German Chancellor Angela Merkel fired Norbert Roettgen, the federal Environment minister who led her Christian Democratic Union to its worst-ever result in an election in Germany’s most populous state.
Merkel said that she contacted President Joachim Gauck on Wednesday and proposed that Roettgen “be relieved of his duties” as a minister “to make possible a new start with personnel this evening.” Roettgen will be replaced by Peter Altmaier, the deputy CDU floor leader, Merkel said.
“The energy change is a central task of this legislative period,” she told reporters in Berlin, reading from a statement. “Fundamental steps have already been taken but we have work still ahead of us.”
Roettgen, 46, lost the May 13 election in North Rhine- Westphalia by a margin almost three times more than was predicted in polls, allowing the main opposition Social Democrats to continue their coalition with the Greens under SPD Prime Minister Hannelore Kraft. The result was also a personal blow to Merkel, who attended at least nine campaign rallies in support of Roettgen.
During the election campaign, Roettgen declined to say whether he would serve as opposition leader in the state if he lost. Polls of voter intention showed that cost him support and Bild, Germany’s most-read daily newspaper, blamed him for the defeat the following day, saying the result was “a predictable CDU disaster that will also make things tough for Merkel.”
A lawyer, Roettgen was appointed environment minister in 2009 and deputy chairman of Merkel’s CDU a year later, and was once named in German media as a possible successor to Merkel.
As environment minister, he was charged with managing Germany’s energy “transformation,” a plan to phase-out nuclear energy by 2022 and generate at least 35% of power from renewable sources by the end of this decade, up from about 20% now. He supported Merkel’s decision to speed up closure of Germany’s nuclear plants after the Fukushima atomic disaster last year in Japan.
Roettgen’s plan to cut subsidies for solar power by a record this year drew fire from opposition parties and the photovoltaic industry, which said the move threatens thousands of jobs in the world’s biggest solar market by installed capacity.