BERLIN Germany's Social Democrat (SPD) health minister came under pressure Sunday to explain why she took her official limousine, complete with chauffeur, to Spain where the vehicle was stolen.
Opposition politicians demanded Ulla Schmidt provide more details about the affair, which could damage the SPD who trail Merkel's conservatives by more than ten points in opinion polls in the run-up to a September 27 federal election.
Thieves stole the keys from the chauffeur's accommodation near Alicante, a ministry spokeswoman said on Saturday, adding Schmidt had used the Mercedes for official meetings to discuss healthcare and pensions with Germans who had retired to Spain.
German media reported that Schmidt had paid for her own flight to Alicante, where she was also taking a holiday, but a driver had brought over her limousine to Spain from Berlin.
Otto Fricke, head of Germany's parliamentary budget committee, said he would summon her to answer questions.
"I would like to know which of Mrs Schmidt's appointments required an official car and chauffeur in Alicante and why it was not possible for the embassy to arrange transportation," Fricke, an opposition Free Democrat, told Bild am Sonntag.
Germany's Taxpayers' Association also attacked Schmidt.
"We demand an explanation of why her official car had to be brought almost 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) across Europe. Taxpayers' money should not be wasted on the comfort of a minister," he told Bild am Sonntag.
The ministry spokeswoman said Schmidt had rented a car for her own private use in Alicante, a popular retirement and holiday destination for Germans on Spain's Costa Blanca.
Greens budget expert Alexander Bonde told the Saarbruecker Zeitung: "Why does the minister need an armored limousine in Spain? The budget committee will insist that just referring to official appointments is insufficient and implausible."
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by Andrew Roche)