Old Doctoral Thesis Haunts a Top German Minister
BERLIN — How the fortunes of Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Germany’s most popular, eloquent and aristocratic politician have changed.
An erstwhile public idol who has been touted as a possible chancellor, Mr. Guttenberg now is fighting to save his reputation and his political career after accusations by historians that he plagiarized multiple sections of his doctoral dissertation.
The German public takes such charges seriously. It has enormous respect for those with academic titles. Eleven of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 15 cabinet members have doctorates, and she has one herself. “Not only do we have a woman chancellor; she has a doctorate in physics too,” boasted Bild, the mass circulation newspaper.
So when reports came out last week that Mr. Guttenberg, 39, had lifted large sections of other academics’ research for his dissertation, opposition parties pounced on the findings, hoping to puncture his popularity.
“Whatever the outcome of the investigations by the University of Bayreuth, which gave Guttenberg his doctorate, I think Guttenberg has been politically damaged,” said Nils Diederich, political science professor at the Free University in Berlin. “He was put high on a pedestal; all the more reason why his fall may be particularly hard.”
For Mrs. Merkel, the debacle has two sides.
On one hand, she needs the pull of Mr. Guttenberg who is considered the star of her cabinet. With his aristocratic background and that of his wife, Stephanie, who is the great-great-granddaughter of Otto von Bismarck, Imperial Germany’s Iron Chancellor, Mr. Guttenberg has attracted huge publicity.
Mrs. Merkel can ill afford to lose her most popular minister. Her Christian Democratic Union party was mauled Sunday in an election in Hamburg. It faces six more regional elections this year. For Germany’s conservative bloc, this is a particularly bad time for a scandal.
On the other hand, Mr. Guttenberg, had begun to turn into a serious rival to Mrs. Merkel. Six months ago, when her popularity was at a low, there was speculation about Mr. Guttenberg replacing her as chancellor in a few years. But Mrs. Merkel has a long history of seeing off rivals. Last September, after officials from the Christian Democratic Union accused her of neglecting the party’s profile, she radically changed her style of leadership. Suddenly, she became decisive.
She delivered forceful speeches on Europe, the euro and the Middle East. “She is showing real leadership,” said a German conservative member of the European Parliament, Elmar Brok. That has stopped the squabbling inside her party. Her polling numbers have also begun to go up again, at least before the scandal over Mr. Guttenberg’s doctorate began to hit the headlines.
When Mr. Guttenberg joined the cabinet in 2009 as economics minister and later as defense minister, he was hailed as someone who could bring a new dynamism to German politics. The public respects and likes Mrs. Merkel for her no-nonsense style in dress and manner, but it loves Mr. Guttenberg for being her antithesis. He is always dressed for the moment, khakis and boots in Afghanistan, elegant suits for public functions.
“He is a gifted politician, but he is also someone who shoots from the hip,” said Gerhard Hirscher, a political analyst at the Hanns Seidel Foundation, which is affiliated with the Christian Social Union party in Bavaria.
Mr. Guttenberg, a leading member of the Christian Social Union party, was one of the first politicians to call the conflict in Afghanistan a war, breaking a taboo over the nature of the fighting there. And instead of waiting for a consensus from his own conservative bloc, he pushed for the end of military conscription, managing to phase it out by this June.
The public has liked this fresh, direct approach, according to opinion polls. It has also given Mr. Guttenberg high marks for credibility, trustworthiness and being a role model. Such qualities, say analysts, helped him survive the tumultuous past 18 months as defense minister.
When in September 2009 a German NATO general in northern Afghanistan ordered U.S. fighter planes to bomb two trucks hijacked by the Taliban, killing nearly 100 civilians, Mr. Guttenberg at first said the airstrikes had been “appropriate.” Later, he changed his mind, declaring that the strikes were “inappropriate.” He blamed top officials in the Defense Ministry for not fully informing him. He removed the chief of staff and a state secretary. Until then, they had enjoyed brilliant, blameless careers.
The public was willing to forgive Mr. Guttenberg. He was new in the job. But then last month, he was faced with three problems at once: reports of mutiny on board a naval training ship where a young female cadet fell to her death from the ship’s riggings; a young soldier in Afghanistan shot and killed after playing with his gun; and the opening of mail sent home by German troops serving in Afghanistan.
Mr. Guttenberg reacted quickly, suspending the commander of the naval training ship and ordering investigations into the other incidents. He again blamed the lack of communication inside the defense ministry even though he has been in the job 18 months. “Always looking for scapegoats,” said Frank-Walter Steinmeier, parliamentary leader of the opposition Social Democrats.
Now add to that the accusations of plagiarism. Mr. Guttenberg was struggling over the weekend to explain how he had put together his dissertation. He announced that he would no longer use “Doctor” until the University of Bayreuth completed its investigations.
So far, Mrs. Merkel has not rushed to support Mr. Guttenberg, nor has she publicly criticized him. But she did call him into the chancellery on Thursday to make him tell his side of the story.
Ministers, tired of Mr. Guttenberg’s self-publicity, have said little. They know he is still very popular in Bavaria. There, Mrs. Merkel’s sister party, the Christian Social Union, must pull in a good number of votes during the 2013 national election. Only if the conservative bloc wins in Bavaria, does Mrs. Merkel have a chance at being re-elected for a third term. No wonder, say analysts, Mr. Guttenberg’s plagiarism allegations make the conservatives very nervous.
from the NY
LOL he is such a tool. Nothing but Schadenfreude right now. German speakers should read this as well, if you haven't yet.