Guttenberg studied law at the University of Bayreuth, where he passed the first legal state examination (said to be the equivalent of a master's degree) in 1999. Guttenberg chose not to pursue the second state examination (the equivalent of a bar exam), and focused on running the Munich-based "Guttenberg GmbH" holding where, along with a few employees, he managed his family’s significant assets and various participations. Due to the holding's low turnover and small number of employees, it was said that Guttenberg had exaggerated his business experience. At the time the Guttenberg GmbH had a capital stock of 1 million Euro and assets of more than a quarter of a billion Euro. These assets include a 26.5 percent share in the Rhön-Klinikum hospital chain, where Guttenberg was a member of the Supervisory board from 1996 to 2002. In 2002, that stake was sold to HypoVereinsbank in a transaction valued at 260 million Euro.
During his university studies he worked as an intern at two law firms—one in Frankfurt, the other in New York. Guttenberg's claim in his CV that these internships were actually "professional experience" (German: "berufliche Stationen") was criticised by German newspapers as a CV exaggeration. Guttenberg later worked for 6 months for the daily Die Welt.
In 2002 Guttenberg was elected to the Bundestag as the representative of Kulmbach. He was reelected in 2005, winning 60.0% of the votes in his constituency. In 2009, he was reelected again with 68.1% of the votes in his district, obtaining the highest percentage of votes of all elected representatives in Germany for that election cycle.
From October 2005 to November 2008 Guttenberg served as chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee and as spokesman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag’s Committee on disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control. He also chaired the CSU Foreign Policy Expert Committee and the German-British parliamentary group during that time.
In early 2004, Guttenberg introduced the concept of a Privileged Partnership between Turkey and the European Union as a viable alternative to Ankara’s ambitions to join the EU as a regular member into the German political discourse. Germany’s center-right CDU/CSU parties have been champions of this Privileged Partnership approach ever since. Guttenberg based his opposition to full Turkish membership in the EU on the country’s insufficient fulfillment of relevant accession criteria, for example with regard to the Cyprus dispute, as well as a potential overburdening of the EU. At the same time, he continuously stressed the necessity of maintaining good relations with Turkey and was therefore critical of a French initiative to criminalize the denial of the Armenian Genocide. Guttenberg also repeatedly warned of the looming threat posed to German and European security by Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. However, he rejected taking rash military action against Iran and instead called for an international diplomatic effort to deal with Tehran’s nuclear program.
As a Member of Parliament, he was a strong critic of the far-left party Die Linke, which he accused of links to terrorists.
As secretary general Guttenberg called for tax cuts, an increase in family benefits and structural reforms within the CSU to foster more direct political participation of the party base. In addition to domestic policy he also emphasized his focus on international affairs.
In the wake of the global financial crisis, several major German banks were near failure, including Hypo Real Estate, which received a 102 billion Euro of credit and guarantees from Germany's bank rescue fund. In this case, Guttenberg opposed an overly hasty nationalization of Hypo Real Estate, which he considered only as "'ultissima ratio',a measure of the very last resort". A few months later he drafted a legislative proposal to minimize the financial risks of failing banks, which caused controversy but was later groundwork for the German bank restructuring bill.
In the case of troubled German companies asking for state aid, including automaker Opel and now-defunct mail-order service Arcandor/Quelle, Guttenberg was reluctant to commit government resources. He insisted on strict conditionality, including restructuring, and limited support to only those companies, which were otherwise competitive but were temporarily affected by the crisis.
In November 2008, Opel had appealed for governmental assistance because of severe financial problems facing its US parent General Motors (GM). In 2009, Opel employed 25,000 workers in Germany and indirectly supported 50,000 additional jobs through its supplier network.
After Guttenberg’s visit to the US, negotiations between the German government, GM, and potential Opel investors, including Fiat and Canada’s Magna International, were stalled by GM and the U.S. Treasury. In contrast to the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and to other German political leaders, Guttenberg preferred insolvency for Opel rather than the infusion of unconditional financial assistance from German state. Because of resulting financial risks for the German state, Guttenberg opposed the sale of Opel to Magna International, favoured by the German Chancellor Merkel, and – according to media coverage – even offered his resignation over the controversy. The Opel-Magna-deal later failed and Opel remained a subsidiary of GM, which had to reimburse financial assistance to Germany.
As economics minister Guttenberg also initiated several stimulus packages for the small firm sector.
In the summer of 2009, he surpassed Chancellor Angela Merkel as the most popular politician in Germany.
According to German press reports, Chancellor Merkel offered Guttenberg the choice between the interior and the defence ministries while negotiating the distribution of ministerial posts within the new coalition government. Guttenberg decided to opt for the defence portfolio and took the oath of office on 28 October 2009 as part of the Second Cabinet Merkel. He was the youngest-ever German defence minister in the post-war era.
The first political challenge facing defence minister Guttenberg was dealing with the Kunduz airstrike of 4 September 2009. Initially, he adopted the position of his predecessor Jung and defended the air strike as "militarily appropriate". However, in contrast to Jung, Guttenberg conceded that the strike had also caused civilian casualties. After Guttenberg had received additional information and investigative reports dating back to the tenure of his predecessor Jung, Guttenberg changed his position concerning the "Kunduz airstrike" and dismissed BundeswehrChief of StaffSchneiderhahn and Parliamentary State Secretary of Defence Wichert on 26 November 2009.
Jung, who in the meantime had assumed the position of labor minister in the second Merkel cabinet, took full political responsibility for the delay in sharing relevant Kunduz air strike information and resigned the following day.
At the demand of the opposition parties, the Bundestag subsequently established a special investigative committee to shed light on the defense ministry’s communications policy in connection with the Kunduz air strike. The final report of the Bundestag’s special investigative committee cleared Guttenberg from the accusation that he had been responsible for the defence ministry’s inadequate communications policy following the Kunduz strike. The findings were supported by members from the ruling CDU/CSU-FDP coalition while the opposition parties criticized the special investigative committee’s report and later published their own account of the investigation.
In doing so, Guttenberg broke a major political taboo since up until then Germany’s political leadership – including the Chancellor and previous defense ministers – had only referred to the Afghanistan intervention as a “stabilization deployment”. The new classification of the Bundeswehr’s Afghanistan deployment as “war” improved the legal status of German soldiers operating under international law.
Guttenberg also boosted Germany’s military presence in Afghanistan, through the deployment of heavy weapons and better training for the Bundeswehr soldiers stationed there.
Guttenberg further attempted to elevate public perception of Germany’s Afghan mission by personally participating - sometimes along with the Chancellor - at funeral services held for fallen Bundeswehr soldiers.
At the political level, Guttenberg spoke out strongly against a precipitous military withdrawal from Afghanistan. He specifically warned against imposing fixed troop withdrawal timetables that do not take into account the security situation on the ground. Furthermore, Guttenberg also demanded a stronger involvement of key neighboring states such as Russia, India, and China in the resolution of the Afghan conflict. In light of the traditionally challenging security situation in Afghanistan, Guttenberg called for the development of an internationally coordinated long-term security strategy – based on the use of special forces and close intelligence cooperation within the coalition – to stabilize the country even after the eventual withdrawal of all foreign troops.
During his tenure as defense minister, Guttenberg made nine visits to Afghanistan and the German soldiers deployed there. To gain a first-hand understanding of the situation on the ground and the military risks of the Bundeswehr’s mission, Guttenberg went several times to the frontlines of the Afghan conflict. He also invited journalists to accompany him on these trips in an effort to educate the wider German public about the nature of the Bundeswehr deployment in Afghanistan. In December 2010, Guttenberg traveled to Afghanistan along with his wife Stephanie to visit with the troops before the Christmas holidays. In addition, he was also accompanied by German TV moderator Johannes B. Kerner, who hosted his prime-time talk show at the Bundeswehr camp in Mazar-i-Sharif featuring the Guttenbergs and German soldiers deployed there. While other German media and the opposition parties sharply criticized Guttenberg for allowing Kerner to host his show in Afghanistan, the reaction by the German troops and the general public was predominantly positive.
In early 2010, Guttenberg decided to push for fundamental Bundeswehr reforms in an effort to address the structural deficits within the German armed forces and to deal with declining defense budgets. The overall goal was to boost the Bundeswehr’s expeditionary capabilities while, at the same time, achieving cost reductions. To accomplish these reforms, Guttenberg proposed to reduce the armed forces to 165,000 active duty soldiers and to suspend the draft, resulting in the most comprehensive restructuring of the Bundeswehr since its founding in 1955. Guttenberg’s reform plans were supported by a blue-ribbon "Bundeswehr Structural Commission" that the minister created in April 2010. The proposals triggered a major debate about the country’s draft system and were met with significant political opposition, not least in Guttenberg’s own political party. In the end, Guttenberg’s view won out and on 29 October 2010, the CSU general party convention approved the minister’s motion to suspend the draft by a large majority. Several weeks later, Chancellor Merkel’s CDU held its own party convention and also voted in favor of suspending the draft.
At a meeting of European defense ministers in Ghent in November 2010 Guttenberg called for closer military cooperation among EU member states, especially in the areas of procurement and training, to cope with rising budgetary pressures. His proposed three-step cooperation model served as the basis for the German-Swedish "pooling and sharing" initiative, which has had a lasting impact on European procurement projects.
In February 2011 it was discovered that Guttenberg's thesis contained texts of other authors without citation. This led to plagiarism accusations against Guttenberg, sparking public and political debates. Guttenberg denied any plagiarism, but asked the University of Bayreuth to revoke his title, admitting "severe errors in workmanship." The university revoked his title on 23 February 2011, announcing further investigations. Due to public and political pressure, Guttenberg resigned on 1 March 2011 as Minister of Defence.
Center for Strategic and International Studies
At the Halifax International Security Forum in November 2011, Guttenberg made his first public appearance since joining CSIS. During a plenary session on the economic and financial crisis he voiced pessimism about the current state of the EU, which, in his view, was characterized by a lack of creativity and understanding for the concerns of regular citizens. In particular, Guttenberg decried a severe "crisis of political leadership".
In November 2011, Guttenberg also published the book "Vorerst gescheitert" ("Failed for Now"). The publication is based on a series of conversations with the editor-in-chief of Die Zeit, Giovanni di Lorenzo, in which Guttenberg talks extensively for the first time about his political career, the plagiarism scandal and his resignation, as well as his plans for the future.
A few days before the book's official release, Die Zeit published exclusive excerpts. Guttenberg's criticism in the book of the direction which the CSU is headed sparked some controversy within his party.
In October 2012, after political resistance from Berlin led to the failure of the planned pan-European aerospace and defense merger of EADS and BAE, Guttenberg sharply criticized the German government's handling of this matter. In an op-ed published in the Financial Times, Guttenberg described the failed merger talks as a "missed opportunity of historic proportions" and emphasized the necessity of European cooperation as well as the industrial logic, synergies and cost savings associated with the proposed EADS-BAE link-up. A few days later, CSU chairman Horst Seehofer also criticized the German government's handling of the merger negotiations. Shortly afterward, speaking on the margins of a CSU party convention in Munich, Seehofer declared that he would try to bring Guttenberg back into German politics after the 2013 election cycle and said that Guttenberg should play a "significant" role.
In early April 2013, Guttenberg published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal analysing Germany's role in the conflict over the Iranian nuclear program. In particular, he urged the German government to "start thinking about how to support Israel in the wake of potential air strikes on Iran". Specifically, Guttenberg called on Berlin to provide civil and military support to help Israel defend against potential counterattacks, to push for an immediate cease-fire, and to maintain "a tough international sanctions regime against Tehran".
Advisor to European Commission
On 12 December 2011, zu Guttenberg was asked by European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes to promote internet freedom globally as part of the European Union's new "No Disconnect Strategy".
Development of technological tool kits for cyber-activists;
Training of and awareness-raising;
Creation of a European capability for situational awareness in the realm of internet freedom;
Fostering cooperation with industry, within the EU, and with third countries.
Within the EU, the NDS is also tasked with coordinating all related internet freedom initiatives carried out by individual member states.
As part of the initiative Guttenberg is responsible for international cooperation.
Following revelations that the NSA tapped German chancellor Merkel’s cell phone for more than a decade, Guttenberg sharply criticized the spying on close allies by US intelligence in an article published via Project Syndicate on 28 October 2013. According to Guttenberg, American spying in and of itself was not the problem, but rather the extent of the US intelligence collection efforts, which had caused a "crisis of mutual distrust" and severe damage to Washington's relations with its European allies.
In an interview on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, Guttenberg described how European leaders "don’t only lose faith in a partner, but also lost face". He explained his comment in regards to chancellor Merkel, who had initially defended the US government after the first NSA leaks during the summer, only to find out later on that she had been tapped herself. On 4 November 2013, Guttenberg had a private, closed-door meeting with Merkel in Berlin, which German media connected to the NSA scandal. In an op-ed for the Financial Times analyzing the implications of the NSA scandal for transatlantic relations published on 7 November 2013, Guttenberg defined a "shift from government to Googlement – fuelled by the unprecedented ability of companies to gather, store, and evaluate vast amount of personal data" - challenging political structures.
