Merkel’s minister pays bill for North-Rhine Westphalia defeat

Merkel’s minister pays bill for North-Rhine Westphalia defeat

Merkel’s minister pays bill for North-Rhine Westphalia defeat

Chancellor Angela Merkel fires her environment minister Norbert Röttgen (L) after he led her party to a regional election defeat, replacing him with a loyal conservative Peter Altmaier. REUTERS photo

German Chancellor Angela Merkel fired Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen May 16 after he led her conservative party to an embarrassingly heavy election defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).
Merkel said she had asked Germany’s president to dismiss Röttgen and replace him with Peter Altmaier, a trusted senior lawmaker who has been her party’s chief whip since 2009 and helped organize parliamentary majorities for her eurozone rescue plans. In an unusual and hastily arranged statement given on national television, Merkel said she had spoken to President Joachim Gauck “to ask him to release Röttgen from his functions as environment minister to allow a change in personnel.”

She said Germany’s “Energiewende” policy, the term used to describe both the end of nuclear power and the promotion of renewable energy sources, was a key plan for this legislative period, but that work remained to be done.

Following the March 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, the German government decided to permanently switch off Germany’s eight oldest reactors and to close nine others currently on line by 2022. Merkel dumped Röttgen after her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), with the minister as its candidate for governor, slumped May 13 to its worst state election showing since World War II in NRW, in Germany’s most populous state.

Merkel acknowledged a day after the vote that her party’s loss there was a “bitter, painful defeat,” but said it had no bearing on her policy in Europe.

Merkel irritated

Röttgen’s challenge to the state’s popular center-left governor, Hannelore Kraft, was marred by a series of gaffes that this week drew open criticism from fellow conservatives. He had already quit as head of the Christian Democrats’ local branch. Röttgen never looked seriously likely to win back NRW, a state that Merkel’s party lost two years ago, in the election. But the scale of his defeat – the party dropped from 34.6 percent of the vote to just 26.3 percent – was a surprise.

Röttgen’s campaign was heavily criticized after he refused to commit to staying in the western state of 18 million people if he lost the vote.

Röttgen also irritated the chancellor by declaring that May 13’s election would decide “whether Angela Merkel’s course in Europe is strengthened or whether it is weakened by the re-election of a pro-debt government in Germany.” Opposition politicians were quick to condemn the current state of Merkel’s coalition government after the minister’s dismissal was announced. Democratic Party (SPD) General Secretary Andrea Nahles said the fact the chancellor had “let one of her closest confidants go shows that the crisis of the coalition now has advanced to the very core.”

Thomas Oppermann, chief SPD whip, called it “an act of desperation,” and said, “Angela Merkel is sacrificing Norbert Röttgen to protect herself.” The latest opinion polls showed the CDU still enjoys a healthy lead over the SPD – by 35 percent to 26 percent – and Merkel’s personal popularity remains high.

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.

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