Angela Merkel ally quits over 'copied' PhD

Germany's Education Minister resigns after claims that she plagiarised parts of her doctoral thesis 30 years ago

Berlin

Germany's Minister of Education resigned yesterday after a university withdrew her doctorate, having decided she plagiarised parts of her thesis, a claim she has denied.

This is embarrassing for Chancellor Angela Merkel's government as it prepares for elections later this year. Mrs Merkel said she had accepted "only with a very heavy heart" the resignation of Annette Schavan, who has been the Minister of Education and Research since 2005 and was considered close to the Chancellor.

Mrs Schavan's resignation comes two years after the then minister of defence, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, lost his doctorate and quit when it emerged that he had copied large parts of his doctoral thesis. Doctorates are highly prized in Germany, where it is not unusual for people to insist on being referred to by their academic title.

On Tuesday, Düsseldorf's Heinrich Heine University decided to revoke Mrs Schavan's doctorate, following a review of her 1980 thesis, which dealt with the formation of conscience. The review was undertaken after an anonymous blogger last year raised allegations of plagiarism, which the minister denies. "I will not accept this decision – I neither copied nor deceived in my dissertation," she told reporters, speaking alongside Mrs Merkel at a brief news conference. "The accusations... hurt me deeply."

Mrs Schavan made clear that she was going to prevent the issue turning into a festering problem for her party, and the government, as Germany gears up for parliamentary elections on 22 September in which the conservative Mrs Merkel will seek a third term. Mrs Schavan, a member of the Chancellor's Christian Democratic Union, announced her decision after returning from an official trip to South Africa during which, she said, she thought "thoroughly" about the political consequences. "If a research minister files a suit against a university, that of course places strain on my office, my ministry, the government and the CDU as well," she said. "And that is exactly what I want to avoid."

Mrs Merkel offered lengthy praise for Mrs Schavan's "exceptional" performance as a minister, adding that, "at this time, she is putting her own personal well-being behind the common good". Mrs Schavan will be replaced by Johanna Wanka, the outgoing regional education minister in the state of Lower Saxony, in north-west Germany, Mrs Merkel said. That state's conservative-led government narrowly lost a regional election to the centre-left opposition last month.

Despite the coalition government's setback in Lower Saxony, polls show that Mrs Merkel remains popular with voters; her challenger from the centre-left Social Democrats, Peer Steinbrück, has struggled to gain support. Most recent polls show a majority neither for Mrs Merkel's current centre-right coalition with the pro-market Free Democrats nor for a rival combination of the Social Democrats and Greens.

They also show Mrs Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats to be the strongest single party. That suggests the Chancellor may be able to carry on with a new coalition partner. It's also unclear whether the Schavan affair will provide political ammunition for the opposition.

The usually low-profile minister's troubles over her three-decade-old thesis have drawn a much more measured response from opponents than in the case of Mr Guttenberg, a rising conservative star at the time he quit. On Friday, Sigmar Gabriel, the chairman of the Social Democrats, described Mrs Schavan as "a notably smart and, from my point of view, decent colleague".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower