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Plagiarism and politics

April 13, 2011

A rising star in the liberal Free Democrats faces accusations that she plagiarized parts of her doctorate. Meanwhile, former defense minister Guttenberg will not oppose the publication of an investigation against him.

Koch-Mehrin and Guido Westerwelle
Koch-Mehrin is considered a rising star in the embattled liberal FDPImage: dpa

Just over a month after Bavarian conservative Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned his post as Germany's defense minister in the wake of a plagiarism scandal, accusations of academic dishonesty now threaten to tarnish the career of a rising star in the liberal Free Democrats.

Silvana Koch-Mehrin, the liberal vice president of the European parliament, faces accusations that - as in the case of Guttenberg - she inserted passages into her doctoral thesis without properly citing the original authors.

According to the website "VroniPlag Wiki," Koch-Mehrin failed to properly cite sources in at least 20 pages of her 227 page doctoral thesis, entitled "Historical Currency Unions between Economy and Politics."

University investigation

In response to the accusations, the Philosophy Department at Heidelberg University has launched an investigation into Koch-Mehrin's thesis.

"Everything will hinge on the vote by our special panel of investigators," said Heidelberg University Rector Bernhard Eitel. "In the worst-case scenario, Silvana Koch-Mehrin would be stripped of her doctorate."

Meanwhile, state prosecutors in Heidelberg have said they are "observing the case" and that the accusations of plagiarism could warrant an investigation.

Rising star could fall

Political analyst Werner Balsen believes that the case could ruin Koch-Mehrin's political career, just as she was beginning to make waves within the FDP, particularly among younger members.

"She sort of personifies the modern wing of her party, and she certainly has a way with the younger members of the FDP," said Balsen.

"The accusations of plagiarism now being brought forward against her may indeed break her politically – and that at a time when great career prospects were just about to open up for her, now that her party is in the process of reform after its recent defeats in regional elections."

Guttenberg okays publication

As investigators comb through Koch-Mehrin's thesis, Guttenberg's lawyers have announced that the former defense minister does not oppose the University of Bayreuth publishing the results of an investigation against him.

Bayreuth's investigation will draw conclusions about whether or not Guttenberg intentionally plagiarized his doctoral thesis.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg
Bayreuth's investigation may determine Guttenberg's future in politicsImage: picture alliance/dpa

Previously, the German media had reported that Guttenberg might seek legal recourse in order to avoid the publication of the investigation's findings. But his lawyers say his objection is much narrower.

"He is against results of the University of Bayreuth's commission being made available to the press before the investigation has been concluded," Guttenberg's lawyers said.

"That would contradict all the rules of an orderly investigation that should be conducted independent of other interests," they added.

Author: Spencer Kimball (dpa, Reuters, dapd)
Editor: Michael Lawton