GlobalPost, October 20, 2012
BERLIN, Germany — A close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s is under fierce pressure over claims she plagiarized her doctoral thesis more than 30 years ago.
Annette Schavan’s role as education minister, in which she oversees the country’s universities, makes the accusations especially damaging.
Opposition politicians have called on her to resign, saying her reputation is in tatters after the leaking of a report from the University of Duesseldorf appeared to back up the allegations.
“If the accusations prove correct, I have a hard time imagining how the minister in charge of science and research can credibly carry out her duties,” Green Party leader Claudia Roth said earlier this week.
Der Spiegel magazine reported that the university’s examination of Schavan’s thesis recommended stripping her of her PhD. But the university hasn’t made clear when it would make a decision, putting her in a difficult position for the foreseeable future. Continue reading
GlobalPost, October 19, 2012
BERLIN, Germany — When the collapse of Lehman Brothers threatened to set off a global depression in 2008, Peer Steinbrueck stood shoulder to shoulder with Chancellor Angela Merkel to steer his country through the financial crisis.
The economy performed remarkably well. Although its growth is slowing, Germany’s boom helped make Merkel hugely popular.
Now the former finance minister who was once her right-hand man has a new challenge: to unseat Merkel in an election next year.
Although he faces a tough campaign, he may have a shot. Even though the chancellor’s approval ratings remain high, the complexities of Germany’s political system mean there’s no guarantee she’ll be able to form a government in 2013.
A member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) who was granted his ministerial post as part of a grand coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Steinbrueck has since emerged as someone who can pose Merkel a serious threat.
Many Germans see him as a safe pair of hands and a very competent crisis manager who helped overcome the financial crisis by introducing a stimulus package and recapitalizing banks. Continue reading
The Guardian, October 3, 2012
Germany‘s opposition party, the Social Democrats (SPD), has closed the gap on Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s Christian Democrats following the selection of her former finance minister to lead their general election campaign next year.
Polls show that the choice of Peer Steinbrück as the SPD challenger last week has given the party a significant boost in its attempt to oust Merkel. The SPD is now enjoying its highest level of support in a year.
A Forsa survey shows that the SPD has gained three points from a week earlier to 29% after the selection of the feisty, plain-speaking 65-year-old. Merkel’s party dropped three points to 35%.
The combined support for the SPD and the party’s preferred partner, the Greens, is now 41%, marginally ahead of the 39% support for the ruling centre-right coalition.
The polls seem to vindicate the SPD’s choice of the man regarded as most capable of poaching centrist voters from Merkel’s party and its struggling coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP). Continue reading
GlobalPost, August 30, 2012
BERLIN, Germany — Patrick Radmacher sips tea in the leafy courtyard of central Berlin’s Humboldt University. The crisis gripping much of euro zone seems far away from this quiet corner of the German capital where the 24-year-old history student is taking a break from his work in the library.
Young Germans aren’t facing the kind of bleak future and unemployment confronting their counterparts in Greece and Spain. Nevertheless, he says the crisis worries him and his friends deeply. “It’s the largest issue facing this generation.”
That’s because prosperous Germany must shoulder the lion’s share of the burden if the euro is to be saved.
Bailouts for Greece and other stricken economies are highly unpopular among Germans, who so far have helped prevail on Chancellor Angela Merkel to refrain from backing the kind of agressive solution many economists are calling for.
Attitudes among the young are helping drive the general opinion. Older Germans have prized European integration for helping their country move beyond its Nazi past. They see integration as subsuming potentially dangerous nationalism into a wider identity and creating strong ties with neighboring countries.
But younger Germans see it differently. Many appear to take the European Union for granted or, increasingly, view it negatively. Their voices could become an important factor as the deepening euro crisis continues to slow Germany’s prodigious economic growth ahead of elections next year. Continue reading
GlobalPost, May 7, 2012
BERLIN, Germany — At times during the French election campaign, one would have been forgiven for thinking that Francois Hollande’s opponent was named Angela Merkel, not Nicolas Sarkozy.
Such was the importance of Germany, and of the Berlin-dictated policy of austerity, in the debate.
“Germany does not speak for Europe,” were his fighting words during the campaign to unseat one half of the duo known as Merkozy.
And you could say he was provoked. After all, Merkel had very publicly supported his opponent.
Sarkozy had become her dependable sidekick on EU matters, much to the infuriation of many of the two big countries’ EU partners. The German leader regarded the French conservative as the best guarantee that Berlin’s policy of reform and austerity would be pursued in dealing with the euro crisis.
But the French electorate had other ideas.
They voted for Hollande, one of whose central campaign pledges was a refusal to sign up to the Merkel-designed fiscal compact, unless there are elements of growth included.
In his campaign, he seemed to emerge as the champion for an alternative to the Merkel doctrine, which narrowly focused on belt-tightening and structural reform.
His victory puts Merkel in an awkward spot. Not only is she now going to have to deal with a French leader she very obviously snubbed — she refused to meet him during the campaign.
