By Kay-Alexander Scholz
German President Christian Wulff has broken his silence over an undisclosed home loan from a friend. The president apologized for not being more open, but said he would not be resigning.
|Wulff gave the long-awaited speech at his Berlin residence|
There was great excitement among observers of the political scene in Berlin. For days, there had been speculation about whether President Christian Wulff would step down or continue in office. Until a hastily convened press conference on Thursday afternoon at Berlin's Schloss Bellevue, Wulff had only addressed the matter through his lawyers
The president has been facing criticism for the past 10 days over a personal loan from the wife of his friend Egon Geerkens, as well as holiday invitations he accepted from other entrepreneurs.
In addition, there was the matter of an advertising campaign – funded by businessman Carsten Maschmeyer – for a book by Wulff.
Surrounded by cameras, Wulff finally said that he felt he needed to explain the situation personally. He reminded his audience that he had now provided – fully and openly – all details of the financing of his house. "All information has been given and has been comprehensively released from bank confidentiality," said Wulff.
Bildunterschrift: In addition, the president noted he had disclosed details of vacations at the homes of friends, the details of which had been made available through his lawyer.
Freedom of the press and expression meant that "for holders of public office, it is necessary to establish transparency about the way they perform their duties, especially in that border area between what is official and what is private," Wulff said.
Expression of sorrow
For the president, it had become clear that the private financing arrangements for his house had become disconcerting for the public. "I could have avoided that and I should have done," he explained. "It was not straightforward and I am sorry about that."
Wulff said that he should have made the details known to the state parliament of Lower Saxony, where he served as state premier until taking office 18 months ago. He also added that he realized that just because something was legally correct, it was not necessarily right.
The president also commented on allegations that he may have abused his office. "At no time in public office have I granted anyone an unfair advantage," Wulff insisted. He added that, while personal friendships were important to him in a human sense, they had never influenced his administration. "I guarantee that," he said.
Wulff said that he now wanted to go on to carry out his duties with diligence and strength. "We are facing great challenges – in our country, in Europe and in the wider world," he said. For this reason, said Wulff, he was asking German citizens to continue to trust him.
Shortly before, the presidential office in Berlin had revealed that Wulff's press spokesman Olaf Glaeseker had been dismissed. The president's long-time confidant and adviser had been relieved of his official duties, it said. The decision had been taken by the head of the presidential office. Glaeseker was to be replaced with immediate effect by his deputy, Petra Diroll, on an interim basis.
The reasons for Glaeseker's dismissal were not disclosed, either in the statement or the explanation by Wulff. However, the president said that he regretted having to part company from Glaeseker.
Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with reserve to the speech. "The words of the president speak for themselves," said government spokesman Steffen Seibert. Merkel has twice given her backing to Wulff since the credit affair began.
Criticism from the opposition
|For Künast, the speech was more puzzling than enlightening|
Regardless of the apology, the opposition Social Democrats called for further explanations from Wulff. Deputy parliamentary leader of the party Hubertus Heil said that it was good that Wulff had broken his silence, but that a lot of trust had been lost in recent weeks.
"It is therefore correct that the president has acknowledged that he has been lacking in straightforwardness and that he regrets the events," said Heil. However, he said, both this and the dismissal of Glaeseker were no substitute for real information about the issue.
Green parliamentary leader Renate Künast criticized Wulff's apology as inadequate. "Christian Wulff has acknowledged what was already known," she said. "Anyone who listened to him will remain puzzled."