August 26, 2009 / 4:09 PM / 9 years ago

Merkel forced to explain banker's birthday party

BERLIN, Aug 26 (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended herself on Wednesday against criticism for hosting a birthday party for the head of Deutsche Bank at taxpayers’ expense, saying it was part of her job to entertain.

A month before a federal election, some opposition politicians have jumped on comments from the bank’s chief executive Josef Ackermann, who revealed in a television show that Merkel had asked him to invite 30 friends to spend an evening at the chancellery last year to celebrate his 60th birthday.

There is no controversy in Merkel entertaining industry leaders for business purposes but the possibility that Germany’s top banker decided on the guest list has triggered criticism as it gives the impression it was a private function.

“I am someone who always tries to bring groups of people together who do not usually meet and that is why there was this supper,” Merkel said when asked about the gathering in an interview on N24 television.

Commentators say the event has only made headlines because of the election and say Social Democrats (SPD) want to get back at Merkel’s conservatives after SPD Health Minister Ulla Schmidt drew fire for taking her official limousine on holiday to Spain.

Merkel said she understood public fears about cosy ties beteen industry figures and politicians.

“But I think I keep a distance, as you can see from the times I have expressed criticism,” she said.

Guest Wolfgang Nowak, head of the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft, told German television it had been a modest affair and former Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder hosted more lavish parties with more alcohol.

Schroeder, in an uncharacteristic move, defended Merkel.

“I have no problem with the event for Mr Ackermann,” Schroeder told Der Spiegel online. “We don’t live in a Banana Republic — you have to keep to certain standards when entertaining guests,” he added.

Critics from the Greens, Left party and some Social Democrats argue the event has raised questions about political influence as well as being unfair to taxpayers.

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