She is also going to be faced with a leader in Paris who has very different ideas about the best way to tackle the euro crisis. Continue reading
GlobalPost, April 4, 2012
BERLIN, Germany — When the band of internet activists known as the Pirate Party came from nowhere last September to win close to 9 percent in Berlin’s state election, there was still a sense that this could be a flash in the pan.
After all, Berlin was a city-state, known for its anti-establishment bent, and full of young techies working in the city’s burgeoning start-up scene, as well as students, artists and other bohemian types.
However, the success of the Pirates in Saarland last weekend has sharpened many minds in the established political parties. The Pirates were able to win 7.4 percent of the vote in the small state of 1 million people that borders France. They scored far ahead of the Free Democrats, the junior partner in Angela Merkel’s coalition, which only garnered 1.2 percent. They also pushed the Greens into fifth place.
Political commentators and party strategists are now acknowledging that the Pirates could be on their way to becoming an important political force in Germany.
It’s still unclear whether the party will shake up the political landscape by entering the federal parliament in elections scheduled for the end of 2013 — or fade away once the novelty wears off. Continue reading
GlobalPost, March 22, 2012
BERLIN, Germany — In an ideal world, Chancellor Angela Merkel should really be confident of winning a third term in next year’s federal election.
Most Germans approve of how she’s handled the euro crisis. She is riding high in the opinion polls, and her party, the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), is the most popular in the country, enjoying 38 percent support.
But Merkel also has a big problem: her junior coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), is in freefall. With their support waning, they are likely to be wiped out in the next federal vote in 2013, leaving Merkel forced to find an alternative partner. Continue reading
The Washington Times, Dec. 27, 2011
When Mohamed Bouazizi, a young Tunisian vegetable seller, set fire to himself in protest over harassment by officials last December, he unleashed a wave of long-simmering resentment across the Arab world that swept away longtime leaders in Tunisia and Egypt over the next two months.
The Arab Spring set in with the hope that a huge democratic change finally was within reach for the region. Now, 12 months later, that initial euphoria largely has subsided.
Syria launched a brutal crackdown on dissent. Yemen is still in a suspended state of chaos, while Libya struggles to unite after overthrowing Moammar Gadhafi. Even in Egypt, the continuing role of the army has led to doubts over its revolution transforming into a representative democracy.
“The sense of disappointment comes from the fact that expectations were raised so quickly and these were impossible to fulfill,” said Christian Koch of the Gulf Research Center, a Dubai-based think tank.
“One has to be realistic that the switch over to a different type of government is something that will simply take time.”
Other analysts agree that change is going to be much slower than the rapid pace of events earlier this year may have seemed to promise at first.
“It will take the Arab world at least between 10 and 20 years to be able to transition from political authoritarianism to pluralism,” said Fawaz A. Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics. Continue reading
Despite rising international pressure, Merkel refuses to allow the ECB to act as the lender of last resort
GlobalPost, Dec. 2, 2011
BERLIN, Germany — Over the past twenty-four hours, both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have delivered landmark speeches advocating deep changes to the euro zone to address the debt crisis. The changes, if agreed to by member nations, would impose real fiscal discipline over nations, with the goal of giving Brussels the power to prevent countries from falling into fiscal trouble.
The approach is a risky one. It asks countries to sacrifice national sovereignty in the name of economic stability, but in recent years citizens have signalled an unwillingness to forfeit more control to Brussels. But an even bigger problem is that it’s a long term approach to an urgent problem. If successful, it may prevent countries like Greece and Italy from ammassing huge debt burdens in the future. But it won’t solve the continent’s current crisis.
European nations need huge loans, and they need them fast or they risk defaulting. With the debt conflagration now blazing across borders, Merkel and Sarkozy are essentially gazing off at the horizon as the world urges Europe to deploy its most powerful option: unleashing its central bank to act as a lender of last resort.
The problem: Germany is resolutely opposed to using the ECB in this way. Merkel, appeared to reiterate her objections today, stating that “The European crisis will not be solved in one fell swoop.” Continue reading
Europeans accuse Berlin of using the euro crisis to boost German power.
GlobalPost, Nov. 15, 2011
BERLIN, Germany — It may have been a bad idea to send a German. And his name certainly didn’t help matters.
When Horst Reichenbach arrived in Athens recently to head a new European Union task force to help the country deal with its debt, the Greek media instantly dubbed him “Third Reichenbach.”
Cartoons appeared of him in Nazi uniform. A Greek tabloid showed a photo of his office with the headline: “The new Gestapo headquarters.”
The Greeks are not alone in harboring suspicions toward Germany, which occupied the country during World War II. The British conservative press is up in arms. The Daily Mail went so far as to accuse the Germans of attempting to use the euro crisis to “conquer Europe” and establish a “Fourth Reich.” Meanwhile in Poland, Germany’s supposed imperial ambitions became an issue in the recent elections.
And as the euro crisis has deepened, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pushed for the EU to have a greater say in the domestic governance of the euro zone’s seventeen members. Among other measures, she has called for real European power over countries’ budgets. Continue reading