Merkel’s Enemies Line Up

The populist AfD was first to attack Chancellor Merkel after a truck smashed into a crowded Berlin Christmas Market on Monday night. The act of terrorism will increase pressure on her as she heads into an election year.

It was the attack that Germany had been bracing itself for.

And it could have far-reaching political implications, particularly for Chancellor Angela Merkel, already fighting off a challenge from right-wing populists.

On Monday night, shortly after 8 p.m., a truck smashed into a crowded Christmas market in the heart of West Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring dozens more.

While the authorities were initially extremely careful not to jump to conclusions about the circumstances leading to the awful carnage, by Tuesday the Berlin police said that they were dealing with a “presumed terror attack,” stating that their investigators were working on the assumption that the truck was intentionally driven into the crowd.

If that is confirmed, it would be the first time that a terror attack has been carried out in the German capital, and on a symbolic and also relatively soft target: the traditional Christmas market, where locals and tourists gather to drink mulled wine amid glittering fairy lights.

The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany was quick to single out who they blamed. Immediately after news of the incident emerged on Monday night, Marcus Pretzell, a member of the European Parliament for the party and partner of AfD leader Frauke Petry, tweeted: “When will the German rule of law strike back? When will this cursed hypocrisy end? These are Merkel’s dead!”

The deputy leader of the Social Democrats, Ralf Stegner, called the comment “unbelievable and disgusting!”

“Instead of respect for the victims, again disgusting political exploitation of this tragedy by the AfD and other right-wing agitators,” he tweeted.

Yet, for all the outrage heaped on the AfD, there is little doubt that the party is likely to profit from an attack in the heart of the German capital.

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Merkel Faces Another Bruising Vote

The populist AfD are projected to win up to 13 percent in the state election in Berlin on Sunday. With Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats likely to be booted out of the ruling coalition in the city, the vote will once again pile the pressure on the chancellor over her refugee policy.

Handelsblatt Global, September 16, 2016 

They came in small numbers but were loud, angry and out to make trouble.

As Chancellor Angela Merkel was addressing a rally of a few thousand supporters of her conservative Christian Democrats in a leafy suburb of western Berlin on Wednesday night around 30 supporters of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party turned up. The group heckled, showed red cards and chanted “Merkel Must Go!”

Once again Germany’s upstart populists were proving to be something of a headache for the chancellor.

This Sunday, her CDU party is facing another tough vote just two weeks after a particularly bruising encounter with the electorate.

 On September 4, the party was humiliated in the rural eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania when it only got 19 percent of the vote, pushing it into third place behind the AfD, which won 21 percent. In cosmopolitan urban Berlin this Sunday, the AfD won’t do quite so well but it’s still expected to get 13 percent, according to a Forsa poll released on Thursday. Meanwhile the CDU is expected to only get around 17 percent and be booted out of the left-right coalition with the SPD that has governed the city state since 2011.

While the anti-immigrant AfD were disappointed to only come fourth in Lower Saxony’s local elections last weekend, that vote for councils and mayors in small towns and villages was particularly difficult for the party which only formed in 2013 and has yet to develop an extensive grassroots organization across the country.

“All state elections in Germany are also a plebiscite over the governing coalition in Berlin.”

Timo Lochocki, German Marshall Fund, Berlin

“I would not see the Lower Saxony vote as an indication that the rise of the AfD has been halted,” said Kai Arzheimer, a political scientist at the University of Mainz.

Furthermore, the Berlin vote comes as both Ms. Merkel’s personal ratings and CDU support nationally continue to nosedive over her decision last year to allow 1 million refugees into the country.

Although she has no obvious rival, these setbacks have led to speculation about whether she will run for a fourth term in the next federal election in 2017.

And another strong showing for the AfD on Sunday will likely pile the pressure on the chancellor particularly from her Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union.  The CSU leader, Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer, has been a thorn in her side this past year, constantly complaining about the influx of refugees and demanding upper limits to those the country can take in.

Yet in Berlin, the refugee issue is not at the forefront of the campaign. In fact the city is remarkably tolerant on the issue with a recent survey showing over half of Berliners — 52 percent — feel that the new arrivals are a positive addition to the city. Many Berliners are more concerned with local issues, such as rising rents, the poor state of schools or the ongoing fiasco over the failure to open the new airport. The hipster capital of Europe may be home to plenty of cool startups and cultural institutions but it lacks much real industry and its unemployment rate at around 10 percent is still above the national average.

The capital has never been a stronghold for the CDU apart from in some affluent western suburbs.

Its more liberal voters have veered towards the Greens or the pro-business Free Democrats, or even the Pirates, the pro-privacy activists who garnered 9 percent in 2011 but will probably fail to get more than around 1 percent this time. In the former east of the city, the far-left Left Party, the successor party to the former East German communists, has always polled strongly. It is here that support for the AfD, which had not yet been formed when the city last voted in 2011, is strongest, is at around 20 percent. Yet the party is also polling at around 15 percent on the western edges of the city.

Meanwhile, the SPD has long dominated politics in Berlin. The center-left party has been in every government in the newly reunited city since the fall of the wall. It may have lost its charismatic leader, former mayor Klaus Wowereit, in December 2014. Yet, his successor, mild mannered and rather dull Michael Müller is still far more popular than the CDU leader in the city, deputy mayor and state interior minister Frank Henkel, a hardliner on law and order.

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Merkel Faces Humiliation on Home Turf

It’s been a rough year politically for Angela Merkel and things are likely to get worse Sunday when a right-wing populist party, the AfD, could outperform her own Christian Democrats in elections in the chancellor’s own home state.

Handelsblatt Global, September 2, 2016

It’s just over a year since Angela Merkel uttered her now infamous words: “Wir schaffen das,” or “We can do this” – a statement that threw German society and politics into tumult.

And in the ensuing 12 months, as the chancellor has repeatedly defended her decision to take in refugees fleeing war and chaos in Syria, Iraq and other conflict zones, Germany has faced the challenge of registering, housing and caring for of up to 1 million people.

The influx has eased since a deal with Turkey and the blocking of the Balkan route, and many thousands have already left, either deported or voluntarily after their asylum applications were rejected. Nevertheless, the country still faces the challenge of integrating hundreds of thousands that will stay – many for good.

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How TTIP Reached a Tipping Point

Proponents of the U.S.-E.U. trade deal were caught unawares by the vehement public opposition in Germany. Activists here say that their beef is not so much with removing tariffs as with the other elements of the deal. And they say they are gaining support in other E.U. countries.

Handelsblatt Global, April 22, 2016

“Obama and Merkel are coming. Demo: Stop TTIP and CETA!”

That is the slogan being spread through social media and on posters across Germany. It is intended to rally the troops to Hanover this Saturday on the eve of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Organizers estimate tens of thousands will amass to protest the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal between the European Union and the United States, and its Canadian counterpart, called CETA.

Mr. Obama’s visit to open the Hannover Messe trade fair alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday is regarded as part of an efforts to kickstart TTIP ahead of the 13th round of negotiations next week in New York.

While it may be one of the United State’s best trading partners in Europe, Mr. Obama is entering hostile territory in Germany.

Along with Austria, the European country has the least enthusiasm for and the most skepticism about the all-encompassing trade deal, according to polls.

Last October, despite the country being gripped by the refugee crisis, an anti-TTIP rally in Berlin drew 150,000 to 250,000 people, depending on whether you accept the official count or the demo organizers’ numbers.

The anti-TTIP movement is hoping for another big turnout on Saturday.

“There is nothing in the agreement about raising standards, and that is exactly the problem. In the future it will be even harder to strengthen or raise standards.”

Thilo Bode, Director, Foodwatch

“We are expecting several tens of thousands,” said Roland Süss, a trade expert with activist group ATTAC, which has 90,000 members in Europe. The group’s members typically are vocal critics of the excesses of conventional capitalism, strong defenders of the environment and opponents of government privatization efforts.

Yet the thousands planning to meet in Hanover are only the tip of the iceberg in Germany.

A survey released Thursday in Berlin showed that only one in five Germans think TTIP is a good thing, down from 55 percent in 2014.

The poll by YouGov for the Bertelsmann Foundation, found that while two years ago 88 percent of Germans favored free trade in general, by February only about half of Germans considered free trade a good idea. More than a quarter reject it entirely.

