Germany’s Merkel ‘prefers new vote’ after coalition talks fail

  • 20 November 2017
Media captionGerman chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday said it was a day of “deep reflection” for Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she would prefer new elections to leading a minority government, after a breakdown in coalition talks plunged the country into political crisis.

She also said she did not see any reason to resign from her post despite the failed negotiations.

On Sunday evening, the FDP liberals pulled out of talks with Mrs Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc and the Greens.

Germany’s president called on parties to “reconsider their attitudes”.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged them to make compromises for Germany’s “well-being”, amid a situation he said was unprecedented.

Mrs Merkel faces her biggest challenge in 12 years as chancellor.

“The path to the formation of a government is proving harder than any of us had wished for,” she told broadcaster ARD.

But she said she was “very sceptical” about a minority government, adding that “new elections would be the better path”.

In a separate interview with the ZDF broadcaster, she argued Germany needed stability and a government “that does not need to seek a majority for every decision”.

The elections were held in late September.

Some in Mrs Merkel’s party still hope for another grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD), despite that party repeatedly ruling such an option out.

Earlier on Monday, SPD leader Martin Schulz said his party was “not afraid of new elections”.

‘Politicians have a responsibility’

When asked about the prospect of another alliance with the SPD, Mrs Merkel told ZDF she would wait to see what came of upcoming talks between President Steinmeier and SPD leaders.

However, she said a demand for her to resign would not make a positive start for a new coalition.

If fresh elections are to happen, they would need to be called by Mr Steinmeier, after a long drawn-out process that would take months.

But he appears to view new polls as a last resort. In a brief address earlier on Monday he told politicians they had a responsibility that could not just be handed back to voters.

“Inside our country, but also outside, in particular in our European neighbourhood, there would be concern and a lack of understanding if politicians in the biggest and economically strongest country [in Europe] did not live up to their responsibilities,” he said in a statement.

Seats in Bundestag

Mrs Merkel’s bloc won September’s poll, but many voters deserted the mainstream parties.

Negotiations between the pro-market FDP, the Greens and the conservative CDU/CSU bloc had gone on for four weeks before the FDP’s surprise withdrawal late on Sunday.

Mrs Merkel blamed the FDP for the collapse, saying that the parties were on the “home straight” when the liberals pulled out.

But FDP leader Christian Lindner has defended his party, saying it “did not take such a decision lightly”.

Despite Mrs Merkel’s words about a fresh poll, analysts say the new elections would be likely to benefit the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant AfD most, so other parties would probably try to avoid them.

The far-right AfD won 12.6% of the vote in the September elections, entering parliament for the first time with more than 90 seats.

Courtesy: BBC

Angela Merkel and CDU struggle to form ‘Jamaica’ coalition

Four German political parties — the Christian Democrats, Christian Social Union, Free Democrats and Greens — are now in their third week of talks to form a government. They disagree about more things than they agree on.

Angela Merkel, CDU

Monday — over a month after Germany’s elections — marked the beginning of the third week of exploratory talks on the makeup of what would be Angela Merkel’s fourth coalition government.

These talks are the informal precursor to the official coalition negotiations. In other words: As the chancellor and many other leading politicians had predicted, there is still a long way to go before she can sit at a table with her new cabinet and sign a coalition contract.

Germany is now outside its political comfort zone. Although a coalition of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), the Free Democratic Party (FDP), and the Greens has been run more or less successfully at the state level once before, the Jamaica coalition — so named because of the parties’ respective colors: black, yellow and green — has never been tried at the national level.

As various negotiators are finding out, forming a government is a whole other proposition when it comes to larger, country-defining topics such as climate change and refugee policy. “Now we’ve had one proper row, but that’s what happens with issues like that,” Greens leader Cem Özdemir said after a particularly acrimonious session last week.

As things stand, the list of agreements is significantly shorter than the list of disagreements. Here are the five main problems that need some serious horse-trading.

Asylum policy

After years of considerable friction, the two leading conservative parties, the CDU and CSU, agreed to impose a “soft limit” on the number of asylum applicants that Germany would accept annually, even though this presents some considerable legal questions. The only trouble now is that both of the other potential coalition parties, the laissez-faire FDP and the Greens, are against such a limit.

