Ever since Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned as defense ministerlast month over accusations that he plagiarized his doctoral dissertation, Germany has been on high alert for similar transgressions by other leading politicians.
Now a senior member of the Free Democratic Party, Silvana Koch-Mehrin, a member of the European Parliament, faces potentially damaging claims by anonymous Internet researchers that a dissertation she wrote on monetary union contains a number of passages that were copied from other authors and not properly attributed to them.
Koch-Mehrin, 40, a rising star in the FDP, junior partner to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, studied economic history at the University of Heidelberg and submitted the 227-page dissertation in 2000. The work compared the 19th century Latin Monetary Union among several European currencies with Europe's present monetary union.
She has declined so far to comment on the allegation. A spokesman referred all queries to the University of Heidelberg. Her credibility is at stake, not least because her name always features her Dr. title on campaign posters and in party literature. If the accusations are proved right, it could spell the end of her political career.
The university has said it plans to check the dissertation. According to the informal plagiarism watchdog website VroniPlag, some 13 percent of the dissertation is under suspicion of having been plagiarized.
Fresh Troubles for a Beleaguered Party
The FDP is in turmoil following a string of election defeats, and a plagiarism scandal surrounding one of its up-and-coming members is the last thing it needs. The party faces a difficult period of renewal after Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle this month gave in to pressure to step down as its leader.
Health Minister Philipp Rösler, 38, has been nominated as his successor as FDP chairman, but there are doubts over whether he will be able to restore the fortunes of the pro-business party that has been widely criticized for just representing the interests of its core clientele -- well-off professionals and business -- since it entered the government in 2009.
Koch-Mehrin, a protégé of Westerwelle, is a member of the FDP's 15-member executive committee and represents the younger generation of women in the pro-business party.
Guttenberg Under Fire Again
Meanwhile, Guttenberg is facing fresh criticism this week after it emerged that he has been trying to stop the University of Bayreuth from publishing the findings of its probe into his alleged plagiarism. His lawyers are arguing that the release would violate his right to privacy. Media reports say the university believes that the former minister must have deliberately plagiarized passages in his dissertation. He denies any premeditation.
Guttenberg's party, the Bavarian Christian Social Union, is alarmed at the legal bid because it threatens the future comeback of Germany's most popular politician. In a stern warning to Guttenberg, Erwin Huber, the former leader of the CSU, said: "Karl-Theodor should cooperate constructively and without legal ploys in the full investigation of all accusations. He owes that to his friends and supporters."