German minister quits amid thesis plagiarism allegations

International

German Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Franziska Giffey arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, May 19, 2021. Franziska Giffey announced her resignation as a long-running controversy over allegations of plagiarism in her doctoral thesis nears its conclusion. (Michele Tantussi/Pool via AP)

INDEPENDENCE DAY
July 04 2021 12:00 am

BERLIN (AP) — A prominent German government minister resigned on Wednesday as a long-running controversy over allegations of plagiarism in her doctoral thesis nears its conclusion.

But Franziska Giffey, a center-left Social Democrat who had been Germany’s minister for women and families since 2018, stuck to her bid to become Berlin’s mayor in a state election on Sept. 26.

Giffey had already said in November that she would stop using the academic title “doctor” after Berlin’s Free University decided to revisit the issue of her thesis.

Doctorates are highly prized in Germany and have caused senior politicians trouble before.

In 2011, then-Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg lost his doctorate and quit when it emerged that large parts of his thesis weren’t his original work. Two years later, then-Education Minister Annette Schavan resigned after a university withdrew her doctorate.

Allegations of plagiarism led to the Berlin university reviewing Giffey’s 2010 dissertation on the policy of the European Union’s executive body, the European Commission. Giffey said in 2019 that she would resign from the government if her Ph.D. was revoked. The university initially decided to issue a reprimand, but not to revoke her title.

In November, the university said it would reconsider the decision after an expert’s report raised questions about whether it was entitled only to issue a reprimand.

Giffey said in a statement that a university committee has now completed its examination and given her until June to respond, which she will. She didn’t elaborate, but said the government, her party and the public need clarity now.

She said she stands by her claim that she wrote the thesis “to the best of my ability” and added: “I regret it if I made mistakes in this.” Giffey added that, if the university decides to revoke her academic title, she will accept that.

Giffey, who was the popular mayor of Berlin’s Neukoelln district before joining the national government, will now concentrate on her bid to run the capital. The Social Democrats last month nominated her as their candidate to succeed lackluster incumbent Michael Mueller, a fellow party member who isn’t seeking another term.

She wrote that she has said Berliners “can rely on me. I stand by that.”

Merkel said she accepted Giffey’s resignation “with great respect but just as great regret,” praising her “passion and skill.”

But a senior figure in Germany’s third governing party, the Christian Social Union, suggested that Giffey’s “necessary and consistent” resignation wasn’t enough.

“Effectively she is only taking a time out to concentrate on the election campaign for the post of mayor,” Markus Blume told the Funke newspaper group. “I think voters should clear up the rest.”

Giffey’s party decided not to appoint a new minister before Germany’s national election, also being held on Sept. 26. Its leadership said Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht will take over Giffey’s duties.

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