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Politics

Child porn scandal divides Merkel's grand coalition

Resignations and revenge will be on the mind of Bavaria's Christian Social Union when German politicians meet this week. But it's not clear just whose head might be on the political chopping block.

There are actually already enough problems that need to be discussed during a regular meeting of leading politicians from the three parties in Germany's this Tuesday. But now the child porn allegations surrounding former Social Democratic Party (SPD) lawmaker Sebastian Edathy, and the resignation of now former Agriculture Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich of the Christian Social Union (CSU), will take over the agenda.

Horst Seehofer, head of the CSU - the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union - wants the issue addressed by the governing parties. He has said the SPD pushed for Friedrich's resignation in an attempt to divert attention from itself. The main target of Seehofer's ire is SPD parliamentary group leader Thomas Oppermann, who publicly said Friedrich knew about the investigation in October, when he was still interior minister, and talked about it with SPD head Sigmar Gabriel. Such a conversation could be a betrayal of official secrets.

Now that Friedrich has Opinion: Not a good departure for Friedrichquietly left his post, the spotlight has moved to Oppermann's actions. The against the SPD is hard to overlook as CSU General-Secretary Andreas Scheuer has called for Oppermann's resignation in addition to Edathy, who gave up his seat in the German parliament before details of the child porn allegations were public.

Suspicion Edathy tipped off

Longtime CSU politician Hans-Peter Uhl summed up his party's bewilderment at the situation asking: "How can it possibly happen that a SPD lawmaker is alleged to have bought child porn and the only consequence is that a CSU minister resigns?"

Seehofer has called on SPD members to clarify their actions concerning the allegations against Edathy. There are suspicions that SPD members may have warned their fellow party member about the child porn investigation that included an Internet IP address allotted to his computer. In addition to Oppermann and Gabriel, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was the SPD's parliamentary group head at the time, was also made aware of the investigation by Friedrich. The interior minister for the state of Lower Saxony, Boris Pistorius, was also informed.

SPD's Sigmar Gabriel, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and Thomas Oppermann
Photo: Wolfgang Kumm dpa/lbn

Gabriel, Steinmeier and Oppermann all knew of the investigation

Who else may have known about the allegations is unknown. For his part, Edathy has said he was not told about the investigation and that he only heard about it through the media. But hard drives were removed from his computer and destroyed before investigators could search his home and office, raising suspicions that he was tipped off. Some in the CDU and CSU have called for sworn statements from SPD leadership about who they spoke with about the child porn investigation.

Oppermann is also under fire for contacting the head of the Federal Criminal Police Agency, Jörg Ziercke, to get confirmation that Edathy was under investigation. Oppermann and Ziercke, however, recall conflicting accounts of what they discussed. The head of the opposition Left party, Katja Kipping, accused Oppermann of instigating Ziercke to betray state secrets. The head of the German parliament's Internal Affairs Committee, Wolfgang Bosbach, said such a scenario could be possible and added that his committee will question Ziercke as well as Oppermann on Wednesday.

Opposition calls for inquiry

SPD head Gabriel, who also serves as economics and energy minister, seems relaxed about the entire situation and has ruled out anyone else from his party leaving office due to the scandal. He also said he does not believe the mutual trust he enjoys with Chancellor Angela Merkel has been damaged and was sure the working climate in the grand coalition would soon return to normal. Just how quickly that can happen will largely depend on the mood of the Bavarian CSU. While the SPD is unlikely to push an experienced politician like Oppermann to resign, some observers have said the party needs to find a way to apologize to the CSU so the coalition can get back to the work of governing.

Such a step would also likely put an end to the scandal and the attacks coming from the opposition. The Left party has floated the idea of calling a parliamentary inquiry into the situation. The Left's parliamentary group leader, Gregor Gysi, pointed out that with European parliamentary elections coming this spring the CSU, CDU and SPD are all busy with "treachery and denunciations."

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