Welcome to another edition of the Krautshell! This week, Mats combines sports and politics in his House’s View, analyzing some questionable aspects of the German team’s political posturing ahead of their defeat on Wednesday at the hands of Japan. In addition, read our main articles about an underreported (but hugely important) European company at the intersection of the US-China semiconductor conflict, the EU member states’ attempts to establish a “right to repair” for electronic devices, and the pitiful state of Germany’s military – which would be kind of amusing if it weren’t so serious. Finally, Christian comes to the defense of the German soccer team in this week’s WOOM.
FIRST, SOME SOLID INTEL:
The international “Chip War” – as economic historian Chris Miller has put it – is in full swing, and both the EU and the US are grappling with the geopolitical risks of semiconductor dependencies. Obscure acronyms have become household names as companies like TSMC dominate global chip production. And no doubt, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company produces more than 90 percent of high-end semiconductors fueling the world economy. But there is another obscure acronym we want to talk about today, one whose importance arguably surpasses even TSMC’s, and which puts good old Europe right in the middle of the US-China tech war. Say hello to ASML.
It’s a bit of a shocker that the Dutch company ASML – short for Advanced Semiconductor Materials Lithography – isn’t more famous than it is. Because while high-end computer chip production conceivably can and will diversify (Hi, Arizona), ASML’s lithography machines are currently irreplaceable. Not only are they bafflingly complex to the point that not even the company knows how many parts each one contains (around 450,000), but they took decades to develop and are the only tools in the world capable of using extreme ultraviolet light (EUV) to shrink chip transistors down to a few nanometers. That’s 100 percent global market share.
Which brings us to geopolitics. Despite US trade restrictions, the Dutch government has just decided to continue allowing ASML to export lithography machines to China – albeit not the newest EUV models. Foreign Trade Minister Liesje Schreinemacher made clear that “The Netherlands will not copy the American export restrictions for China one-to-one.” With the next EU-US Trade and Technology Council (TTC) meeting coming up in December, it will be fascinating to see how far Europe will go to accommodate the American Chips Act. Because although major EU member states are toughing up their stance towards China (see our piece on Germany last week), that doesn’t automatically mean they approve of Biden’s massive industrial subsidies. For more details on this exciting EU-US trade dynamic, give us a ping.
A famous German proverb says you can’t repair a broken heart. This wise saying was even set to music by pop star Udo Lindenberg. Things will be different with our electronic devices in the future, at least if the German government has its way. The EU has long been struggling to find good solutions and is flirting with the so-called “right to repair”. The EU Commission is holding out the prospect of an EU-wide legislative proposal in 2023, and there are already a few regulations and incentive systems in place at the member state level.
Just like modern chart music, we produce an insane amount of electronic waste (promised, this will be the lamest joke in this Krautshell). A right to repair should require manufacturers to design their electronic devices more so that they can be easily disassembled and repaired. There should be longer software updates and spare parts should be standardized and kept in stock for a long time. Experts at the Fraunhofer Institute have calculated for the EU Commission that the right to repair could reduce the carbon footprint of electronic devices by a quarter. But it is also intended to serve consumer protection. Austria is a good example of what this could mean. It already has an incentive system in which the government reimburses consumers for half of the repair costs (capped at €200). This makes it more attractive to repair a used device than to throw it away. The problem remains, however, as is so often the case, that uniform regulations and standardization would be necessary throughout the EU. Instead, a patchwork quilt of national go-it-alones is emerging, because suddenly all governments in the EU seem to find that EU regulations don’t move fast enough. Until there is something new, we will listen to some more Udo Lindenberg.
Out of Ammo
In the German Bundestag, the opposition uses Minor Inquiries to hold the government to account and extract (politically) valuable information. This week, CDU/CSU defense expert Jens Lehmann got a bit more than he bargained for when he asked the Defense Ministry for an update on Germany’s ammunition reserves. The response? A resounding nein. As Germans say, “No answer is also an answer”, so here’s a look at the state of Germany’s defense situation during a time of massive geopolitical challenges.
