'Heir to Merkel' denies plagiarism allegations

Potential leader-in-waiting is fighting for her career after becoming latest German politician to face academic fraud claims

September 30, 2015
Germany, Government, Federal Building, Berlin, The Reichstag
Source: iStock

Germany’s defence minister Ursula von der Leyen has denied accusations that she plagiarised sections of her doctoral dissertation.

Ms von der Leyen, who is viewed by many as a likely successor to chancellor Angela Merkel, emphatically rejected claims published in Der Spiegel that her medical thesis on obstetrics contains several passages that have material from unattributed sources.

The Der Spiegel story is based on a report by the plagiarism-hunting website VroniPlag Wiki, which claims there are “elements of plagiarism” on 27 of the 62 pages of her thesis submitted 25 years ago.

Two German ministers have previously been forced to quit after they were accused of copying sections of their PhDs by the crowd-funded website.

“I can reject the accusations of plagiarism,” Ms von der Leyen told reporters on 28 September, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Ms von der Leyen, who worked as a gynaecologist and had seven children before entering politics, said she had asked the Hannover Medical School, where she did her PhD, to investigate as soon as she became aware of the claims.

“As far as I know, the experts are working on that now,” she said.

The accusations of plagiarism follow the embarrassment caused by the resignations of the aristocratic defence chief Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg – later dubbed Baron zu Googleberg – and the education minister Annette Schavan, whose PhD theses were found to include passages lifted from other works without proper citation.

According to the Berlin-based law professor Gerhard Dannemann, who investigated Ms von der Leyen’s thesis and is associated with the VroniPlag Wiki site, there was clearly evidence of plagiarism in the thesis.

“We’re not talking about a borderline case here,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

“I think the flaws are more severe than in the case of Mrs Schavan,” he said.

“It’s not new that activists on the internet try to spread doubts about the dissertations of politicians,” said Ms von der Leyen.


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