Students Gone to Pot

Monday, July 6th, 2015

Greece, Greece, Greece! That is what is dominating today’s headlines, of course. As usual, though, my function here at €S is not to point out to you something you have probably already heard about from some other source, but rather to come up with material you likely would not ordinarily have run across (primarily due to language barriers).

There’s nothing along that line that I have found, yet, when it comes to Greece. Grease, though: that may be another matter. For who can resist this (well, if you read Spanish)?

Cannib
“Tribe of cannibals solicits more exchange students,” it says! And check out that picture – isn’t it a riot?

The Spanish press is not really known for parody publications along the lines of The Onion, but here you really have to wonder. To be sure, everything is laid out in the normal manner of an on-line news article. This one begins:

The chief of the Krilasha tribe of New Guinea, Mulumba Bra-Maldashiu, today asked the European Union to provide more support to exchange-student scholarships because, for some time now, “we have been getting less people, by which I mean fewer youths from abroad, and so it’s a shame that the scholarship system is breaking down.”

So far, so OK, although I wrote “people” there as a translation of género, which has many meanings, including “goods”; you wonder whether it might also mean “fresh meat.”

But then get this, the piece goes on:

“We are hungry. Hungry for knowledge,” the headman explained.

Really, don’t you start to doubt this story now? And then the chief continues, further down:

“They are new blood for us, and our tribe represents an unforgettable experience for them.”

And then:

“They don’t have to be brilliant students. Let them send us their most problematical ones, we will know what to do with them.”

The piece is topped off with a brief mention that this New Guinean tribe has put in an urgent request to meet with Angela Merkel, “to deal with this and other themes that are on the table.” Well, take a number: there are very many who want to meet with Chancellor Merkel these days, and about more urgent matters than feasting upon Western scholarly knowledge, or possibly just some Western scholars.

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Supermarket for Human Rights

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

The German government has lately been on a charm offensive towards the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese Prime Minister, Li Keqiang, is today finishing a visit to Berlin which, as is pointed out in this piece in Die Welt by reporters Robin Alexander and Daniel-Dylan Böhmer, marks no less than the fourth time Chancellor Merkel has met with high-level Chinese officials this year.

LiInBerlin
“Merkel, China’s Minister-President and the Supermarket”: the notable bit of this get-together thrown out for appreciation by the public is the joint visit to a local Berlin supermarket made by Chancellor Merkel and her guest Li just yesterday (Friday) afternoon. You can see a photo of both of them at the check-out at the head of the article: Li is pointing at Merkel’s hand as she gathers her purchases there, having paid cash. (Good move: paying with any sort of card would naturally leave readers wondering who it is who provides the stock of money standing behind it.) At first glance, the absence of any sort of Secret Service-like figures is notable, although they must be those suited gentlemen – without sunglasses or earpieces – with their backs to the camera just behind the cigarette rack. And where is Li’s interpreter? I don’t think he is very fluent in English, let alone German.

All in all, a jolly, down-home moment. Meanwhile, you can be sure that other members of the visiting Chinese delegation were hard at work with their German counterparts in near-by government buildings, working out what are said to be no less than forty business/economic agreements that are the true purpose of this summit, including contracts worth billions of euros. What is more, it is sure to be full cabinet members that fill out much of the rest of that Chinese delegation: Merkel has taken a liking to staging cabinet-meets-cabinet get-togethers with neighboring countries (indeed, I recall one such with the Dutch cabinet earlier this year – not in Berlin, but over in northwestern Germany, close to the Dutch border) and clearly decided on the same format for meeting the Asian economic superpower.

Er . . . Human Rights?

That’s fine, but with China you get more baggage into the bargain – particularly now that Hong Kong demonstrators are still flooding the streets there demanding a democracy worthy of the name. Of course, Germany does have a robust free press, so that Premier Li at some point found himself  directly confronted by the question why citizens in Hong Kong should not be able to truly pick their own political representatives. As reported here, he looked impatiently at his watch as the query was translated for him, only to reply that that was a matter of “internal Chinese politics” only.

There was another question in that same vein, about local employees at the Chinese bureau of the renowned German newspaper Die Zeit who were recently arrested. This one Li ignored entirely. Merkel herself had called these Die Zeit incidents “news that really makes you think” (durchaus bedenkliche Nachricht) on an earlier occasion; it’s not clear from the article whether this interrogation of Premier Li happened in her presence. Alexander & Böhmer’s piece does point out that, at the joint news conference, the German authorities resisted Chinese pressure to disallow any questions, such as those above, which might be too awkward for the honored guest to handle. Other countries that top Chinese officials visit, it is said here, often cannot bring themselves to do so.

In the end, German President Joachim Gauck – famous for his past as a prominent East German dissident – was brought in to play “bad cop” to Merkel’s “good cop” and reproach Li for China’s human rights record at a one-on-one meeting. At least that session was scheduled at the very beginning of the two-day conference, and it did last about an hour. But economic times are hard in Europe, including – for an unwelcome change – in Germany; the worry has to arise that German interest in doing business with China will soon trump any influence that country could wield on the human rights situation there, if it has not done so already.