“Support for trade agreements is fading in a country that views itself as the global export champion. Trade is a key driver of the German economy,” Aart De Geus, head of the Bertelsmann Foundation, said.

For those backing the deal, it is a conundrum that people in a country that relies on and benefits from global trade would want to block a deal like this.

After all, Germany prides itself on being an “Export Meister.” It is the world’s third-largest exporter with €1.2 trillion worth of goods and services traded abroad in 2015.

And trade ties with the United States are a big part of that. The United States is the biggest buyer of German exports outside the E.U., and Germany is the U.S.’s most important trading partner in Europe. At the end of 2015, bilateral trade was worth approximately $174 billion, according to the German Foreign Office.

Proponents argue TTIP will only enhance those ties, creating growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

But many non-profits, political groups and trade unions, which have led the charge against the deal, question those assertions and argue it’s not free trade per se they are opposed to.

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Munich – the Davos of Global Security

More than 600 key defense and security decision-makers have gathered in the Bavarian capital for the 52nd Munich Security Conference. But will the three-day meeting yield any concrete results, or is it just another global talking shop?

When the Munich Security Conference held its inaugural meeting back in 1963, the Cold War was at its zenith. It was only two years since the Cuban Missile Crisis, which had shaken the world with the near miss of nuclear conflict.

In its early incarnation, the conference was a way for a small elite of a few dozen Western defense and security experts to exchange views. Back then, the prime security threat was the Soviet Union and its proxies such as East Germany, which was only a few hundred kilometers away from the Bavarian capital beyond the Iron Curtain that cut right through Germany.

Nowadays the conference, held in the sumptuous Bayerischer Hof hotel, is a much bigger beast. It has morphed into the Davos of the security and defense world.

Attending this year’s conference, which opens Friday afternoon and finishes on Sunday, are more than 600 decision-makers from the realm of international security policy, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Adabi, as well as NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Parliament president Martin Schultz.

This Who’s Who of global security and foreign policy will be discussing the multiplicity of security threats in the globalized world, which is facing what conference director, Wolfgang Ischinger, the veteran German diplomat and former ambassador to the United States, has called “boundless crises.”

Syria will, of course, be top of the agenda. In fact, many of the key international players involved in the nearly five-year war met Thursday night on the fringes of the conference. The International Syria Support Group, made up of 17 countries, including the United States, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, said that they would push for a ceasefire in Syria to start in a week.

Mr. Kerry, speaking alongside his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, said the ceasefire plan was “ambitious” and that the real test would be whether the various parties honored their commitments.

While Syria is undoubtedly at the forefront of everyone’s minds, a myriad of other challenges face an increasingly unstable world. Tensions with Russia over Ukraine, wars in Africa and the Middle East, the refugee crisis, climate change and global pandemics will also be discussed over the weekend, both in a series of speeches and in private meetings.

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Berlin and the Polish Populists

With the election of the Law and Justice party and former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski back in power, Poland could become an uncomfortable partner again for Berlin.

Handelsblatt Global, October 28, 2015

For Germany, the new Polish government could turn out to be an unwelcome blast from the past.

Officials confirmed on Tuesday that the country’s conservative Law and Justice party, or PiS, had scored a massive victory in national elections on Sunday, winning 37.6 percent of the vote.

The result sweeps the center-right, pro-business Civic Platform from power, after eight years at the helm.

The surprisingly strong showing gives Law and Justice, which ruled Poland from 2005 to 2007, 235 seats in the 460-seat parliament. The conservative party will govern alone, the first party to do so in Poland since the fall of communism.

And while moderate politician Beata Szydlo is to take over as prime minister, the man widely assumed to be pulling the strings will be her party leader, the former prime minister Jaroslow Kaczynski.

A decade ago, Mr. Kaczynski and his twin brother, the late President Lech Kaczynski, were a dual thorn in the side of Berlin. Germany-bashing was a regular part of their nationalist repertoire, with the brothers frequently alluding to Germany’s Nazi past and its atrocities during World War II.

Just four years ago, Mr. Kaczynski hammered again on the theme when he published a book in which he claimed that Germany still had “imperial” designs on the areas of Western Poland it had controlled until losing the war.

