German minister resigns over vacation after deadly flood

BERLIN (AP) — A German Cabinet minister resigned Monday after it emerged that she went on a long vacation shortly after devastating floods which left over 100 people dead last year in the state where she was then a senior official.

Anne Spiegel quit her post as minister for families and women, citing “political pressure” as she became the first member of Chancellor OIaf Scholz’s government to step down. An emotional apology on Sunday had failed to stem calls for her to go.

Spiegel joined Scholz’s Cabinet in December. Before that, she was the environment minister and deputy governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state. That was the region worst hit by floods in July that nationwide killed more than 180 people – 134 of them in Rhineland-Palatinate’s Ahr valley.

Regional officials have faced questions over their handling of the floods. On Sunday, the state government confirmed a report by the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that, 10 days after the floods, Spiegel went on a four-week family vacation in France — though it stressed that she had been reachable throughout. The national opposition leader, Friedrich Merz, called on Scholz to dismiss Spiegel.

In a hastily arranged appearance on Sunday evening, Spiegel offered an apology but didn’t address the calls to go.

“It was a mistake that we went on vacation for so long, and that we went on vacation, and I apologize for this mistake,” she said. She added that her children hadn’t dealt well with the coronavirus pandemic, that her husband needed to avoid stress after suffering a stroke, and that her family had needed a vacation.

On Monday, Spiegel issued a terse written statement saying that she had “decided today because of the political pressure” to step down.

“I am doing this in order to protect my office, which faces big political challenges,” she added.

Spiegel is a member of the environmentalist Greens, the second-biggest party in Scholz’s governing coalition.

Party co-leader Omid Nouripour said her resignation was “right … as difficult as this decision was.” He said a successor will be named “very soon.”

Last week, the environment minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, the other German state that was badly hit by the floods, resigned after it emerged that she only briefly interrupted a vacation on the Spanish island of Mallorca when the disaster hit. The departed minister, Ursula Heinen-Esser, is a member of Merz’s center-right party.

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