On the surface, the Defense Ministry’s refusal to provide military information in the interest of national security is relatable. The problem is that the Bundeswehr has itself publicly admitted it lacks munitions for more than a few days of combat. Not only is this in violation of NATO requirements that member states have reserves for thirty days of war, but it comes nine months after Chancellor Scholz’s big announcement of a 100-billion-euro military “Special Fund”, along with a Zeitenwende (turning point) away from Germany’s reserved post-Cold War defense policy. So where has the money gone, and what remains of Scholz’s big announcement?
To the first question, it appears Germany’s military is so decrepit that the promised 100 billion (on top of the regular budget of 50 billion) are not even enough to fill key gaps in the supply situation. But instead of putting the money to good use, only 8,4 billion have so far been budgeted, while high inflation has put several projects on a so-called “scratch list”. Bureaucratic delays in peacetime are a nuisance; with a war raging on Europe’s doorstep, they become a liability.
And what of Scholz’s Zeitenwende? Despite initial enthusiasm, it seems that Germany has returned to form as an “economic giant but a military dwarf”, dependent on America for its security and others for raw materials and export markets. Whether that can still be a successful strategy is open to question.
TAKE A BREAK, GIVE YOUR EYES A REST.
THE HOUSE’S VIEW:
Everything but the Beautiful Game
I love football. Soccer. Whatever you want to call it. I avidly follow my favorite club Bayern München, enjoy a cold pint while watching Premier League matches on the weekends, and even (semi) regularly join the ranks of the “Mauves Army,” the ultras fan club for my local side in Brussels, RSC Anderlecht. As a football fan, I have also been lucky enough to see one of my two countries win the pinnacle of the soccer world: the World Cup. World Cup football has made me cry both tears of joy and frustration.
These days, my tears have primarily been of the melancholic variety – the football aspect of this tournament has virtually become irrelevant. At least in Germany. Conversations have pretty much exclusively been focused on the charged political environment, and specifically the German national team has conducted itself in a… questionable fashion by protesting… supporting… boycotting… honestly I don’t know what exactly they’re doing but here are my two cents.
Do Politics Belong in Sports?
I cannot take anyone seriously that still whole-heartedly believes that politics have no role to play in sports. Sports have always been political: Berlin Olympics hosted by the Nazis in 1936, the Munich Massacre at the Olympics in 1972, and even positive examples like Ping Pong Diplomacy of the 1970s. The cat’s out of the bag. Nowadays, post-match interviews are just as likely to discuss the player’s opinion on overturning Roe vs. Wade as they are to ask about their performance on the pitch.
This, in turn, has created an atmosphere in which athletes are all but expected to have clear opinions on any given political topic – from LGBTQIA+ advocacy, to systematic racism all the way over to Corona measures. The players themselves have realized this and, in turn, often taken it upon themselves to use their platform as celebrities to convey certain political messages. Which is what the German national team has been doing over the past few months. Now that we’ve set the scene, let’s get to the crux of what I want to talk about.
Sports Activism: A Positive Example
Let’s begin with a positive example of athlete activism. Particularly since 2020, multiple NBA players and franchises have used their role as influencers to address social topics close to their hearts. In many cases these topics relate to systematic and overt racism, which is unfortunately still rampant.
For example, when Jakob Blake was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their playoff game in protest of police violence. Collectively, these players have agreed that these social causes are more important than playing the sport, and any possible “sanctions” imposed on them are taken in stride. They don’t care about fines or suspensions because they put their cause above themselves. Often, the players even win the metaphorical game of chicken with the league or their teams, who ultimately have more to lose than the players. This, in turn, leads to actual change.
Another (very recent) example: the brave men of the Iranian national team. They refused to sing the national anthem to protest against the ongoing government crackdown on protestors. This will very likely put them in hot water upon their return home. They put the interests of those protesting for a more progressive Iran above even their own safety.