Katrin Goering-Eckardt and Cem OzdemirThe Greens Cem Özdemir and Katrin Göring-Eckardt have a struggle on their hands

Then there’s the perennially thorny issue of reuniting people who are granted “subsidiary protection” with their close relatives — allowing spouses, children or parents to fly in once an asylum request has been successful. The last German government, a coalition of the CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats, suspended reunifications until March 2018. Now, the CDU/CSU bloc seeks to extend that even further. The Greens want to do the exact opposite and lift the suspension entirely, while as a compromise the FDP has proposed a case-by-case assessment, with individual family members allowed to come to Germany in certain circumstances.

Energy and climate

Energy policy was the main source of Özdemir’s “proper row” last week. Though all parties have stated their commitment to Germany’s climate goals (reducing CO2 emissions by 40 percent compared with their 1990 levels by 2020 — which the country is not even close to meeting), they have very different ideas about how to achieve that.

The Greens intend to shut down Germany’s 20 dirtiest coal power stations (the lignite mines) as soon as possible and shift to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030; the FDP will only sign a new energy or climate policy that is “competitive.” Another problem is that the CDU’s chief negotiator on the topic, Armin Laschet, happens to be the state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, which has a large concentration of lignite mines. The Greens insist that maintaining a healthy job market and switching to renewables are not mutually exclusive.

There is at least one thing that everyone can agree on: All four parties have pledged that Germany would remain part of the Paris climate agreement.

Pensions

Social policy is to be a particular subject of discussion this week. On Monday, Jens Spahn, a young and fast-ascending CDU legislator, set out a plan to abolish the retirement age of 63. Though party officials deny a rift, the proposal is at apparent odds with Chancellor Merkel’s stated pension policy. Spahn, who is currently state secretary in the Finance Ministry, is leading the CDU’s finance policy negotiations, and thinks that pension money would be better invested in strengthening pensions for widows.

Christian Lindner, FDPFDP leader Christian Lindner has ideas he definitely wants in the coalition contract

The Greens, on the other hand, have called for a major reform of Germany’s pension policy to ensure that people who are on the margins of the labor market — the self-employed, people with state-sponsored “minijobs” and single parents, for example — are protected from continued poverty in old age. On top of that, the Greens want people who pay into the state system to be guaranteed a basic income when they retire.

The FDP, meanwhile, seeks to abolish any fixed retirement age and set pensions according to workers’ age when they leave the labor force: the earlier they retire, the lower the payouts. According to the FDP, people who want to receive their full pensions should work longer.

Labor market

The FDP is keen to loosen regulations, extend the maximum workweek to 48 hours, and get rid of protections for temporary and subcontracted workers. This directly contradicts the Greens’ policy, which would grant temporary workers the same rights as permanent employees have and force employers to give concrete reasons as to why short-term contracts must be fixed at all. The Greens also want minijobs to be turned into regular jobs and the minimum wage to be raised to ensure a basic standard of living.

The CDU/CSU have not proposed any major changes to labor policy beyond a general aim of achieving full employment by 2025.

Taxes

Once again, it’s the Greens who are out to poop the party. Though the FDP and CDU/CSU are keen to drop any notion of a wealth tax, the Greens want that built in to the contract. Meanwhile, the center-right parties have also proposed abolishing the post-reunification “solidarity tax,” which is meant to pay for investment in eastern Germany. The Greens are ambivalent on that issue.

Courtesy: DW

Germany marks 500th anniversary of Protestant Reformation in Wittenberg

German leaders are meeting in Wittenberg to mark 500 years since Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation. Alongside ceremonies in Wittenberg, events are underway across Germany.

Watch video02:31

How Martin Luther changed the world

Germany celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on Tuesday with a national holiday and ceremonies in the eastern city of Wittenberg, where Martin Luther began a split in the Catholic Church that transformed Christianity and Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Saxony-Anhalt state Premier Reiner Haseloff have been attending several ceremonies in Wittenberg that started with an afternoon church service in the city’s Castle Church and will end with a ceremony in the city hall in the evening.

Read moreLuther in the US: Tattoos, Playmobil and the grace of God

Other German politicians and numerous international guests were also attending ceremonies in the city.

Speaking at an event in Wittenberg’s All Saints’ Church Tuesday evening, Merkel said Luther “got a ball rolling that could not be stopped and that changed the world forever.”

