The problems surrounding German President Christian Wulff have compounded those Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing, to the point where her coalition government could collapse. The presidency is largely ceremonial, but Mr. Wulff has been involved in murky financial deals and has now tried to intimidate the press. As Minister President of Lower Saxony from 2003 to 2010, he was evasive about a €500,000 home loan, which he later refinanced at a discounted rate, from a rich friend; he had holidays in the villas of other wealthy friends in Tuscany and Mallorca; and another associate paid for the Wulff family's upgrade at a luxury hotel during the Munich Oktoberfest. The Lower Saxony assembly is investigating possible procedural breaches, but Mr. Wulff, a career politician in the Chancellor's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, has made matters worse, leaving voicemails threatening the tabloid Das Bild and its owners, the Axel Springer group, with “judicial consequences” and “war” if they published the story. The President has also pressured the daily Die Welt, inviting accusations of attempted censorship and of conduct demeaning to the presidency.
Mr. Wulff is a particular liability for Ms Merkel because he is the second successive president to be embroiled in controversy; his predecessor Horst Köhler, also from the CDU, resigned in 2010 after saying military involvement abroad was good for the German economy. Secondly, Mr. Wulff, a Merkel nominee, is less than popular with his party, which despite its majority in the relevant electoral college, the Federal Assembly, needed three rounds of voting to confirm his appointment. In addition, the CDU's coalition partners, the neoliberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), are causing the Chancellor problems. The FDP has polled at 3 per cent or less for a year now, and is riven by internal feuding. The CSU leaders, for their part, are furious about being left out of coalition discussions on tax cuts. Meanwhile, the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Sigmar Gabriel has shrewdly offered to negotiate over a replacement president, while keeping in reserve the highly respected Joachim Gauck, a priest and rights activist. The CDU has its own headaches; having lost its Baden-Württemberg stronghold to the Greens in 2011, it faces provincial elections in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony. Ms Merkel's personal ratings are good, but while losing one president may be a political misfortune, losing two presidents would look like very bad political judgment. The Chancellor and her coalition have a long, hard road to walk before the 2013 general election.