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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.