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Germany

Merkel fills defense minister void with trusted ally

Chancellor Angela Merkel's rapid cabinet reshuffle sees fallen idol Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg replaced by Thomas De Maiziere as defense minister, one of the chancellor's oldest and most trusted political allies.

Thomas de Maiziere in Berlin

De Maiziere is one of Merkel's closest allies in Berlin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed on Wednesday that Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere will succeed Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg as defense minister in the wake of a plagiarism scandal that led to Guttenberg's resignation.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Guttenberg's resignation left Merkel in a daze

A visibly fatigued Merkel told reporters in a brief conference at the chancellery in Berlin that de Maiziere's "sense of duty and responsibility" made him the best candidate to replace Guttenberg at the helm of the defense ministry in the midst of ongoing military reforms.

"Thomas de Maiziere's political work is based on a foundation of values. He is centered on the people and always sees the people, their needs and concerns," Merkel said.

Merkel also praised De Maiziere's replacement as interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, as an "experienced and professional" lawmaker of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), for which he served in Berlin as parliamentary group head since 2009.

Big boots to fill

Merkel's accelerated mini cabinet reshuffle was an attempt to calm the political shockwaves that left Berlin shuddering after Guttenberg's surprise resignation on Tuesday.

De Maiziere, one of Merkel's most experienced and trusted allies in the federal government, possesses an unassuming air, in contrast to Guttenberg's brash style, and is seen by analysts as a credible and stable figure in Berlin.

Professor Oskar Niedermayer of the Free University of Berlin told Deutsche Welle that the selection of de Maiziere demonstrates a desire on the part of the chancellor to restore stability to the cabinet.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg seen from the back after announcing his resignation

The aftershock of Tuesday's resignation is sure to linger

"[De Maiziere] has Merkel's confidence. As interior minister and chief of the chancellery, he has gained Merkel's confidence over the long-term in his ability to handle significant political tasks."

De Maiziere, however, who joined Merkel's CDU over four decades ago, is not part of Guttenberg's party, the CSU, which prompted questions after his appointment as to why a CSU member was not chosen as Guttenberg's successor.

Professor Niedermayer said de Maiziere was essentially Merkel's only viable choice - a reference to the lack of CSU figures with experience at the federal level.

"One must first say that, with regard to popularity, no German politician can really fill Guttenberg's shoes. And, with that being said, Merkel was also not only intent on finding somebody who can compete with [Guttenberg's] medial potency. De Maiziere is a credible figure whom Merkel can trust to tackle the immense challenges currently facing the federal defense ministry."

Merkel walking political tight rope

The chancellor came under heavy criticism from the opposition and the German intellectual community during the past two weeks for her continued support of Guttenberg, standing behind the embattled minister right up to his resignation.

Niedermayer said Merkel's "main goal" was to avoid appearing responsible in the eyes of German voters for the fall of Guttenberg, who even during the scandal remained Germany's most popular politician.

Protesters in Berlin hold up their shoes

Protesting academics showed Guttenberg their shoes

"And she achieved this goal. But, as a result, she was also force to differentiate explicitly between the 'politician Guttenberg' and the person responsible for following academic and moral codes. Her long support of her beloved minister - i.e. her prolonged betrayal of civil values - will most certainly cost her in the long run."

Even without the disgrace surrounding the plagiarism affair, Merkel and her conservative CDU face a difficult political year with numerous state elections and plummeting approval ratings.

The first of those elections, which took place in the northern city-state of Hamburg last month, resulted in a devastating defeat for the CDU in a state it had ruled for over a decade.

Author: Gabriel Borrud

Editor: Susan Houlton

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