Germany’s education minister and a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel was fighting for her political life on Wednesday after her former university stripped her of her doctorate for plagiarism.
Annette Schavan vowed to launch a legal battle against Duesseldorf University’s ruling on her thesis, “Person and Conscience”, written 33 years ago, amid opposition calls for her to resign.
“I will not accept the decision by the University of Duesseldorf and will file a lawsuit against it,” she said in a brief statement in South Africa where she is on a five-day visit.
She said she planned no further immediate statement as it had now become a legal dispute.
Schavan, a member of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and an ally of the chancellor who in September will fight for a third term in office, has received Merkel’s backing since the claims emerged.
She is not the first German minister to run up against plagiarism claims.
In 2011 Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, then a popular figure in Merkel’s cabinet, resigned as defence minister after his doctorate was rescinded for plagiarism, earning the aristocrat the nickname “Baron Cut-and-Paste”.
Later that year German MEP Silvana Koch-Mehrin was stripped of her doctorate after an enquiry found that “substantial parts” of her 2000 doctoral thesis were copied from others.
Schavan, 57, has contested the claims since they were made public more than eight months ago and has stressed that when they first emerged, she telephoned the university to ask that they be looked into.
A 15-member body in the philosophy department decided late on Tuesday by 12 votes to two and one abstention to withdraw Schavan’s title after study of her thesis revealed “to a significant extent” the inclusion of unidentified verbatim sections of other text.
It found that she had not sufficiently identified other authors’ ideas.
Several members of the opposition have called for Schavan to step down.
Great store is set by the use of doctorate titles in Germany society.