The Social Democrat candidate standing for Berlin’s mayoral job in September’s election resigned from her ministerial post on Wednesday over claims she plagiarised her doctoral thesis, in a blow to the centre-left party.
“In the last few days, discussions have again arisen about my dissertation from 2010,” Franziska Giffey, families minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government, said in a statement.
She has therefore resigned from her ministerial post, she said, though she still intends to run as the SPD’s candidate to be the mayor of Berlin in elections in September.
Giffey, 43, has been dogged by claims of plagiarism since 2019, when the Free University of Berlin 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 ruled that Giffey could retain her “doctor” title — a highly prized asset in Germany — but issued a reprimand, fuelling further suspicions about her work.
A new investigation was opened in 2020 and German media reported last week that the university had decided to revoke the doctorate, though a final decision has not yet been made.
While maintaining that she wrote the thesis “to the best of my knowledge and belief”, Giffey said Wednesday she was offering her resignation as a result of “the ongoing and burdensome proceedings”.
The Berlin SPD could still “rely on me” as their candidate in September, she said.
Former German 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 faced similar accusations in 2015 but was cleared by the Medical University of Hanover despite “obvious shortcomings” in the attribution of references.