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Plagiarism troubles Berlin mayoral candidate

June 10, 2021

Social Democrat Franziska Giffey has become the the latest German politician to fall from grace over alleged academic plagiarism. However, she still plans to run for Berlin mayor in September.

Franziska Giffey
Giffey stepped down from her cabinet post in May Image: Getty Images/M. Hitij

Berlin's Free University (FU) said its presidium voted unanimously Thursday to strip prominent German politician Franziska Giffey of her title after a probe into her 2010 doctoral thesis on European politics found evidence of plagiarism. 

The FU said Giffey's qualification had been acquired by "deception over the independence of her scientific achievement." Texts and literature had been inserted without sufficiently crediting those authors, it found. 

The center-left Social Democrat (SPD) resigned from her post as German federal minister for families and women in May over the plagiarism allegations. 

She had declared last November that she would already stop using the title and would resign from the cabinet if her Ph.D was revoked.

What was wrong with Giffey's thesis?

An academic scrutiny platform VroniPlag had asserted that some 49 of 265 pages of Giffey's thesis included unattributed quotes and copying-and-pasting from other works.

Giffey, however, said in May that she wrote the thesis "to the best of my ability," adding: "I regret it if I made mistakes in this."

Deutschland Berlin Familienministerin Franziska Giffey tritt zurück
Merkel and Giffey (L)) belong to rival parties but as colleagues supportiveImage: Michele Tantussi/dpa/Reuters/picture alliance

Other prominent German politicians to stumble in past years include former conservative defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, back in 2011, and former education minister Annette Schavan two years later.

Giffey running for Berlin mayor

Popular among Berlin's Neukölln district before becoming a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition cabinet, Giffey has focused in recent months on her leadership of the capital's local Social Democrats. 

In April, they nominated her as their candidate to succeed incumbent SPD mayor Michael Müller, who is not seeking a further term. 

As Giffey quit cabinet, Merkel, although of the rival Christian Democrats (CDU) said she accept the 43-year-old's resignation "with great respect," praising Giffey's "passion and skill." 

The cabinet post of family minister went to SPD federal justice minister Christine Lambrecht, prior to Germany's Bundestag parliament election on September 26. Berlin city's communal election takes place on the same day.

ipj/xx (AFP, dpa, AP)