She also took the opportunity to stress the importance of religious and political tolerance in Europe, saying “whoever believes in diversity must also practice tolerance; that has been the experience of our continent over the years. It’s been painstakingly learned that the basis for peaceful co-existence in Europe is tolerance.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Wittenberg celebrationsChancellor Angela Merkel at the Wittenberg celebrations

Luther (1483-1546), a theology professor and priest, questioned the Catholic Church’s teachings and challenged the Vatican’s authority through his “95 Theses.” He is believed to have nailed the theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church on October 31, 1517.

Read moreOpinion: Commemorating Luther’s ongoing Reformation

Read moreHow Martin Luther became the first Christian pop star

Performances by musicians and comedians took place in Wittenberg’s historic city center throughout the day. Several other events, exhibits and church services were also held across Germany to mark the anniversary.

On Monday, members of Berlin’s protestant youth organization nailed their own theses to the doors of around 300 churches in the German capital. Berlin state youth pastor Sarah Oltmanns told protestant news agency EPD that the youths prepared their church reform suggestions for two years in workshops and other events.

amp, rs/jm (dpa, epd)

Courtesy: DW

Macron’s eurozone plans put eastern EU members on the spot

French President Emmanuel Macron is impatient to reinvigorate the eurozone. But this poses a dilemma for the EU’s eastern members: stay out and risk losing clout in Brussels or join and risk losing economic sovereignty?

USA Präsident Macron vor der UN-Vollversammlung (Reuters/S. Stapleton)

Macron reiterated his view this week that a multi-speed Europe led by a core of ‘avant-garde’ countries could be the price worth paying for pushing the eurozone — and the European project more widely — forward in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.

“We should imagine a Europe of several formats — going further with those who want to advance, while not being held back by states which want to progress slower or not as far,” Macron said.

“It appears that Macron would like a tighter, more centralized eurozone with France and Germany at its heart,” Liam Carson of Capital Economics told DW. “However, he remained fairly vague on euro-zone specifics, probably because of the worse than expected outcome for [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel in the German election.”

But Macron’s words have fallen on some deaf ears in Central and Eastern Europe, a region struggling with political uncertainty and growing Euroskepticism, despite continued strong growth.

Of the nine new member states that joined the EU in 2004-2009, the Baltic countries, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta have adopted the euro, while Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia have not yet done so.

Critics argue that speeding up the process of monetary — as a precursor to fiscal — integration might fuel the overheating that was seen in Southern Europe after the 2007-8 financial crisis and subsequent recession.

But, “if the eurozone can generate growth throughout the 19 nations and not just the center, then any new institutions may prompt the non-euro members to want to join. If not, then the divisions would surely widen,” Linda Yueh, a professor of Economics at London Business School, told DW.

Watch video01:16

ECB policy seen as less than stimulating

‘It’s now or never’

Will Hutton, a British economist, told DW that while a two-speed Europe is a risk, “the time has come for this. Macron’s plans are the biggest boost to Europe since the early 1990s, the era of Jacques Delors.”

“Sure, Macron is using Merkel’s weakness, but Europe is on the cusp of an economic run and while some eastern European economies might not be able to stand the pace, Europe can’t go on at the speed of the slowest for much longer,” Hutton said, adding that the UK might even be knocking back on the EU’s door in the next five to ten years.

All non-euro EU member states except Denmark and the UK are already legally obligated to work toward adopting the euro, by satisfying various “convergence criteria,” namely:

Inflation — Member states should have an average rate of inflation that doesn’t exceed that of the three best-performing member states by over 1.5 percent for a period of one year before being assessed.

Government budgets — Member states’ ratio of planned or actual government deficit to GDP should be no more than three percent. Their ratio of government debt to GDP should be no more than 60 percent.

Exchange Rates — Member states should have respected the normal fluctuation margins of the exchange rate mechanism (ERM) and should not have devalued their currency against any other member state’s currency for at least the two years before being assessed.

Interest rates — Member states should have had an average interest rate over a period of one year before being assessed that does not exceed by more than two percentage points that of the three best-performing member states.

Central & Eastern Europe: weary and ​​​​​wary 

“It seems unlikely that any of the major economies in Central and Eastern Europe will adopt the euro any time soon,” Carson says.

“With respect to the criteria, as things stand, Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic all meet the debt, interest rate and inflation criteria for joining,” although he added that there is a good chance that loose fiscal policy in Poland and Romania will cause budget deficits to widen beyond the 3 percent of GDP threshold by next year.

“Hungary’s deficit could also widen beyond 3 percent of GDP and with public debt still well above 60 percent of GDP, it also fails the debt criteria.”

“More importantly, political appetite for joining the euro is generally waning. Accession to the eurozone in Poland and Hungary is unlikely to happen under the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) and Fidesz governments, which have both become increasingly hostile towards EU oversight of domestic policy,” Carson says.

“Poland’s opposition is based on ideological grounds, but also public support is not sufficient. In the Czech Republic the main obstacle is public support. Most of the parties would have been open to introducing the euro, but public opinion has prevented that so far. In Hungary there is strong public support and a governmental decision ahead of the 2018 elections might be a popular step,” Daniel BarthaExecutive Director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy (CEID)  in Budapest, told DW.

The Palace of Culture and Science in WarsawPoliticians in Warsaw have warned that the creation of a multi-speed Europe could “break apart” the EU.

Poland

“Brexit is not a risk for the EU … A bigger threat is if the EU starts to break apart into a multi-speed union, into blocs where some are stronger and can decide about others,” President Andrzej Duda said this month. “The result could be a divided EU that’s not politically or economically viable, which may break apart the bloc,” he added.

The bedrock of common understanding that Merkel and ex-Polish PM Donald Tusk shared is now long gone. And ties between Warsaw and Paris have been strained since August after Macron’s speech criticizing what he called Warsaw’s attack on democracy and a French plan to tighten rules on EU posted workers, such as Polish truck drivers.

The Law and Justice (PiS) government has also taken aim at Germany, demanding war reparations, attacking plans to build a second Nord Stream gas pipeline to Russia that bypasses Poland and being highly critical of its western neighbor’s policies towards refugees.

Nonetheless, Poland will start to debate whether to join the eurozone when the bloc becomes a stable and transparent entity, Konrad Szymanski, the Polish deputy foreign minister in charge of European affairs, has said.

About 80 percent of Polish international trade is accountable in euros, so entering the eurozone will significantly decrease currency risk and simplify transactions with foreign companies. Despite this, over two-thirds of Poles oppose joining the euro area.

Prague, the Czech capitalA general election to be held October 20-21, will show whether the Czechs will seek to join the EU hard core.

Czech Republic

The Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka wants his country to set a date for the adoption of the euro and has “the ambition to belong among the most advanced European countries.”

The Czech Republic has been cautious about joining the euro, on both the left and the right. No firm date has been set and in recent years governments have shied away from making predictions.

The country has a long reputation for running a credible monetary policy and traditionally has had interest rates below those in the eurozone.

“In the Czech Republic, Andrej Babis, who is the heavy favourite to become Prime Minister following next month’s elections, has continued to strongly reiterate that the Czech Republic shouldn’t adopt the currency,” according to Carson.

Hungary

Hungarian economic policy cannot abandon its long-term intention of joining the eurozone, “but there is no rush,” the economy minister, Mihaly Varga, said in June. Vargo said a currency system where monetary policy is unified but fiscal policy is not is also a viable route.

But a senior Hungarian politician said in early August that Hungary could only consider adopting the euro when its level of economic development is closer to that of the eurozone countries.

“That is, if there is genuine convergence,” Andras Tallai, state secretary at the economy ministry, said.

Hungarian parliament bulilding is seen as ice floes float on the Danube river in Budapest In 2013, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán proclaimed euro adoption would not happen until the country’s purchasing power parity weighted GDP per capita had reached 90 percent of the eurozone average.

“Otherwise, Hungary could be the loser of accession similar to some Mediterranean countries,” he went on, adding that Hungary won’t yet enter the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) — a kind of ante-chamber for eurozone aspirants — but already meets all of the Maastricht criteria for adopting the euro, with the exception of the forint not being pegged to the euro.

Hungary has to enter to the ERM2 (the exchange rate mechanism) and meet the criteria for 2 years constantly. Hungary meets all other criteria: inflation was 0.1 percent, the deficit 2.4 percent and interest rates are also around 1 percent, and although the debt level is beyond the 60 percent limit, as it is constantly reducing, Hungary also meet that criterion.

Romania

Former Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has said Romania will adopt the euro only after wages in the country come close to those in other EU member states.

Romania has second lowest minimum monthly wage out of 20 EU member states, of 1,450 lei ($341/321 euro), after Bulgaria, according to a study by KPMG.

A study conducted last November by the European Institute of Romania showed that the country could join the Eurozone 13 years from now – if it sustains the average growth rate of the last 15 years.

Currently, Romania is below 60 percent of the European Union average in terms of GDP per capita.

