Berlin: German Chancellor Angela Merkel has sacked her Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen, three days after her party Christian Democratic Union (CDU) suffered a crushing defeat in a state election.
Merkel announced the decision to dismiss her cabinet colleague at a hurriedly convened press conference in Berlin yesterday, but gave no specific reasons for taking this unusual step.
She said that she requested President Joachim Gauck to relieve Roettgen from his responsibilities as Environment Minister "in order to make a new beginning possible".
In a brief statement, the chancellor also disclosed that she nominated Peter Altmaier, a close aide and manager of the conservative group in Parliament, as the new environment minister.
Roettgen was the chairman of the party`s state unit in North Rhine Westphalia and the party`s leading candidate in Sunday`s election. He stepped down from that post soon after his party recorded its worst result in the most populous German state, but kept his post as environment minister in Merkel`s cabinet.
Since then, Roettgen had been under pressure from his party colleagues and some leaders of the ruling coalition to lay down his cabinet post. They argued that his failure to take a firm decision on whether he will remain in the state as an opposition leader or will return to Berlin if he fails the election led to the party`s debacle.
The CDU`s support plummeted to 26.3 percent from 34.6 percent scored in the last election two years ago.
Merkel had on Monday defended Roettgen against the criticism and said that he will retain his cabinet post.
Media reports said Merkel took the unusual step of sacking the minister because pressure mounted on her to get rid of him and that he was reluctant to obey orders from the party`s leadership to leave his post voluntarily.
Merkel thanked Roettgen for his "important role" in laying the foundations for the government`s new energy policy, which aims at shifting the emphasis of power generation from nuclear power to renewable and environment-friendly energy.
He also engaged actively in the fields of environment protection and combating climate change not only at home, but also at international forums, she said. However, Merkel indicated that she no longer had confidence in Roettgen`s ability to implement the government`s new energy policy.
"The new energy strategy, which was introduced last year in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, is one of the central projects of the conservative-liberal coalition government and its foundations have been laid. But more work lies ahead," she said.
"As the drastic change in the energy sector demands great effort and the Environment Ministry has to play a very important role, she is of the view that a change of leadership in the ministry is necessary in order to make a new beginning possible. Therefore, she designated Altmaier for this post," the statement said.
The election in North Rhine Westphalia was won by the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which regained its position as the largest political force in the state. SPD state premier Hannelore Kraft, who led a minority coalition government during the last two years with the Green party, won sufficient backing from the voters to continue her government with a solid majority.