With the CDU/CSU’s chancellor candidate question still unanswered (see below), you can expect a special Krautshell-Newsflash whenever the decision is made (hopefully this week). In the meantime, enjoy our newest Krautshell edition and, as always, ping us for more info!
FIRST, SOME SOLID INTEL:
Armin vs Markus – The Battle Without a Winner
The CDU/CSU need a candidate for chancellor, and it will be either Armin Laschet (CDU) or Markus Söder (CSU). Markus Söder, the Minister-President of Bavaria and CSU party leader, is most certainly the more popular one. Armin Laschet, the Minister-President of North-Rhine Westphalia and CDU party leader, is … well … the leader of the big sister party (the CSU is only active in Bavaria). It could very well be that chances of success the election will be bigger with the popular Söder, even though he is from the small sister party. In fact, various parliamentarians from the CDU have even demanded Laschet step aside for his Bavarian friend.
What’s speaking for Laschet? – you might ask, and what are possible repercussions when one of the two backtracks? After Angela Merkel stepped down from the party leader position, the CDU went through a long (self-) searching process for a new leader. Laschet has only been party leader for just over 80 days. What speaks for him are the consequences if he doesn’t become Chancellor-candidate: immediate weakening in his new position, and a perceived inability of the CDU to re-staff this position. In the short term, Söder as chancellor candidate might help win the elections, but the CDU might weaken itself in the long run by (indirectly) sacking their new leader. Currently, only other parties, mainly the Greens, seem to profit from the process. They plan to nominate their candidate on Monday (see last Krautshell) and will do so – guess what – in unity.
AI in the EU: No Room for Big Brother
Thanks to a mysterious leak earlier this week, the proposed EU regulations on artificial intelligence have been unofficially released. What do the regulations say? First, except for certain security exceptions, use of AI to manipulate human behavior, exploit information about individuals, socially score people, or indiscriminately surveil would be banned in the EU. Black Mirror fans can collectively let out a sigh of relief. Furthermore, AI applications considered “high risk,” like self-driving cars, remote surgery, or crime-predicting algorithms would have to undergo inspections before deployment to ensure the algorithms are traceable with human oversight and based on unbiased data sets. Thirdly, non-compliance could result in fines up to 20 million euros or 4 percent of a company’s turnover.
Now to the reactions: the European Centre for Not-for-Profit Law said there was “lots of vagueness and loopholes” in the proposal, specifically referring to the binary distinction between high- and low risk AI. Their proposal for the EU: Consider a tier-based approach. Next, a representative from the digital rights group EDRi took issue with the discretion given to national authorities in certain AI use cases if these are for fighting “serious crime” – something surely added to appease France, which has been debating the use of facial recognition by the security apparatus since earlier this year. Finally, industry representatives are concerned stringent rules will harm economic growth in the EU as foreign companies will be less inclined to bring their technology to Europe, and local innovators will look elsewhere for their operations. The official proposal is set to be revealed publicly on April 21st so stay tuned!
When Greek-Turkish Matchmaking Goes Wrong
It’s no secret that there’s very little love lost between Turkey and Greece. That being said, after a two-year hiatus, Nikos Dendias, Greece’s foreign minister finally made the trip to Ankara to meet with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Cavusoglu. It was all going so well: Cavusoglu referred to his “friend Nikos,” and Dendias proudly pronounced how the two have known each other for a long time. However, the niceties ended there.
In the press conference following the meeting, Dendias used his opening remarks to read off a laundry list of Greece’s longstanding issues with Turkey, completely neglecting the positive developments from the talks that happened just minutes before. The list included well-known hits like, “hey Turkey, don’t drill in disputed Mediterranean waters” and, “Stop sending aircraft into our airspace!” Cavusoglu didn’t take the criticisms lying down, calling the comments “unacceptable” and accusing the Greek of using the meeting for domestic political purposes. The Turkish foreign minister didn’t stop there, “If you want to continue our tensions, we can… if we go into mutual recriminations here, we have a lot to tell each other.” As you can probably tell, the gloves were off at this point (by diplomatic standards at least) and hopes for a civil press conference completely went out the window. After the public spat, the two awkwardly tried to laugh off the argument and agreed to continue the conversation over dinner. Just between the two of them. Somebody should probably go check on them…
Sweet, Sweet Recovery Fund Money for the… Minks?
Here’s something that probably slipped under most people’s radar in the past week: The EU Commission recently approved a 1.74-billion-euro scheme to support Danish mink farmers and related businesses in the context of the Coronavirus outbreak. Yes, BILLION with a B. But why? Well, first of all, Denmark is the world’s largest mink producer. These animals’ furs are used primarily to make coats and eyelash extensions, which has been widely criticized by animal rights activists across the world. As you can see, the mink industry is quite significant for Denmark.