“The story is slightly different in Romania. The foreign minister, Teodor Melescanu, recently announced that Romania will adopt the euro. However, he stated that this won’t happen until 2022. And given that previous plans to adopt the euro have been shelved, this date could easily be delayed. In short, Romania won’t become a member of the euro-zone any time soon,” Carson says.

Frankreich PK Migrationsgipfel in Paris (Reuters/C. Platiau)Angela Merkel is supporting Macron’s call for a new powerful eurozone finance minister post to oversee economic policy across the bloc. She said the new role could provide “greater coherence” to economic policy.

Merkel holds the key

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also backed a plan for a European Monetary Fund (EMF) that would redistribute money within the bloc to where it was needed.

Macron believes that the monetary union suffers from too little centralization and needs its own budget, while Merkel views the bloc’s problem as over-centralization and too little national responsibility.

Merkel has backed her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble‘s proposal to turn the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone’s bailout fund, into the EMF, but she does not see the official possessing “expansive powers.”

Merkel has said she wants a budget of “small contributions” rather than “hundreds of billions of euros.”

France will implement these deep structural reforms on the proviso that Germany agrees to modest steps towards fiscal federalism in the eurozone. But many in Germany — and far beyond as well — appear skeptical about Macron’s ability to achieve his domestic goals.

Still, observers say, Merkel will want to help Macron politically as it is in Germany’s interests to see that he is not replaced at the next presidential election in France by Marine Le Pen of the National Front.

Watch video02:11

Macron calls for more European unity

 

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Migration: Angela Merkel’s first hurdle to forming a coalition

Among German Chancellor Merkel’s biggest challenges to building a new coalition government with the Free Democrats and Greens will be migration and refugee policies. Migration fears helped push voters toward the AfD.

A line of people walking to Germany over the German Austrian border (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Weigel)

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces the task of negotiating a coalition of her Christian Democrats (CDU) and Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) with the free-market liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens, finding a way to get the parties to agree on common migration and refugee policies will likely prove to be her biggest challenge. And success will be far from assured.

“The truth is, there is an arithmetical majority, but the four parties each have their own election mandates. Whether these can be allied without contradiction and in the interests of the country remains to be seen,” FDP head Christian Lindner told Die Welt newspaper on Wednesday.

Read more: Where do German parties stand on refugees, asylum and immigration?

 

The so-called Jamaica coalition, named because the parties’ colors of black, yellow and green correspond to the Caribbean country’s flag, would need to overcome vast ideological and policy differences to unite as a stable government. So what are the potential stumbling blocks toward an agreement on migration?

Read more: German election: Can the Greens and FDP join Angela Merkel in a coalition?

The Free Democrats

In an interview with DW ahead of the election, Lindner alluded to the uncertainty which concerned many in Germany following the arrival of more than a million people seeking asylum in 2015 and 2016.

“We’ve got to get a grip on the situation. That’s one of the cornerstones for any coalition, There have got to be changes in our immigration policy,” he said.

The FDP’s migration policy states there be no maximum number of people granted asylum due to persecution. It advocates creating a new category of humanitarian protection for refugees who have fled war zones and other dangerous situations, which would require them to leave Germany when there was peace in their home countries.

For this, he also declined to name an upper limit for the number of people who could be taken in each year but said a limit could be imposed if the country’s capacity to accept them in became strained.

Read more: FDP: Are Germany’s ‘liberals’ in reality ‘libertarians’?

Watch video01:51

FDP and the Greens: unlikely bedfellows

The Greens

Though the Greens differ vastly from the FDP when it comes to many economic matters, their positions on refugees, asylum and migration are similar in many ways.

The Greens are strongly opposed to an upper limit for asylum seekers, calling it an “absolute no-go.”

Like the FDP, they want to introduce a points-based, Canada style immigration policy and the possibility for people who arrived in Germany as asylum seekers to be able to apply to stay on as regular migrants under the points system.

However, unlike the FDP, the Greens do not believe Afghanistan is safe enough to deport rejected asylum seekers. They also called for family reunification for recognized refugees, which have been paused by Merkel’s government, to resume, saying their party’s “political compass” was oriented toward protection for refugees and human rights.

Read more: Germany’s Green party: How it evolved

“In a coalition with us, just like with the CDU and the FDP, there will be no upper limit for refugees. The CSU must adapt to that if they seriously want to explore a Jamaica coalition,” Greens chair Simone Peter told the Rheinische Post newspaper on Wednesday.

