest in this land, I find it strange that the German people ­ who demonstrate for a number far of lesser reasons ­ do not take to the streets when it is a question of protecting their own interests.
19:59 February 13, 2012 by GGN
Lets get it straight folks!! Never has any global issue been coordinated or resolved by the immature practise of putting the Diplomatic Core under a microscope. How, without extravagance to some level (and this would be the issue to focus on), would global affairs be influenced? Image does matter! If you want your civilization to be seen (image) as backward, under-educated and unsophisticated maybe you are pining for the Stalin experience? Wake up to the fact your anger is about policy which has been manipulated and caused 'siphoning off' for NO COUNTRY-MAN'S use. Global rules designed by?? No, the thievery has nothing to do with ski trips or Education titles....it's a much bigger fraud than that! Wake up to being thrown a deliberate distraction...
08:35 March 1, 2012 by wkeim
A comparison of transparency and fight of corruption showd:

1) 84 states with 4,5 billion inhabitants give better access to information then the federal Freedom of Information Law in Germany (http://rti-rating.org/results.html).

2) More then 115 states (http://right2info.org/laws) with more then 5,5 billion inhabitants adopted FOI laws or provisions in constitutions. 5 German states with half of the population lack FOI laws.

3) The UN Convention against Corruption is ratified by 158 states with more then 6,5 billion inhabitants, but not by Germany.

4) Germany did not ratify the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption and does not follow Recommendation Rec(2003)4 on common rules against corruption in the funding of political parties and electoral campaigns of the Council of Europe as GRECO (Group of States against Corruption) suggested 4 December 2009.

5) Germany is the only state in Europe which has not ratified any of these to conventions against corruption.

Obviously Germany has some work to do to catch up.
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