Ally's resignation spares German chancellor drawn-out scandal

Sun Feb 10, 2013 3:42pm EST
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By Annika Breidthardt

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Education Minister Annette Schavan has done her friend Angela Merkel a good turn by quitting, sparing the chancellor months of distraction in an election year that has already got off to a bad start.

Having been stripped of her doctorate over allegations she copied parts of her thesis 33 years ago, Schavan stepped down on Saturday, saving Merkel the prospect of her friend's fate overshadowing more than seven months of election campaigning.

The scandal had already begun to hurt the popularity of Merkel, which has survived earlier high-profile resignations. A poll conducted on Thursday - two days before Schavan's exit - indicated 62 percent of Germans felt the affair was damaging Merkel and her party; among CDU supporters it was 68 percent.

Schavan said she would take legal action against the university that voided her title but did not want to do damage to her ministry.

"Whatever the outcome of such proceedings, (Merkel) would (have been) confronted with these allegations throughout the whole election campaign," political scientist Gero Neugebauer said before Schavan stepped down.

Merkel had already got off to a bad start to 2013. Her Christian Democrats (CDU) lost control of Lower Saxony in January despite fielding a popular candidate, who, like Merkel herself, was seen as his party's greatest electoral asset.

Opposition politicians say Lower Saxony marked a turning point in polls. Since then, the Social Democrats have climbed slightly towards 30 percent while the Christian Democrats are inching down towards 40 percent.

Merkel's problems also include poor poll results for her junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats, and a budget row in Stuttgart over a planned new train station.   Continued...

German Education Minister Annette Schavan (L) talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel during a session of the Bundestag, the German lower house of parliament, in Berlin October 18, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Peter