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Berlin

Konrad Werner: Wulff in sheep’s clothing

The superbly-named Christian Wulff is the new German president, as of last night. You will be surprised to learn that Germany has a president at all.

The superbly-named Christian Wulff is the new German president, as of last night. You will be surprised to learn that Germany has a president at all. It’s important, apparently, though not because of the mild-mannered geezer who has taken the job.  You have probably always thought that it was some kind of German joke. “Yes! We have a president!” they say, and then they snigger and don’t invite you to their “Grill-Parties”.

In English-speaking countries, the adjective “presidential” is meant as an equivalent to “dictatorial.” Prime ministers are often considered “too presidential” if they overrule their cabinet ministers a lot, or ostentatiously display their power using around fifity security guards, or decide to withdraw to a private inner chamber for months at a time and wee into old water bottles.

Or Germany, none of this behaviour is expected of “presidential” people. Here, presidents are meant to go to events where no reporters go, make sure not to eat all the olives and be generally fair, and never express an opinion on anything. This, by all accounts, is very much Wulff’s forte, which is probably why Merkel picked him.

But she was taken unawares by the strength of support that grew up around his main rival, an independent SPD-backed candidate called Joachim Gauck. Joe Gauck scored plenty of hits for being independent, a Protestant pastor and an antagonist of the old GDR communist regime – though this proved to be his downfall, as the Left party refused to back him, even after their own candidate, a GDR apologist called Lukrezia Jochimsen, was withdrawn. Still, it took three hardcore voting sessions before Wulff got his majority.

So Gauck must return to his flock, Wulff is all set to take the extremely taxing reins of office, and Merkel has survived what people were saying was a direct attack on her government from within her own party. They said it would come to new elections and a new government. Now that he is elected, you can safely forget Wulff’s name, but his coming marks a new era of conflict and kerfuffle in the real German government.