From a very rare winter wonderland in Berlin, we wish you a wonderful start into your weekend and week with the newest Krautshell edition.
Enjoy and ping us for more!
FIRST, SOME SOLID INTEL:
Time For The Nerd-Stuff: Drafting the Election Programs
This year is a “Super-Wahljahr” (transl. “super election year”) in Germany. Not only are there federal elections but also several state elections. This means, it is time for some content from the parties. What are the priorities in the election programs? When are they coming and who is in charge? Here’s a first and short overview.
The CDU/CSU and SPD are still leading this country, but they are also fully in election mode. Both parties are currently drafting their programs. Main focus for the CDU/CSU: forming a ministry for digital affairs and having “no new taxes” but also no tax breaks (a pandemic costs money unfortunately). The SPD wants to raise the minimum wage in Germany to 12€ and aims for higher taxes, but only for the rich. In both parties the secretary-generals are in charge of coordinating the draft process, which is a daunting but honorable task for the relatively young Paul Ziemiak (CDU/CSU) and Lars Klingbeil (SPD).
The Greens are already aiming for a government program reflecting their heightened confidence concerning the projected election outcome. Or, we might just have that impression because they’re focusing on more than just their specialty, climate protection, and have branched out to other areas like internal security and building the economy. Meanwhile, the FDP has to make sure to overcome the 5 percent hurdle again to even sit in the Bundestag. They want 25 percent of federal spending for innovation and a cap for social welfare at 50 percent of federal expenditures. They are also talking about a “government program” – even though it’s unlikely, we guess it’s good to have ambitions when you find yourself in a situation like the FDP is currently in. If you are interested in learning more about the preparation of German parties for the “Superwahljahr”, then make sure to ping us.
An Interview with Merkel – Doubling Down on a European Approach to COVID
Interviews with the Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) are rather rare. This week, she took some questions in an interview with the ARD (public-sector broadcaster) and gave some remarks on the current vaccination chaos in Germany and the EU. One of those remarks was defending the EU’s approach to jointly acquire vaccines. The Chancellor also shut down certain criticisms, such as one stating the EU would have gotten more vaccines if it had paid more money. Also, according to Merkel, everyone who wants to get vaccinated will get an offer by the end of Summer.
Until it came to the vaccination, Merkel’s crisis management was quite remarkable. Nearly everyone believed in her not just as the Chancellor but also as the calm scientist – a personality trait she cannot suppress. With the vaccines came the chaos, and vulnerabilities of EU joint action became obvious. This might be why Merkel felt the need to better communicate her strategy and calm the public by saying that everything is still “all right” (as much as they currently can be). Interviews are certainly not her favorite part of the job, but they are also a powerful way to push back against her very loud critics. At this point, I guess we’re all hoping more vaccines come soon. It seems like the EU is now considering using the Russian vaccine Sputnik IV as exports from Pfizer’s US locations are still not arriving. We will keep you posted on this.
What’s the EU up to? Sneak Peak of the Commission Working Program
On Tuesday, the EU Commission sneakily released its indicative legislative agenda through the end of April, and if you’re political nerds like we are, there are plenty of administrative and legislative initiatives to look forward to.
First, in mid-February, the EU will do a comprehensive review of its trade policy, including launching a WTO reform initiative. As COVID-19 had a significant impact on global supply chains and international trade, the EU hopes to shape its trade policy in a way that strengthens the EU’s global position through balanced trade partnerships. Also, the EU hopes to embed sustainable development goals and climate action into its trade policy. Another initiative to look out for will be a roadmap for Europe’s digital decade, which is planned for the beginning of March and will include clearly-defined digital targets to reach by 2030. As Europe is trying to put the pedal to the metal when it comes to digital technology, you can expect pretty ambitious plans for digital skills, cybersecurity, high-performance computing, and data use. Finally, mid-March we can expect an update to the new industrial strategy for Europe. The two goals here are quite simple: ensure European industry, especially SMEs, can recover from the effects of the pandemic, and give the necessary support for companies to contribute to the EU’s green transition and climate-neutrality targets. Stay tuned!
Armin Laschet has now been CDU party leader for roughly two weeks. This week, he was off to his first coalition committee meeting, where the government and the governing party leaders come together. As it is suitable for a new arrival, Laschet bought everyone a present. Actually, everyone got the same present: a collection of poems by Heinrich Heine, who was from Dusseldorf – the city in which Laschet’s government seat as Minister-President is.
