Here in Berlin (not Germany, Berlin, and in today’s WOOM you can find out why) we are heading into a wonderfully sunny and long weekend and hope you’ll enjoy this week’s Krautshell.
As always, ping us for more!
FIRST, SOME SOLID INTEL:
(Finally) A Transparency Register
As many of you probably know, the EU institutions established a transparency register quite a while ago. Similar aspirations have existed in Germany but were mostly blocked by the CDU/CSU. In the current government coalition, the SPD was pushing for a register, in which all lobbyists/companies that engage with members of the parliament or the government must enroll. This register is now coming, as the respective law will be agreed upon in the coming days. From now on, lobbyists will be in the register with an overview of their clients and lobbying expenses. Great!
While this law was certainly spurred on by the SPD, it could turn out to be a lifesaver for the CDU/CSU. After the case of Mr. Nüßlein (we reported last week), the parliament also lifted the immunity of Axel Fischer, who is also part of the CDU/CSU faction, over corruption suspicions. Of course, lobbying does not equal corruption (we don’t need to tell you that), but media tends to conflate the two, leading to both internal and external pressure on the CDU/CSU to agree to the law. Now, with all the scandals going on, they might have an opportunity to actually spin it the other way around and present themselves as the party fighting for transparency. It wouldn’t be the first time the CDU/CSU profits from an idea put forward by the SPD. This would be really important with respect to the upcoming elections, where it could harm the CDU/CSU’s prospects if the impression prevails that their own politicians profited financially from the pandemic. Politics can be crazy sometimes.
Russian Vaccines, Chinese Vaccines and Israeli Cooperation – EU Countries Look Elsewhere
In late January, we reported about the EU’s Coronavirus vaccine troubles. Since then, we had this heart-warming story of Germany acting in solidarity with its neighbor, the Czech Republic, sending the country 15,000 vaccine doses last week. But that’s where the positive news end.
First: let’s talk hard facts. The EU Commission wanted to pursue a joint procurement of vaccines for Member States. In this process, the Commission ordered 2.6 billion doses* for its 450 million citizens. However, as of March 3rd, according to data from the WHO, only 5.5% of the EU’s population has received a first vaccine dose. For reference, the US has a first-dose vaccination rate of 15.9% as of March 3rd, and that figure is rapidly rising. For some EU Member States, this sluggish implementation meant taking their fate into their own hands. This week, Slovakia purchased 2 million doses of the Russian “Sputnik V” vaccine, Hungary already did so in January, and the Czech Republic has also expressed interest – not a great look during a time of heightened Russo-EU tensions. That being said, the European Medicines Agency began a rolling review of Sputnik V on Thursday. Furthermore, in another declaration of no confidence in the EU, Austria and Denmark have formed a vaccine alliance with Israel. For the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, there is no need for panic. He shook off comments about Member States losing trust in Brussels, stating that it was absolutely normal that countries are not only relying on the EU, and that orders of Russian or Chinese vaccines are “fine.” Reading between the lines though, this is likely not how the Commission envisioned the vaccination process to happen.
*Article is in German, but facts need backing up
The AfD in Germany: Far-Right Soon to be Far-Gone?
On Wednesday, Germany’s domestic intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (German, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV) placed the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party under surveillance on suspicion of attempting to undermine Germany’s constitution. So what? Well, the AfD is Germany’s far-right party, and was the first outwardly anti-immigrant party elected to the Parliament during the 2017 federal elections (since WWII of course). The party features individuals like Björn Höcke, the party’s leader in the state of Thuringia, whose top hits include statements like Berlin’s Holocaust memorial is a “monument of shame” and Germany needs a “180-degree turnaround” in its handling of its Nazi past. If that’s not sympathetic enough for you, his other work includes leading an internal faction within the party called “der Flügel” (English, the wing), which has been officially classified as extremist by the BfV.
The AfD has responded to these allegations with outrage, stating this is simply a political decision by the BfV, designed to damage the party’s chances in the federal elections in September. Two party heads, Jörg Meuthen and Tino Chrupalla, said they would “exhaust all legal possibilities in order to avert this damage as much as possible.” And explore their legal options they did. While writing this article, the Administrative Court in Cologne issued a ruling prohibiting the BfV from classifying the AfD as a “suspected case,” at least until summary proceedings on the topic are concluded. Should the classification as “suspected case” be reinstated, authorities will be able to observe and wiretap individuals in the party, and even hire internal informants.
“Try Calling an Uber Without a Smartphone” Said Brussels
While last week we prophesized upcoming problems with platform economy services like Uber, we certainly didn’t know the fight would start this week. On Monday, the government of the city of Brussels placed a ban on Uber in the city in a slightly unconventional fashion. Instead of outright banning the platform, the city decided to make it illegal for drivers to organize rides through their smartphones with geolocation. According to Brussels Minister President Rudi Vervoort, Uber has been classifying itself as a limousine service to get around laws applying to taxis. According to Belgian regulations governing limousines, customers must pre-book their trips with written contracts for trips that are intended for transportation over several hours.
