German Greens’ Push for Power Knocked by Plagiarism Claims
(Bloomberg) -- Germany’s Greens suffered another blow in their bid to challenge Angela Merkel’s conservatives after their chancellor candidate, Annalena Baerbock, was accused of plagiarizing parts of a new book laying out her political views.
The Greens rejected claims that Baerbock lifted passages from other texts without citation as baseless and defamatory. The incident follows other setbacks and puts the party on the defensive with less than three months before September’s election.
Support for the Greens slipped to 20%, according to a Forsa poll for RTL/ntv published Wednesday and conducted before the latest accusations surfaced. The party had climbed as high as 28% in April and May amid a wave of enthusiasm following Baerbock’s nomination. Meanwhile, Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led bloc rose to 30% for the first time since March.
The 40-year-old Greens’ co-leader has suffered a harsh introduction to big-league politics after emerging as a threat to Armin Laschet, the conservatives’ candidate. Her critical stance on Russia has also made her a target of media outlets close to the Kremlin, according to a German interior ministry paper seen by Tagesspiegel.
Recent stumbles have opened her up to attacks and gnawed at her credibility. Last month, she apologized for not reporting a 25,000-euro ($29,700) payment. More recently, she was forced to correct portions of her official resume, which detractors accused her of embellishing.
The latest accusation -- picked up widely across German media -- was made by an Austrian-based media website, plagiatsgutachten.com, which specializes in investigating plagiarism. A June 28 post illustrated several sections of Baerbock’s 240-page book -- entitled “Now: How We Can Renew Our Country” -- that appear to borrow wording from other texts, without citing them.
“This is an attempt at defamation,” the Greens said in a statement. “We firmly reject the accusation of copyright infringement.”
Stefan Weber, the plagiarism website’s organizer and a professor of communications in Austria, said in the post that while the Green candidate’s book doesn’t meet the standard of scrutiny of an academic work, the cases amount to an ethical lapse and could constitute copyright violations. He told the DPA news agency that he reviewed the book on his own initiative.
Media lawyer Christian Schertz, whom Baerbock hired to refute the accusation, said claims of copyright infringement had “no basis,” according to the statement by the Greens. Schertz cited passages containing general facts and political views, which it said fall under public domain and not covered by copyright laws.
One of the cited passages involves how the U.S. defense department assesses the risks posed by climate change, while another refers to the European Union’s eastern expansion.
Plagiarism accusations have dogged German politicians in recent years. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned as Merkel’s defense minister in March 2011 after allegations that he copy-and-pasted large swathes of his university dissertation. Annette Schavan, a Merkel confidante and her education minister, met a similar fate in 2013.
Last month, Franziska Giffey, the families minister, quit her post after Berlin’s Free University revoked her dissertation. She still plans to run for the Social Democrats to be mayor of Berlin later this year.
For the Greens, the incident is a blow as they aim to enter government for the first time since serving in Gerhard Schroeder’s coalitions.
Michael Kellner, secretary general of the Greens, called on supporters to take to Twitter to defend Baerbock from the “baseless” claims. “Show solidarity with Annalena,” he said in an email.
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