I think we can safely predict that 2014 will not see any fifth meeting between Chancellor Merkel and high Chinese officials, though. For this  year marks 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the self-liberation of most of Eastern Europe from decades of Communist dictatorship. Meeting the Chinese against that backdrop would just be too awkward, no matter what new profits any such meeting could promise. Better to get the year’s remaining Chinese business done, cabinet-to-cabinet, by early October.

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Revealed: Ukraine’s Weapons-Sellers!

Monday, September 8th, 2014

This might be considered as the most important “secret” result of that NATO summit at the end of last week that was held at some golf resort in Wales, and the EU Beobachter (“EU Observer”) has picked it up.
5staaten

Yes, in the wake of that summit five states intend to start selling weapons to the Ukraine, and they are: the USA, Poland, France, Italy and Norway. The notable absence on this list is Germany, whose weapons, notably its small arms, are particularly good in comparison to most others, but whose Chancellor, Mrs. Merkel, made it clear at that summit that it was not ready to take that step. Understandable: the German government only in the past few weeks decided that it would break precedent and send arms to the Kurds fighting the Islamic State in Iraq, and that decision caused quite a bit of consternation on the German political scene. Merkel was not ready for the same again – not that that was the only reason for German reticence.

What’s really notable about these arms-sellers is just how hush-hush the whole subject is. None of these countries has been willing to announce these upcoming weapons-sales; indeed, all have officially denied they are ready to do so. So who knows? Against that we have – for what it is worth – an announcement yesterday by a close advisor to Ukraine President Poroshenko that these five countries would indeed be supplying his country militarily. That announcement notably appeared on the advisor’s Facebook page.

If we examine that roster, the sales from the US and from Poland are understandable: American weapons manufacturers are seemingly ready to sell anywhere, anytime, while Poland is the state leading the alarm over Ukraine developments. For France and Italy it is a bit harder to understand why they would want to be involved (indeed, the Italians have continually been suspect as too Russia-friendly) – until you realize, as this article states explicitly, that they mainly see this as an opportunity for their native arms industries to make some money. It’s only Norway whose involvement is totally mysterious: its economy doesn’t need the money, and to this point it has not seemed particularly alarmed about what is happening off to the East. Indeed, as a good Scandinavian land, it is supposed to have certain ethical pretensions of not selling war material into an active war-zone. (more…)

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“Now Recep – BeHAVE Yourself!”

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

A heads-up for whoever is going to be in Cologne tomorrow, things could get interesting.

You might recall how we wrote on these pages about a month ago about German President Joachim Gauck’s visit to Turkey a month ago, and the waves he made there. Well, what goes around, comes around: the Turkish Premier Erdogan is due in Cologne on Saturday:

Erdogan_in_DE
“Cologne visit by Turkish PM: Merkel calls for restraint from Erdogan.” Now, this is no sort of state visit, neither Merkel nor Gauck will be anywhere near him, but rather the sort of sojourn Erdogan likes to make from time to time to go shore up his support among the many citizens of Turkish nationality living in Germany.

Unfortunately, the political situation back in the Motherland has been steadily deteriorating, hurried along by the deaths of 301 workers in the recent Soma mine disaster there and the public’s angry reaction to that. In a newspaper interview earlier in the week, Merkel said Erdogan was of course welcome to come give his speech, but “I insist that he does this on Saturday with a sense of responsibility and sensitivity.”

Sensitivity, however, has rarely proven to be PM Erdogan’s strong suit. Indeed, his people seem not to be approaching the event in a very constructive manner:

RP_ErdoganFall
“Turkey fears a trap for Erdogan in Cologne.” But why? Because the German authorities also approved no less than eight counter-demonstrations in the city on the same day. No wonder the Turks are suspicious: they would simply forbid any such counter-demonstrations, and no doubt were ready to do so during President Gauck’s visit there last month – if anyone had actually applied to hold any.

Cologne streets could turn into quite a scrum on Saturday, but the latter Rheinische Post article at least has published the following almost military-looking map to help you make your way. FYI, the stadium-event where Erdogan will actually be speaking is the one the furthest to the right that says Veranstaltung UETD.

Koln
(For those asking, the title to this post was inspired by the Beatles, who even back in the early 1960s could sing remarkably presciently about world affairs.)

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Fishy Goings-On

Monday, May 12th, 2014

You remember that German Chancellor Angela Merkel went to Washington to visit President Obama at the beginning of the month. Just this past Saturday she touched base with another important ally, namely French President François Hollande, by inviting him to her home turf (i.e. the parliamentary constituency she represents) at the historic city of Stralsund in Germany’s far Northwest. But things did not go completely smoothly, as Der Spiegel reports with this rather colloquial tweet. (I certainly don’t know what this means here in its entirety. Butterfahrt?)

Spiegel_fishy
Fass, or “barrel”: that’s what we see Hollande holding up there. It’s a barrel of herring, a proud local product, and the article tells us that everyone who visits Merkel there gets a barrel of fish: George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin (about whom Merkel and Hollande of course had quite a lot to say), everyone.

