Merkel confidante resigns in German plagiarism scandal

Education minister Schavan says she will not accept the decision and will take legal action against it
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First Published: Sat, Feb 09 2013. 07 52 PM IST
Annette Schavan, minister for education and research. Photo: AFP
Annette Schavan, minister for education and research. Photo: AFP
Updated: Sat, Feb 09 2013. 09 44 PM IST
Berlin: Germany’s education minister resigned on Saturday after being stripped of her doctorate for plagiarism, embarrassing Chancellor Angela Merkel and depriving her of a close ally in the run-up to a September election.
Annette Schavan quit four days after the University of Duesseldorf ruled she had “systematically and intentionally” copied parts of her thesis, and withdrew the Ph.D it had granted her more than 30 years ago.
It was the second time in two years that Merkel had lost a cabinet minister in a scandal over academic cheating. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned as defence minister in 2011 after being exposed for plagiarising his thesis—behaviour that Schavan condemned at the time as ‘shameful’.
The chancellor, who rarely displays her emotions, turned to offer Schavan a consoling smile at a joint news conference where she told reporters: “I accepted this resignation with a very heavy heart.”
Schavan’s departure is unlikely to weaken Merkel’s chances to win a third term in elections on 22 September. Her Christian Democrats regularly poll above 40%, giving them an easy lead over the main opposition Social Democrats.
But losing her key confidante is still a blow to the German leader, and forces her to make her fifth cabinet change of the current four-year term by bringing in Johanna Wanka, a former education minister in two German states, to replace Schavan.
Andrea Nahles, general secretary of the main opposition Social Democrats, said the government was “at its end”.
Juergen Trittin, parliamentary leader of the opposition Greens, said Merkel had made a “glaring false start” to the year, with defeat in an important regional election and a budget row over a planned new train station in Stuttgart.
Election Liability
As Schavan was education minister, the charges were a direct threat to her credibility and, had she not resigned, would have threatened to overshadow Merkel’s election campaign.
She said their friendship would last and reiterated she would fight the university’s annulment of her doctorate, a distinction which carries prestige in German business and politics as well as in academic circles. Losing it means Schavan is left without any academic title as her degree led directly to a doctorate, not a bachelor or master’s. Reuters
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First Published: Sat, Feb 09 2013. 07 52 PM IST