Nothing will tear a government apart like a nice juicy sex scandal.
A simmering sex scandal at the top of the European Commission is set to come to a head with new allegations that could derail Angela Merkel’s coalition Government in Germany.I wonder. Does he spit on his comb too?
Claims that Günter Verheugen, the second most influential man at the Commission, promoted his lover to chief of staff are to be published in the German media today.
Speculation surrounding the 63-year-old German Commissioner, who was photographed last year naked on a beach with his adviser, Petra Erler, has been rife. Mr Verheugen has always denied that his relationship with Ms Erler went beyond friendship.Good friends, though. Apparently they bared more than their souls to each other.
The latest allegations, in the new issue of Bunte magazine, are made by Katrin Fuchs, a German politician, who has been a friend of Mr Verheugen and his wife, Gabriele, for 20 years.Didn't know what got into him? I can't write that, can I?
Ms Fuchs says that the commissioner confessed that he was having an affair with Ms Erler in January 2006. “And he then admitted that the relationship with Ms Erler had been going on since the spring of 2005. He was sorry about it, and didn’t know what had got into him,” she says.
In April 2006 Ms Erler was promoted from being a member of his advisory team to become his chief of staff. The promotion of a lover would be a violation of Commission guidelines.Is there actually a rule that says you can't promote your lover? Man, they think of everything.
Her fear is that the forced resignation of Mr Verheugen, a Social Democrat, would create a chain reaction in the German Government, which is a coalition of her Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, that could lead its eventual break-up.Politician gets laid by younger assistant; whole government collapses. The only thing that could make it worse would be if there were pictures.
The Social Democrats would insist on putting one of their own people in his place – and the only politicians of sufficient seniority are the Finance, Foreign and Environment ministers who are indispensable to the approaching general election campaign. The Christian Democrats, meanwhile, will put Ms Merkel under heavy pressure to place one of their own in Brussels – a clear breach of the coalition agreement between the two parties.
Photographs later showed the Commissioner and his adviser hand in hand on holiday in Lithuania. During the same holiday, in July 2006, he was snapped naked apart from a baseball cap with Ms Erler. This was shrugged off as a cultural oddity: Ms Erler, the highest ranking East German in the Brussels bureaucracy, was said to be a convert to nudist philosophy. The Commissioner took out an injunction to stop further publication of the pictures.I'm guessing it was the baseball cap which gave him away.
By this time the German press had caught wind of impropriety. Photographs showed Mr Verheugen entering Ms Erler’s house at night and emerging ruffled the next morning. He was also spotted buying roses, apparently for Ms Erler, at a petrol station this summer. When he glimpsed the camera, he crouched low in the back of Ms Erler’s car.