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Public blowback over Bettel plagiarised academic work

Public blowback over Bettel plagiarised academic work

3 min. 28.10.2021 From our online archive
But Luxembourg prime minister's political rivals muted in reaction to signs he plagiarised thesis
Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel speaks to media during a European Union summit in Brussels last week.
Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel speaks to media during a European Union summit in Brussels last week.
Photo credit: AFP

By Emery P. Dalesio and Michèle Gantenbein

A snap reaction by the public to evidence that Prime Minister Xavier Bettel likely plagiarised key academic work suggests there might be more blowback to his long-ago sign of dishonesty than politicians have expressed so far.

More than four out of 10 out of the nearly 2,600 people responding to an online poll in the Luxemburger Wort, which belongs to the same publisher as that of the Luxembourg Times, agreed with the statement, "If there are really serious shortcomings in his work, the prime minister must resign."

Three out of 10 responding by midday Thursday held the view that Bettel's misdeed was more than 20 years ago and he has since proven himself to be a competent prime minister. About a quarter of participants wanted to wait and see what the university that awarded Bettel's degree did about the revelation.

The University of Lorraine in a statement on Wednesday said it would review the allegations tied to Bettel's 1999 thesis.

Bettel admitted on Wednesday that the academic thesis he wrote the same year he entered Luxembourg’s City Council and the Grand Duchy's parliament “maybe should have been done differently.” He was responding to revelations by the news website Reporter that he copied and pasted all but the introduction and conclusion of the dissertation he submitted as his own work.

Bettel said he would accept the outcome of any subsequent review by the university in the French city of Nancy, including if the school decided to reject the thesis that entitled him to a degree roughly comparable to a master's.

The early sign of public reaction, however unscientific, seems sharper than Bettel's political rivals in Parliament, who so far said they wanted to wait to see what else is uncovered."We do not want to shoot from the hip," said Martine Hansen, head of the main opposition party, the CSV christian democrats. Bettel deserves a presumption of innocence, said Fernand Kartheiser, a normally outspoken parliament member of the right-wing ADR.

Similar discoveries of academic fraud have had greater impact in France and Germany. Under some readings of French law, plagiarism can be treated as a counterfeit with legal consequences.

In one case last year, the University of Paris-I-Panthéon-Sorbonne revoked a lawyer's degree for presenting other people's work as his own and asked for prosecution of the case as a crime, the newspaper Le Monde reported. 

Arash Derambarsh was later kicked out of the Paris bar association, though he is appealing both decisions, the newspaper said.

In May, Germany's family minister became the latest politician in the country forced to resign her post after claims she plagiarised her doctoral thesis. Franziska Giffey won September's election to become Berlin's mayor.

In the same election, Annalena Baerbock, co-leader of the country's Green party, saw her outsider hopes to become prime minister diminished in part due to accusations that several passages in her book were not appropriately attributed to other sources.

Annette Schavan, the education minister and a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, stepped down in 2013 after being stripped of her doctorate by Düsseldorf University. In 2011, then- defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned after his doctorate was rescinded.

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