Merkel plays it safe after star minister quits

2nd March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Chancellor Angela Merkel appointed a trusted lieutenant as defence minister on Thursday, replacing Germany's most popular politician who dramatically resigned a day earlier, sources said.

Thomas de Maiziere, 57, is moving from interior minister to replace Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg at defence, sources in the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's governing Christian Democrats (CDU) told AFP.

Merkel was due to make a statement at 3:00 pm (1400 GMT), her office said. Her spokesman declined to comment at a regular government briefing.

Replacing De Maiziere as interior minister will be Hans-Peter Friedrich, 53, parliamentary head of the CSU, zu Guttenberg's party and one of three parties in the governing coalition.

De Maiziere is seen as a safe pair of hands, having served as Merkel's chief of staff in her first term from 2005 to 2009 before moving to interior minister after her re-election in September 2009.

Zu Guttenberg, 39, dramatically resigned on Tuesday, depriving Merkel's government of its most popular minister with six state elections to fight between now and September.

He resigned after accusations that he cheated on his doctorate by copying from others large parts of his dissertation. His old university has stripped him of his doctorate.

Zu Guttenberg became the most popular figure in Merkel's cabinet after bursting on the scene in 2009, impressing first as economy minister and then at defence, and regularly topping popularity surveys.

But he was never a massive hit with the media -- the mass-circulation Bild being a notable exception -- and papers gleefully went on the attack when the accusations he had ripped off others' work first emerged on February 16.

The aristocratic Zu Guttenberg was ridiculed in the press as "Baron Cut-And-Paste" and "Zu Googleberg".

At the defence ministry he scrapped conscription and had planned to slash Germany's 250,000-strong military to around 185,000 -- originally he had wanted even deeper cuts -- to save 8.3 billion euros (11.4 billion dollars) by 2015.

Despite reducing the number of soldiers, zu Guttenberg also wanted to increase the number of troops available for foreign missions so as to make the Germany military better suited to 21st century security challenges.

His plans, part of an 80-billion-euro package of government cuts, had run into trouble however, with Spiegel magazine reporting this week that officials in Merkel's chancellery had sharply criticised them as "very rudimentary".

© 2011 AFP

0 Comments To This Article