The thing is, for President Holland they probably should have made an exception and given him, say, a nice Mecklenberg-Vorpommern necktie or something. For those herring are Bismarck brand herring; and anyone who knows anything about 19th-century history knows that “Bismarck” is not a name likely to endear anyone who is French. Hollande gamely posed – as you can see there – but then, as the Spiegel reporter Alexander Demling notes, quickly passed the barrel off to an aide.

The Dutch are also particularly interested in herring matters, and De Volkskrant picked up this story as well:

VK_fishy
This piece raised the obvious question of why Merkel had not gone instead for Hollandse Nieuwe (“Holland’s New”) herring, fished out of the North Sea by the Dutch (starting right around this time of year, in fact), acknowledged to be the very-best (at least by the Dutch) – and also matching well with the French President’s own surname! I guess no one in the Bundeskanzlerin’s office thought of that – or else EU “nationality-blind” procurement regulations do not (yet) apply to the gifts heads-of-state/government give each other.

You would think Merkel would be too canny to allow such a slip-up, in a land where apparently one needs to use certain numbers very carefully to not be accused of being neo-Nazi (h/t Jonathan Turley). Still, if you examine closely the top photo in that Volkskrant article, what you see printed on the barrel itself is “RASMUS.” Could that be “Erasmus“? Now, there’s a scholarly figure out of European Renaissance-period history that neither Merkel nor Hollande should have a problem with!

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Stasi Collaborator Without Peer?

Monday, August 19th, 2013

There’s a big election coming up soon, in no less than Germany, where on 22 September all 598 members of the Bundestag will be elected anew, meaning that the exact composition of the national government will be deternined as well. The Germans like to go away for vacation in August just like most of their European brethren, but as public life now straggles back to activity the election campaign is now getting started in earnest.

In a quite clever sneak attack operatives for the main opposition party, the SPD, managed to gain control over the URL of Chancellor Merkel’s own name and put a site stuffed full of their own party propaganda behind it. Undeterred, Chancellor Merkel’s own people merely turned to another, very close URL (sticking a dash between her first and last names) to set up her own site, filled with old family photos to provide a soft-tinged, nostalgic focus to her public image.

All well and good, and deliciously naughty. But it holds no candle to this:

Welt_SteinbruckStasi

Nelke, German for “carnation,” as in the flower. But it was also allegedly the Stasi code-name for Peer Steinbrück – who is merely the SPD’s candidate now running against Chancellor Merkel!

(And the “Stasi,” for those of you who need reminding, the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit or “Ministry for State Security” (cf. “Department of Homeland Security”) was the monstrous Communist East German secret police and spying organization.) (more…)

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Name First, Questions Later

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

It’s “Europe’s greatest pain.” And finally European leaders are going to do something about it.

Arbeitslosigkeit: Der New Deal gegen die größte Pein Europas http://t.co/rSJUTZqbtY

@welt

DIE WELT


The problem at issue here is youth unemployment, the solution something called the “New Deal for Europe.” Sascha Lehnartz’s on-line piece for Die Welt is topped by a self-congratulatory photo of France President Hollande shaking the hand of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (sitting down not out of disrespect, but because he is confined to a wheelchair), with related Euro-dignitaries beaming just behind.

Look closer, though: that august assemblage gathered at the famed Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) merely to start a discussion. Yes, there is some sort of intention on the part of the German and French governments to put forward a policy proposal. This is largely due to President Hollande, who at that meeting – under the motto “Europe – The Next Steps” – called for “urgent action,” considering economic growth throughout the continent averages out at present to quasi Null, i.e. basically zero. Chancellor Merkel herself and Hollande will discuss the youth unemployment issue further tomorrow (Thursday, 30 May), with a view towards presenting proposals to the EU Council meeting scheduled for 27 June, with a follow-up conference of EU labor ministers in Berlin on July 3.

So that’s about the only “substance” there is to this thing now. But no worries, they have the grandiose buzzwords already picked out.

UPDATE: Luckily, maybe all this does not matter. Yes: maybe this “youth unemployment” really just does not matter. Daniel Gros, of the Center for European Policy Studies, makes that rather iconoclastic argument here, in English.

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Is Germany Allowed to Win?

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

As much as everyone may desire it, it may ultimately prove impossible to separate the Euro 2012 Football Championship from wider political matters of the real world. We already saw last Friday, with Germany-vs.-Greece, a football game already fraught from being a tournament quarter-final, after which the loser would be sent home, gain even more of an edge from geopolitical considerations, as the Greeks were especially anxious to gain a bit of revenge against the country whose financial hard-heartedness many of them see as responsible for their current economic meltdown.

Alas, they did not get their wish. But consider: now that we know the results of the first semi-final it is clear that, having already beaten Greece, the German team’s path to the European championship now lies in beating Italy, and then beating Spain in the final – “PIGS” countries all of them! These are the post-WWII Germans, though, you must remember, so that inevitably the question is arising: Given these circumstances, should Germany be allowed to win the 2012 European football championship even if it can?

Patriotismus-Debatte: Darf Deutschland Europameister werden?… http://t.co/nMRN8LhD

@SPIEGEL_Politik

SPIEGEL Politik


That’s literally the question Spiegel writer Jan Fleischhauer poses in the title to his opinion-piece. His lede:

The Left is again afraid that foreigners don’t find the Germans nice enough. Some even wish for a defeat of the national football team against Italy. But Germans are much more popular with foreigners than most think.

