Party shepherd replaces black sheep in environment spot | News | DW | 22.05.2012
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Party shepherd replaces black sheep in environment spot

Germany has a new environment minister as Peter Altmaier has been sworn in. He replaces Norbert Röttgen, fired by Angela Merkel last week. The chancellor has traded in an ecologist counter-balance for a party loyalist.

A week after Merkel sacked Norbert Röttgen as environment minister, Peter Altmaier was sworn in as Röttgen's replacement on Tuesday.

At a ceremony at the presidential palace in Berlin, President Joachim Gauck set out an ambitious task for the newest cabinet minister.

"In this era of the global rise of new, large economic powers we need a binding, global climate agreement all the more urgently," Gauck said, referring to the long-stalled attempts to replace and update the expiring Kyoto Protocol.

Closer to home, Gauck said the former chief parliamentary whip, one of Merkel's closest allies, ought to continue where his predecessor had left off. Germany's changes in energy policy - moving away from nuclear power - were not something that could be expected "in one year or even a handful," Gauck said, adding that swift progress was crucial.

"I would wish that you act responsibly and inclusively, to attain this stated goal. I am sure that this is one of the targets that we can achieve together," the president, who is more closely tied to the opposition Social Democrats, said.

Praise for the scapegoat

The Christian Democrat (CDU) enforcer Altmaier is almost the polar opposite to Röttgen, an ecologist who frequently defied the party line, especially where his portfolio was concerned.

Gauck alluded to Röttgen's long-standing opposition to nuclear power - a key part of CDU energy policy until a swift about-face following public reaction to events at the Fukushima power plant in Japan last year - as he bade the outgoing minister farewell.

"You recognized earlier than others that it was time to change our energy policy. For that we are grateful to you," Gauck told Röttgen. "You have worked for our collective good for three decades, and I hope you will be able to continue doing so in the future."

Röttgen remains a member of parliament as well as vice-chairman of Merkel's Christian Democrat parliamentary group.

His federal woes began on the local level.

Röttgen effectively bore the brunt on behalf of the CDU after the party sustained record losses in key state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia on May 13. Röttgen was the CDU candidate for premier in Germany's most populous state and immediately stood down from that post amid fierce criticism from party allies. Röttgen said that the election was "my defeat," that it concerned "my talking points."

Common conservative broadsides focused on policy issues as well, but also included Röttgen's apparent division of loyalties between his federal duties in Berlin and his candidacy for the lead of arguably Germany's most important state.

Yet Merkel's decision days later to strip Röttgen of his beloved environment portfolio prompted uproar, often from the exact same voices who blamed Röttgen for an 8-percent drop-off in the space of two years in North Rhine-Westphalia. Party veteran Wolfgang Bosbach, currently chairman of the interior committee, told one newspaper that "when someone's on the ground, you don't kick him again."

Merkel attended the ceremony but did not speak. She and Röttgen, the first minister she has sacked, parted ways with a handshake.

msh, mz/ncy (Reuters, dpa, dapd)