Yet Another German Plagiarism Scandal

Germany is facing yet another major plagiarism scandal, this one involving Armin Laschet, who is the current Premier of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and is considered the front-runner to replace Angela Merkle as Chancellor of Germany if their Christian Democratic Union (CDU) retain power.

This case centers around a 2009 book written by Laschet about immigration issues. The book, entitled, Die Aufstiegsrepublik (The Upwardly Mobile Republic) was written when he was the NRW’s immigration minister.

According to reports, the allegations were first brought to public attention by sustainable development expert Karsten Weitzenegger, who claims that a “plagiarism hunter” informed him that several sentences from his work in the field appeared in the book without attribution.

(Note: There seems to be some disagreement as to who originally broke the story, with some reports attributing it to plagiarism expert Martin Heidingsfelder and others crediting Weitzenegger.)

Laschet, for his part, has admitted to the “mistake”, saying that, “There are obviously mistakes for which I bear responsibility.” He is requesting a full audit of the book to see if any other such mistakes were made.

The story comes just one month after one of his major election opponents, Green Party candidate Annalena Baerbock was caught up in a plagiarism scandal of her own. That one also involved a book, this one a newly published one, and not any of her academic work.

These stories are just the latest in a lengthy line of prominent Germany political plagiarism scandals dating back over a decade. However, historically, most of the scandals have involved academic works, in particular dissertations and theses used to obtain higher degrees. When those degrees were revoked, the politicians involved typically chose to step aside rather than try to battle the allegations further.

However, as we discussed earlier, these two scandals are nothing like those earlier ones. As such, their outcomes are likely to be significantly different, even if we won’t know for certain until September.

Differences and Similarities

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The easiest and most obvious comparison to draw when examining the Laschet scandal is the Baerbock. Not only are they both very recent, within the past month, but they both involve prominent political candidates who are accused of plagiarizing in books that were not part of their academic career.

However, there are several key differences. For one, Baerbock’s book was published this year and was part of the campaign she is a part of. That said, according to reports, Baerbock’s book was ghostwritten and, while she is still ultimately responsible for the content of the book, she did not commit the plagiarism herself.

But the most significant difference by far is the response. Baerbock went on the attack following the allegations, and her party even hired a prominent libel attorney to defend her. It was only after about a week that she ultimately admitted that there were issues with the book.

Laschet, for his part, admitted to the mistakes quickly and is even calling for further investigation into the book. Partly because of that, news coverage of Laschet’s case seems to be much less. This is despite the fact that his party is currently leading in the polls.

Ultimately though, neither case is likely to have significant impact. Since neither involves their academic work, there’s no risk of a degree being revoked. Though Germany does take plagiarism very seriously, much of the focus is on academic degrees and whether they were earned.

Any impact they do have will likely be cancelled out by the twin nature of the stories and the fact that the more plagiarism scandals that take place, the less impactful each one becomes.

When it is all said and done, these stories will likely be footnotes in the story of the election, neither boosting or hurting any candidate that much.

Bottom Line

In the end, these stories are very much sideshows in the German election and aren’t likely to cause any major swing. As we’ve seen in the past, German political plagiarism becomes career-damaging when degrees are lost. Those that avoid that fate typically escape serious consequences.

For example, this is what happened to former German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who managed to keep her degree following a major plagiarism scandal and not only held on to her post but is now the President of the European Commission.

Though Germany certainly takes political plagiarism scandals more seriously than many other countries, it’s the degree and the education that is ultimately most important.

To that end, these scandals won’t impact either candidate’s academic career. They may be annoying and embarrassing for the country and its citizens, they aren’t likely to change the outcome of this election.

Header Image: Olaf Kosinsky, 2021-01-23 Armin Laschet MG 5666, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

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