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Borderless Europe Under Threat

The concept of a borderless European Union is coming under attack amid the refugee crisis. Critics blame the situation for accelerating the flow of immigrants, but defenders warn new borders will hurt trade.

Handelsblatt Global, September 4, 2015

The world’s biggest, contiguous single market — a vast region of 508 million people stretching from Ireland to the doorstep of Russia — is one of the most tangible achievements of the 28-nation European Union.

Since the 1990s, that market’s cohesion has been enhanced by doing away with most of the E.U.’s internal borders, allowing people and goods to move unfettered across most of the Continent, in what is known as the Schengen Area.

But ironically, that singular contribution is now under threat in the current European refugee crisis, which has elicited calls from conservatives in Britain, Hungary and elsewhere to rebuild the E.U.’s interior borders, erecting barriers to stem the flood of men, women and children.

While a return to the days of old Europe — “Your papers, please” — would certainly slow the tide of humanity flowing across the Continent this year from Asia, the Middle East and Africa — it would also dent trade, slow economic growth and could threaten an already fragile economic recovery.

The equally fragile core of the nascent European identity — embodied in the 1985 Schengen agreement, which began to roll back the bloc’s interior border controls — could become the latest victim of a refugee-inspired backlash.

“Schengen is fragile,” said Astrid Ziebarth, a migration fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. “We are at a crucial point.”

With over 100,000 people entering the European Union in July alone, many countries are struggling to cope with the influx, particularly those on the frontlines such as Italy, Greece and Hungary, and popular destinations such as Germany and Sweden.

Germany already expects 800,000 people to apply for asylum this year, four times the number that did in 2014. Sweden is also coping with unprecedented immigration.

In response, the Schengen Agreement, which covers most of the 28-member bloc, except for Britain, Ireland, Denmark but includes non-E.U. countries such as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, is under attack across Europe.

The pact eventually eliminated the need for passports, border police, customs barriers and checkpoints when it came into force in 1995.

Critics of Schengen argue that a border-less Europe has added to the refugee crisis by encouraging people to try to enter Europe, knowing they can traverse the continent unencumbered to their final destinations.

Britain is one of the countries leading the call for reforms to Schengen. Last week, the U.K. interior minister, Theresa May, argued that the refugee crisis has been “exacerbated by the European system of no borders.”

And the former Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, now a member of the European Parliament, said the migrant crisis had revealed flaws in Schengen just as the financial crisis had for the euro common currency.

“We don’t have adequate institutions,” Mr. Verhofstadt earlier this week told the “Financial Times” newspaper. “Europe is a master of putting in place a policy and then not putting in rules and institutions absolutely necessary for these policies.”

But proponents of open borders warn against overreacting, arguing that Schengen is being falsely blamed for what is really a failure of the European Union to adequately coordinate a unified asylum system.

“The implementation of the Schengen rules are under great stress,” said Pierre Vimont, a former French ambassador to the United States who is now a senior associate at Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based think tank. “The question is how can we add additional arrangements to the Schengen Agreement, which could precisely cope with and tackle the present pressure.”

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Quietly, Germany Opens Door to Syrians

Germany confirmed Tuesday it had decided to let all asylum seekers from Syria stay in the country, flouting an E.U. rule. The move recognizes that almost all Syrians are refugees, and could lead other European nations to open their doors.

Handelsblatt Global, August 26, 2015

The German government on Tuesday confirmed it had decided to let nearly all refugees from Syria stay in the country, ignoring an E.U. rule that may have required it to transport thousands back to Greece, Italy and other points of entry.

The decision – taken quietly last week but only confirmed yesterday by the government – comes as E.U. nations are struggling to develop a coherent policy to house and care for the migrants across the 28-nation block.

Up to 800,000 refugees are expected to arrive in Germany this year, many from Syria, according to the government, almost four times the level in 2014.

Germany and Sweden have taken the bulk of the immigrants flowing into the E.U. this year, and have tried unsuccessfully to pressure other E.U. nations to take their fair share.

Technically, refugees are supposed to apply for asylum in their first country of entry into the European Union, typically Italy and Greece, under the so-called Dublin Protocol. But those countries, as well as France and other nations, have simply let refugees pass through their borders to Germany and Sweden.

