Luxembourgh Times

Bettel admits to thesis mistakes after plagiarism claims

Only two pages out of 56 in the 1999 thesis did not contain any plagiarism, according to investigation

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel during an interview at the Luxembourg Times on Monday

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel during an interview at the Luxembourg Times on Monday © Photo credit: Gerry Huberty

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel admitted on Wednesday that a thesis he wrote as a university student “maybe should have been done differently” after allegations in a newspaper that he copied and pasted the vast majority of the text.

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

Bettel was responding to revelations by the news website Reporter. Initially, he had told the site he was “unable to react” to the claims dating back two decades, but he issued a new statement after the article came out on Wednesday.

“From today's point of view, I recognise that it could have – yes, maybe should have been done differently. I have full confidence in the University to evaluate whether the work in question meets the criteria of the time,” Bettel said. “More than 20 years ago, I wrote my DEA dissertation as part of an Advanced Studies Diploma (Diplôme d'études approfondies), which was assessed and recognised by the University of Nancy-II. As I recall, I did this to the best of my knowledge and belief at the time,” Bettel said.

The allegations centred on Bettel’s thesis, written as part of his studies in law and political science at the university, today known as the Université de Lorraine. In 1999, the same year in which he entered parliament and Luxembourg’s City Council, the future prime minister submitted his DEA – roughly equivalent to a master’s degree – on potential reforms of voting methods in European Parliament elections.

Majority of text 'plagiarised'

The journalistic investigation on Wednesday examined Bettel’s thesis in detail, having spoken to several independent researchers. Only two pages - the introduction and conclusion sections - out of 56 in the work did not contain any plagiarised passages, the newspaper said, with twenty pages of the thesis taken directly from the website of the European Parliament.

Bettel also copied widely from a report prepared by Greek member of the European Parliament Georgios Anastassopoulos in 1998, according to the investigation, reproducing nine pages without quoting “the source once”.

"The plagiarism that I found is very problematic because longer passages were taken over almost word for word," said Anna-Lena Högenauer, a professor of political science at the University of Luxembourg. "You can't accidentally copy several pages," she told Reporter.

Bettel’s supervisor at the university, Etienne Criqui, did not deny the accusations against his former student. “Yes, it may well be that passages from Internet sites were taken over. It may well be that he reproduced information. But the context was different,” he told the journalistic investigation, citing the lack of IT software to detect plagiarism two decades ago and adding that “today there is an immediate zero for this".

Allegations of plagiarism have led to resignations of politicians in Germany. 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 German defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned after his doctorate was rescinded for plagiarism. The same year, Silvana Koch-Mehrin, a European parliamentarian, lost her doctorate award after an enquiry found "substantial parts" of her 2000 thesis were copied from others.

Aside from the plagiarism allegations, Wednesday’s article also claimed that the thesis did not meet the threshold for a DEA in terms of content. "The analysis contained in the work is not in-depth and in principle nothing new," political scientist Nicolas Sauger said.

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