Germany’s CDU rocked by pandemic procurement scandal
Two MPs from Merkel’s parliamentary bloc resign ahead of important regional elections
The elections are seen as a critical test for Armin Laschet, above, the new leader of the Christian Democratic Union. Photograph: Marcel Kusch/Pool/AFP via Getty
German chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right bloc has been rocked by scandal after two of its MPs were forced to resign following disclosures they had personally profited from government deals to procure coronavirus face masks.
The resignations risk damaging the party ahead of two important regional elections next Sunday in the western states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate.
The polls are seen as a critical test for Armin Laschet, the new leader of Dr Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union, who was elected only in January and is still seeking to stamp his authority on the party.
Nikolas Löbel, a CDU MP, announced on Sunday that he was retiring from politics after it emerged that a company he owned had earned a €250,000 commission by acting as a middleman between a mask supplier in Baden-Württemberg and two private companies in the state.
The MP, who is also managing director of a company in the south German town of Mannheim called Löbel Projektmanagement, said he was resigning his membership of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group with immediate effect. He also said he would step down from the Bundestag at the end of August, and not run again for parliament in elections in September.
“To be a member of the German Bundestag and be able to represent my home town Mannheim is a great honour and an especially moral obligation,” he wrote in a statement. “With my actions I have failed to live up to these standards. For that I would like to apologise to everyone in this country.”
But that didn’t go far enough for Mr Laschet, the party leader, who said Mr Löbel should quit parliament immediately.
“All of us – politicians on the federal, regional and municipal level – are doing all we can at the moment to bring this country through the crisis and protect people,” he said in a statement. “And whoever does business with this protection, and who personally enriches himself from that, is no representative of the people. And he must leave parliament at once.”
A similar call came from Markus Söder, the powerful prime minister of Bavaria and leader of the CDU’s sister party, the CSU. “All those involved should wipe the slate clean and draw the fundamental consequences,” he tweeted. “Anything else harms people’s trust in politics.”
Mr Löbel’s resignation came just two days after the CSU MP Georg Nüsslein was forced to resign as deputy leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in a similar scandal. Mr Nüsslein, who is now being investigated for corruption, also said he was retiring from politics.
Mr Nüsslein earned a large commission after his consulting firm helped to negotiate a big delivery of face masks from a Chinese supplier during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Police investigators searched premises in Germany and Liechtenstein last week, including Mr Nüsslein’s office in the Bundestag and his constituency office in the southern state of Bavaria, in connection with the case. Mr Nüsslein has denied the allegation of corruption.
Opposition politicians reacted with fury to the mask scandals. “It makes no sense to people when MPs from government parties use their contacts to gain a financial advantage from an emergency,” said Volker Wissing, general secretary of the liberal Free Democrats. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021