Opposition hit by undeclared income scandal
20 December 2004 , BERLIN - German opposition leader Angela Merkel will decide by Tuesday the fate of the party's general secretary over allegations of undeclared earnings from a major utility company, party sources told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa on Monday. Christian Democratic Union (CDU) sources described the position of Laurenz Meyer as "very critical" amid fresh allegations of payments from the energy concern RWE and its predecessor VEW. A spokeswoman for Merkel said Meyer would be given a chance to
20 December 2004
BERLIN - German opposition leader Angela Merkel will decide by Tuesday the fate of the party's general secretary over allegations of undeclared earnings from a major utility company, party sources told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa on Monday.
Christian Democratic Union (CDU) sources described the position of Laurenz Meyer as "very critical" amid fresh allegations of payments from the energy concern RWE and its predecessor VEW.
A spokeswoman for Merkel said Meyer would be given a chance to explain payments from RWE, for whom the party manager worked before his appointment as general secretary in November 2000.
According to German media reports, Meyer had not declared that he was continuing to receive a full salary and bonuses from the firm for five months after his appointment.
"Laurenz Meyer has announced that he would put all the facts on the table. He has to be given a chance to do this," Merkel's spokeswoman said.
Media reports over the weekend said Merkel was furious with Meyer and was distancing herself from the party manager. A successor has already been lined up, according to reports on Monday.
The affair is a setback to the centre-right CDU, Germany's main opposition party, which has seen its lead in opinion polls over Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) fall sharply in the last few months.
Party leaders were hoping to put recent internal wrangling over policy and leadership issues behind them ahead of state elections in Schleswig-Holstein in February and North Rhine-Westphalia in May which will set the scene for the 2006 federal election campaign.
"We see this as causing huge damage to the party. Herr Meyer should take the opportunity of repairing this damage before Christmas and go," an unnamed senior CDU politician is quoted as saying on Monday.
Meyer's SPD counterpart, Klaus-Uwe Benneter, said: "The Meyer affair is something that all mainstream parties in this country should be worried about.
"We simply can't afford to fuel voter disenchantment any further - we've had enough of that already in the past few years. Angela Merkel would be well advised to look into the matter speedily and not run away from what I agree is an unpleasant task for her."
Der Spiegel magazine reported Monday that Meyer received a full monthly salary from RWE between June 2000 to April 2001 plus EUR 66,500 in other payments. He also enjoyed cheap electricity and gas amounting to a saving of EUR 1,400 a year.
The wages were on top of partly tax-free earnings as member of parliament and monthly salary of EUR 13,000 as general secretary.
Meyer has admitted receiving wages and bonus payments worth a total of almost EUR 60,000 from RWE for five months after his appointment as general secretary. He denied extra payments linked to the period since his appointment as general secretary.
Meyer has justified the payments, saying he had been working for the firm and its predecessor, VEW, since 1975 and had been wrapping up managerial projects on the liberalization of the energy market.
Opposition politicians have criticised the payments as "immoral". Greens leader Claudia Roth accused Meyer of "an outrageous measure of greed" and said she "hoped that such politicians cannot be kept in leadership positions".
A government spokesman said the affair would not lead to a review of cabinet ministers. The rules for ministers on earnings were so clear that a similar situation could be ruled out, he said.
German politicians are allowed outside income but must declare earnings above EUR 15,500 a year, while any payments must not be seen to be influencing their independence.
Nearly two weeks ago, the CDU's Hermann-Josef Arentz quit as chairman of the party's labour lobby after it was revealed he had been drawing an annual salary of 60,000 euros plus free electricity from a subsidiary of RWE without doing any work for the company.
Subject: German news