Brussels has more than 2,000 drivers who offer their services over the Uber app, and as Belgian MP Christophe De Beukelaer stated in a tweet, in the middle of a pandemic, with all of its economic consequences, the policy puts thousands of families at risk. Fernando Redondo, President of the Association of Belgian Limousine Drivers said, “if even one driver was fined for using his smartphone, we will shut down all of Brussels.” On Thursday, between 1,500 and 2,000 drivers took to the streets by blocking one of Brussels’ major roads and shutting off their apps. Drivers at the protests pointed out that they’re not defending the app, but rather themselves and their right to work as independent drivers. The decision will surely be challenged in court, so stay tuned to follow further developments.
Unpleasant Weeks for Germany’s Armed Forces
The relationship status between the German public and its military has always been complicated. Currently, discussions around the KSK, an elite-group of the armed forces, are emerging. The group is under scrutiny since the police found several thousand rounds of ammunition, two kilograms of plastic explosives, and Nazi-praising “souvenirs” from the Third Reich on a KSK member’s property in May 2020. This case makes obvious what is already known in many countries: having right-wing political views often unfortunately correlates with aspiring military structures (of course, this doesn’t mean that this is true also the other way around luckily).
Investigations were conducted among the armed forces. Following the investigations, the government presented a reform plan for the KSK, along with guidelines to identify growing structures of right-wing extremists in all our security forces. This week, a damper was put on the efforts. It became public that the KSK allowed members to return ammunition and explosives, which they had “taken” before, without needing to fear consequences. Not only that: according to a report sent to the ministry of defense, more equipment was returned than the KSK knew was missing (oops), and top bureaucrats kept that information under wraps. This is now a political crisis and for the first time it also impacts Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Military votes can play a role in deciding elections and the general situation – so it is feared – might drive military personnel even more to the right-wing party AfD. Background to the development (which is way too complex to be completely reflected here) can be found here.
Consequences of the Navalny Case
Calls between the EU and USA in the last weeks most likely went something like this: “Yeah, we just froze the Russian attorney general’s assets.” “Ah cool, thanks for telling us, we’ll do the same, see you next week.” The result is common sanctions against Russian top officials for being (supposedly) involved in the (undoubtedly) unfair case against Alexei Navalny and committing other potential crimes against human rights. We’ll gladly debate the effectiveness of these measures, but we can all agree they are more effective than EU Foreign Policy High Representative Borrell saying Moscow is on the road to becoming an authoritarian regime. (Seems to be a long road).
One piece of advice if you want your marriage counseling to go slightly better: if you can’t agree on many topics, make sure you both don’t like your neighbor and take that for starters. We weren’t exactly sure how fast and to what extent EU-US relations could be fixed under the Biden administration, but it seems like having a common opponent creates a whole new level of transatlantic unity. Both parties agreed to reconsider all sanction measures with each other to always be up to date. While the sanctions themselves might not be the big news, they could very well be an indicator that the EU and the US are able to come together again and work productively on a certain topic. We love that!
LONG STORY SHORT:
- More Parliament: The parties of the governing coalition in the Bundestag want a Corona sub-committee in the Bundestag to enable more parliamentary influence on politics during the pandemic. But what sounds good in terms of legitimizing far-reaching decision might actually only be a distraction maneuver: these discussions belong in the full plenary, not in a small sub-committee.
- Comeback Time: Friedrich Merz didn’t become CDU party leader. Now he wants to become a parliamentarian again. He wants to campaign in his hometown region, meaning the CDU there has to decide between him and a good friend of his, currently sitting in the Bundestag for this region. A friend he allegedly guaranteed he wouldn’t contest. We are curious how this will turn out.
- Corruption Continues: As already indicated above, Mr. Nüßlein wasn’t the only CDU/CSU parliamentarian who allegedly profited from the Corona crisis. Axel Fischer also lost his immunity and allegedly some other investigations are about to come. Despite nothing having been proven yet, there was an outrage among CDU individuals on Twitter this week. Understandable, but let’s see how this develops further.
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS
Tear down that gap!
You might recall from Anna’s rants on the opening policies in schools: in Germany our federal states, the “Länder,” tend to do things differently (“tend to” in a sense of “all the time”). Speaking of which, on Monday there will finally be an upside to living in Berlin: It is a work-free holiday for International Women’s Day.
This isn’t a holiday anywhere else in Germany, not in Hamburg, not in Bavaria, not in Lower Saxony, only in Berlin, and the weather is perfect for a long weekend…if we can handle the sun after these months.
Back in 2019, the majority Green, Lefty, and Social Democratic Berlin Parliament decided to make this holiday. It’s politics: some opposed the holiday, preferring a work-free Reformation Day, while others opposed making International Women’s day a holiday for its Soviet undertones (they had their first one in 1917 after women gained suffrage in Russia). I say: while everyone sits around arguing whether it should be a holiday or not, I’m gonna go out and celebrate it – who’s joining me?
Berlin is the place where walls come down. Every time some wall came down, no matter what it was, we had this period of “what now?” I call this “the unknown.” And that unknown has allowed us to go our own way, making the city an amazing vanguard for true diversity. Living the unknown is at the heart of the Berlin living spirit. A lot of walls remain, and every day we tumble over the gaps where walls used to be. The International Women’s Day on Monday will not only remind me of the distinct hardship women go through every day. Even further: This holiday in the city of Berlin reminds me of the fact that it is not really enough to tear down walls, we must actively fill the gaps that continue to separate us invisibly.