BERLIN, Feb 18 – Germany\’s most popular minister gave up his doctorate title amid allegations he copied large parts of his thesis Friday, as the media and opposition leapt at the chance to clip the high-flyer\’s wings.
The aristocratic and suave defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, told reporters: "I will temporarily, I repeat temporarily, give up my doctorate title" until his former university completes an investigation into the claims.
The minister, who has been dubbed the "cut-and-paste minister" by a gleeful press, said he would reclaim his title after completion of the probe.
He added he would "actively" assist the University of Bayreuth with its investigation into allegations he passed off the work of others as his own in his 2006 law thesis, for which he scored top marks.
"I do not want myself to be subject to different standards than anyone else," said the 39-year-old, who has been mentioned as a possible future chancellor after impressive stints as minister of economy and defence.
"People expect me to carry out my challenging duty as defence minister with all my strength," he said.
Nevertheless, he "categorically" rejected accusations that he plagiarised the document, which runs to hundreds of pages.
"My dissertation is no work of plagiarism," he said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her cautious backing to the minister, who consistently tops popularity polls in Germany, at a hastily convened meeting in Berlin late Thursday, according to media reports.
Snappily dressed, youthful and energetic, zu Guttenberg has long been a target for opposition politicians and the media.
Papers have jumped on a series of minor scandals from an alleged mutiny on a naval training ship in November to his handling of a controversial Afghan airstrike in 2009.
In December he was accused of turning a visit to Afghanistan into a publicity stunt because he took his wife — a descendant of "Iron Chancellor" Otto von Bismarck — a television chat show host, and a slew of photographers.
But he has bounced back after all these setbacks, earning him the sobriquet the "teflon minister".
Dieter Wiefelspuetz, from the opposition Social Democrats, told the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger daily: "If his doctorate title is stripped, then he has to resign. After such a blemish, one can no longer be a minister.
"That would also apply to anyone else," he said.
The German press has had a field day, with undisguised Schadenfreude at zu Guttenberg\’s fall from grace featured in every paper.
The Financial Times Deutschland has dubbed the aristocrat "Baron Cut-and-Paste" and left-leaning TAZ called him "Zu Googleberg".
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung said in an editorial: "The danger for zu Guttenberg is not that his ministerial job is on the line but that his reputation as an honest, conscientious and industrious person is at stake.