Merkel gets mixed response for minister′s dismissal | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 17.05.2012
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Germany

Merkel gets mixed response for minister's dismissal

The German chancellor has parted ways with her erstwhile favorite, Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, and his successor is already in the wings. Opposition parties say the cabinet's authority is weakened.

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party leader and Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen await start of a party board meeting in Berlin, May 14, 2012. Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives suffered a crushing defeat on Sunday in an election in Germany's most populous state, a result which could embolden the left opposition to step up its criticism of her European austerity policies. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (GERMANY - Tags: POLITICS)

Deutschland Landtagswahlen NRW Reaktionen CDU Angela Merkel und Norbert Röttgen in Berlin

For the first time, the order to sack a cabinet minister came from the chancellery. Angela Merkel said Wednesday that she had asked President Joachim Gauck to release Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, a fellow Christian Democrat, from his duties.

The German constitution says that only the president can appoint and fire ministers, but Merkel's previous reshuffles have always involved the agreement of those concerned, as happened, for instance, when Health Minister Philipp Rösler replaced Rainer Brüderle in the Economy Ministry in 2011. But the circumstances of Röttgen's dismissal suggest he would have preferred to stay.

Berlin/ ARCHIV: Bundesumweltminister Norbert Roettgen (CDU) geht in Berlin im Konrad-Adenauer-Haus zur Sitzung des CDU-Praesidiums (Foto vom 13.09.10). Norbert Roettgen tritt als Bundesumweltminister zurueck. Das erfuhr die Nachrichtenagentur dapd am Mittwoch (16.05.12) aus regierungsnahen Kreisen. Der 46-Jaehrige hatte als Spitzenkandidat der CDU bei der Wahl in Nordrhein-Westfalen eine historische Niederlage hinnehmen muessen. Seinen Rueckzug vom Amt des Landesvorsitzenden der nordrhein-westfaelischen CDU hatte Roettgen direkt nach der Wahl am Sonntag verkuendet. Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel (CDU) hat fuer 16.30 Uhr eine Erklaerung angekuendigt. (zu dapd-Text)

Norbert Röttgen was the first minister to be sacked by the chancellor herself

Indeed, he said so on Monday, after voluntarily giving up the post of Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, in the wake of the party's historic defeat in Sunday's state election. Röttgen had led Merkel's party to a paltry 26.3 percent of the vote, its worst ever result in Germany's most populous state, home to 18 million people.

The scale of the defeat could not fail to tarnish Röttgen, especially with his party's own critics, but he himself painted the election as a referendum on Merkel's European policy, which looked to many as if he was ducking responsibility for the defeat. Merkel could not have been overjoyed that he had taken this line, and the relationship between the chancellor and the 46-year-old apparently deteriorated rapidly afterwards.

Successor: PeterAltmaier

In farewell, the chancellor thanked Röttgen for his work, particularly his commitment to climate change, "especially on the international stage." And she reiterated that Germany's "energy transition" – which followed last year's decision to shut down all of the country's nuclear power stations - remained a central project in this legislative period. Its foundations, she said, had already been laid, "but we still have a lot of work to do."

As Röttgen's successor, Merkel has nominated Peter Altmaier, the chief whip of the CDU's parliamentary faction. The chancellor said she had valued the 54-year-old's work for a long time, and was sure that he would throw himself into his new position "with all his energy."

Peter Altmaier (CDU), erster Parlamentarischer Geschäftsführer der Unionsfraktion, kommt am Mittwoch (16.05.2012) zu einem Pressegespräch auf der Fraktionsebene des Bundestags in Berlin. Altmaier soll neuer Bundesumweltminister und Nachfolger von Röttgen werden. Foto: Hannibal dpa/lbn +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Peter Altmaier's appointment was dismissed as a "last resort" by the Social Democrats

Altmaier himself took to the social network Twitter in response: "Thank you for the congratulations for being called up as Environment Minister," he wrote to his followers. "I need your support now more than ever!"

Opposition harbors doubts

But the response to the new appointment was decidedly mixed. Merkel's Vice-Chancellor and Economy Minister Philipp Rösler, of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) said it signalled "a continuation of the stable cooperation in the government coalition." He thanked Röttgen, said he was looking forward to the cooperation with Altmaier, and warned that the transition to renewable energy remained a great challenge. The FDP leader underlined that the cost of energy to consumers and the economy at large should be a central concern.

Like Röttgen, Rösler wanted to push through solar energy cuts, a plan that was scuppered by a veto from the upper house of the German parliament, the Bundesrat. The proposal will now be re-negotiated in the parliamentary mediation committee.

Opposition parties, meanwhile, were quick to call Röttgen's sacking a personal defeat for the chancellor. Green Party chairman Cem Özdemir described Merkel's decision as a "pawn sacrifice" in the political chess game – an attempt to deflect attention from the government's failure in North Rhine-Westphalia and its energy policy. He warned that a change of personnel wouldn't solve the deeper problems, and said that unions and companies alike were already concerned about the progress of Germany's energy plan.

Das Atomkraftwerk Gundremmingen (Schwaben)(Foto vom 11.03.2012). Foto: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand dpa/lby

The shutdown of Germany's nuclear power stations remains the minister's biggest job

Final throw of the dice

Andrea Nahles, general secretary of Germany's largest opposition party, the center-left Social Democrats, was even more scathing, calling Röttgen's dismissal further evidence of "the worn-out state of Merkel's government." She said that Röttgen had not only failed as an election campaigner, but in implementing Germany's energy policy. She also dismissed Altmaier as Merkel's "last resort."

The socialist Left party, meanwhile, said they were unsurprised that Röttgen was let go. The party's environment spokeswoman Eva Bulling-Schröter said he had always had "little cover from the chancellor" on the government's energy transition policy.

But Altmaier did win the backing of the German industry association BDI, whose President Hans-Peter Keitel said the coming months would mark a crucial phase in the success of Germany's energy transition, before adding that good cooperation between government and industry would be "essential."

Author: Marcel Fürstenau / bk
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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