‘Merkel heir’ denies thesis plagiarism accusations

Ursula von der Leyen and Angela Merkel

German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, seen by many as a potential successor to the chancellor, Angela Merkel as leader of the conservatives, has denied accusations of plagiarism in the doctoral dissertation she wrote 25 years ago.

Two of Merkel’s cabinet members, ex-defence chief Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and former education minister Annette Schava, had to quit after their PhD theses were found to include passages lifted from other works without proper citation.

“I can reject the accusations of plagiarism,” von der Leyen told several regional newspapers, adding she had been aware since August that her thesis was being scrutinised on internet platforms.

Von der Leyen said she had asked to have her dissertation checked by an independent panel of experts as soon as she heard it was being questioned. “As far as I know, the experts are working on that now,” she said.

Von der Leyen is a physician trained at the Hannover Medical School and did postgraduate research work in gynaecology there that earned her an academic doctorate in 1991.

The Berlin-based law professor Gerhard Dannemann, who investigated her thesis and published his findings on the internet platform Vroniplag Wiki, said several passages of her thesis were clearly from sources that were not attributed.

“In think the flaws are more severe than in the case of Mrs Schavan,” Dannemann told Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “We’re not talking about a borderline case here.”

Schavan resigned as education minister in 2013 after being stripped of her doctorate for plagiarism, embarrassing Merkel and the conservatives in the run-up to the elections that year.


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