Schadenfreude at German 'cut-and-paste' minister

17th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Germany's opposition and press had a field day Thursday after the country's hugely popular and normally media-savvy defence minister was accused of ripping off others' work in his doctoral thesis.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg "did not credit me as the author of excerpts that came from an article I once wrote," Barbara Zehnpfennig, a professor at Passau University, told rolling news channel N24. "This breaks all academic rules."

She is allegedly not the only source not properly cited in the thesis on constitutional law, which earned him top marks in 2007, with several law professors accusing him of blatant plagiarism in a number of passages.

Spiegel magazine said on its website that zu Guttenberg passed off as his own passages taken from the US embassy's website on the country's constitution and from European lawmaker Andreas Schwab.

Zu Guttenberg -- or Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jakob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr (Baron) von und zu Guttenberg, to give him his full name -- regularly tops surveys as Germany's most popular politician.

The 39-year-old snappy dresser from the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) has even been tipped as her possible successor, having impressed both as economy minister and at defence.

But he is also a popular target for the German press, with papers jumping on a series of minor scandals from an alleged mutiny on a naval training ship in November to his handling of a controversial Afghan airstrike in 2009.

In December he was accused of turning a visit to German troops in Afghanistan into a publicity stunt because he took his wife -- a descendent of "Iron Chancellor" Otto von Bismarck -- and a television chatshow host.

When he got back to Berlin he was photographed at an evening function cutting a dashing figure still in his battle fatigues, with his explanation that he had no time to change failing to convince suspicious commentators.

"People like the fact that he is not a product of the Berlin political establishment," political analyst Manfred Guellner from polling institute Forsa told AFP. "But journalists find him arrogant."

The University of Bayreuth, where the minister completed his thesis, is looking into the allegations and has asked zu Guttenberg to respond to the accusations in writing.

"The accusation that my doctoral thesis was plagiarised is absurd," zu Guttenberg said on Wednesday.

He added, however, that he could not rule out there may have been errors when it came to quoting others.

He said he was "ready to check whether the more than 1,200 footnotes on 475 pages were correctly inserted where they should have been."

German newspapers were falling over themselves with "Schadenfreude" -- pleasure derived from someone else's misfortune.

The Financial Times Deutschland dubbed the aristocrat "Baron Cut-and-Paste" on its front page -- and with a cheeky superscript "1" next to the headline to indicate a footnote.

"The young hero was talked up so much ... that he was bound to come crashing back down," the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) sniffed. "Some of this will stick."

Rainer Arnold from the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) said that if he ends up being stripped of his doctorate, zu Guttenberg's credibility as a minister will be "completely destroyed."

The "cool baron", as he was once dubbed for his love of rock music, was however nowhere to be seen in Berlin, having gone off for another surprise visit to Afghanistan -- without the usual army of photographers and reporters.

© 2011 AFP

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