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German Family Minister steps down over plagiarism scandal

Franziska Giffey resigns from her post as German Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. It comes in the wake of renewed allegations of plagiarism relating to her doctoral thesis.

Franziska Giffey. Photo: "Pressefoto von Franziska Giffey.jpg" by Fotocredit: SPD Berlin/ Joachim Gern is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Franziska Giffey, SPD politician, and German Family Minister, obtained her doctorate back in 2010. Recent years have, however, seen her come under intense scrutiny following accusations of academic malpractice. Back in 2019, the online blog VroniPlag accused the SPD politician of “careless” referencing and plagiarising as many as 119 passages in her doctoral thesis, “Europas Weg zum Bürger – Die Politik der Europäischen Kommission zur Beteiligung der Zivilgesellschaft”.

In October 2019, the Freie Universität Berlin, responsible for overseeing Ms Giffey’s PhD in political science, issued an official reprimand, but stopped short of retracting the minister’s doctoral title. Although vowing to step back from her ministerial position, should her title be rescinded, Giffey insisted that the thesis was bona fide. She stood by this statement earlier this week.

The ruling itself was met with considerable backlash from various individuals, including the Munich plagiarism expert and professor of law, Volker Rieble, and AfD Minister Martin Trefzer. In October 2020, the university announced that it would be reconsidering the decision and that another investigation was due to take place.

Several weeks later, the reprimand was lifted, and a new ruling considered. Ms Giffey meanwhile independently rescinded her doctorate title, citing a need to protect her family, work, and political party from further damage. Several weeks ago, it was announced that the FU commission had completed their second investigation and that they would be allowing Giffey to respond to events before publishing their findings.

On Wednesday, Giffey informed Chancellor Merkel of her resignation, with her departure officially authorised the following day by the Entlassungsurkunde (termination certificate).

Franziska Giffey has served as Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth since March 2018, during which time she is said to have demonstrated commendable dedication to and passion for her work, according to Chancellor Merkel. The German leader expressed her regret, but ultimate respect for Ms Giffey’s decision earlier this week.

Whilst Giffey’s departure will be seen by many as an admission of her guilt, the former minister still insists that she wrote her thesis in good faith, although concedes that some mistakes may have been made. She maintains that she will still be running for the Berlin mayorship in the Autumn. The question remains as to how far this latest scandal will damage her chances of success.


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