His grandfather, Karl Theodor Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg (1921–1972), was a CSU politician and hard-line conservative during the Cold War, noted for his opposition to the Ostpolitik. During the Second World War he narrowly escaped execution after refusing to kill Jews, stating that he would rather shoot SS members. Several other members of Guttenberg’s family also offered resistance to the Nazi regime, among them his great-grandfather Georg Enoch Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, and Karl Ludwig Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, a great-great-uncle of Guttenberg. Karl Ludwig was a Catholic monarchist, who prior to the Second World War published the "Weiße Blätter" (White Papers), an important publication of the conservative opposition to the Nazi regime. He belonged to the circle of anti-Hitler conspirators around Hans von Dohnányi, Justus Delbrück, and Hans Oster. After the failure of the 20 July plot he was arrested and later executed. His grandmother, Rosa Sophie Prinzessin von Arenberg (1922-2012), was a member of the House of Arenberg.
Guttenberg's mother, Christiane zu Eltz is a member of the Eltz family, which has strong ties with Croatia. She is the daughter of Ludwine, Countess Pejacsevich de Verocze. Her father was Jakob von und zu Eltz, a former President of the Association of Winemakers in Rheingau who became active in Croatian politics after Croatian independence. She divorced Enoch zu Guttenberg in 1977, and Karl-Theodor grew up with his father. His mother married secondly Adolf Richard Barthold von Ribbentrop, owner of an Eltville art gallery and son of Joachim von Ribbentrop, in 1985, and has two children from her second marriage. Guttenberg has a younger brother, Philipp Franz zu Guttenberg (born 1973), who married a daughter of Godfrey James Macdonald, the 8th Baron Macdonald.
Guttenberg was born in Munich. He lived at his family castle in Guttenberg, Bavaria (district of Kulmbach), a village whose history is closely associated with the House of Guttenberg, and in a mansion in a refined part of Berlin, Berlin-Westend. The castle has been in the possession of the Guttenberg family since 1482.
In July 2011 it was reported in the German media that Guttenberg would temporarily relocate to the United States. His wife confirmed these plans in an interview several weeks later but emphasized that the family had every intention of returning to Germany. In September 2011 it became known that Guttenberg had bought a house for his family in Greenwich (Connecticut), close to New York City.
Guttenberg was awarded the "Politikaward" in 2009, which is a German "Politician of the Year" award. It was awarded by politik & kommunikation, a German periodical for political communications.
In 2010, the German news magazine Focus named him "Man of the Year".
In 2011, the Carneval Association of Aachen awarded him the "Order Against Dead Seriousness" (Orden wider den tierischen Ernst), although he did not attend the ceremony in person, sending instead his younger brother.
zu Guttenberg, Karl-Theodor; di Lorenzo, Giovanni (2011). Vorerst gescheitert - Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg im Gespräch mit Giovanni di Lorenzo [Failed for Now - Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg in Conversation with Giovanni di Lorenzo] (in German). Freiburg im Breisgau: Verlag Herder. ISBN3-451-30584-4.
zu Guttenberg, Karl-Theodor (2010). Die Idee vom Staatsbürger in Uniform. Lehren aus dem 20. Juli 1944 [The Idea of the Citizen in Uniform: Lessons from July 20th 1944] (in German). Sankt Augustin: Konrad Adenauer Foundation. ISBN978-3-941904-75-0.
Altomonote, Carlo; Defraigne, Pierre; Delattre, Lucas; zu Guttenberg, Karl-Theodor; Goulard, Sylvie; Scharping, Rudolf (2006). Le Partenariat Privilégié, Alternative à l’Adhésion [The Privileged Partnership, an Alternative to Membership]. Note bleue de la Fondation Schuman (in French). Paris, Brussels: Fondation Robert Schuman. ISSN1761-2233.
zu Guttenberg, Karl-Theodor (2004). Die Beziehungen zwischen der Türkei und der EU – eine "Privilegierte Partnerschaft [The Relationship between Turkey and the EU - A "Privileged Partnership"] (in German). München: Akademie für Politik und Zeitgeschehen, Hanns-Seidel-Foundation. ISBN3-88795-274-X.