SPD Steinbrück declares €1.25m public speech earnings

Wed, Oct 31, 2012, 00:00

WITH HIS quick wits and sharp tongue, potential chancellor Peer Steinbrück of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) is Germany’s most outspoken politician.

Yesterday it emerged that he has put his talent to good use outside the Bundestag, earning €1.25 million as a public speaker since leaving the federal finance ministry in 2009.

Critics say the backbench MP’s nixers – charging an average of €14,000 at events organised mostly by banks – has put him too close to the finance industry he has promised to regulate more tightly if elected next year.

Mr Steinbrück dismissed as “absurd” claims that his sideline career had hurt his political credibility.

“These engagements came at a time when neither the SPD nor I had the idea that I would enter the ring again,” said the 65-year-old politician. “I’m going far beyond the rules on transparency that currently apply. I want to set an example that rival parties in parliament should follow.”

He commissioned an auditing firm to document his 89 public speaking engagements, from talks to Deutsche Bank and Sal Oppenheim to a speech at a Black Forest savings’ bank – all worth €15,000 each.

His highest fee – €25,000 – came from an event organised by the municipal authority of the struggling western city of Bochum.

Mr Steinbrück said he gave 237 additional speeches at charities and foundations, for which he accepted no fee.

His speech earnings come on top of his monthly MP salary of €7,500, several pensions and a €4,000 monthly Bundestag allowance, and make Mr Steinbrück the top-earner in the German parliament.

The SPD politician said his declaration went beyond German parliamentary transparency rules and he urged political rivals to follow his lead.

Current regulations require politicians to disclose income but not the precise amounts received.

SPD attempts to reform these rules have consistently been voted down by the ruling coalition of Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Free Democrats (FDP).

“I would happily help to turn the stone being thrown at me into a boomerang,” said Mr Steinbrück.

It remains to be seen if Mr Steinbrück’s transparency offensive will boost SPD support.

After a spike to 30 per cent following his nomination, the party is back at 26 per cent in polls – compared to the ruling CDU’s 38 per cent.

Political watchdogs welcomed yesterday’s move but said he still had questions to answer over speeches he gave to a law firm charged with drafting legislation during his days as finance minister.

“A few weeks ago, Mr Steinbrück said that transparency only existed in dictatorships so today is a big step forward,” said Gregor Hackmack, from a leading parliamentary watchdog website, Abgeordnetenwatch. He backed calls for more transparent earning rules.

“Mr Steinbrück tops the Bundestag earner list,” said Mr Hackmack, “but FDP and CDU politicians occupy place two to 10.”

The SPD politician was given a remarkably easy ride by the Bild tabloid. “Even if the jealous bank benchers are resentful,” it said. “Peer has cleaned his slate, now it’s the others’ turn.”