The Christian Social Union

It’s the Christian Democrats’ longtime allies, their Bavarian sister party the CSU, that may prove Merkel’s biggest headache to forming a deal on migration.

Listen to audio58:59

WorldLink: A German metamorphosis via migration

The CSU wants a limit of 200,000 migrants a year. Bavaria was the main entry point for people seeking asylum in Germany via the Balkan route in 2015. Merkel has consistently ruled out a cap and the pressure on her has eased as the number of people arriving in Germany has sunk.

CSU leader Horst Seehofer, who has clashed with Merkel on migration policy, said he had agreed with the chancellor to approach possible coalition talks with a united front, but added they had to respond to voters’ concerns. The CSU lost more than 10 percentage points in Bavaria, hemorrhaging voters to the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany which advocated closed borders and adopted anti-migrant rhetoric.

Read more: Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies CSU threaten rightward shift

CSU deputy Manfred Weber said that despite differences with the other potential partners, he still thought a Jamaica coalition was possible.

“We’ll sit together and talk with each other,” Weber told the Bayern 3 radio station on Wednesday morning. “We need a policy that takes account of people’s concerns,” he said, echoing similar statements from other leading CSU figures including Seehofer.

The prospect of losing further support to the AfD in a state election next year is also a factor pushing the CSU to dig in its heels on migration issues.

Illustration Jamaika-Koalition (picture-alliance/dpa/F. Rumpenhorst)Three-way handshakes are awkward. Four-way even more so. Can Merkel make a Jamaica coalition work?

Lessons from the north?

The current CDU premier in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, where a Jamaica coalition has been in force since June, saw room for compromise. Daniel Günther pointed out that the CDU had done well in other state elections post-2015 without insisting on a refugee cap and that stricter policies enacted since then had kept the number of asylum-seeker arrivals below the CSU’s proposed limit anyway. However, he warned against aiming for blanket unity across all issues.

“The secret to our success was that every party accepted that, for such a coalition to work, individual parties needed to have clear victories in certain points,” Günter told Deutschlandfunk radio on Wednesday.

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Merkel’s days as German Chancellor are probably now numbered

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
Merkel’s days as German Chancellor are probably now numbered
The rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) dominates the headlines, but the most significant outcome of the German election is that Angela Merkel’s days as Chancellor are probably numbered. This has grave implications for Europe and the wider world.

What’s more, Berlin’s uber stable political system has splintered which means we now enter territory unchartered for a lifetime. Because the swing to the Free Democrats (FDP) and AfD is over fourteen percentage points and almost all these gains are at the expense of the outgoing “grand coalition” of the centrist CDU/CSU and SPD parties. Both of whom have dominated Germany’s democratic parliaments since the Second World War.

For instance, in 1980, the pair controlled 87 percent of the vote in the old Federal Republic, and now they can barely manage a majority, between them, with only 53 percent of preferences. Furthermore, for the first time since 1924, six parties have achieved more than five percent of the vote. And this serves to highlight just how fragmented German politics has become.

Of course, it hardly signals a return to the Weimar days, but the relative chaos exposes how a large number of Germans have become disillusioned with the status quo. The grievances range from growing inequality and rising levels of immigration to a feeling that the political class is out of touch. The latter two concerns are often combined when voters react to Merkel’s unilateral decision to open Germany’s borders to large numbers of migrants in 2015.

A winner, of sorts

However, we must remember that Merkel has actually won the election. Even if it may ultimately amount to a Pyrrhic victory. Also, don’t forget how she’s now emulated her erstwhile mentor, Helmut Kohl, by winning four campaigns. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely, right now, that “Mutti” (as he is affectionately known to supporters) will match his 16 years in office. Because, even at the fourth attempt in 1994, Kohl still brought the CDU/CSU alliance 294 seats from 672, whereas Merkel has managed only 246 out of an available 709. And this also represents a 65 berth drop compared to the 2013 renewal.

Thus, the knives will now be out for Merkel, and it’s only a matter of time before disgruntled backbenchers plot her ousting. Not to mention how the Bavarian CSU wing of her union has endured an eleven percent vote collapse (49percent to 38 percent), which its leader, Horst Seehofer will surely blame on blowback from the Chancellor’s open door to migrants.

