A court in Germany is expected to grapple on Friday with what may amount to one of the biggest dinner bills of all time. When Chancellor Angela Merkel invited then-United States President George W. Bush to spend some time with her in northern Germany on his way to a G-8 meeting in Russia back in 2006, the itinerary included some sight-seeing along the Baltic Coast and a cozy barbeque.
Merkel had wanted to show Bush her own constituency of Merklenburg-Western Pomerania, with a visit to the picturesque coastal city of Stralsund and a meal of barbequed wild boar, a local delicacy, in the village of Trinwillershagen. Security for the US president's three-day pleasure trip was provided by over 12,000 police officers.
On Friday, a court in Schwerin, the state capital, is expected to rule on whether the breakdown of costs of the visit should be released in response to a suit brought on by a German citizen demanding the data under the country's freedom of information law.
The Interior Ministry of the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania had already stated in 2007 and 2008 that the visit cost €8.7 million ($11 million), following a request for the information by the far-right NPD party. It is estimated that the sum included €5.7 million ($7.2 million) provided by other German states to send in police officers to provide security for the event. Normally the state that plays host would bear the full costs of any visit, but since Merkel had invited Bush on her own initiative and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is one of the poorest regions in the country, other states also contributed.
Freedom of Information
The plaintiff in the case, a 39-year-old prisoner, who is serving time at the other end of the country in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, has demanded to see the exact cost breakdown. He is serving a long jail term for bank robbery and was previously involved in the far-left skinhead scene. He argues that, according to Germany's freedom of information legislation, as a citizen he is entitled to see the bills for the event.
His lawyer Stefan Schulz is optimistic that his client will win the case. "The law is very far-reaching. The authorities can only refuse to release information when there is a danger to the state or a third party," he told reporters on Thursday.
And the data information commissioner for Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Karsten Neumann, is backing the plaintiff. He told reporters that the officials had refused his request for the information on the basis that they did not want it made known how many police officers had been brought in from other states, and therefore were not on duty back home. Neumann said that the blockade by the state's Interior Ministry is a sign of "authoritarian thinking."