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German Family Minister Anne Spiegel Resigns Over Flood Scandal by David Boos

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German Family Minister Anne Spiegel Resigns Over Flood Scandal

Anne Spiegel, member of the Green party, has resigned. Criticism against the German minister of family and youth resulted in an investigation back in March 2022 (The European Conservative reported), over her response to the flood disaster in the Ahr Valley. Her detractors accused her of being more concerned with public image than about her role in managing the disaster. Then, after recent reports indicated that she embarked on a 4-week family vacation—only 10 days after the flood—public pressure ultimately sent her packing on April 11th, 2022. 

At the time of the disastrous flood in July 2021, Spiegel was still minister of environment of Rhineland-Palatinate. Back then, the Environment Ministry failed to issue a timely flood warning; 134 people died in the flood, more than 700 were injured. As reported by Bild am Sonntag on April 9th, Spiegel, who was primarily concerned about a positive “wording” the day after the flood, then vacationed soon after the flood. The Ministry of Environment confirmed this report.

As a result, the Christian Democratic CDU in particular vehemently demanded Spiegel’s resignation. They cited the justice brought to CDU politician, Ursula Heinen-Esser, as precedent. When she was Environment Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Heinen-Esser was forced to resign after the public discovered she had taken a 9-day vacation in Mallorca following the very same flood disaster—to celebrate her husband’s birthday with other members of the government instead of helping the victims of the flood.

CDU Secretary General Mario Czaja called Spiegel’s behavior “unworthy” and said that “if the Greens are hypocritically demanding responsibility anywhere in the country, they should also demand it from their own ranks.” CDU leader Friedrich Merz even called directly on Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) to fire Spiegel, drawing attention to the vacation time taken by the two ministers: “In our case, the minister in charge resigned because she took responsibility for a vacation of several days that was taken at an inopportune time. That was nine days. If nine days are enough for a resignation,” Merz said, “then four weeks are all the more so.”

Spiegel’s response was to try to mollify the public, sharing details from her private life in an emotional press conference on April 10th. She went on record saying that her husband had suffered a stroke in 2019 from which he continued to suffer greatly. Likewise, her four children of kindergarten and elementary school age had also “suffered greatly from Corona,” so the family “needed a vacation” to relieve the pressure of Spiegel’s commitments.

Anne Spiegel’s “bizarre appearance” (Neue Zürcher Zeitung), however, lost some of its seemingly authentic appeal when Spiegel turned to her press team shortly before the end of her statement and stated that she now had to “tie the whole thing up somehow,” a snapshot that seemed to many observers far more calculated than the spontaneous emotionality her speech previously suggested.

While Chancellor Olaf Scholz described Spiegel’s statement as “very impressive in human terms” and symbolically backed her, people at Green party headquarters understood the signs of the times and urged Spiegel to resign.

After Spiegel’s resignation, Green party leader Ricarda Lang announced, when asked about a potential successor, “It will be a woman.” At his inauguration, Chancellor Scholz had explicitly opted for a cabinet that would be made up of half women. True to form, on April 14th, it was publicized that Lisa Paus, who was previously known as a financial expert, would take over as minister of family and youth.

The ousting of Spiegel has indirectly provided another platform for scrutinizing a recent tendency in German politics to elevate gender over competence when filling ministerial posts. 

David Boos is an organist, documentary filmmaker, and writer for The European Conservative and other publications.