BERLIN – Chancellor Angela Merkel was left licking her wounds Sunday after her education minister quit amid a plagiarism scandal, depriving her of a key ally as she gears up for September elections.
Merkel betrayed rare emotion as she accepted “with a very heavy heart” the resignation of Annette Schavan, a personal friend, who quit to fight charges from her former university that she plagiarized her thesis 33 years ago.
The level of alleged plagiarism in Schavan’s thesis, titled “Person and Conscience,” was thought to be much less than in a similar case two years ago, when Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg quit.
Although Merkel enjoys a sizable lead in the polls and a high level of personal popularity, this is the second body blow in recent weeks after what she termed a “painful” loss in a Jan. 20 state election.
Even some opposition figures showed sympathy for Schavan, who has vowed to fight Duesseldorf University’s decision to strip her of her doctorate in the courts. SPD head Sigmar Gabriel said in an interview in the Welt am Sonntag weekly that he valued Schavan as an “honest and competent” minister and he was “extremely sorry” to see her go, although he believed it was the right decision.