BERLIN Feb 15 Conservative allies of German
Chancellor Angela Merkel rebuked their Social Democrat governing
partner on Saturday over actions that led to the ouster of a
minister, deepening concern about the future of her
two-month-old "grand coalition".
Friday's resignation of Agriculture Minister Hans-Peter
Friedrich, the latest in a series of cabinet departures under
Merkel, could aggravate tensions in Berlin's coalition at a time
when it is trying to push through complex reforms of pensions
and renewable energy.
Horst Seehofer, head of the Christian Social Union,
arch-conservative wing of Merkel's Christian Democrats, demanded
explanations from the Social Democrats after CSU member
Friedrich quit over accusations he leaked confidential data.
The information derived from a prosecutor's investigation
into an SPD lawmaker suspected of possessing child pornography.
The lawmaker, Sebastian Edathy, has denied the accusations.
Merkel's governing "grand coalition" is under serious strain
and could even be in jeopardy if the scandal undermines the
position of SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel, who was tipped off
about the investigation by then-interior Friedrich in October.
What began as a small domestic scandal about Edathy erupted
into a major political furore when the SPD said Friedrich had
warned Gabriel that Edathy could become a target of an
That raised questions whether Friedrich had inappropriately
passed on confidential information about the looming
investigation to Gabriel in violation of the law. Gabriel said
he alerted two other SPD leaders.
Friedrich was on his way home to Bavaria on Friday when
Merkel called him and told him to return to Berlin to announce
his resignation, the Bild and die Welt newspapers reported.
Political scientists and columnists said Merkel might have
sacrificed Friedrich, a senior figure in her conservative block,
to prevent further damage to Vice Chancellor Gabriel, who is the
SPD chairman and a pillar of her grand coalition.
Merkel's government could be doomed if the scandal damages
Gabriel or forces him to resign. At the very least it could be a
distraction to Economy Minister Gabriel as he tries to push
through complex energy reforms that Germany urgently needs.
"I demand that the SPD clear up their contradictions this
weekend," Seehofer, the Bavarian state premier, told CSU party
members in Bamberg. "There's a need to talk about their
behaviour and actions. It's a big problem when someone breaks
their word of confidentiality."
Angry that his CSU minister had to resign, Seehofer said he
backed Friedrich's position that he told Gabriel about the
Edathy investigation in the spirit of cross-party cooperation as
the grand coalition was being formed.
"Friedrich acted in the best interest of the entire grand
coalition," Seehofer said, adding he was especially upset that
some SPD deputies demanded Friedrich resign. "The actions of the
SPD and their talkativeness can only be condemned."
Prosecutors in Hanover, who are investigating Edathy, have
complained that the leaking may have compromised their case.
Edathy appears to have been given advance warning of the
investigation, Hanover prosecutor Joerg Froehlich said.
The 44-year-old Edathy is well known in Germany for leading
a 2012-13 inquiry into neo-Nazi killings.