Energy is the latest strain on the Franco-German alliance
‘The year 2022 must be a turning point for Europe,’ said Emmanuel Macron in his New Year’s Eve address as France took over of the rotating presidency of the European Union.
Naturally, Macron’s European ambitions are causing headaches in Berlin where Angela Merkel had made German leadership of the EU seem a law of nature for 16 years. Her successor Olaf Scholz is now being challenged for it. As his unreservedly Europhile administration seeks to find its feet in Europe, it will have to compete with a French president keen to appear as the man who puts France at the centre of the map — and all without visibly exacerbating the existing rifts within the EU. ...
My home country is being pulled into familiar conflicts
“It’s like you’ve never been away,” my uncle said as we raised a glass of herb liqueur to toast my arrival at his home in the Thuringian Forest a few days ago. Due to Covid, I hadn’t seen many of my German family members since Christmas 2019, and he was right, at first glance, nothing had changed. We sat on the same sofa, told well-worn family stories and drank too much of the usual local brew.
But things were different. As evening turned into night, the jokes about “Stasi-like” state control turned into serious conspiracy theories. The tension in the room was palpable as vaccinated family members said they had still not fully recovered their sense of taste and smell weeks after a Covid infection my unvaccinated uncle had brought into the house. The situation caused deep and permanent rifts in the family that even comforting Christmas routines could not heal. ...
Germany's economic forecast is looking increasingly bleak
It wasn’t so long ago that the German media were reporting almost gleefully about the shortages of petrol and goods in the UK. Even serious newspapers proclaimed that the lack of food would be a permanent problem, not in small part due to Brexit. Apparently, we also have no more fruit and veg on the shelves and we might well have a sober Christmas this year as alcohol supplies have run dry.
Of course, there is no denying that supply chain problems are continuing to be a permanent threat to economic recovery from the Covid-induced slump, but this is not a Britain-specific problem. In fact it may well be the German economy — Europe’s largest — that emerges from the fourth wave of Covid battered and sluggish. ...
Olaf Scholz's cabinet has laid out an extremely progressive agenda
Habemus chancellor! There is white smoke over Berlin as the new German government concluded its coalition talks and announced its agenda for the next four years. If you expected a slight tilt to the Left from Merkelism, think again: Germany is in for a radical overhaul.
In the press conference yesterday afternoon, the four party leaders went through the motions of praising each others’ conduct during coalition talks in an effort to allay fears that Germany’s first three-party coalition will lead to instability and division. They stressed that they had agreed on basic principles such as the raising of minimum wage, building new and affordable homes and combating climate change. ...
Rising tensions in Europe will require its largest economy to arm itself
NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on the future German government to ensure that it fully commits to the alliance’s nuclear sharing programme. On a visit to Berlin last Friday, he addressed the country after media reports had speculated that Angela Merkel’s successor might agree to a withdrawal from nuclear deterrence systems.
Negotiations are ongoing for a three-party coalition to replace the Merkel administration. If successful, Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, will become the new chancellor and his party will lead the country in a centre-Left coalition together with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Liberals. ...
The Belarusian crisis shows that Putin's interests are not aligned with Germany’s
The crisis on Poland’s border is also being felt by its western neighbour. Many of the 20,000 migrants estimated to have crossed into the EU via Belarus since the middle of October are headed for Germany and reaching its borders in increasing numbers. Yet the response in Berlin has been muted.
Last week, German chancellor Angela Merkel tried to intervene with a phone call to Moscow, from where Belarus might be reined in. She told Vladimir Putin that the situation was “completely unacceptable” as the “instrumentalisation of migrants against the European Union by the Belarusian regime is inhumane.” She ordered Putin to shorten Lukashenko’s leash. ...
The pair's weirdly harmonious relationship was on full display in Rome
What is the difference between Angela Merkel and Olaf Scholz? That question is becoming increasingly difficult to answer as Mr Scholz prepares to take the reins.
At the G20 summit in Rome last weekend, Merkel appeared alongside Scholz to present him to the world as the next German leader. But what was strange was how in sync the pair were. When Merkel spoke, Scholz nodded approvingly next to her and vice versa. She told journalists that “this has been an opportunity to appear together in bilateral talks” while he stressed he would continue Merkel’s good work internationally.
This behaviour appeared to baffle Boris Johnson in particular. He reportedly asked how the “German transition” worked and called the process a ‘“friendly takeover”. No wonder he was bemused — it’s hard to picture him with Theresa May appearing at an international summit arm in arm, let alone with Keir Starmer shortly after a general election. ...
Private armies have a long and undistinguished history in the country
Two former German soldiers have been arrested for planning to create a paramilitary group to fight in Yemen. The men were taken in under terrorism charges for attempting to recruit others to their mercenary band.
The project must have seemed a lucrative one for ‘Arend-Adolf G.’ and ‘Achim A.’, as they are called in the German press for privacy reasons. They had hoped that the Saudi government would finance the project. Each member of the 150-strong combat group, made up of ex-soldiers and police officers, was to receive up to €40,000 a month for their services.
These ex-soldiers saw an opportunity to generate a sizeable income after their careers in the Bundeswehr. While the German system involves tight legislation to support those leaving military service, this largely benefits specialised units rather than general infantry. Those who served in combat roles with few transferable skills often struggle to find a job. ...