February 18, 2014 / 10:13 PM / 6 years ago

Germany's Merkel convenes allies to restore confidence after scandal

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel aimed to restore public confidence in her governing coalition at a meeting of party chiefs on Tuesday to clear the air after a scandal that poisoned the atmosphere.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the appointment ceremony of the new Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt (unseen) at Bellevue Castle in Berlin February 17, 2014. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

Merkel’s right-left “grand coalition” can ill-afford distractions from its efforts to push on with complex reforms of the energy and pension systems in the European Union’s largest and most prosperous economy.

Merkel, Christian Social Union (CSU) leader Horst Seehofer and the Social Democrats’ (SPD) Sigmar Gabriel hoped to defuse an uproar since the CSU agriculture minister had to resign over a leak about a pornography inquiry against an SPD lawmaker.

Merkel, leader of the Christian Democrats (CDU), and Gabriel have tried to play down the scandal involving little-known legislator Sebastian Edathy, suspected of possessing child pornography. He has left parliament, citing bad health.

The chancellor met Seehofer and Gabriel at 7 p.m. (1800 GMT). The meeting ended without any statements. Their three parties formed a broad coalition government in December.

Parliament’s home affairs committee will question SPD parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann and the head of the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation over the case on Wednesday.

The Bavarian CSU is upset about Agriculture Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich losing his job for tipping off Gabriel last October about the looming investigation into Edathy.

“At stake is clearing up all outstanding questions to restore confidence. I’m very optimistic that we will succeed,” said Merkel, whose third government is just two months old.

Friedrich’s resignation prompted tit-for-tat calls for the SPD to offer up a scalp of their own.

In October 2013, when he was interior minister, Friedrich passed Gabriel confidential information about the Edathy case when the CDU/CSU and SPD were engaged in coalition talks. Prosecutors have complained that the leak may have compromised their inquiry.

What was largely a domestic affair flared into a major row when Oppermann revealed that it was Friedrich who had warned the SPD about the investigation.

Friedrich’s CSU has demanded the SPD explain itself and some conservatives want Oppermann, who plays a pivotal role in parliament ensuring the three coalition parties work together, to be sacrificed as well.

Editing by Stephen Brown and Mark Heinrich

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