The refugee issue has divided Germans, evoking an outpouring of sympathy and donations, but also fanning right-wing violence and demonstrations at proposed refugee asylum centers.

More than 200 incidents of right-wing violence and threats have been reported against refugees this year. Yesterday, unknown persons started a fire in Nauen, Germany, a town east of Berlin, at a building to house refugees.

Over the weekend, far-right demonstrators fought with police after setting fire to a proposed refugee housing center in Heidenau, a town near Dresden. The ugly scenes of right-wing violence evoked condemnation from the government, and have prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel to visit the town today.

This summer, the refugee issue has occupied Germans like no other, as thousands of arrivals have poured into every corner of the country.

Berliners were appalled by images of thousands of refugees waiting for days in torrid summer heat outside the capital’s asylum registration offices.

Families with children and babies, many from Syria, were left without food or water, batting wasps and standing for hours in the sweltering heat. But media reports prompted a small army of volunteers to turn up, bearing food, clothing and other donations.

Yet, despite the generous outpouring of support, Germany’s authorities are struggling to cope with the massive influx.

Many of those arriving are from war-torn Syria.

Between January and July, Germany registered 44,417 applications from Syria, which has seen over 4 million people flee a brutal civil war that began in March 2011.

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Rage Against the Center

Populist parties in Europe are moving in from the fringes to increasingly set the tone of the political debate. Most are tapping into widespread voter discontent with mainstream candidates and the style of politics as usual.

Handelsblatt Global, May 13, 2015

As Nigel Farage, the head of the United Kingdom Independence Party, learned last week he had not won a seat in Britain’s parliament, it looked like his euro-skeptic party had received a drubbing.

Yet despite winning only one seat in Britain’s first-past-the-post system, UKIP’s brand of populist conservatism appears to be alive and well in a country still grappling with the fallout of the global financial crisis.

UKIP, which wants Britain to leave the European Union, is now the third-biggest political force after the conservative Tories and Labour, winning 3.9 million votes, or 13 percent of the vote.

Just as significant, UKIP finished second in 120 voting constituencies in Britain, leaving it well poised to build on its gains in the 2020 election.

The party’s euro-skeptic push had a direct impact on Britain’s election campaign, with Prime Minister David Cameron promising an in-out referendum on British membership in the E.U. by 2017.

UKIP is not an exception in Europe, but increasingly, the rule.

While a very British part of the British electoral landscape, UKIP belongs to a growing wave of populist parties, on both the right and left, that are increasingly making a bid for the political center of Europe.

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Renzi: The Last Boy Scout

Italy’s dynamic young prime minister hit the ground running when he came to power last year, promising to shake up government, business and society. But his reforms may be losing steam as voters, especially on the left, start to desert him.

Handelsblatt Global, June 26, 2015

In Italy, he is known as “The Scrapper,” or “Il Rottamatore.”

Matteo Renzi has sworn to shake up Italy’s stagnant economy and sclerotic political system and drag the country out of what he calls “the swamp.”

Italy’s dynamic young prime minister, who came to power in February 2014, has been determined to challenge the country’s vested interests.

After coming to power via a coup in his center-left Democratic Party, he pledged to push through an ambitious list of reforms, tackling everything from education and justice, to the electoral system and the labor market.

He was nothing if not confident. “My ambition,” he said last year, “is not to do better than Greece but to do better than Germany.”

Yet, after a strong start, the 40-year-old former mayor of Florence has run into difficulties, with rising unrest from the left of his party and trade unions, and waning popularity among voters, as evidenced in the disappointing performance in local and regional elections.

For many observers, it is crucial that Mr. Renzi succeed in Italy, the third-largest economy in the euro zone.

Beset by a decade of stagnation and exiting three years of recession, its government debt is the second highest in the euro zone after Greece, at almost 135 percent of GDP, unemployment is just below 13 percent and youth unemployment is over 40 percent.

A combination of external forces and his initial reforms, however, seem to be giving the economy a small but significant boost.

Growth in the first quarter was 0.3 percent and the IMF forecasts growth of 0.7 percent this year and 1.2 percent in 2016. While far from spectacular, it’s welcome news for an economy mired in stagnation for years.

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