In both cases, the players’ decisions to engage in activism come at a potentially very high cost. But, that’s exactly why they do it. They know that rapid change only occurs through disruption – whether it be boycotting a match or flipping the metaphorical bird at your government.
Sports Activism: What not to do
Enter the German national team. They’re doing… something… but I must be completely honest when I say I don’t know what. First, the team advocated for LGBTQIA+ rights with a rainbow armband. Then, the European Football Federation (UEFA) came along and banned it. The German team, to not be sanctioned, got rid of it. Next mission: fixing “human rights” by collectively wearing shirts that spelled out “human rights” for a pre-match photo. Then, back to the armband – because now there was an alternative: the “One Love” band which subtly hints at what the rainbow flag does. Then, FIFA came along and found even the subtle hint towards LGBTQIA+-love offensive and banned that as well. The German Football Association and players rolled over like well-trained dogs. Then, in the match against Japan on Wednesday another photo op with their hands in front of their mouths to protest about… being silenced? My guess is as good as yours.
What I can say though: it’s not activism if you fold in the face of adversity – with little to no resistance. There is surely a lot more that could have been done between the German team – maybe even in cooperation with other teams – but the desire was just not there.
The House’s View: Leave the Photo-Ops at Home
So, to come back to my starting point: sports and politics CAN go together, and especially in today’s digital world, why would you not use your fame to advocate for causes important to you? However, actions like those of the German team take away legitimacy from other athletes that stand their ground and put their cause before their sport.
I urge everyone to watch this interview with Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool FC’s German coach, who, when asked about the Coronavirus shot back at the reporter stating that he is not an expert and therefore should not be commenting. I believe it would do the German players well to take a page from his book and reevaluate where they want to make comments/statements if they can’t follow-up with concrete action. Or, as we like to say in the US, s*** or get off the pot.
LONG STORY SHORT:
- EU Council President to Meet Xi Jinping: Here’s a date to watch: On 1 December, EU Council President Charles Michel will meet China’s leader Xi Jinping in China to discuss global challenges such as Ukraine, Taiwan and EU-China economic relations. Based on this choice of topics and the current political environment, expect a fair share of tension.
- Japan “Cleans Up” After Win over Germany: Not only did Japan defeat Germany’s famed soccer team this Wednesday (more on that above), but Japanese fans also clearly won the PR contest: Following the surprise victory, they remained in the stadium to clean up after themselves. Way to go.
- Paris and Berlin Plan January Summit: Franco-German relations have been strained lately, with disagreements on issues ranging from defense to energy and finances. This week, both countries’ foreign ministers announced they are aiming for a January 2023 summit. We’ll keep you posted.
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS:
Of Balls and Germans
Right before the first match of the Germans at the World Cup, the German team wasn’t allowed to wear their „one love“ armlets, FIFA decided – hence the debate and the swift reaction one could read on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, like: The German team should leave the Worldcup or it would prove to having no “balls.” Nah…
The players in our team did have the balls to do what they were supposed to do: Investing a large chunk of their youths for the pursuit of their dreams, despite all odds. Now, they did get the call from the national team coach to participate at the Worldcup, so let them show their art. Our only moral obligation is to appreciate them by watching the best of the best of the world kicking balls. Ok, except of the auto-qualified host Qatar, who made a good choice when choosing a ghost to become their mascot – as ghosting is probably what they are expected to do after these games of awkwardness.
However, to all you German moralizers, who you would all take Qatar’s oil for your nicely lit homes during Christmas: Had you only shown your “balls” right after the decision for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 was taken 12 years ago. But you waited for the publicity of the Worldcup to propel your opinion on LinkedIn, right? And where was your protest during the last, say, “post-annexation-of-crimea”-Games in Russia?
But now you have the audacity to be in opposition to world champions, like Thomas Müller or Christoph Kramer, who say that is was unfair to burden a team of football players with what German officials and politicians overslept to do? That is not showing balls and nothing close to an ethical behaviour, it is obnoxiously disloyal to our team and unreflecting of your own sin: Accidie.