Beyond the World news headlines
Stolen limo a nightmare for Merkel challenger Steinmeier
But if you’re a German government minister whose party is already facing an uphill battle just two months before a federal election, it’s even worse.
All that misfortune can turn into a veritable nightmare when the German electorate only learns about your private use of the luxury government car on holiday as an unintentional consequence of the theft.
With a dearth of news during the summer doldrums, German media have pounced upon the revelation that Health Minister Ulla Schmidt’s Mercedes was stolen in Spain last week. They’re asking why on earth did the Social Democrat (SPD) minister need her armoured limo and its chauffeur in the Spanish resort – click for story here. The chauffeur drove the car 2,300 km from Berlin to Alicante while Schmidt flew there.
German government rules allow ministers to use their official cars privately but they are obliged to pay for the private use. Schmidt’s spokeswoman said she needed the limo in Spain because she has two business appointments there during her two-week holiday. Schmidt was tracked down by German television on Monday evening in Spain: “I use the official car at times on holiday and pay for that. I keep track of every private journey in a logbook,” Schmidt said. “I’ve been doing that for the last 8-1/2 years and there was never any fuss about it.”
So why all the fuss now?
Schmidt’s misfortune is really bad news for Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the SPD’s candidate for chancellor in the Sept. 27 federal election. His SPD is already trailing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives by more than 10 percentage points. Steinmeier returns to work from his own holiday in the Italian Alps on Wednesday and was hoping to jump-start his struggling campaign.
But the uproar over Schmidt’s use of her government car is an unneeded roadblock for Steinmeier.
(Photo: Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) and German Health Minister Ulla Schmidt in Berlin, Sept. 16, 2008. Reuters/Johannes Eisele)