Yes, apparently this continued feeling of shame and unworthiness is to be found primarily among Left- and Green-inclined German voters, some of whom have taken to stealing German flags sticking out of cars and leaving behind notes accusing those drivers of fostering nationalism.

This is comical stuff, although it does seem to be really happening. But it’s so unnecessary because, as Fleischhauer points out, in reality Germans are currently riding an extraordinary wave of popularity (which apparently goes for the kind of football they play as well). He cites a recent Pew Research Center study showing that Germans are admired by all other Europeans for their honesty and hard work. Chancellor Angela Merkel has profited from this to become rather popular throughout the continent herself – other than among the Greeks, that is.

But there is a larger point here, and once again it relates to “real life,” specifically the enormous financial crisis with which the continent is now wrestling. Everyone is now earnestly looking to Berlin to fix it! What, should we instead turn to Paris and François Hollande? Perish the thought! No, if anyone holds in their hands the solution to this financial turmoil and uncertainty, it’s the Germans (largely by being willing to pay to clean up other countries’ messes, it has to be acknowledged!). For Heaven’s sake, let them step up and do that – and should they win Euro2012 along the way, then that is no problem.

UPDATE: It’s no problem, alright: Germany 1, Italy 2!

One could opine that the clear assumption in Fleischhauer’s article that the German team would of course win the semi-final and go on to face Spain in the final reflected a certain German arrogance. But then we would be dealing here with a strange mixture of arrogance (“Of course we’ll win”) and humility (“But should we be allowed to?”).

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Pounding Sand in Paris

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

So, what the Flemish paper De Morgen calls Europe’s koningskoppel (“royal couple,” namely Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy) met yesterday in Paris to try to find some solutions for the ongoing European euro/sovereign-debt crisis. What did they come up with?

Precious little, by most accounts. Perhaps that was the best to be expected, given how hard it is to get anything done in most parts of Europe in high summer-holiday season, and the fact that both, in effect, had terminated their own vacations early to meet.

(And no, rest assured that Chancellor Merkel does not regard such trips to the City of Light as recreational in any respect. Still, from the various photos emanating from that summit – check out for example this one from the De Morgen piece – one could even get the impression that they have become more comfortable in each other’s presence, something that was a problem before, as has been noted in this space.)

Continuing the beach theme, here’s one reaction, from Het Laatste Nieuws:

#geld Merkel en Sarkozy strooien zand in de ogen van de mensen: De plannen van de Franse president Nicolas Sarko… http://t.co/1cJEZ9c

@HLNlive

HLN Live


“Merkel and Sarkozy throw sand in people’s eyes” – but who is saying that? The HLN editors? No, that comes from former Belgian premier (now in the European Parliament) Guy Verhofstadt. He’s sort of a nerdy political guy – there’s a great shot of him in that HLN article, together with yet another shot of Merkel and Sarkozy posing happily together – but has been a prominent figure on the Belgian political scene for quite a while, and on the European level is mainly known as a convinced federalist. (more…)

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A European Crisis Glossary

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Amid all the brouhaha about S&P downgrading its rating for US Government debt, the parallel ongoing crisis in Europe should not be forgotten. “Crisis”? Take it away, Nouriel:

Definition of “crisis”: when officials need to huddle up on a weekend before Asia opening to take decisions & do statements a turmoil rages

@Nouriel

Nouriel Roubini


The Czech daily Mladá fronta dnes, as caught by the @Zpravy Twitter-feed, has the details on this particular edition:

iDnes: Lídři EU chtějí rychle realizovat závěry summitu. Uklidní tak trhy: Vlády musí urychleně dokončit dohody … http://bit.ly/oLaqvt

@Zpravy

Zpravy


Turns out, if you like, that you can blame everything on European vacation syndrome (e.g. “No one touches my August holiday!”): EU leaders want to quickly carry out changes from summit, that way they’ll calm markets is the headline here.

  • “Summit”? That’s the one they just had, of course, an extraordinary convening in Brussels on July 21 in reaction to the Italy/Spain funding troubles.
  • “Changes”? That has to do with the European Financia Stability Facility (EFSF), which leaders at that summit agreed would be beefed up to better be able to intervene to assist eurozone member-states in financial need, eventually even becoming a sort of European Monetary Fund.

(more…)

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Dysfunctional Power Couple

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

De ongemakkelijke kussen van Merkel en Sarkozy http://bit.ly/oL54CI #merkozy

@volkskrant

De Volkskrant


One little-known roadblock to the EU’s ability to come up with a collective solutions to Greece and any number of other problems is the sheer antipathy said to prevail between the heads of the two most-powerful member-states, i.e. Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. Indeed, the dominating primacy of this “Franco-German axis” long ago reached cliché status among analysts of the European Union (though it’s no longer quite so true, naturally), meaning that the personal chemistry between the inhabitants of L’Élysée and the Reich Chancellery assumed a outsized importance to the two nations’ fortunes.