This is the elephant in the room. Because before Merkel permitted millions of newcomers to freely enter Germany, the polling situation was radically different. In the last survey of August 2015, INSA put the CDU/CSU on 41 percent, the SPD on 23 percent, the FDP, and AfD both on 4 percent. Since then, the two centrist groupings have dropped eleven points, and the pair which demand the control of migration flows gained a fourteen percent increase in support.

The reason for this change is hardly a secret. On the 4th of September that year, Merkel announced how immigrants would be allowed to cross the border from Hungary into Austria and onward to Germany. Since then, over a million newcomers, mostly Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi in origin, have entered the country. And the fallout has undermined Berlin’s, much envied, political steadiness.

Courtesy, RT

EU cash-dumping in Africa bolsters unruly regimes, aggravates migrant crisis

Martin Jay
Martin Jay is an award winning British journalist now based in Beirut who works on a freelance basis for a number of respected British newspapers as well as previously Al Jazeera and Deutsche Welle TV. Before Lebanon, he has worked in Africa and Europe for CNN, Euronews, CNBC, BBC, Sunday Times and Reuters. Follow him on Twitter @MartinRJay
EU cash-dumping in Africa bolsters unruly regimes, aggravates migrant crisis
Trump’s recent block on US aid to Egypt over human rights concerns raised many eyebrows. But the EU should follow his lead in Africa as it is geopolitical bribery dressed up as aid, which is really the heart of the matter.

Recently, Europe’s four big guns and three African states agreed on a strategy to tackle illegal human trafficking and support nations struggling to contain the flow of people across the desert and the Mediterranean Sea. The move has been prompted primarily by Italy, which accused France and other EU states of not sharing the migrant burden.

But is it an EU problem? And if it is, just how much blame can the EU and Brussels take for the crisis in the first place?

The 28-nation European Union has long struggled to reach any solution to the influx of migrants fleeing war, poverty and political upheaval in the Middle East and Africa. Specifically, it is Africa where Brussels seems incapable of dealing with the crisis, the epicenter of which is Libya, which French President Emmanual Macron is trying to stabilize with a recent initiative to bring together the two rival power blocs for peace talks following a recent ceasefire.

Macron is also leading the much-needed debate about the refugee crisis from Africa. Addressing the leaders of Germany, Italy, Spain, Chad, Niger and Libya, he called for greater cooperation.

A recent conference allowed leaders to iron out a plan setting out a mechanism to identify legitimate migrants who are fleeing war and persecution. The idea is that they can avoid being exploited by traffickers if the UN can register them in Niger and Chad.

“At the core of it, it’s all about fighting illegal migration,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

EU programs in Libya pay cash to traffickers – MEPs

And she’s right. Although this is a step in the right direction, aren’t both France and Germany paying diplomatic lip service to the EU in not pointing out one erroneous detail in all of this: if the EU imposed much tougher conditions on aid given to African leaders, forcing them to improve on human rights, the effect on the sheer numbers of people fleeing those countries would be considerable.

They are not fleeing poverty alone, but more oppression.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) recently accused the EU of financing the trafficking business with its aid program in Libya. The program, which has funded coastguards to patrol against human smugglers, has led to the deplorable plight of captured migrants being held in detention centers. Nevertheless, Italian and Spanish MEPs on September 12th regaled the EU foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini for her new EU programs, which MSF claims are “short-sighted” and have resulted in the traffickers actually benefiting from EU cash.

Yet the MEPs and MSF missed the point. The international medical organization and the growing numbers of MEPs should look more closely at the EU aid programs for the African countries themselves.

Building detention centers for the refugees is like using a sticking plaster from the first aid box to deal with a decapitation. Simple logic is required. Donald Trump gave us the example in August when he cut off US aid to Egypt, citing human rights concerns.

The problem with dictators on the continent is that they become addicted to Washington or the EU’s aid lifeline. Soon enough, leaders ask for more money to resolve problems which stem from symptoms of escalating corruption. It’s a vicious circle which neither Merkel nor Macron care to acknowledge.

At the auspicious conference, this was apparent, with even EU leaders falling into the trap of throwing more money at the problem.

“If we want to stop human traffickers, then this can only be achieved through development aid,” Angela Merkel said.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a shortage of African leaders who were ready to present their former colonial leaders with begging bowls.

But money will not solve the issue. In fact, it is EU money – by the lorry load – which is at the heart of the problem.

