Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta has become the latest high-ranking European politician to become embroiled in a plagiarism row after British magazine Nature has accused him of “copying large sections of his 2003 PhD thesis in law from previous publications.”
Nature said that it had seen “documents compiled by an anonymous whistle-blower” suggesting that more than half of Ponta’s 432-page thesis on the functioning of the International Criminal Court consisted of duplicated text.
At a news conference on June 19, Ponta has that he had indeed “been inspired” by the works of law professor Dumitru Diaconu – the man whom Nature said Ponta plagiarised, and who had written the foreword to Ponta’s thesis – but said that he used the texts to present formulations of law.
“If I had to put that in the footnotes, then that is my mistake that I acknowledge and am ready to pay with my degree,” Ponta said, as quoted by Evenimentul Zilei newspaper.
Ponta is the leader of the Social-Democrat party and the coalition with the centre-right National Liberal Party, which finally succeeded at the third attempt to bring down the centre-left Democrat-Liberal government, backed by president Traian Basescu, earlier this year. Ponta took office in May and the coalition is slated to win big at the next parliamentary elections in autumn.
He said that the attack was orchestrated by Basescu and identified one of the president’s advisers as the anonymous source from Nature’s report.
Ponta is not the first Romanian politician plagued by plagiarism accusations – the education minister in his cabinet, Ioan Mang, has resigned as a result of a plagiarism row; Ponta’s first nomination for education minister was forced to withdraw after it became public that she too was involved in a plagiarism lawsuit in the 1990s.
Ponta has so far given no indication that he plans to resign. Given that Ponta became party leader in February 2010 in very acrimonious fashion, defeating incumbent Mircea Geoana, should Ponta be forced to step down, it could lead to a renewed struggle for the party leadership that would hurt the party’s standing if it were to coincide with the parliamentary elections campaign.
In recent months, plagiarism has proven the downfall of Hungarian president Pal Schmitt, who resigned after being stripped of his degree by Semmelweis University in March. In March 2011, German defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned from all political offices after it became public knowledge that he plagiarised the works of numerous authors in his doctoral thesis.