Saturday, February 18, 2012

This is an ex president

In all of yesterday’s excitement with getting my video finished and uploaded, I didn’t have time to mention the German president’s resignation in the face of a series of scandals. If Iran invaded Germany now, there would be nobody to declare a State of Defence, although this being Germany, I’m sure they have some sort of back-up plan. After all, somebody would have to be on hand to declare a State of Defence if Iran invaded while the president was laid up with flu or holidaying on a tropical island as the guest of a businessman, so that base is surely covered.

But uncharacteristically, what the Germans didn’t foresee was what, under these circumstances, would happen to the president’s pension. He’s entitled to a cool €199,000 annually if he serves one or two full terms, or if he is forced from office “for political reasons”, but nowhere does it define what reasons might or might not count as “political”. All the scandals relate to indiscretions he is alleged to have made before he became president. They weren’t political indiscretions, they were personal indiscretions. But they made his position politically untenable.

Had he, for example, resigned because actually being president wasn’t that much fun really and besides he’d met a pole dancer in Las Vegas and decided he preferred her company to that of his wife and assorted government officials and so had to leave because the pole dancer, like everything else that “happens” in Vegas, was staying in Vegas… well, then it would be clear: No pension for you, matey.

But this isn’t like that. Neither is it anything like being forced out of office because the Bundestag had an election and the new government refused to work with the president. He’s not been forced out for political reasons, exactly… but he hasn’t been forced out for completely non-political reasons either. It’s a bit of a grey area, one that wasn’t foreseen by the architects of post-war Germany.

So, cue the next bitter argument. Wulff is a member of the CDU, the senior partner in the governing coalition and a close ally of the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who moved heaven and earth to get him voted in over the more popular choice of the independent Joachim Gauck. Predictably, then, the CDU thinks that Wulff should get his pension; everyone else in the Bundestag thinks he shouldn’t.

Not only that, of course, but the CDU can’t really put Gauck forward as Wulff’s successor, as that would be to admit that they’d made a mistake in insisting on Wulff in the first place; everyone else in the Bundestag thinks that Gauck would be perfect. It isn’t helping matters much that so far (as I write this), two of the top candidates for the job have declined this particular poisoned chalice.

Say what you like about a monarchy (and I am not exactly an out-and-out royalist), at least the British government doesn’t get embroiled in this sort of dilemma. You get the head of state that fate has given you, and then you’re stuck with them, end of discussion. And when the head of state stops being head of state, whether by virtue of eloping with an American divorcee or by virtue of no longer breathing, the next head of state is already lined up. And if the next head of state is called Charles, the chances are he’s been lined up for sixty or seventy years, so everyone knows well in advance what they’re getting and has had plenty of time to prepare.

Of course, if the head of state turns out to have delusions of grandeur and starts trying to rule the country by himself, you have to cut his head off, which is an obvious downside, but at least then everyone knows where they stand.

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