BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday moved her interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, to the Defense Ministry — putting a trusted ally in charge of overseeing a gradual pullback from Afghanistan and a major overhaul of the German military.De Maiziere succeeds Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, long rated Germany’s most popular politician, who resigned Tuesday amid persistent allegations he plagiarized parts of his doctoral thesis. He will be replaced at the Interior Ministry by Hans-Peter Friedrich, a top conservative lawmaker.The new defense minister inherits the task of slimming down the German military and making it better adapted to an era in which it faces growing demands to deploy overseas.As part of that, Guttenberg had pushed through a plan to end conscription and professionalize the force.De Maiziere also takes on the job of overseeing Germany’s unpopular deployment in northern Afghanistan, where some 5,000 Bundeswehr troops serve in the NATO-led stabilization force. Germany hopes to start a gradual troop withdrawal at the end of this year.“Thomas de Maiziere will succeed in quickly winning the confidence of soldiers and, above all, pursuing and implementing with determination the Bundeswehr reform that Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg started,” Merkel said.A member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, de Maiziere has been Germany’s top security official since late 2009. Before that, he was Merkel’s chief of staff for four years — helping ensure the smooth and quiet running of her awkward first-term “grand coalition” of right and left.He took a deliberately calm approach at the Interior Ministry and, unlike his predecessors, long avoided talking up potential terrorist threats. In November, however, he warned of an increased threat from Islamic extremists and sent extra police officers into public places.Last month, he scaled back the increased security measures, saying that while a general danger remained, the immediate threat had passed.
Merkel has called the trained lawyer “one of my oldest political friends.” She recalled Wednesday that she first met him as communism crumbled in East Germany two decades ago, and since then “our paths have crossed again and again.” The 57-year-old is a cousin of Lothar de Maiziere, East Germany’s first and only democratically elected leader, whom Merkel served as a spokeswoman in 1990 in her first government role. His father, Ulrich, was chief of staff of the West German military in the 1960s and 1970s.Friedrich, the new interior minister, has since 2009 been the parliamentary leader in Berlin of the Christian Social Union, the Bavaria-only sister party of Merkel’s conservative CDU.Merkel said he was an “important adviser” to her on legal and domestic policy issues when her conservative bloc was in opposition several years ago.Guttenberg is a member of the CSU. The two conservative parties agreed to swap ministries after his resignation – Arabnews