When a political career ends in disgrace, it’s usually about a questionable behind-the-scenes affair, an extramarital affair, or rumors of a sordid sex fetish. Not in Germany, where the darkest possible stain on a politician’s honor is a sloppy footnote in his doctoral thesis.
Or so it seems after Family Minister Franziska Giffey Last week, she became the third minister in a Merkel government to step down on doctoral plagiarism charges, while the Green Party candidate for chancellery was forced to publish her LSE degree to push back accusations that she had inflated her intellectual credentials.
Giffey, a Social Democrat who will run for the next mayor of Berlin despite her resignation, stepped down after learning that the Free University in the German capital was considering revoking her doctorate in political science for malpractice.
His resignation makes plagiarism scandals the most frequent cause of premature departures from Merkel’s cabinets in the past 16 years.
Giffey University’s re-evaluation of Giffey’s doctorate was pushed by VroniPlag Wiki, a crowdsourcing platform that searches for German doctoral theses for plagiarism and caused the downfall of high-profile Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg in 2011.
Over the next 10 years, seven other German politicians, including Education Minister Annette Schavan in 2013, had their doctorates revoked. Doubt has been cast on the qualifications of many others, including the PhD from the current President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.
“We have different perceptions of university degrees in Germany and the UK,” said Gerhard Dannemann, professor of law at Humboldt University in Berlin who contributes to the anti-plagiarism website. “In Germany, a doctorate was your best passport to a respectable society if you weren’t part of the nobility.
“Even if that’s no longer the case, it’s still something people wield to improve their reputation, especially young politicians trying to make their mark,” said Dannemann, who taught at University College. of London and the University of Oxford.
Over 80% of German parliamentarians have a university degree, a percentage similar to that of the House of Commons in the UK, where a larger portion of the general population is in higher education than in Germany.
However, the number of Bundestag members with doctorates is considerably higher: 17%, compared to 3% in Westminster.
“If a German politician has a doctorate in law, he would add it to his election brochure,” Dannemann said. “In Britain, they would probably hide it.”
Social pressure to obtain a valuable medical title when already engaged in a time-consuming political career can lead to corner cuts, he told the Observer.
Some politicians get around the problem by simply doing their memory on themselves. Franziska Giffey’s thesis focused on the engagement of the European Commission in civil society, using as an example her own work as Commissioner for European Affairs in the Neukölln district of Berlin.
Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s doctoral thesis focused primarily on the history of his own regional branch of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.
Those who stray from the German academic tradition may nevertheless arouse suspicion, even if their alma mater is an international elite university – as Green Chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock has learned.
After some of his political opponents questioned whether Baerbock had the qualifications to qualify for Völkerrechtlerin, expert in international law, his spokesperson recently tweeted photos of her graduation from the London School of Economics, where the 40-year-old politician obtained a Masters in International Public Law with Distinction in 2005.
Some right-wing blogs went on to claim that Baerbock had been wrong at the reputable UK university since she had graduated from Hamburg with a Vordiplom but not a license – which had not yet been introduced in German universities at the time.
“I can’t quite figure out how to study four years for a first degree and then go abroad for a masters degree at a highly respected institution like LSE can kind of be turned against it,” the hunter said. Dannemann plagiarism. Observer.