Unfortunately so, because Merkel and Sarkozy have apparently not been on speaking terms – at the personal level; their offices communicate just fine, thank you – for quite some time. Or maybe you don’t believe me and would like to see for yourself – well, the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant now enables you to do that by presenting this fantastically-awesome photo-series compilation of thirty-six (yes! count ’em!) kisses, embraces and similar close encounters – all fully-clothed: s’il vous plaît, je vous en prie! – between the two, entitled “The uneasy kisses of Merkel and Sarkozy” (and soon to be a major motion picture!). (more…)

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Merkel Disowned?

Monday, July 18th, 2011

As turmoil continues to grip European financial markets at the prospect of a sovereign default by Spain or even Italy, the emergency Euro-summit scheduled for Thursday this week is looming large in importance. This is all the more true in view of the fact that European Council President had tried to get everyone together for a summit last Friday – but no one was interested then, even as market rates on Italian debt skyrocketed.

The key figure at the summit, as always, will be German Chancellor Angela Merkel, fresh and possibly even slightly sun-tanned off an official visit to various African countries. Just as she is preparing for Thursday’s meeting, however, scattered press speculation has arisen to the effect that Helmut Kohl – the German Reunification Chancellor, and probably the mentor who did most to make Merkel what she is today – now cannot hold himself back from criticizing her Eurodebt policy. Die macht mir mein Europa kaputt! is the catchy quote from Kohl – “She’s destroying my Europe!” – and it comes from a fairly reputable source, namely the German news-magazine Der Spiegel. Ed Harrison over at Credit Writedowns identifies this Spiegel article and provides his own translation. (more…)

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No, You May Not Decide

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

In German political terms this year of 2011 was always going to be about not any grand national-level election to (possibly) change the faces at the very top, but rather a very numerous series of elections at lower levels of that country’s federal system, none of them of decisive importance in itself but collectively fully capable of pointing to the likely result of the next truly national-level election, scheduled for 2012.

The latest of these occurred last Sunday (among other places) in Baden-Württemberg, the “other” southern federal German state (i.e. the one that’s not Bavaria), and Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party continued its long record of performing poorly in such local elections. To give you a pretty precise idea of what exercises voters in that particular prosperous corner of Germany, it’s generally agreed that the election revolved around just two issues: Fukushima (i.e. “nuclear power is dangerous”) and Stuttgart 21. The Green Party, especially, was on the “correct” side of both questions; so the Green Party won big, more than doubling its share of the vote and climbing to a position where it can lead a coalition state government together with its traditional political ally, the Social Democrat Party. (more…)

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Opel: The Drama That Will Not Die

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

What is to become of General Motors’ European subsidiary? The European auto-market is overcrowded with suppliers, that’s clear; Opel needs a guarantee of money, from someone, in order to stay on its feet financially and be able to compete. Yet the source from which the company thought it could gain the guarantee it needed – the German government – has been growing cool to the idea in light of the many new demands on its money from elsewhere (e.g. Greece). Long-time readers will know that I’ve been covering Opel’s recent travails more-or-less consistently; you can update yourself on the situation from my last blogpost on the subject here.

But now firm decisions are finally being made in this matter by the German authorities – or at least are seeming to be made. For those interested, and with the required German language skills, the ongoing saga can even be followed fairly closely on the @Deutschland_ Twitter-feed. I know: it’s that sort of thing that you are glad to leave for me to do instead, and I’m pleased to oblige. (One caveat: @Deutschland_ only follows material from the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.) But for now, let’s go “over the jump” to this blogpost’s full article, since a couple of tweets from that @Deutschland_ feed need to make an appearance. (more…)

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Obama Expands His Portfolio . . .

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

. . . mainly to include the 500+ million European Union! That at least is the message of Libération Brussels correspondent Jean Quatremer in the lastest post on his Coulisses de Bruxelles, UE (=”Brussels Corridors”) weblog, entitled “Barack Obama, the president of the European Council (Potec).” The basic assertion Quatremer wants to make here is that Obama should get the main credit for the bold/desperate €750 billion emergency aid package that European leaders cobbled together last Sunday night – just after voting in the crucial Nordrhein-Westphalen German state election had closed but just before Asian markets started trading again on the Monday morning of a new week, you understand.

Sure, the President was nowhere near Brussels at the time. Still, in Quatremer’s view it was the key telephone calls he placed to the main decision-makers – mainly France’s Sarkozy and Germany’s Merkel, of course – that made sure something big and decisive would happen. And then it seems he also gave a call on Monday to the Spanish premier, Zapatero, to persuade him to buckle down with some serious government cost-saving measures (that included lowering public employees’ salaries and cutting pensions), and he may have similarly bent the ear of Portuguese premier Socrates as well. (more…)

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COP15 Revisited: The Behind-the-Scenes Debates

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Another behind-the-scenes revelation about the COP15 United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen last December has emerged, this time in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. This one is different enough from the secret report from the Danish government that I discussed in my last post that I felt a new entry was appropriate. It has to do with the leaked transcript of a crucial part of the climactic negotiations on the afternoon of the conference’s very last day – Friday, 18 December 2009. And it’s quite a bit juicier than the leaked Danish report, since it directly involves superstar national-leader celebrities such as Obama, Merkel, and Sarkozy – although not Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who had indeed traveled to Copemhagen but at this critical stage was deliberately cooling his heels in his hotel room, having sent a deputy (one He Yafei) to represent China in his place. (more…)

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Madame (Muslim) Minister

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Aygül Özkan: Ever heard of . . . Well, wait! In the first place, is it a he or a she? (No fair looking at the title. And don’t worry, I won’t ask you to try to pronounce the name; I can’t hear you from here anyway.)