Keeping that in mind, when the Coronavirus spread rampantly on mink farms, causing at least 373 cases of mink-to-human transmission in November 2020, the Danish government had to make the very difficult decision to order farmers kill all of the roughly 15 million mink in the country. Along with this order, the government issued a ban on the keeping of minks until 2022. Due to the massive effect on the Danish economy, the Commission granted the Danish request to compensate the farmers and related businesses for their losses. While it’s undoubtedly important support these farmers given the destruction of their livelihoods, it’s difficult to not think about other industries that have also been affected by the Coronavirus and are receiving (sometimes significantly) less money. For example, the culture and entertainment industry in Germany, which has also seen its livelihood disappear, is only receiving one billion euros in aid. We’re not here to pass judgement, but we do think it’s important to critically analyze where recovery fund money is being spent, and in which amounts. Just some food for thought.
The Rent Freeze Is Unfrozen
In 2019, the Berlin State Government introduced a “rent freeze,” meant to keep rent prices at 2019-levels until 2025, given the rapidly rising prices in Berlin. We are not discussing the effectiveness of this measure, but we can say: it’s over. The Federal Constitutional Court overturned it, not because of the content, but actually because rent legislation is a job for the Federal Government, not the states. The Federal Government already introduced a “price brake” on rents in 2015. However, it wasn’t very effective, causing the state government in Berlin to take action.
Going forward, this doesn’t mean that rent freezes are impossible in the future. The political left in Germany aims to change legislation after the Federal Elections so that local authorities (maybe even municipalities instead of states) have the possibility to react to price explosions in their areas. The common counter argument is that price explosions are a sign of insufficient living space, a problem a rent freeze can’t solve. What this argument fails to consider: less people tend to live on more space in German cities, a trend that is unsustainable and counterproductive for quality of life in cities. Furthermore, new living space is mostly created at city borders, often criticized by architects as it typically divides the population into two layers, making democratic city planning nearly impossible. We are definitely looking forward to a solution for rising rents and city planning in Germany and expect new impulses to come with the elections.
Over and Out
NATO has decided, as you all probably know, to withdraw the troops from Afghanistan. This was a long-discussed topic and until only a few weeks ago it seemed like Germany would prolong its mandate until at least the beginning of 2022. This would have left time for coalition building after the Federal Elections in September 2021. However, now everything could go very fast. German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU, often called “AKK”) announced that if everything works according to the plan, German forces will return home already by mid-August.
What remains are questions about how things will proceed in Afghanistan. These are questions also for a transatlantic coalition between Germany and the USA and of course also for the NATO and its Secretary-General Stoltenberg. AKK’s aim is to optimally use the time the troops are still in Afghanistan to pressure the Taliban to make progress in negotiations with the Afghan government. These negotiations are currently stuck which makes the decision to leave hard for Germany. This conflict will definitely shape the next government in Germany, which will have to find a way to react to it without military presence. So far, we are still waiting for political ideas on how to progress.
LONG STORY SHORT:
- Fun Story Short: If you have ever asked yourself, what’s most important to the Germans, prepare for the answer (which is at least true in Spring): asparagus. It’s one of our favorite dishes and this week we got news that we now also have a political association which will in future lobby for the interests of asparagus (or its producers that is).
- EU Vaccination Card: At the end of June, we will allegedly have an EU vaccination card. This was agreed by the Member States and will now be discussed in the EU Parliament. This would prevent quarantine after travel for those who are vaccinated against the Coronavirus and can therefore be referred to as a progress. Hurray!
- No E-Mails: The investigation committee for the “toll-scandal” demanded insights into Transport Minister Scheuer’s (CSU) e-mails. This request was now denied by the CDU/CSU with the votes of the coalition partner SPD, despite the ongoing campaign. Or maybe because SPD Chancellor-candidate Scholz is also facing an investigation committee because of the Wirecard scandal, and one good turn deserves another?
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS
Of Merkel and Men
This week, later than others her age, Merkel got her first jab of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. A few hours later, Anna saw her shopping in the supermarket “Ullrich” a few meters away from our Berlin office. We are happy to leak exclusively to you that she did not show any side-effects from the vaccine. Merkel (like some of her Ministers) is a regular at “Ullrich.” From time to time, she shows up with three bodyguards, peruses through veggie aisle, queues at checkout, pays with her own purse and carries the bags herself. Just like any world leader, right?
Interestingly, there is another thing that seems different to other countries: Anna noticed that people don’t really approach her. Fine, maybe her bodyguards staring at you without sunglasses (yet another difference) contemplating taking you out if you come too close might be an influential parameter here. However, when I was her aide more than 15 years ago it was pretty much the same thing. Unless explicitly asked to, no one would randomly approach or address her. No applauding, cheering, taking note of the items she purchased, nothing. When someone points fingers at her and gets overly excited and loud, most people immediately feel awkward and will shy away from giving Merkel a special perception like
Isn’t it strange? Before being regarded as worthy of becoming the elected leader of Germany you have to prove yourself in the heaviest fights. As Peter Ramsauer, a former CDU/CSU-leader in the Bundestag, put it on the happenings of this week (see article above): “Laschet and Söder were presented like gladiators in a stadium.” Then again, once you hold the power, you are most loved when you queue up, come last for the vaccine and prove to be as normal as everyone else.
Maybe, when people refrain from approaching Merkel, they are simply respecting the privacy of their leaders. But, when people expect their leaders’ highest abilities in the powergame on one hand, but also the deepest humility on the other, it maybe shows that, as John Steinbeck put it in “Of Mice and Men,” “ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”