German family minister resigns amid floods scandal
BERLIN — German Family Minister Anne Spiegel resigned from office on Monday after weeks of mounting pressure on her to do so.
She is the first minister in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Cabinet to step down.
Spiegel, who served as environment minister of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate when large parts of it were devastated in last summer’s floods that killed close to 200 people, embarked on a four-week trip to France with her family right after the disaster. She later also lied about having participated in Cabinet meetings online from afar.
To make matters worse, earlier this year it was revealed that Spiegel ignored urgent warnings regarding the ferocity of the approaching floods, focusing instead on making sure a press release was gender-neutral.
After she made a statement Sunday evening that was widely considered bewildering due to an unscripted comment that made her apology seem insincere, her position looked even more tenuous. Toward the end of her speech, Spiegel could be heard murmuring “now I’ve got to wrap it up somehow” to herself, which many interpreted as evidence that she cared more about public relations than atoning for the mistakes she’d made.
On Monday the minister said in a press release she would give up her office, citing “political pressure.”
That pressure did not come directly from the chancellery, though, where Scholz had said he’d stick with the minister just two hours before she resigned.
“[Spiegel’s] appearance moved and affected him personally,” a spokesman for Scholz said Monday morning. “The chancellor appreciates the minister and works closely and trustfully with her,” he added.
Instead, pressure had been coming from within Spiegel’s own party, the Greens, with national media reporting that Germany’s most powerful Green politicians, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Climate and Economy Minister Robert Habeck, had urged her to resign on Sunday.
“As difficult as this decision was, it was the right step to resign now and … we thank [the minister] very much for this decision,” the Greens’ co-leader Omid Nouripour told reporters in Berlin Monday afternoon.
“She did not harm the party. Instead, she tried to protect her office from harm at a very difficult time and that’s why she deserves our respect,” Nouripour said, speaking alongside the Greens’ other co-leader Ricarda Lang, who declined to answer a question regarding Spiegel’s successor.
Monday’s news came just days after a new poll showed high approval ratings for Habeck and Baerbock, who have been in the spotlight since the war in Ukraine began.
For weeks, the Greens were hesitant to openly support Spiegel’s resignation, likely hoping the scandal would blow over quickly. Regional elections are taking place in North-Rhine Westphalia next month, and it too was severely affected by last year’s floods.
It will also be difficult to replace her as minister: The party’s rules state that her successor must also be a woman and from the left wing of the party.
Hans von der Burchard contributed reporting.