Unless you live in Hamburg or in Lower Saxony, you probably don’t have a clue. Aygül Özkan is a she, 38 years old, of Turkish descent. And, as it turns out, she is the choice of Lower Saxony state president Christian Wulff (CDU) to be the Social and Integration Minister in his new cabinet. (She’s also rather pretty, check out the picture – but I’m not allowed to say that about Muslim women, is that right?)

Ah yes: as the profile in the FAZ by Frank Pergande is careful to explain, Ms. Özkan is Muslim, or at least nominally so, the daughter of parents who both emigrated to Germany in the 1960s from Turkey, of which the father has long run his own tailor-shop in the Hamburg suburb of Altona. As it turns out, the “C” in that “CDU” that describes the party of which both she and her boss Wulff are members stands for Christlich, or “Christian”; it’s the mainstream party of the conservative Right that is also in power (under a coalition arrangement) at the federal level in Berlin. It’s the party of Chancellor Merkel – indeed, the Bundeskanzlerin certainly knows who Aygül Özkan is, and a picture of them together has appeared in the press, including in Germany’s leading Turkish newspaper Hürriyet. (more…)

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Greek Problems, German Concerns

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Today is the day EU heads-of-government convene in Brussels for yet another summit. There will be an elephant in the room, a problem that needs to be handled – Greece, of course – but which some (mainly, but not only, Germany) don’t want to handle just now. So, bizarrely, the summit meeting itself will not have Greece on its agenda; rather, there will be a meeting called of all Eurozone heads of government (16 of them) just prior to the main summit event to address the Greek problem.

I learn this from the preparatory blogpost to the summit provided by the Economist’s “Charlegmagne” correspondent, and I have to admit that, here, that source (in English, of course) is the best provider of information and analysis that I have been able to find. Among other things, his main insight (as embodied in his column’s title, “Why Greece is not suffering enough yet”) that Greece will only be bailed out after it has been forced to suffer considerable economic pain – namely to set an example to other potential fiscal miscreants – is spot-on. And he also reports (although indirectly, from FT sources) the very valuable information of what Germany is demanding to help Greece: 1) Greece must first exhaust all other sources of finance from the markets; 2) It must then get as much as it can from the IMF; and 3) Then Germany will help, but will at the same time demand “tough new rules on debts and deficits that will impose more budgetary discipline than before, even if that involves changing the treaties.” (more…)

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Germans’ English Estrangement

Monday, February 1st, 2010

As of a couple months ago there has been a new German government in power – CDU/CSU in coalition with the liberal-economic FDP, rather than in a “grand coalition” with the SPD socialist party. Those circumstances happened to give rise to a new running concern (or running gag – take your choice) about the very tenuous relationship some of Germany’s top politicians have with the English language. Chancellor Angela Merkel herself by all accounts acquits herself quite well in English – and in Russian, too, they say, but then again she was an academic researcher before she got into politics (and she delivered a small part of her address before a joint session of the US Congress last year in English). On the other hand, her top partner in the new coalition, namely Guido Westerwelle who heads the FDP, tried in a half-hearted way to speak some English in his first appearances after the new government was formed, only to become widely mocked for how bad that was going and to finally decide “the hell with it!” (or rather, I would imagine, something like Schluß damit!) and just going with German, to include insisting that questions asked of him during press conferences be phrased only in German. (I’m sorry to have to remind you here, if you didn’t know it already, that Westerwelle’s formal position in the new German government is as Foreign Minister!)

Now it’s time for a new European Commission, which will be sworn in next week and in which the German representative naturally always gets an important portfolio. This time that is to be Günther Oettinger, President of the state of Baden-Württemberg and now Commissioner-designate of the EU’s Energy Directorate (not so important in the past, as it was held by a Lithuanian for the last five years; but clearly to be of major importance henceforth). And yes, Oettinger has a problem with English, a big problem. (But what can you really expect from someone with, in effect, two umlauts in his name, including the “Oe”?) Apparently he is only barely able to pronounce in public the English words on a paper before him that his staff have written for him to say. (more…)

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Baring Their Electoral Assets

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

busenAs we’ve mentioned before in this space, but in other contexts, there is a German general election due on Sunday, 27 September. To mention yet another context: that happens to be the middle-Sunday of the two weeks of Oktoberfest, so perhaps we can expect reduced electoral turnout among Munich polling-places and/or increased incidents of voting-while-drunk.

