Merkel Loses Minister: Schavan Steps Down amid Plagiarism Scandal

One of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's closest confidants stepped down on Saturday following a plagiarism scandal. Stripped of her doctorate on Tuesday, Annette Schavan became a heavy burden to her party as Germany heads into an election year.

German Education and Research Minister Annette Schavan announced her resignation on Saturday in a joint press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Zoom
AFP

German Education and Research Minister Annette Schavan announced her resignation on Saturday in a joint press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

German Education Minister Annette Schavan announced her resignation on Saturday, just days after a university moved to strip her of her Ph.D. title in a plagiarism scandal surrounding her doctoral dissertation. She announced her decision during a joint press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"Annette Schavan offered me her resignation last night," Merkel said, adding that she had accepted the resignation with deep regret. "She knows that brains are the capital of people in this country. And she knows that good study conditions are just as important as promoting excellence," she added.

A visibly uncomfortable Schavan told journalists: "I thank the chancellor. I thank you, dear Angela, for your words today and your friendship." She also once again denied the allegations of plagiarism. "I will not accept the university's decision," she said. "I neither copied nor deceived." She added that the allegations had shaken her to the core.

Schavan has been a confidant of Merkel's, and the chancellor was reserved in her words regarding the minister in recent days, saying that she had her "full confidence." Following the European Union summit on Friday, Merkel said only that she would be meeting with Schavan.

'Intentional Deception'

On Tuesday, the faculty council of the University of Düsseldorf voted 12 to 2 to strip Schavan of her doctorate. "As a doctoral candidate, she systematically and deliberately presented intellectual efforts throughout her entire dissertation that were not her own," the university stated. Large sections of the work, officials continued, had been taken from elsewhere without adequate attribution. As such, she was guilty of "intentional deception through plagiarism."

Schavan's attorneys announced they would sue to appeal the decision immediately after. At least initially, she also seemed to have the support of most in her conservative Christian Democratic Union party, where officials believe the university had acted incorrectly. Schavan submitted her dissertation over 30 years ago.

However, with Merkel facing a potentially challenging re-election year, it was also clear that Schavan, regardless of how much the chancellor likes her, probably wouldn't be able to remain in office. Public opinion had also turned against Schavan, with most Germans agreeing that a person stripped of her doctoral title could no longer remain in charge of the education ministry, a position in which she would then lack credibility. It was also clear that her legal challenge would have posed a burden to her party during the election year.

Schavan is the second member of Merkel's cabinet to step down because of plagiarism allegations. In 2011, Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg stepped down after he was found to have plagiarized large sections of his Ph.D. thesis.

Schavan is to be replaced by Johanna Wanka, the CDU Education Minister in the northwestern state of Lower Saxony.

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