German Education Minister Annette Schavan has resigned from her post. But there wasn't another option, says DW's Bettina Marx, because it would be unacceptable to keep her following her doctorate plagiarism scandal.
In the end, nothing was able to help Schavan - neither her good relations with Chancellor Angela Merkel, nor the expressions of sympathy coming from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) chairman, nor the support from broader circles within the conservative education system.
The Federal Republic of Germany is not a banana republic. Education standards apply to everyone, including young students who are ambitious enough to attempt a doctoral thesis on an overly complex topic at the age of 24. An education minister who is at odds with her university, who contests her professors' decision and who mobilizes the research establishment for private reasons cannot credibly represent educational freedom.
And so there was nothing left for Schavan's friend, the German Chancellor, to do but to accept her resignation - with a heavy heart, as she said. In her lengthy and remarkably warmhearted appraisal of Schavan's work, Merkel praised Schavan's contribution to Germany as an academic center and to research and education. This was very different from the icy farewell she gave to former Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, whom she dismissed after his defeat in state elections and replaced with a minister who hardly inspires the public more. Schavan's departure seemed to affect her personally.
Tough situation for Merkel
This is not surprising, since Schavan's resignation is a bitter loss for the chancellor. Losing her means losing an important supporter in the cabinet and a close confidante. Schavan's departure due to the plagiarism scandal also shows that Merkel doesn't have much luck when it comes to choosing her staff. Both of the recent defense ministers, Franz Josef Jung and Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, were also forced to resign over false claims. The last German President, Christian Wulff and his predecessor Horst Köhler, both initially supported by Merkel, resigned from the highest state office in an atmosphere of controversy.
In Schavan's case, it's not only her doctoral thesis that seems to have been overrated, but also her political work. Although she has received numerous honorary doctor titles and an honorary professorship from the Free University Berlin, the substandard conditions at German universities where poorly paid teachers attempt to educate students who are stressed out and short on time paint quite a different picture.
Eight months before the federal elections, Merkel and her government are not portraying a happy image. A quarreling coalition, uninspiring ministers, few success stories - that's the state of things after three and a half years. Schavan's departure, as necessary as it was, doesn't help Merkel in her quest. Rather, it shows what condition the coalition is in.