Berlin, on the other hand, is already having to deal with a new (yet also very, very old) method of trying to provoke a cleft within the body politic, as you can see from the above illustration, and as Die Tageszeitung columnist Ines Kappert – that’s a woman’s name – complains about in a brief essay entitled Aha, Titten (which I won’t translate for you from the German; I think you can get the sense on your own). Vera Lengsfeld is the lady with the green necklace, which stands in stark contrast to her more-natural adornments, on the right side of this electoral poster from Germany’s CDU, or Christlich Demokratische Union, also the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is the similarly-adorned lady to the left. Lengsfeld posed explicitly for this poster, while Merkel’s picture comes from her appearance last year at the ceremony for the inauguration of the new Oslo (NO) opera house, where her choice of apparel excited considerable comment in the German media. (more…)

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Angela Merkel to Washington Next Week

Monday, June 15th, 2009

The well-respected German opinion newspaper Die Zeit is now reporting that a spokesman for German Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel has announced that she is planning to visit President Obama in Washington on Thursday and Friday next week (25-26 June). The main items on the agenda are said to be coordinated preparation for the upcoming G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy (8-10 July) and the Mideast peace process – oh, and yes, what is happening in Iran, as well. (more…)

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Of Protectionism and Hypocrisy

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

I’ve had this editorial in the Frankfurter Rundschau by Mario Müller (title: “Every man for himself”) held off to the side for a couple days until I could find the chance to address it adequately, because it reminds us of a simple but bald fact that we would all do well to remember: state aid to help the auto industry survive, or even an individual auto company, is precisely protectionism, plain and simple. So many of the heads of government circulating around the world today piously declaring “Protectionism! No indeed, we can’t allow that,” if they nonetheless are willing to extend financial support to their countries’ auto interests, are simply the usual sort of political hypocrite that we have all come to know rather too well.

Given that such pronouncements were apparently the main output coming out of the otherwise disappointing special EU summit last Sunday over the economic crisis, we probably need to include under that “hypocrite” rubric President Sarkozy of France. Chancellor Merkel of Germany potentially belongs there, too, depending on what she decides to do about Opel in particular, and decision time is coming very soon now that GM has indicated that that division will run out of money in a month. It probably would also include the leaders of some other EU members who themselves have more recently built up a thriving auto sector – like the Czech Republic and Slovakia – except that those governments simply don’t have the money to spend on any such thing. And sad to say, it could also include Barack Obama – again, depending on what he decides to do about the new requests for mega-money from GM and Chrysler.

They don’t like being hypocrites, of course, but from Obama on down the political impulse to supply some assistance to your national auto manufacturers is usually pretty overwhelming. So let’s follow along with Müller why that’s really not the thing to do. As he points out, blatant and ham-handed instruments of protection, like tariffs assessed at the incoming port or airport, while still prevalent, are no longer so much in vogue. Instead, governments (yes, even those within the EU, where it is supposed to be a completely open market) pursue their protectionism in more subtle ways, such as giving native companies certain tax breaks, or awarding subsidies – which is precisely the aid that the auto-makers from the US to France to Germany are asking for. Quite simply, this provides native firms with an unnatural advantage, enabling them to sell their wares for less and/or to gain a greater profit by doing so even though they probably are not the most-efficient producer. Meanwhile, of course, it’s the taxpayer who is paying for this dubious privilege of shifting production to a less-efficient producer.

Again, all of this will likely butter no parsnips when it comes to the political decisions whether to accede to the auto firms’ calls for help, as economically-distorting as such subsidies can be shown to be. It’s at least refreshing to be able to get such a public reminder of the point in the (on-line) pages of a major newspaper in a country whose economy is dominated by the auto industry to an even greater extent than it is in the US.

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Polar Bear Knut Gets Unexpected Holiday Company

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

It looks like the pressures of the holiday season are flipping some people out already. Der Spiegel has a report up now about an incident in Berlin’s zoo: Man jumps into polar bear Knut’s enclosure.

You were aware of the Knut-the-polar-bear sensation of 2007, right? (Yes, that’s the link to his very own fairly-long Wikipedia page; feel free to go there and review!) EuroSavant was basically inactive for most of that time, and so remiss in its task of bringing to you all the German-press Knut coverage that you were dying to read about. Oh, and there was plenty of such coverage, believe you me. No less than Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel was crazy about Knut, along with everybody else. (more…)

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Merkel Awaits Obama

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

I’d like to take up again the subject of the rather unconventional German governmental response – so far – to the surging economic troubles to be found in Germany as well as more widely, prompted as I am to do so by the reader response I’ve received. You might recall that we can summarize that response as “Times might be tough, but there’s no need for this government or any other to spend huge sums, go way into debt, or otherwise endanger the EU’s Stability Pact that is supposed to underpin the euro.” (But also remember that this unorthodox position seems to be held only at the German government’s top levels, with plenty of insistent calls to start spending coming from elsewhere, including lower-down in that same government.)

This whole question in its broader sense – which could be phrased, ¡¿Caramba!, what can we do to stop the onrushing Great Depression? – is put into sharp relief by a commentary from Thursday in the Financial Times by the historian Niall Ferguson* (in English of course: The age of obligation, h/t to Naked Capitalism). (more…)

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Steinmeier in the German “No Worries” Camp

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

I wrote in this space almost a week ago about economic policy chaos in the German government, and a new piece in Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel confirms that that bunch has become little more familiar with actual economic reality in the interval. Steinmeier warns EU-partners about turning away from the Stability Pact is the headline; the lede: “Germany’s Foreign Minister is worried about finances. Not in connection with the current crisis, but the stable euro. He takes the other EU-lands to task – they need to follow the euro-rules again soon.”