The discussions at the meeting were described as productive, even harmonic. The meetings are chaired by Angela Merkel, but reportedly Laschet was given some space to outline his position on topics. This is a first success for him as he now has to prove that he is ready for the capital and federal politics. He needs a confidence boost that optimally should be reflected in the CDU’s poll numbers. For him, this is the only way to also become Chancellor-candidate for the CDU/CSU. Otherwise, Markus Söder (leader of the CSU, the CDU’s sister party) will be in line to take that position. A sentence Heinrich Heine wrote in a letter to a good friend in 1828 might describe Laschet’s current attitude perfectly: “I often have a longing for the capital, namely Berlin.”
No Space for Cancer in Europe: EU Reveals Plan to Combat Disease
After taking a back seat to the Coronavirus for the greater part of 2020, fighting cancer is finally back at the top of the EU’s agenda. On Wednesday, (one day before World Cancer Day, so close) the European Commission released the final version of “Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.” Not to get you too down on a Saturday morning, but this plan is very necessary: despite only having ten percent of the world’s population, Europe accounts for a quarter of cancer cases worldwide, and the economic impact of cancer is estimated to be over €100 billion annually.
The plan will activate €4 billion in funding and seeks to tackle cancer from a number of different angles. Angle one: setting an ambitious smoking-cessation target. Currently, the smoking rate in the EU hovers around 25 percent. By 2040 the Commission hopes to bring that figure down to five percent. Concretely, this will mean reviewing the Tobacco Products Directive, increasing tax on tobacco products, and addressing tobacco advertisement, promotion, and sponsorship. Angle two: increasing quality of and access to healthcare. One initiative in the plan seeks to create an EU network of national cancer centers in each Member State, giving up to 90 precent of eligible patients access to care by 2030. Angle three: using research, technologies, and innovation to aid in the fight. The EU will create a new knowledge center on cancer to coordinate scientific and technical initiatives at an EU level. All we can say here is: good job EU, keep doing your thing!
Cybersecurity in the EU: What Does the Council Have to Say?
Back in December, the EU released its Cybersecurity Strategy for the Digital Decade (we reported), and the plans were quite ambitious indeed. This week, we got our hands on an exclusive communication from the Council of the European Union commenting on the strategy. Think of it as the Council going through a checklist and either signing off on or criticizing different parts of the strategy.
Spoiler alert: the Council agrees with most of what the Commission put forward, but here are the most notable points. First, as the frequency and gravity of cyberattacks have been sharply increasing over the past years, especially during the pandemic, the Council emphasized the need to include cybersecurity in all digital investments going forward. It also supported the Commission’s plan to increase public spending and leverage private investment in the cybersecurity domain. Furthermore, the Council stressed the importance of reinforcing the cybersecurity of 5G networks, not only in the networks themselves, but also in the entire supply chain and ecosystem linked to setting up these high-speed networks. Finally, the Council pressed the Commission to continue cooperating and sharing information on cybersecurity matters across Member States, especially through the planned Joint Cyber Unit, which is meant to facilitate a coordinated response to cyberattacks across Member States. So, it seems the Commission and the Council are pretty much on the same page, which now means: get to work!
LONG STORY SHORT:
- Navalny Again: A Russian court convicted Alexei Navalny to three and a half years in prison. This caused quite some anger among EU politicians. The High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell met with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov on Friday to discuss the issue. However, the Russian side already indicated beforehand that they are not willing to discuss. Not really satisfying.
- Better Than It Sounds: German industry reports a contraction of 1.9% for December. This is the first decrease since April, but you shouldn’t be too alarmed. The decrease was higher than expected, but still the orders are above pre-crisis level. Hurray!
- A Bad Start: The first state elections this year take place in six weeks in Baden Wuerttemberg. It should have been a first victory for the CDU – a good start into the election year. However, it seems like momentum is playing out for the Greens and their current Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann, who lead in the polls again by seven percent. Quite a backstroke for the CDU and their new party leader Armin Laschet.
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS
I could be writing about the vaccination chaos in Germany and the whole of Europe: Bad. The public quarrels with some vaccine manufacturers and finger-pointing: Embarrassing. A new law that’s gonna prescribe women in management boards of big companies in Germany: Finally. Or that Lufthansa gets money from financial markets cheaper than it does from pandemic recovery packages:
But what’s REALLY blowing my mind is the weather forecast for Germany. While, apparently, over the weekend we are expecting – 10 °C (= 14 °F) in North Germany and heavy snowstorms in Berlin, in Bavaria summer is starting with up to 15 °C (=60°F) and sunshine.*
Instead of looking for vacation countries that still allow EU citizens to enter (Mexico? ?), just getting in a car and driving for a bit seems to be a viable alternative. On the other hand, finding out the rules for entering Bavaria would be equally as challenging (and you regular WOOM readers know why #16states).
I guess I will embrace the silver lining and at least let the kids enjoy what is expected to be the most snow Berlin has seen for years:
*I know those differences between north and south are normal for the US, but in Germany we’re used to roughly the same weather in the whole country…