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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks