Germany’s Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Anne Spiegel resigned Monday after coming under pressure for taking a summer vacation last year, shortly after the region where she was environment minister at the time suffered deadly flooding.
The 41-year-old Family Minister said she had decided to step down because of ‘political pressure’.
‘I am doing this to avert damage to the office, which is facing great political challenges’, she said in a statement.
Spiegel took on the Family portfolio last December when her ecologist Green Party joined a new coalition government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats.
Spiegel’s departure comes after an emotional statement on Sunday in which she apologised for going on a four-week vacation to France with her family last July.
She left for the holiday 10 days after the western regions of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia were hit by catastrophic floods that killed over 180 people.
Spiegel was then the Environment Minister in Rhineland-Palatinate. The vacation only recently came to light in media reports.
A tearful Spiegel had sought to defend the trip by saying her husband had suffered a stroke in 2019 and needed to avoid stress, while the pandemic and her own workload had weighed heavily on their four young children.
‘I decided I had to be there for my family’, she said on Sunday.
Spiegel added that she had worked tirelessly in the days before the vacation to help the affected areas and that she remained reachable throughout her holiday.
She also interrupted her vacation in France to make a one-day trip to the hard-hit Ahr valley.
Opposition politicians led calls for Spiegel to go. The leader of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union party, Friedrich Merz, accused Spiegel of caring more about her ‘vacation and her own image than the fate of people in the Ahr region’.
Chancellor Scholz said he had ‘great respect’ for Spiegel’s decision to resign and that he had been ‘moved’ by her personal statement.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, from the Green Party, said Spiegel’s exit showed ‘how brutal politics can be’.
Germany was ‘losing an incredibly great Family Minister’ who had been dedicated to combatting child poverty, she added.
North Rhine-Westphalia Environment Minister, Ursula Heinen-Esser resigned last week following revelations she celebrated her husband’s birthday in Mallorca just days after the floods.
The two departures come against a backdrop of public discontent with Germany’s handling of the floods.
As well as being the deadliest in the country’s modern history, the deluges destroyed roads, bridges, and thousands of homes and businesses. The mammoth reconstruction task is still ongoing.
The scale of the devastation has in part been blamed on a lack of warnings to residents ahead of time, despite weather services forecasting heavy rainfall.