Berlin mayor hopeful and ex-cabinet minister stripped of doctorate title in uni scandal

A leading candidate standing for Berlin mayor in September was stripped of her doctorate Thursday over plagiarism charges weeks after she resigned from Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet over the affair.

Berlin mayor hopeful and ex-cabinet minister stripped of doctorate title in uni scandal
Franziska Giffey in Berlin on June 4th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

Berlin’s Free University said it was rescinding Franziska Giffey’s PhD title – often seen as an important bona fide in German politics – after a review of her 2009 doctoral thesis.

It said its board had reached “unanimous agreement after a comprehensive review”, concluding that Giffey was awarded the title “on the basis of deception about the independence of her scientific work”.

Giffey said in a statement that she denied any intent to commit fraud but accepted the decision.

Last month Giffey stepped down as federal family affairs minister due to the negative headlines over her degree but said she still intended to run as the Social Democrats’ candidate for Berlin mayor in elections in September.

READ ALSO: German minister resigns over plagiarism claims

The Social Democrats (SPD) currently lead the city-state’s government and serve as junior partners in Merkel’s right-left coalition. Giffey has long been seen as one of the SPD’s most promising young talents. 

The SPD is currently polling at around 20 percent in the capital, behind the Greens at around 25 percent.

Giffey, 43, had been dogged by claims of plagiarism since 2019, when the Free University opened a probe into her doctoral thesis on European politics.

The VroniPlag Wiki platform said some 49 of the 265 pages of the thesis showed signs of plagiarism, ranging from unattributed quotes to copying and pasting from other works.

The university had initially ruled that Giffey could retain her “doctor” title but issued a reprimand, fuelling further suspicions about her work.

A new investigation was opened in 2020, leading to Thursday’s findings.

Several top-flight politicians have run into trouble often decades on over their academic work, sparking a national debate about the value of the
accolades and their outsize role in German society.

READ ALSO: Another German minister hit by plagiarism row

Former defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and education minister Annette Schavan were forced to resign in 2011 and 2013 respectively over allegations of plagiarism.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, previously German defence chief, faced similar accusations in 2015 but was cleared by the Medical University of Hanover despite “obvious shortcomings” in the attribution of references.

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‘A good thing’ for footballers to express values, says France’s PM

France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne - speaking in Berlin - said that footballers should be allowed to express their values, amid controversy over FIFA's stance against the 'OneLove' armband on the pitch.

'A good thing' for footballers to express values, says France's PM

“There are rules for what happens on the field but I think it’s a good thing for players to be able to express themselves on the values that we obviously completely share, while respecting the rules of the tournament,” said Borne at a press conference in Berlin on Friday.

Germany’s players made headlines before Wednesday’s shock loss to Japan when the team lined up for their pre-match photo with their hands covering their mouths after FIFA’s threat to sanction players wearing the rainbow-themed armband.

Seven European nations, including Germany, had previously planned for their captains to wear the armband, but backed down over FIFA’s warning.

Following Germany’s action, Wales and the Netherlands have since come out to say they would not mirror the protest.

Borne’s visit to Germany was her first since she was named to her post in May.

Following talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the two leaders signed an agreement for “mutual support” on “guaranteeing their energy supplies”.

Concrete measures outlined in the deal include France sending Germany gas supplies as Berlin seeks to make up for gaping holes in deliveries from Russia.

Germany meanwhile would help France “secure its electricity supplies over winter”, according to the document.

France had since 1981 been a net exporter of electricity to its neighbours because of its nuclear plants. But maintenance issues dogging the plants have left France at risk of power cuts in case of an extremely cold winter.

The two leaders also affirmed their countries’ commitment to backing Ukraine “to the end of” its conflict with invaders Russia.