EU President Antonio Tajani recently recommended that up to $6 billion should be put aside to stop migrants and $10 billion to do the same in Libya’s southern neighbor, Chad. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson pledged on a recent trip to Benghazi and Tripoli €9 million to help control terrorism and people trafficking. With no loss of an irony, the Italians have been accused of paying off local militias to stop the flow of migrants to their shores.

After living in Africa for six years, I have seen with my own eyes how Western money nearly always creates cultures of dependency and makes governments more ingenious at stealing it, illustrated by investigative journalist Graeme Hancock in his investigation into UN corruption, ‘Lords of Poverty.’

Ethan Chorin, a contributor to Forbes magazine agrees.

“Uncoordinated and vague, these pledges have little chance to make progress — but large potential to make things worse,” he argues, while dismissing the case for a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa, arguing instead for regional players to stop financing the warlords in Libya.

However, the real core problem, which neither old Europe nor the EU wants to address, still lies with the African countries themselves. And they have good reason.

Nearly 120,000 migrants, including refugees, have entered Europe by sea so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. Tragically, more than 2,400 have drowned while making the dangerous journey, often without enough food or water in overcrowded dinghies run by people smugglers.

Yet, most of these people are lower middle-class Africans who want to escape the horror of tyrannical regimes which are oppressing them, convincing them that they have a better life waiting for them in Europe. The real issue is human rights and how the EU continues to blithely support these regimes with hundreds of millions of euro in ‘development’ programs while turning a blind eye to horrific human rights atrocities like torture, rape, and false imprisonment.

Macron should hold the EU to account much more. Ironically, at the very conference where the EU’s foreign policy diva Federica Mogherini is invited – but could not organize as she has so little influence with Paris and Berlin – we are witnessing a farce. The EU is asked to offer its opinion to a problem which is almost entirely created by its own foreign policy ruse with African leaders.

A new UN peace process on Libya – which Macron, not Brussels is taking charge of – might want to ask the EU to hold the leaders of many African countries to account more on human rights atrocities and follow Trump’s example in Egypt.

Baby, you can drive my CAR

The Central African Republic (CAR), for example, which the EU gives hundreds of millions of euro is one of many examples. And we could also, while we’re at it, ask what this money is really for. Being ‘development aid,’ the results are hard to fathom. After working in Brussels for over a decade, I would argue that the money gives Brussels more bang for its buck as those governments are obliged to assist Brussels in its PR program to make itself look more relevant on the world stage.

In 2016, Federica Mogherini herself pledged to give over €2 billion in reconstruction aid following civil war there. It’s hard to see how this, or the more modest €360 million of state-building ‘aid’ given to CAR is helping crack down on torture, rape and a plethora of abysmal human rights atrocities, but more assist the EU with its delusional view that it is a global player.

According to the US State Department, CAR has an off-the-scale rating on human rights atrocities. These include“extrajudicial executions by security forces; the torture, beating and rape of suspects and prisoners; impunity, particularly among the armed forces; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest and detention, prolonged pretrial detention and denial of fair trials.”

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The State Department also highlights, for good measure “fatal mob violence; the prevalence of female genital mutilation; discrimination against women and Pygmies; trafficking in persons; forced labor; and child labor.”

But there is no real accountability from the EU on where this money is spent, a point often raised by critics of Brussels which call it a “blind spot,” with as much as half of the annual 23 billion euros lost due to corruption and incompetence.

Nor, any reports from the European Commission on what it is doing to crack down on gargantuan human rights atrocities carried out by the CAR regime.

Is it hardly surprising that there is an exodus of people from this country escaping the vestiges of human rights atrocities which, arguably, are meted by a brutal despot supported by the EU?

If this money was used instead to assist start-up companies and train young people in entrepreneurialism – and be given only on the basis of leaders scrapping their atrocious practices – then not only would the migrants not leave their own countries and head for Europe, but they would create jobs for thousands of others in their own countries.

The problem really is the money going there in the first place, and the unpalatable relationship leaders of these regimes have with Brussels, who almost uncertainly pocket the money themselves. It is really the EU which needs to be held to account much more about its own graft in these countries which is fueling the Libyan refugee crisis.

But who would do that? Macron and Merkel know what €20 billion of aid from Brussels and European states are doing in Africa. They are both guilty of turning a blind eye as they know this money is not improving human rights and creating jobs but merely strengthening unruly regimes who will stop at nothing to remain in power.

Martin Jay is based in Beirut and can be followed at @MartinRJay

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Courtesy, RT