German Green Party leader hits back at plagiarism claims

Baerbock blames ‘smear campaign’ for claims of uncredited sources in recent book

Germany’s Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock has dismissed as a “smear campaign” claims she used uncredited sources in sections of her recent political book.

An Austrian researcher has found at least five such passages in the recent 240-page political manifesto, Now: How We Renew our Country, co-written by Ms Baerbock, the Green candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor.

“In my view we have clear cases of copyright infringement that were carried out on purpose,” said Stefan Weber, an Austrian media analyst to the German news magazine Focus. He accused Ms Baerbock’s publisher of “sloppiness . . . and amateurishness” for not using plagiarism software to analyse the text before publishing.

Among the passages he has flagged as plagiarised include a passage about the EU enlargement in 2004, similar to an essay from a German public foundation; and a passage about tall buildings, similar to a report in Der Spiegel. Other passages are, with small changes, similar to a Wikipedia article and a blog entry on climate change.


‘Approach to truth’

Opinion is divided in political Berlin over whether the passages count as deliberate plagiarism – the repeating of known public facts – or whether the affair matters at all.

Leading the attack is the Bild tabloid, which accuses Ms Baerbock of “small mistakes in her approach to truth, and the effect is fatal”.

The newspaper suggested a pattern in Ms Baerbock’s approach to public life, pointing to recent retroactive corrections to her CV after media queries, and the belated registering of an additional €25,000 income with the parliamentary authorities.

Hitting back are senior Green Party figures, accusing Bild of leading a “propaganda war” against the 40-year-old politician.

“This is an attempted character assassination,” said her spokesman.

Ms Baerbock said she wrote the book last winter in co-operation with writer Michael Ebmeyer and that the text is a combination of memoir, her own research, and text transcribed from their conversations.

Contested passage

A US political scientist, whose text was reportedly used without credit, said he was not contacted by the Green leader or anyone in her team.

Der Spiegel magazine, one of the apparent sources of a contested passage, said it saw no plagiarism.

Austrian media researcher Stefan Weber said he saw no reason to remove the book from the market but that he had now applied for access to analyse Ms Baerbock’s master’s thesis at the London School of Economics.

Plagiarism claims have ended the political careers of a series of German politicians – or at least cost them an academic title. Among the more prominent examples are former defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and Annette Schavan, a former education minister and Merkel confidante.

“It takes very little to create a scandal these days, particularly one with a moral touch, and the Greens are sometimes as guilty of this as anyone,” said Hajo Schumacher, a German journalist and author of six books about and with leading politicians.

“Outrage about quoting public sources is banal . . . particularly given most of these books are shredded and end up as wall insulation.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin