Disgraced former German President Christian Wulff faced a new barrage of criticism after it emerged that he had taken a job for a Turkish fashion store. He already receives a six-figure salary from the German state.
Christian Wulff, a leading Christian Democrat figure once considered a possible successor to Angela Merkel, has faced anger after a newspaper revealed that the former German president was now working for a Turkish high-street fashion chain.
The Bild am Sonntag reported on Sunday that Wulff had been working for the German subsidiary of Istanbul-based chain Yargici since the end of April – just before the firm opened its first stores in Germany.
“Basically it was Mr Wulff who motivated the company to launch in Germany,” Yargici’s managing director in Germany, Erik Schaap, told the paper. Announcing its plan to expand into Germany in April, Yargici described itself as a “strong and fun-loving brand for women,” that has been successful in Turkey and Cyprus for 39 years.
Wulff had reportedly already been working as the company’s legal representative in Germany since the beginning of 2016, but his office refused to answer questions about his work for Yargici on the grounds that it would violate his rules of professional conduct as a lawyer. DW’s requests for comment on Monday remained unanswered.
The dignity of the office
But that didn’t stop the story drawing criticism from German politicians who felt Wulff’s new job was beneath the dignity of a former German head of state. Ralf Stegner, deputy leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), was the first to vent, telling the Bild am Sonntag, “On the whole, ex-presidents take on honorary positions and don’t become legal representatives for fashion companies.”
Wulff’s new job also offended sensibilities – as a former president, Wulff receives an annual honorary salary of over 200,000 euros ($236,000) – for the rest of his life. “The life-long honorarium is supposed to be there so that former heads of state aren’t forced to earn money,” said Stegner.
The sentiment was echoed on the right of Germany’s political spectrum. Wolfgang Kubicki, deputy leader for the Free Democratic Party (FDP), told the German local news network RND, “It might still be legal for the recipient of a state honorarium of over 200,000 euros a year, but it contradicts the meaning and purpose of state lifetime support for a former president.”
Sahra Wagenknecht, leader of the socialist Left party, said Wulff’s extra job was “unacceptable” and the kind of thing that led to “disillusionment with politics” in the population. She also took the opportunity to promise that her party would draft a motion in the next legislative period to “end this state of affairs.”
The fact that, of all of Germany’s ex-presidents, it should be Wulff who has been earning the extra money has added an extra edge of irritation to the criticism. In February 2012, Wulff was forced out of office by a series of minor but unseemly scandals that led to a bribery investigation by federal prosecutors.
As a result, there was an angry debate in the media and among legal experts in 2012 over whether or not Wulff should be entitled to the lifetime honorarium at all.
Legal analyses by the Bundestag and the president’s office came to the conclusion that an ex-president is not entitled to the salary if he or she resigns for personal reasons, but that Wulff had resigned for political reasons – and so could continue to claim the full benefit. To add an extra frisson to the decision, Wulff’s predecessor Horst Köhler, who also resigned from the presidency after a scandal, voluntarily renounced the annual income.
Wulff’s peccadillos, which mostly came during his tenure as state premier of Lower Saxony, included taking a low-interest private loan from a friendly businessman, accepting a free holiday from a film producer, and making an ill-advised phone call to a newspaper editor in an attempt to suppress the story.
Wulff was cleared in court of all wrongdoing in 2014, and even awarded compensation for the “searches” of his home, but by then his political career was long since defunct. In his book on the scandal (entitled “Very Top, Very Bottom”) published in the immediate aftermath of his acquittal, Wulff blamed state prosecutors for ending his career, and accused the investigators of “lacking objectivity.”
It was an unhappy fall for a man who had once enjoyed a shining career. His seven-year state premiership in Lower Saxony between 2003 and 2010 was considered enough of a success to have Wulff mooted as a potential successor to Angela Merkel – until he ruled himself out by saying he was “no alpha animal.”
At that point, Merkel, rumored to be keen to sideline a potential rival, proposed Wulff as the center-right candidate for the German presidency – a ceremonial, non-partisan office that nevertheless carries significant moral authority in the country and involves important duties and state visits.
After only narrowly defeating the preferred center-left candidate (and eventual successor) Joachim Gauck, Wulff became the youngest ever German president in June 2010 at the age of 51.
Apart from the scandal that ended it, possibly the most memorable act of his 19-month presidency was to declare, during a speech celebrating the 20th anniversary of German reunification in October 2010, that “Islam too belongs to Germany now.” Three weeks later, he also became the first German head of state to address the Turkish National Assembly, where he urged immigrants to “actively engage themselves in our German society.”