In Germany, corruption allegations are threatening the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) as well as its sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) ahead of elections in multiple German states. The CDU is the party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been in power for 15 years. However, this scandal is coming just months before she planned to step down in September. BBC News notes that with Merkel leaving office, strong CDU leadership is needed if the party is to pick up the torch from the chancellor.
Two politicians are at the center of this corruption scandal: Member of Parliament (MP) Nikolas Löbel and MP Georg Nüsslein. Both earned several hundred thousand euros from the sale of face masks during the early days of the pandemic when the world was dealing with a personal protective equipment shortage.
According to The Guardian, MP Nikolas Löbel’s company earned 250,000 euros by brokering a deal between facemask suppliers and private companies in the cities of Mannheim and Heidelberg. Löbel is the representative from Mannheim, a city of 300,000 residents. He initially resigned only from his role on the foreign affairs committee but has since been forced to resign from his role in the CDU party as well as his position in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, following these allegations. He was pressured to do so by the current leader of the CDU, Armin Laschet.
The other MP at the center of the scandal, Georg Nüsslein, is said to have received a commission of 600,000 euros for facilitating a deal between facemask manufacturers and the Bavarian Health Ministry. Nüsslein belongs to the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of the CDU. Rather than resigning immediately, like MP Löbel was pressured to, Nüsslein will stay in office through the end of his term. According to The Guardian, Nüsslein denies any wrongdoing.
With key elections in multiple states just on the horizon and a national election in September, this scandal could harm the CDU in regions where it was already performing poorly in elections, according to The Washington Post. Some analysts believe that the response to this scandal could be the difference between whether the CDU wins the elections or not. The Washington Post furthers that this is a so-called “super election year” in which major state elections take place in addition to a national election. The scandal is impacting the entire party and may hurt the seats the CDU can win and the coalitions it will be able to form after the national election.
While discussing the corruption allegations, Politico reports Armin Laschet as saying, “Anyone who, as a representative of the people, tries to make money for himself in this crisis must leave parliament immediately. Any MP who enriches himself in the crisis damages the highest good of democracy, trust.”
Another prominent conservative German lawmaker told Deutsche Welle that these scandals are “totally unacceptable” and “unforgivable violations of ethical standards.” The most striking condemnation of Löbel and Nüsslein, however, comes from German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD). Reuters quotes Steinmeier as saying, “MPs, of all people, are holding out their hand before the modest medical protection of face masks even reaches the people…That is shabby and shameful!”
This scandal comes as the slow vaccine rollout across the EU is causing frustration and ire within Germany. This scandal reveals how some saw the pandemic as an opportunity to profit off of the current zeitgeist of anxiety and fear. Many Germans feel that politicians should do more to help Germany’s recovery and this scandal has shown that some politicians have much more interest in protecting their wallet than German citizens.