Nikolas Löbel, a member of parliament with Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said he would resign with immediate effect Monday after German media reported his company had earned the equivalent of $297,000 in commissions for mask contracts.
As the furor grew over the weekend, he initially said he would not stand for reelection in the September elections, admitting he had made a “mistake” in the way he had handled the commissions.
Georg Nüsslein, a lawmaker from the Christian Democrats’ sister party, said he will not run for reelection as he is investigated over allegations that he received $712,000 in lobbying fees from a mask supplier. He resigned from the Christian Social Union on Monday, but not his seat in parliament, despite calls for him to do, including from the party’s leader.
“Such behavior is indecent, and we are ashamed,” Paul Ziemiak, general secretary of the Christian Democrats, told the newspaper Bild.
The timing for Merkel’s party, which is struggling to chart a new chapter as more than 15 years of her leadership comes to an end, is dire. The scandal has landed at the beginning of a “super election year” in Germany, with the first two state-level elections in the lead-up to September’s parliamentary vote taking place this weekend.
Her party was already slipping in the polls, as frustration grows in Germany over a stuttering vaccine rollout and delays to a promised quick-testing scheme. In a poll for German political research institute INSA surveying how Germans would vote in the federal elections, support for the Christian Democrats and their sister party dropped to 30 percent, the lowest level since the beginning of the pandemic.
Britain — once widely seen in Berlin as an example of how not to handle a pandemic — now has fewer daily cases than Germany, with more than 30 percent of Brits having received at least one vaccine dose, compared with 6 percent of Germans.
Germans have been chafing under some level of coronavirus-related restrictions since November, and patience is growing thin. A majority of Germans want to see the restrictions loosened. The government last week announced a complex road map to reopening, even as cases rise and the more contagious variant first identified in Britain becomes more dominant.
The Christian Democrats are predicted to win just 24 percent of the vote in elections in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg this weekend, compared with 35 percent for the Greens, according to a ZDF television poll last week.
In state elections in Rhineland-Palatinate, also this weekend, the Christian Democrats are similarly predicted to lose support.
That could be bad news for Armin Laschet, who was voted as the leader of the Christian Democrats earlier in the year. Party officials have said they will wait and see the results of local elections before deciding whether he will be the party’s pick to succeed Merkel.
Meanwhile, politicians from other parties in the governing coalition have called for a commission of inquiry to look into mask procurement, as German magazine Der Spiegel reported that other politicians also are involved.
Parliament lifted Nüsslein’s immunity last week to allow authorities to search his premises amid a corruption investigation by Munich prosecutors. He denies any wrongdoing.
Markus Söder, head of the Christian Social Union and a potential candidate to succeed Merkel, told ZDF television on Monday that Nüsslein should resign his parliament seat immediately and donate any funds he obtained that are related to mask contracts.