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Alejandro Navas, Professor of Sociology, University of Navarra, Spain

The President of leave Saxony flies in Business

Thu, 18 Feb 2010 08:23:22 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The facts: In May 2009, Christian Wulff, the president of the German Land of leave Saxony, the Christian Democrat, bought tickets on class economy on Air Berlin to fly with his family - wife and two children - to Miami (outbound on December 21 and return on January 3). Ticket price: 2,759 euros. So far, nothing to object to. Presidents of regional governments also have the right to spend the Christmas vacations with their families. 

Things start to get complicated when a few months later, in September, Wulff's wife meets the president of Air Berlin, Joachim Hunold, at a birthday party and tells him about her travel plans. The president offers her on the spot the possibility of flying class business, provided there are seats available. This is a frequent airline internship , known as upgrading. In addition, Hunold insists, this way the safety of the Wulff family is better guaranteed, as they plan to travel without an escort as this is a private trip. The Wulff family gratefully accepts this offer and is supposed to enjoy their flight and vacation without any problems.

The difficulties begin when the weekly newspaper Der Spiegel learns of the incident and investigates it. Among other things, it turns to Wulff's own administrative office , which provides the requested information without withholding any facts. The chronicle is published in the January 12 edition, and the scandal is on the cards. A parliamentary interpellation takes place and Wulff has to give explanations. From entrance, he pays the airline 3,056 euros for the difference in ticket prices. Wulff appears before Parliament on January 21 and admits his mistake: "I should not have accepted the upgrade. It was a mistake and I admit it without apology... A politician should avoid even the slightest hint of attention favor... It dawned on me when the essay of Der Spiegel asked me about it".

The spokespersons of the Socialist and Green civil service examination unequivocally criticized Wulff's actions, while expressing their utmost respect for him: "Nobody thinks that Wulff is a profiteer, but he acted recklessly," said Green spokesperson Wenzel. The matter did not end in Parliament, because the public prosecutor's office is going to investigate whether Wulff has committed a crime. Indeed, the government law of leave Saxony stipulates that members of the executive may not receive prizes or gifts linked to the exercise of their position worth more than ten euros, even after they have left the government. The final outcome of this incident therefore remains open.

The Land of leave Saxony holds 20% of Volkswagen's capital, so that the president of the regional government is a member of the committee board of directors of business. So what happens to Mr. Wulff also influences Navarra: consequences of globalization. 

Could this episode be transferable to our country? Of course, here we have an abundant casuistry regarding the use of public offices to obtain private advantages. On the other hand, I think that the discussion originated at purpose from the incident of the banknotes would be unthinkable in our political and media scenario: a head of government who collaborates unreservedly with a magazine that goes after him and publicly and simply recognizes his mistakes; a civil service examination that criticizes the president in a way that is as implacable as respectful; a truly independent public prosecutor's office that investigates the head of the executive with absolute normality. It all sounds like a fairy tale.

This incident shows that democracy, in addition to a procedure to regulate access to power, is a culture that cultivates discussion and confrontation, but based on respect for individuals. It also teaches us that the separation of powers, which Alfonso Guerra declared dead and buried in the eighties, is crucial to avoid the degeneration of the system. And sample also teaches us that the media help in a decisive way to strengthen this culture by monitoring and denouncing the irregularities of politicians. Accusing them of destabilizing the system, when they are simply doing their duty, is stupid and often hides the intention of diverting public attention to hide shady dealings. Transparency remains the best remedy for curing the pathologies affecting democracy.