Don’t recall the Stability Pact (more properly, the EU Stability and Growth Pact)? That’s too bad, since it was a favorite topic of this weblog back in the day, especially in 2003. It’s the agreement that underpins the euro, and in fact preceded the formal establishment of the euro, by which all EU states (but especially those using the euro as their currency) pledge to keep their budget deficits to 3% of their GDP or less, and to either keep their national debt below 60% of GDP or – if it already is above that level – to make steady progress in getting it so that it’s below. The idea is to prevent euro-using states from taking advantage of the euro’s benefits (e.g. lower interest rates for their government debt) while at the same time undermining its stability through profligate government spending. All that commentary back in 2003 mostly had to do with the revelation of the ugly political reality that Germany and France – the Union’s heavyweight countries – could violate the Pact whenever they wanted, without facing adverse consequences, all while lesser states (Portugal, the Netherlands) were still forced to take it seriously. Ironically enough, this was a German initiative in the first place, required in exchange for their willingness to give up the deutsche mark, to keep those profligate Latin countries (like the Italians) from ruining the common euro-project. (more…)

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Economic Policy Chaos in the German Government

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Presidential or Parliamentary? The question of which system makes for a more effective and truly representative government has engaged political scientists for many years, but make no mistake: it also has some serious real-world consequences. Right now, with the Bush administration headed towards the history books stained by torture, illegal wiretapping, Katrina, Iraq, financial collapse, a corrupt Dept. of Justice, etc., etc., the presidential model is most assuredly under some disfavor. (Oh, and the presidential system also results in excruciatingly-long lame-duck periods waiting for the new chief executive to take power that are really inconsistent with the speed of events in the modern day. See this recent New York Times article for a solution to that that was contemplated in the past, but which Bush has nowhere near the intelligence nor love-of-country to implement now.) But a recent article in the authoritative German daily Die Welt by Jan Dams (Financial crisis: Glos provokes Merkel and Steinbrück) reminds us of many of the defects of the parliamentary system, especially during economically perilous times. (more…)

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“Friendship Ends When It Comes To Money”

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

The big news today is the Bush administration’s proposed $750 billion+ plan to address current turmoil in the US financial markets by giving the Treasury Department authority to purchase bank assets. Even as this is being written, hearings are taking place before the US Senate’s Banking Committee featuring the two main agents of the American government’s rescue plan, namely Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.

As befits this blog’s name, though, we like to take a Euro or at least international perspective on things whenever we can, and there are certainly such angles to this story. In fact, the two I can detect are attractively symmetrical. On the one hand, Treasury Secretary Paulson announced that foreign-owned banks active in the US capital markets will also be eligible to exchange faltering financial assets for American cash via the proposed “bail-out” facility. On the other, administration officials are starting to look to foreign treasuries to contribute funds towards this bail-out.

As the New York Times reports today, that effort does not seem to be doing well in its early going. (more…)

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Berlin Reactions to Obama’s Pending Visit

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Some EuroSavant entries virtually write themselves. What’s the hottest thing going on now on the American scene – or, put another way, where can you find all of America’s top TV anchor-persons?

Super Star!

Super Star!

Traveling with Obama, of course! And while the itinerary to the first part of his overseas trip – to the Middle East and South Asia – is somewhat unclear, deliberately for security reasons, we can be more sure about where he is going to be in Europe during the second half, and when. Everyone knows already that the high point – the only public address he is scheduled to give – will occur in Berlin next Thursday evening, 24 July. There’s already been somewhat of a controversy over where he is to be allowed to give that speech. That has now been resolved, but let’s take a look at what further details are available from local Berlin sources. (more…)

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A Breakthrough for Germany at the SPD Congress?

Monday, June 2nd, 2003

Sorry, today I’m not going to cover the G8 summit on Lake Geneva, at Evian. From the press coverage you indeed get the impression, as Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times (registration required) puts it, of “a messy family reunion,” where the main thing people are interested in is who avoids whom, who smiles at whom, who shakes whose hand and how enthusiastically, etc. This even in the German press, as in Die Welt’s Versöhnlicher Handschlag (“handshake of forgiveness”), or the FT Deutschland’s Bush schenkt Schröder drei Minuten (“Bush grants three minutes to Schröder”). Then, on the other side of the police barricades, you just have whatever credibility the arguments of the “anti-globalists” retain being trashed along with the cars and shop-windows that are the target of that minority of demonstrators who see the occasion as another chance to have some violent fun and quite likely get away with it, since the police can’t bash or arrest them all.

Apparently the summit continues on into today, so the press coverage will likely merit a better look later on. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder didn’t even make it out to the lake until late last night, but he had a good excuse: He was busy at a special congress of his Social Democratic Party (SPD), gaining party approval for an ambitious program of retrenchment of Germany’s welfare state that he calls “Agenda 2010.” That, as even the Guardian points out in today’s leader, is the sort of major development that merits attention. (more…)

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