The resignation of German President Christian Wulff has diminished the standing of Chancellor Angela Merkel but the episode confirms the strength of the country's public processes. Mr. Wulff resigned on February 17 after months of scandal over murky financial dealings and more recent attempts to suppress reportage of these by leaving threatening voicemail messages for the editors of two newspapers. Mr. Wulff is the second Merkel presidential nominee in under two years to quit amid controversy; his predecessor, Horst Köhler, resigned in 2010 after claiming that deploying troops abroad benefited the German economy. The allegations against Mr. Wulff are that during his term as Minister President of Lower Saxony from 2003 to 2010, he had not told the State Assembly about a €500,000 home loan, which he later managed to refinance at a discounted rate. He had also taken holidays in wealthy friends' villas in Tuscany and Mallorca respectively, and another friend paid for the Wulff family's upgrade at a luxury Munich hotel.
The President's departure certainly damages Germany domestically and internationally, not least by exposing the Chancellor's poor judgment. German criticism of improprieties in other countries also loses weight. Germany, of course, has had other corruption problems. In 2000, Helmut Kohl, former Chancellor and leader of Ms Merkel's own party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), had to admit his party had received two million deutschmarks in undeclared donations, mainly from arms-industry lobbyists; he resigned the party's honorary presidency. As for Mr. Wulff, he has been hoist by his own petard; he himself passed strict laws on public officials' conduct in Lower Saxony, where state-school teachers have been prosecuted for accepting free tickets to amusement parks. Yet the quality of Germany's body politic is shown by public anger over the demeaning of the highest national office, which carries much power: among other things, the President can veto legislation, nominate a replacement Chancellor, and dissolve the federal parliament. In addition, public prosecutors in the Lower Saxony capital, Hanover, have asked the Bundestag to lift Mr. Wulff's immunity from prosecution. The contrast with India, where governments and prosecutors must be dragged kicking and screaming to court before they agree to investigate and prosecute politicians accused of corruption couldn't be greater. Germany has provided a clear lesson in what substantive probity in public life can mean.