We are back from our Easter vacation and hope you enjoyed the short break as much as we did. As always, find all the not-to-miss-happenings in our newest Kraushell edition!
Enjoy and ping us for more!
FIRST, SOME SOLID INTEL:
Turkey, a Sofa, and a Public Relations Fiasco
Representatives from the EU and Turkey met earlier this week to discuss coordination on topics like migration and economic ties, but it wasn’t the outcome of these talks that made headlines. Rather, it was a sofa that had everyone talking.
Here’s what happened in what is now being described in EU circles as #sofagate: When EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel met Erdogan for the usual photo-op, there were only two chairs in front of the Turkish and EU flags. Michel took a seat, and so did Erdogan. Meanwhile, von der Leyen (VDL) was left standing, perplexed and rightfully annoyed, eventually resigning herself to a nearby couch.
Queue the s***storm. So far, VDL hasn’t commented on the incident herself, but it needs to be pointed out that this week wasn’t the first time the two sides met. It also wasn’t the first time two representatives from the EU were present. However, in the past, when both of these representatives were male, setting up three chairs was absolutely no problem. Questions of sexism aside, the event also highlighted acute problems that have plagued the EU over the years: inter-institutional competition and dysfunctionality. According to internal sources, for COVID-reasons, the Commission’s protocol service wasn’t involved in meeting preparations. A combination of factors, including the alleged (repeated) incompetence of VDL’s head of cabinet Björn Seibert and unwillingness from Michel’s protocol service to tend to the Commission President’s arrangement, led to the two-chair-three-people situation. Finally, the EU failed this test to show unity towards Erdogan, who has a record of trying to pit European actors against each other. Instead of joint statements or cooperation in the moment to show a united European front, we’re left with debates about whether the Council sees itself above the Commission in the EU pecking order. Not the outcome Michel and VDL would have hoped for.
Two Tantalizing Options: A Sneak Preview of the Green’s Possible Chancellor Candidates
In less than two weeks, the Greens are expected to put forward their candidate for chancellor—a historical first for this center-left ecologist party. According to recent polls, the Greens are now the undisputed second strongest force in German politics and have a real chance of providing Merkel’s successor. However, for this to occur, the Greens would have to form a coalition without the CDU (the reigning dominant force despite their current intra-party turmoil). Chances for this scenario are slim at best but nominating the right candidate could make the difference. We’ll surely report on the final decision, but to avoid ambushing you with a politician you’ve never heard of when the decision is made, we want to bring you into the current political debate in Germany.
The decision is to be made between the party’s notoriously harmonious dual leadership: Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck. Baerbock is famous for her pragmatic yet thoughtful approach to politics (we Germans love Realpolitik!) and her thorough expertise in climate issues. Many Greens also favor this former trampolinist and lawyer because they want to put up a female candidate against the all-male nominees from the CDU/CSU and SPD. Critics will point out that despite her seat in the Bundestag and recent surge in popularity, her experience in the executive branch is lacking. On the other hand, Habeck, an author and philosopher turned politician who even wrote some children’s books, is favored by some for his hands-on experience in government as Deputy Prime Minister and State Minister for Agriculture in the northernmost German state Schleswig Holstein. However, opponents mock him for being a bohemian intellectual who has a tendency to over-philosophize. Nevertheless, whatever the outcome may be, the Greens will start the federal election with a united party—something the CDU currently can’t claim.
Minimum Global Corporate Income Tax: France and Germany Support US-Led Effort
This past week, the finance ministers of the Group of 20 (G20) – the world’s 19 most important economies plus the EU – met virtually at a conference hosted by Italy. Unsurprisingly, in the midst of a Corona-induced economic downturn, the finance chiefs had lots to discuss, with two main takeaways resulting from the meeting.
Let’s begin with the slightly less explosive topic. The conference agreed to extend its debt service suspension initiative (DSSI) until the end of 2021, which, according to Italian finance minister Daniele Franco, allows beneficiary countries to mobilize more resources to deal with the pandemic. Seems pretty reasonable (especially when you look at current global vaccine distribution… just saying).
Second result of the conference, and definitely more controversial, is a US-led effort to establish a minimum global corporate income tax. Shortest way we can put it: The massive investments in public goods to fight the effects of the Coronavirus seemed like an ideal time to try and eliminate tax dumping and the resulting lost revenue for governments worldwide. Germany alone is said to miss out on around 20 billion USD each year through tax evasion and avoidance. While Germany and France are on board for the initiative, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) avoided committing to the proposed tax rate of 21 percent. Reasoning: EU Member States don’t have a collective position yet. Corporate tax rates in countries like Hungary and Bulgaria are below this figure, Germany, France and Malta tax their companies above 21 percent, and Ireland (one of the world’s major tax havens) is against the idea altogether. Italian leadership hopes to have an agreement by July, so we’ll be sure to update you again then.
Sputnik V: Germany Wants to Go it Alone
By now, we don’t really need to tell you that the Coronavirus situation in Germany is not great. High daily infection numbers combined with (comparatively) low vaccination rates have led Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn (CDU) to publicly take matters into his own hands.
Specifically, in an interview, Spahn stated his intentions to begin bilateral talks with Russia to procure the Russian “Sputnik V” Coronavirus vaccine. This surprising decision came in the wake of the EU Commission’s announcement that it would not pursue purchase agreements for the Russian vaccine. Spahn also isn’t the only actor within Germany thumbing his nose at the EU’s decision. Earlier this week, the state of Bavaria signed a letter of intent to purchase up to 2.5 million doses of the vaccine should it be approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Given that Bavaria’s Minister President Markus Söder (CSU) is still in the running to become chancellor candidate for the CDU/CSU, any boost to the state’s vaccination capacity would paint him in a positive light. Furthermore, already in March, Chancellor Merkel’s spokesperson said Germany would be open to using Sputnik V – also given EMA approval of course. What’s important for Spahn here is speed and reliability. In his statements, he both urged Russia to submit proper data sets to the EU to accelerate the approval process, and stated he would only really be interested if the vaccine could arrive in the next “two to five months.” If Sputnik V can only be delivered, for example, by Q4 2021 or 2022, Germany would have “more than enough vaccines to go around” by that point in time. Bold words for a Health Minister currently battling the third wave of Corona infections. We’ll keep you posted.
