Merkel warns politicians against sudden switch to business

BERLIN (AFP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a close outgoing aide to wait before taking a lucrative industry job, her spokesman said on Monday, amid a growing uproar over politicians cashing in after leaving office.

As commentators attacked a "revolving door" between politics and business, Merkel's spokesman said her then chief of staff Ronald Pofalla had told her he was considering a lobbying position with the national rail company after he left her government last month.

"She advised him to allow some time to pass" before taking up such a job, Steffen Seibert told reporters.

"It is her conviction that while such transitions between business and politics should be possible, it is desirable for there to be transparency and, as I said, a certain period of restraint between the end of a political engagement and another professional activity." News about Pofalla's possible move to a newly created seat on the board of Deutsche Bahn sparked massive uproar in Germany after a number of similar high-profile moves.

A junior minister from Merkel's party, Eckart von Klaeden, recently unleashed a storm of protest when he accepted a lobbying job from industrial group Daimler.

Media reports said Pofalla, a long-time confidant of Merkel's with whom she said she would remain "friends" despite his abrupt decision to leave the cabinet, could earn around one million euros (S$1.7 million) per year.

"Pofalla's case makes it clear once again how important it is to have a statutory cooling-off period," a parliamentary group leader of the opposition Greens, Katrin Goering-Eckardt, told the daily Die Welt, echoing the criticism of non-governmental organisations.

The Social Democrats (SPD), partners in Merkel's new "grand coalition" government, have called for a law imposing such a period, which drew support from conservatives on Monday.

"I am of the opinion that there should be clear rules for members of the government switching to business," German EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger from Merkel's Christian Democrats told Die Welt.

Critics have pointed to the example set by SPD former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who took a senior job with Russian energy giant Gazprom within days of leaving office, having only recently green-lighted a gas pipeline linking Russia and Germany.