SPD mayoral candidate Franziska Giffey loses her doctorate for good

Following the findings of a second commission, the Free University has decided to withdraw the politician's degree.

Mayoral hopeful Franziska Giffey (SPD)
Mayoral hopeful Franziska Giffey (SPD)dpa/Bernd von Jutrczenka

Berlin-SPD politician and former family minister Franziska Giffey hasn't referred to herself as "Dr" since last autumn. But now it's official. The presidential board of Berlin's Free University (FU) announced on Thursday afternoon it had revoked her degree for good due to plagiarism.

The FU said the decision had already been communicated to the SPD politician and had been made on the basis of a report written by the second review panel in the case. In a first review of Giffey's doctoral thesis, a commission concluded that the plagiarism was "minor". The FU issued a reprimand in October 2019. The university has now officially withdrawn its reprimand.

Giffey said she accepted the decision. "I still stand by my statement that I wrote the thesis submitted in 2009 to the best of my knowledge," she wrote in a press release. "I regret any errors I may have made in the preparation of the thesis. These were neither intended nor planned."

The SPD's leader in the Berlin state parliament and local party co-chair Raed Saleh announced that they would focus on the election campaign and the future of the city - with Franziska Giffey as the party's mayoral candidate.

"Only the people of Berlin will decide who they trust," Saleh said.

CDU demanding consequences

The centre-right CDU is demanding consequences to be drawn from what it considers the "biggest scandal in German academia". The FU did not initially help to clear up the scandal - unlike in other prominent plagiarism cases - and instead obfuscated events, said CDU official Adrian Grasse.

"The first review board at the Otto Suhr Institute (OSI) was put together by Ms Giffey's thesis advisor," Grasse said. "The suspicion that in the first procedure there was a deliberate attempt to classify the plagiarism as less serious and to issue a reprimand, which is not provided for either in the Berlin Higher Education Act nor in the doctoral regulations of the Free University of Berlin (FU), has now been substantiated by the decision to revoke the doctoral title."

In doing so, Grasse said the OSI had jeopardised the reputation of the FU and caused serious damage to the "university of excellence". He said the first review process was guided by special interests. "The suspicion of nepotism weighs heavily and casts a dark shadow over the OSI."

The decision isn't going to make the upcoming election campaign any easier for Giffey. Berlin's Economy Senator Ramona Pop (Die Grüne) said she would like "a future governing mayor to stand up for Berlin as a city of science with the same seriousness and credibility as was the case in recent years". 

The affair surrounding Giffey's thesis lasted a good two years. The SPD politician resigned as Germany's Minister for Family Affairs in May - immediately after it became known that the second examination board had completed its report.

Plagiarism uncovered by VroniPlag Wiki

Giffey was awarded her doctorate in 2010 for her thesis titled "Europe's Way to the Citizen - The European Commission's Policy on Civil Society Participation". In early 2019, the VroniPlag Wiki platform found several cases of plagiarism in the publication, sparking the first review of the thesis. Research by journalists revealed that members of the first commission had been in contact with Giffey's thesis advisor and her husband.

The first report was intially kept secret. Only after student organisation AStA legally forced its release could it be seen. Several expert opinions pointed out that the issuing of the reprimand was inadmissible. As a result, the FU's presidential board ordered a second review, which ultimately led to the withdrawal of Giffey's degree.

Berlin news in English