Coalition Talks in Baden-Württemberg: Kretschmann Has the Last Word
As we reported last month, on March 14th, the Southern German state of Baden-Württemberg, home to Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, held their state elections. In these elections, the incumbent governing party, the Greens, scored a massive victory by gaining 11 seats in the state parliament. Here’s a little update on what’s been going on since then.
This victory put the Greens in the driving seat to form a new governing coalition with other parties, and they used that power to “explore their options.” A few days after the election, Minister President Winfried Kretschmann (Greens) and co. embarked on a series of Sondierungsgespräche (English: exploratory talks). Think of speed dating to see if you’re a political match. These first meetings left the Greens in Baden-Württemberg split: Kretschmann wanted to rock the boat as little as possible and continue governing with the CDU. Meanwhile, others within the party wanted to shake things up with a “traffic light” coalition with the SPD and FDP (whose respective party colors are red and yellow, respectively, hence the analogy). Supporters of this constitution believed it would have sent a strong message for Federal Elections in September that governing without the CDU is possible. In the end, Kretschmann prevailed, and on Thursday the two parties held their first round of coalition negotiations. The chairman of the Greens in Baden-Württemberg Oliver Hildenbrand said the main topics of the upcoming meetings with the CDU would be “climate change, innovation,” and what he called “cohesion.” The final coalition agreement is to be voted on May 8th, and if everything goes to plan, Kretschmann will be re-elected by both parties as Minister President on May 12th.
Prince Philip Passes Away: A True British Kraut
As we’re writing the Krautshell, we just received saddening news that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth has passed away at the age of 99. Mere minutes after the news of his passing, tributes to and statements began pouring in from around the world. German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier pleasantly invoked his “perceptive humor” and thanked Prince Philip for his important contributions to the reconciliation between Germany and the UK after the Second World War. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also sent her condolences to the Royal Family, stating she was saddened to hear of Prince Philip’s passing.
We as Germans have a special place in our heart for Prince Philip, as he was a descendant of the Danish-German house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and, as journalist Alexander von Schönburg put it, he brought a nice “light, German spirit” into the Windsor House. In fact, he often struggled to shake off his German roots: when he introduced plans to set up the famous Duke of Edinburgh Award, meant to challenge young people outside an academic setting, the British Education Secretary at the time likened the program to the Hitler Youth. He was known for his witty remarks; after being asked if he wanted to visit the Soviet Union in 1967, he said “I would like to go to Russia very much — although the bastards murdered half my family.” Furthermore, he dedicated his life to public service: he conducted 637 overseas visits (just by himself, even more together with the Queen) and served as president, patron, or member of more than 780 organizations. With his mix of German discipline and unbeatable British humor, you could say he was not only a very special patriarch, but a real British Kraut. Rest in peace Prince Philip.
LONG STORY SHORT:
- Laschet and the “Bridge Lockdown”: CDU Party Head and possible chancellor candidate Armin Laschet has suggested a lockdown to bridge the gap until more people have been vaccinated. He faced sharp criticism following these statements, as critics pointed out that Laschet, as premier of North-Rhine Westphalia, had not even complied with previously agreed-upon regulations when figures continued to rise in his state in the past.
- “Make the right judgement independently”: is what Chinese President Xi Jinping said to Chancellor Merkel on the EU’s stance toward China. As European countries deepen their coordination with the US, Xi stressed that China would remain open to German businesses and urged Berlin to not impose new restrictions on Chinese companies.
- We’re Leaving on that Midnight Train to Prague: In the year the European Commission designated as its “European Year of Rail,” European Sleeper, a startup from the Czech Republic announced plans for a new night train service stretching from Brussels to Prague – over Antwerp, Amsterdam, and Berlin. The founders hope to capitalize on the trend towards ecological travel, away from environmentally damaging short-haul European flights.
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS
You got the facts above, you get an opinion here: Everyone is upset about Turkey, Charles Michel, and if you’re Ursula von der Leyen, that missing chair.
Now, being upset about Turkey is fully justified, but probably not very productive. I would assume Turkey’s President Erdogan is highly amused about the debate this incident caused. And while I fully empathize with Ursula in her being upset about the chair, the same logic applies.
Michel, however, is a whole different story. Social media is buzzing with complaints and attacks about his inactiveness and overt sexism. But was is sexism? While I am inclined to think it was sexism on Turkey’s part (seeing pictures of former meetings of the same constellation, their hint towards “protocol” seems pointless), for Michel, I think his behavior shows a complete lack of awareness and empathy rather than deliberate sexism.
Leaving his team member just standing there, kind of lost, was self-centered, thoughtless and disrespectful. In this moment, his behavior, whatever the rationale behind it, was not what I expect from Europe’s leader.
And on the sexism part? How should they have handled it? Well, had Ursula von der Leyen asked for a chair, she would have been called a bitch and told not to overreact. Had Michel asked for a chair for Ursula, he would have been called paternalistic and imposing. But if both of them, together, would have been standing there, asking for a chair, it would have been the right message towards Turkey: We stand united behind our values.
What this story ultimately shows is that overcoming sexism needs to be a team effort. Of course, getting guys on the team, that’s a whole different challenge…