Merkel dismisses Environment Minister Röttgen | News | DW | 16.05.2012
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Merkel dismisses Environment Minister Röttgen

Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that Norbert Röttgen has been dismissed from his post, days after an embarrassing defeat in crucial state elections. Some party allies have since spoken out in Röttgen's defense.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called a press conference in Berlin Thursday to announce that Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen had been dismissed from his federal post. Peter Altmaier is set to take over the role.

Altmaier was a parliamentary whip for the CDU and a close ally of Merkel.

"I am quite sure that he will apply himself fully to his new task and that ours will be a successful cooperation," Merkel told reporters in Berlin Wednesday, also alluding to the new tasks ahead of Altmaier. "Development of renewable energies is a central goal of this legislative period. The groundwork has been laid but we still have a lot of work ahead of us."

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Merkel sacks Environment Minister Röttgen

The CDU until last year supported continued nuclear power usage in Germany, and was in the process of extending a timetable to shut off atomic energy implemented by the Social Democrats and Greens in the 1990s.

The problems at the Fukushima power plant in Japan, casued by the massive offshore earthquake and subsequent tsunami last March, prompted public uproar among Germans towards the country's energy policy. Within a few days, Merkel announced that the nuclear shutdown would go ahead after all.

Casualty of state vote

Outgoing Environment Minister Röttgen was party chairman in North Rhine-Westphalia until the weekend's election, but quit that post immediately after the CDU recorded their worst-ever result in Germany's most populous state.

Late on Sunday, when publicly admitting defeat at the polls, Röttgen had said: "It is an unmistakable, clear defeat that we have suffered today. The defeat is bitter, it's clear, and it really hurts all of us - obviously including me."

The CDU secured a record low 26.3 percent of the vote in the North Rhine-Westphalian election, compared to 34.6 percent in a 2010 vote.

The environment minister, who was known as something of a black sheep within the party, came under heavy criticism from his political allies after the election loss. Senior CDU members said that his apparently divided loyalties - then serving simultaneously as a cabinet minister and a candidate for state premier - had compromised the campaign. They also criticized some of the talking points Röttgen chose to focus on during the campaign, saying he had confused voters by questioning the party line.

Protests in Germany to mark the one year anniversary of the Fukushima meltdown

German reactions to Fukushima and the subsequent policy change put Röttgen in the spotlight

Röttgen, 46, had said that Sunday's result meant it was "necessary" to give up his state post, saying "I have lost here, this was my election campaign, and it also concerned my talking points."

Merkel and Röttgen had both said on Monday, however, that the minister would retain his federal portfolio, despite his local election defeat and resignation.

CDU politicians criticze decision

Wolfgang Bosbach, one of Röttgen's more vocal critics after Sunday's election defeat, changed his tune on Wednesday, telling the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger: "When someone's on the ground, you don't have to kick him again." In a separate interview, the chairman of the German interior committee said that he would have given Röttgen another chance at the federal level, adding that developments had moved at a "breathtaking pace" in Berlin.

The CDU president of the lower house of parliament (the Bundestag), Norbert Lammert, said in a speech to party members in Erfurt that he "would have wished for a different outcome," adding that he valued Röttgen highly.

Röttgen's former allies in North Rhine-Westphalia, meanwhile, came out most strongly in the former minister's defense.

"Today's dismissal of Norbert Röttgen shocks me," the leader of the state's parliamentary group, Karl-Josef Laumann, said in Düsseldorf. "I do not understand, how until 6 p.m. Sunday [when the election results came out] Norbert Röttgen was considered to be an excellent environment minister - which he was - and that he has now been sacked."

msh/slk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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