* Fresh details of business links emerge over weekend
* Merkel says Wulff "doing a great job"
* Cut coalition majority makes fresh election unappealing
By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN, Dec 19 Chancellor Angela Merkel
gave her full backing to German President Christian Wulff on
Monday, after fresh revelations about his links to wealthy
businessmen emerged over the weekend.
Wulff acknowledged on Sunday that he had used the villas of
business friends for private holidays on six occasions while he
was premier of Lower Saxony, following an earlier admission he
accepted a half-million euro home loan from a businessman.
The deepening scandal is giving Merkel another headache at
the end of a tough year for her centre-right coalition, but on
Monday she backed Wulff during a visit to Kosovo.
"I think the president is doing a great job. He has my full
support," Merkel told a news conference in Pristina, her first
direct backing for Wulff, who has rejected calls to resign.
Wulff had received surprisingly little public backing from
ruling coalition leaders until now, a sign that many are waiting
to see if more damaging revelations emerge.
Merkel and other Christian Democrats were humiliated earlier
this year after rushing to defend Defence Minister Karl-Theodor
zu Guttenberg over plagiarism allegations, only for him to later
resign over the scandal.
"There's a lot of unease in the party about Wulff at the
moment," said one senior Christian Democrat. "No one wants to
come out and defend Wulff openly because everyone remembers what
happened to Guttenberg. Who knows what could still come out?"
The party is already bloodied by scandals, resignations and
tension over the euro zone crisis, and support for the coalition
has fallen 10 points since it won power with just under half the
vote in 2009.
Everhard Holtmann, a political scientist at Halle
University, said Wulff's problems were now Merkel's.
"If he doesn't come up with some convincing explanations, I
think it is going to be hard for him to stay in office,"
Holtmann said. "Merkel is staying reserved. But it could get
very difficult for her if she needs to find a new president."
Wulff has only held the largely ceremonial position for 18
months since replacing Horst Koehler, the former IMF chief, who
resigned after making undiplomatic comments about the usefulness
of military force.
CLINGING TO JOB
Wulff, 52, denied he misled Lower Saxony's parliament last
year about the origins of a 500,000-euro private loan he
obtained on favourable terms from the wife of businessman Egon
When first asked about it in 2010, he told parliament that
he had no business ties with Gerkeens. He later repaid Gerkeens
and said last week he regretted not giving the full story but
has rejected calls to quit.
"No, we're not going to," he said on Sunday
Premier of Lower Saxony between 2003 and 2010, Wulff had so
far been a largely uncontroversial president, and was viewed by
some in the CDU as a future rival to Merkel, although he has
always been careful to appear loyal.
Wulff puts Merkel and her coalition in a dilemma whether to
ride out the negative headlines or risk proposing a new
presidential candidate with a drastically reduced majority in
the Federal Assembly which elects Germany's head of state.
Merkel's majority in the 1,244-member assembly has shrunk to
just 4 compared to 22 in 2010 . Wulff only crept into
the job in a third and final round of voting when he was elected
"He's clinging to his job right now but no one in the
government wants to see him go either," said the senior CDU
official. "Everything could get very complicated if we have to
go to the Federal Assembly again. Anything could happen there."
The official said Wulff had squandered a chance to defuse
the scandal early last week with an apology or a clear statement
when the story first broke.
"Wulff is feeling the heat from the media and in a way it's
his own fault," he said. "He got everyone angry with tricky
answers. And it's got worse with all these luxury holidays he
went on. It's not like he didn't earn enough money to afford it