German police in widespread raids on ‘visa marriages’

Authorities have said that they know of at least 70 cases stemming from the same criminal gang. Nigerian men are suspected of paying for fake marriage licenses to Portuguese women in exchange for EU residency.

Deutschland Bundesweite Razzien gegen Scheinehen (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Zinken)

Hundreds of German police officers carried out dozens of raids on Tuesday morning searching for couples believed to have created sham marriages in order for the “husbands” to receive residency permits for the European Union.

Some 41 apartments were searched in Berlin, Potsdam, Frankfurt and Görlitz. The raids resulted in the arrest of one man and four women, although the authorities said they know of at least 70 sham marriage cases involving the same trafficking gang. Police said the female suspects were between the ages of 46 and 64 and that the man was 50 years old.

The criminal organization finds Nigerian men who wish to stay in the EU and pairs them up with women from Portugal. The men pay around 13,000 euros ($15,550) for counterfeit marriage certificates from Nigeria that are shown to the German authorities along with a well-rehearsed love story confirmed by the Portuguese “wife.”

The women usually fly back to Portugal within a matter of days. According to the federal police, the purpose of the raids is to determine whether the homes look like a couple lives there. German authorities then work with Europol to prove that the marriage is a sham.

Similar raids were reportedly carried out in Portugal in tandem with the ones in Germany.

‘Fake father’ bust

This is the second major raid against visa fraud in recent months. In June, German police took down a “fake father” ring – wherein German men were paid to put their names on the birth certificates of children born to immigrants from Vietnam, parts of Africa and eastern Europe. The babies were automatically granted German citizenship, which allows their mothers to claim German residency permits.

Authorities estimate that about 5,000 of these false paternity claims are made every year. They are notoriously difficult to prosecute however, because police cannot order DNA tests and have to follow strict guidelines when probing into a suspect’s personal life.

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Angela Merkel addresses final Bundestag session before election

Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed themes of moderation and consensus in her final state of the nation address. Her speech was a hommage to the work of her grand coalition, but the Social Democrats refused to join in.

Watch video02:18

Germany’s final parliament session before the election

Two days after a debate against her Social Democratic challenger, Martin Schulz, drew tepid reviews, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the final session of this German parliament on the state of the nation. It was a chance for her to set out at length her agenda if re-elected.

Significantly, Merkel started out with economics. She said that employment was at an all-time high and that Germany was the envy of Europe. But with an eye toward the Dieselgate scandal, she hinted that the government would increase regulation and work toward the goals of e-mobility, but added that there would be no ban on diesel motors.

“Now is the time to act commensurately and with moderation,” Merkel said.

While stressing past German inventions such as the MP3, Merkel said that Germany needed to become more innovative and pledged to devote three percent of the state budget to research and development.

“We don’t want to end up in the museum of technology,” Merkel said. “We want to lead the way.”

Gabriel and Merkel Merkel and her Social Democrat foreign minister may be parting ways

Other key areas

 On the topic of North Korea, Merkel said that there could only be a “peaceful, negotiated solution.” She said that she had conferred with other European leaders, South Korea and the US, about the possibility of imposing further economic sanctions against North Korea.

– She repeated her criticism of Turkey for “increasingly departing from the path of the rule of law.” She again called upon Ankara to release German citizens she says are being held illegally in Turkish jails, and said that she would consult Germany’s fellow EU states about suspending or ending potential Turkish accession to the bloc.

– Merkel said that progress was being made on the global crisis with refugees. She promised that Germany would work together with North African nations to stem the tide of migrants. “We still have to talk to them,” she said. “It makes no sense to pretend that we can change the world simply by deciding things in the German Bundestag.”

– She also defended her plans for an increase in German defense spending, saying that they had been decided upon before the election of Donald Trump as US president. Otherwise the foreign policy section of her speech contained nothing new.

Watch video01:20

Merkel’s political victory after ‘open-door policy’

SPD claims the credit

There was no overlooking the fact that Germany is holding a national election in less than three weeks and that Merkel’s grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) is in the process of dissolving itself. Her speech was repeatedly interrupted by SPD parliamentarians staking claims to various achievements of the past four years. That drew an amused, almost maternal response from the chancellor.

“I don’t understand what you’re doing here,” Merkel said. “You should be happy about what we achieved together. Let’s celebrate our work in a coalition that was in many respects very successful.”

BundestagThe 18th German Bundestag dissolves after Tuesday’s session

You wouldn’t have known that from the SPD’s turn on the podium. While pointing out that the government had succeeded in instituting a minimum wage and a quota for women on the boards of major corporations, Social Democratic parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann said the credit should go exclusively to his party.

Oppermann said the Social Democrats would do more for pensioners and women. He said that the SPD would free up money to close Germany’s digital deficit with the rest of the world.

“This country needs a chancellor who acts in the social democratic sense,” Oppermann said. “I don’t see this sort of courage in you.”

Oppermann did not take Merkel to task on foreign-policy issues, which was hardly surprising given that the foreign ministers of the past four years came from the SPD. That task fell to the opposition parties.

Speaking for the Greens, party co-leader Cem Özdemir called upon the government to “stop cozying up” to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Left Party co-leader Sahra Wagenknecht accused Merkel of ignoring Germany’s social problems and conducting a “feel-good campaign.”

Gabriel contra Merkel

The final session also featured reports by the government’s ministers. The most anticipated speaker in this section was SPD Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel who is also deputy chancellor. How far would he go in attacking the chancellor, by whose side he had begun the session chatting amiably?

Gabriel began by thanking Merkel for her “fair” cooperation. But he went on to say that the chancellor would not have been able to stake out the positions she did, sometimes over objections by fellow conservatives, without the support of the SPD. His remarks played upon the idea of Merkel as a power politician without fixed ideological commitments.

Gabriel, one of the architects of this grand coalition, said the government could be satisfied that Germany had remained “relatively stable” despite the large influx of migrants, Brexit and the election of Trump in the US. But he accused the conservatives of planning to increase defense spending at the cost of Germany’s social-welfare system.

Berlin Bundestagssitzung Gabriel am Rednerpult (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler)Gabriel spoke more as a member of the SPD than a member of the government

And he delivered an impassioned plea for Germany to invest more in helping weaker members of the European Union.

“We need to change the narrative of the EU,” Gabriel said. “We’re the economic and social winners of the European Union.”

It was a preview of the sort of conflicts between conservatives and Social Democrats Germany can expect, if the electorate votes the grand coalition out of office.

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Chancellor Angela Merkel: President Donald Trump’s isolationism risks making US irrelevant, not great

The German chancellor has said there is no way US President Trump can make America “great” if he ignores the rest of the world. She added that Germany would not automatically follow the US into war against North Korea.

G20 Gipfel in Hamburg | Donald Trump & Angela Merkel (Reuters/M. Schrader)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had some harsh words for US President Donald Trump at an event organized by the Handelsblatt newspaper on Wednesday.

Speaking with reporters, she warned that Germany would not blindly follow the United States into a war with North Korea. She added that Trump’s “America First” attitude was putting him at risk of decreasing his country’s importance on the world stage.

“An America that does not care about the rest of the world and just thinks about itself does not make for a big and great country,” said the chancellor, contradicting the US president’s insistence that his isolationist policies will make the US “win” against its rivals.

Merkel was even clearer on the subject of North Korea: Germany has no intention of being dragged into a war on the other side of the world.

‘I do not agree’ that diplomacy won’t work

“I do not agree that all diplomatic means have been exhausted,” Merkel said. She pointed out that North Korea’s neighbors, such as China, Japan and South Korea have a much more vested interest in keeping the situation with Pyongyang as peaceful as possible and that it was the job of their allies in the West to support that goal.

Watch video25:59

North Korea: Diplomacy or war?

“We can and should do no more than that,” said the chancellor, making it clear that she would “not automatically” follow the US president into a conflict with the small totalitarian state.

She also touched on Trump’s comments toward NATO, and his insistence that allies “pay their fair share” to the mutual defense organization.

While she said Germany would endeavor to reach the required 2 percent of GDP on defense spending, the money would not come from cuts to any social welfare programs – heading off criticism from her Social Democrat (SPD) rivals ahead of elections on September 24.

es/sms (dpa, Reuters)

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Hamburg knife murderer known as ‘Islamist, mentally unstable’

Published time: 29 Jul, 2017 11:46

Hamburg knife murderer known as ‘Islamist, mentally unstable’
Hamburg State Interior Minister Andy Grote said that the knife attacker who fatally stabbed one person and wounded several others in Germany’s largest port city on Friday, was actually known to authorities as an Islamist.

Grote told a press conference on Saturday that the man, whose asylum claim had been rejected, was known to have been radicalized.

For some reason, he had not been considered dangerous.
The 26-year-old suspect, born in the United Arab Emirates, was “mentally unstable,” the minister said.

He had come to Germany as a refugee, but his asylum application was rejected and he should have been deported in the following days, as soon as his papers arrived, Tagesspiegel reported.

Hamburg Police Chief Ralf Martin Meyer said initial findings showed the attacker had acted alone, adding that it could not be completely ruled out that he had accomplices, Reuters reported.

READ MORE: 1 killed, multiple injured in Hamburg knife attack – police

On Friday evening, police searched a refugee camp in the district of Langenhorn, where the attacker is thought to have lived.

One person was killed and at least five others were injured during the attack at a supermarket in Hamburg’s Barmbek district. The suspect was overwhelmed by passers-by and arrested.

A 50-year-old woman, as well as four men aged 19, 56, 57, and 64 years, are among the injured, Tagesspiegel reported.
According to Grote, none of the survivors’ wounds are life-threatening.

Courtesy RT

Hard Brexit to cost German car industry jobs: study

A “hard Brexit,” meaning the UK’s departure from the European Union’s single market as well as customs union, would result in thousands of job losses in the German automotive industry, says a new study.

England London Brexit Nationalflaggen vor Big Ben (Getty Images/AFP/G. Kirk)

German and European carmakers could see their revenues decline by as much as 20 percent in the event of the UK leaving the EU’s single market and customs union entirely, concluded a new study released Thursday by the consulting firm Deloitte.

The UK is an extremely important market for German automakers. About a fifth of Germany’s automotive exports are shipped to Great Britain. In 2016, around 950,000 newly registered vehicles in the UK were made in Germany.

It is estimated that as many as 60,000 automotive jobs in Germany are dependent on exports to the UK. Deloitte’s researchers projected that about 18,000 of them would be threatened by a hard Brexit.

Watch video01:48

Formal Brexit talks have started between the EU and the UK

A weakened British pound, they said, would increase the price of German-made cars while decreasing the purchasing power of the British buyer, leading to a drop in demand. Customs duties would raise the car price even higher, with the study estimating that vehicles made in Germany could cost as much as 21 percent more than they do now in the UK.

Big losses

The report noted that car manufacturers based in continental Europe would be the biggest losers from such a scenario.

It said that although firms based in the UK and those from other non-EU countries would be able to gain some market share in the short term, they would not be able to benefit from the situation in the long run. That’s because their production costs would increase as they rely on suppliers based in the EU, whose parts would become pricier, the authors argued.

Formal talks about the British departure from the European Union began this week, with the UK’s Brexit Minister David Davis stressing that Britain would have to quit the bloc’s common market and customs union to ensure the return of full sovereignty.

Read: German firms warn Brexit will ‘seriously damage’ UK business

The clock is ticking for Britain’s exit from the bloc as Article 50 sets out a strict two year timetable. That means a deal will have to be agreed by March 2019, failing which Britain would fall back on World Trade Organization rules, which could result in higher export tariffs and other barriers.

Britain’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, an automotive industry body, this week urged the government to agree on an interim Brexit trade deal, calling for Britain to keep membership of the European single market and customs union until a final Brexit deal has been signed.

sri/bea (dpa, AFP)

 

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France’s Emmanuel Macron outlines vision for Franco-German alliance

French President Macron has said boosting cooperation with Germany was crucial to regaining the trust of European voters. His comments came ahead of his first EU leaders summit in Brussels.

Frankreich Wahlen Macron (picture alliance/AP Photo/T.Camus)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday called on Germany to work alongside France in fostering a fresh approach to European politics and winning back the trust of people feeling disenfranchised by the EU.

Speaking to a number of European newspapers ahead of his first EU leader summit in Brussels on Thursday, Macron said the greatest threat facing the bloc was the propensity for lawmakers and voters to veer away from liberal policies.

Read more: Opinion: Europe, En Marche!

“The question now is: will Europe succeed in defending the deep values it brought to the world for decades, or will it be wiped out by the rise in illiberal democracies and authoritarian regimes,” he said.

Watch video01:17

Let The Reform Begin

The French president called on Germany and France to drive the necessary reforms needed to reconcile citizens with the European project. Macron’s policy roadmap would see the EU promote “greater economic and social wellbeing” and introduce tighter rules on workers and make it harder for companies to employ low-wage labor from eastern Europe.

“One country’s strength cannot feed on the weakness of others,” Macron told reporters. The French president insisted that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in total agreement and realized the need for deeper cooperation. “Germany, which underwent a series of reforms around 15 years ago, is realizing that this isn’t viable,” he said.

Doubts remain over new eurozone ministry

One area where Macron’s vision has drawn skepticism in Berlin concerns the euro currency. The French president has called for a common eurozone budget and a democratically controlled “Euro Ministry.”

Reports last month suggested that the proposal had been rejected in Berlin by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

Read more: Macron’s EU ideals meet Merkel’s mastery

However, Macron insisted on Thursday that it was the “only means of achieving more convergence within the eurozone,” and that “Germany does not it deny it.”

On Tuesday, Merkel signaled that she would be open to the idea of a eurozone budget.

“We could, of course, consider a common finance minister, if the conditions are right,” the chancellor said in a speech at the annual congress held by Germany’s largest industrial lobby, the Federation of German Industries. However, Merkel ruled out any European body taking responsibility for member states’ risks and liabilities for debt.

Watch video25:59

Victory for Macron – Challenge for Europe?

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EU agrees to joint sanctions on cyberattacks

The EU has agreed to use a “cyber diplomacy toolbox” against hackers targeting member states. The move comes amid concern hackers may seek to influence German elections in September.

Symbolbild Cyberangriff (picture-alliance/dpa/MAXPPP/A. Marchi)

The European Union agreed Monday that a cyberattack on any member state would be met by a joint response, including sanctions on state and non-state hackers.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg said in a statement that the bloc would use a “cyber diplomacy toolbox” to respond to malicious cyberactivities targeting computer systems.

“A joint EU response to malicious cyberactivities would be proportionate to the scope, scale, duration, intensity, complexity, sophistication and impact of the cyberactivity,” foreign ministers said in a statement.

So-called restrictive measures typically target individuals, groups, companies or governments with travel bans, asset freezes and restrictions on doing business.

Read more: Vladimir Putin’s ‘freelance artist’ hackers

Election worries

With German elections coming up in September, there is rising concern within the EU that individuals or groups could carry out malicious cyberattacks to influence the elections, possibly backed by a foreign government such as Russia.

The German government last month warned political parties to take extra defense against the hacking of their computer systems after alleged Russian-backed cyberattacks to influence the US and French elections through the release of hacked emails.

Suspected Russian-backed hackers broke into the email accounts of German lawmakers in 2015, and subsequently targeted political parties including Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, said in early May that “large amounts of data” had been seized in the cyberattacks.

“Our counterpart is trying to generate information that can be used for disinformation or for influence operations,” he told a conference in Potsdam, near Berlin. “Whether they do it or not is a political decision … that I assume will be made in the Kremlin.”

Watch video02:23

Election security in the digital age

cw/tj (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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