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BERLIN — Annalena Baerbock, the German Greens’ chancellor candidate, has been hit with plagiarism allegations just weeks after it emerged that she had padded her résumé with false information.
German media on Tuesday picked up a blog post by Austrian media researcher Stefan Weber in which he identified several passages in Baerbock’s new book, “Now. How We Renew Our Country,” that were taken directly from various sources without proper attribution.
“Text plagiarism is ethically not correct,” Weber wrote, “and if you look closely, there are multiple copyright violations.”
Among the sources Baerbock copied from without attribution were Germany’s Spiegel magazine, the Tagesspiegel newspaper, as well as the Federal Agency for Civic Education, a government body.
The allegations come at a very inconvenient moment for Baerbock, who — three months before the national election in September — has come under increasing scrutiny since it was found earlier this month that she made untruthful claims on her CV.
The revelations are also emerging as the Greens falter in the polls, dropping from the top spot as recently as May. According to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls, the Greens’ performance has fallen from 22 percent to 20 percent over the course of June, trailing behind Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party the CSU, which together stand at 29 percent.
Baerbock on Tuesday responded to the accusations through her lawyer Christian Schertz, a media law attorney who has defended prominent German media personalities such as television host Jan Böhmermann and disgraced journalist Claas Relotius, who got caught making up facts.
“I cannot see the slightest trace of copyright infringement, since the few passages referenced are nothing more than reproductions of commonly known facts as well as political views,” Schertz wrote.
Such commonly known facts — related to climate change in Baerbock’s case — “are so-called public domain,” he continued, adding: “Thus, the accusation lacks any basis. It is obviously yet another attempt at a campaign to the detriment of Ms. Baerbock.”
Andreas Kappler, the Greens’ campaign spokesman, took to Twitter, calling tweets with the hashtag #Baerplag — a portmanteau of Baerbock and plagiarism — “an attempt at character assassination.”
“We firmly reject the accusation of copyright infringement,” he said.
Weber, the blog post author, has told German media the passages he found were “nothing earth shattering.” But the damage to Baerbock’s reputation may already be done.
“She deceived deliberately, worked sloppily and again piled on when it comes to her own performance — this appears to be systematic with Annalena Baerbock, and once again shakes her credibility,” CSU Secretary General Markus Blume said on Twitter.
Blume was chiming into what has become a relatively fierce election battle by German standards.
Jürgen Trittin, a veteran Green MP who served as German environment minister between 1998 and 2005, called the accusations “the latest dirty campaign by [conservative tabloid] Bild” against Baerbock, drawing on animosities between Bild owner Axel Springer and Germany’s leftists that stretch back to the 1960s. (Axel Springer is also co-owner of POLITICO Europe.)
However, Bild was neither the only nor the first media outlet to pick up the story, which was first published in the magazine Focus.
Bild struck back on Wednesday, calling accusations that they were trying to delegitimize Baerbock a “crude conspiracy theory.” The tabloid argued that it was actually Germany’s public broadcasters, which it accused of leaning green, who were trying to propel Baerbock to success — a view popular in conservative circles.
As an example, Bild referenced a comment by a journalist on WDR, a public broadcaster, who said the aim of the plagiarism accusations was presumably to keep negative Baerbock headlines in people’s minds ahead of the election.
“Whether that succeeds or not is up to you, the voters,” he said in what Bild termed “an almost unapologetic call to vote for the Greens.”
Meanwhile, Baerbock’s official opponents in the race for the chancellery, Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats and the CDU’s Armin Laschet, have so far remained silent on the issue. But it is likely to only help their standing, regardless.
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