Today we bring you the first edition of our series #RoadToBTW21 to give you all the intel you need prior to the Federal Elections in September. We wish you a wonderful start into your weekend, happy reading, and ping us for more!
FIRST, SOME SOLID INTEL:
#RoadToBTW21: Armin Laschet as Angela Merkel 2.0?
In our first episode of #RoadToBTW21 we want to take a look at how probable it is that Armin Laschet, should he become Chancellor, continues on Angela Merkel’s course. The Minister-President of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) can be considered one of Merkel’s loyalists. When Merkel served as CDU party leader until 2018, Laschet was one of her deputies. His loyalty and programmatic consensus with Merkel were especially visible in the year 2015, during the so-called “refugee crisis.” Many CDU politicians in that time turned their back on her for her liberal migration policy. But not Laschet.
From his loyalty to Merkel, you can see that Laschet represents of the centrist arm of the CDU. However, while Merkel was almost infamous for staying her course, Laschet is a compromise-maker. As he lacks Merkel’s popularity, he has no other choice. Conservative CDU politicians such as Friedrich Merz, who he beat in the race for the party leadership, will form part of his campaign (read LSS), as Laschet’s strength is in the integration of divergent positions within the party. Compromise has become a hallmark of his career: conservative Health Minister Spahn was his running mate for CDU party leadership and Herbert Reul, his Interior Minister and loyal partner in NRW, is a strong archconservative voice in the CDU as well. To conclude, you can say that Laschet is a Merkel loyalist and will continue her centrist positions on for instance transatlantic relations, strengthening the EU and migration policy. However, the room for conservative politicians, especially in areas such as industrial or social policy, will be much bigger than it was in the Merkel era.
Guess Who’s Back? The EU Recovery Plan!
Given it’s almost been a year since EU leaders approved the details of the 750-billion-euro Coronavirus Recovery Fund, you’d expect very little controversy on the matter today. However, this week EU Member States began handing in their plans for review, detailing how much money they request and what they plan to do with their portion of the fund. And, we can say there were quite some interesting developments.
First, as of April 29th, ten of the 27 Member States have yet to ratify the “Own Resources Decision,” essentially allowing the Commission increase the amount of money it can request from Member States – they keystone to making the Recovery Fund a reality. This basic step already hit some slight bumps. For example, Poland’s ruling nationalist coalition had to strike a deal with the opposition Left party to ratify the agreement, and a request to block the EU recovery fund in Germany had to be fought out in the federal constitutional court (the request was denied). Second, contrary to popular belief the Recovery Fund isn’t like an ATM. Countries can’t just press a button and receive money. Rather, their submitted plans will be reviewed by the Commission for conformity with a number of conditions such as targets for green and digital investments, structural reforms, and the establishment of an independent body to monitor expenditures. For all the jokes that are made about the EU being toothless, this is the first time the EU might actually have some bite by threatening to withhold funding. There’s sure to be some juicy debates between Brussels and the other EU capitals over the details of these plans so stay tuned!
Love Letters From Moscow or The Geopolitical Vaccine
Even though there is still some chaos in the vaccination campaign here and there (ask Jonny about his vaccination appointment), overall, it’s making progress. Still, not everything is controversy-free. Germany’s Eastern federal states (the region of the former GDR) would like to order Sputnik V from the Russians despite two missing elements: reliable data and EU approval. So why do they still want to order it?
Trust in the Russian government is considerably high in Germany’s East, with many people remembering GDR times when every vaccine was Soviet. In fact it’s not unthinkable that quite a few people would reject the Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccines, but wouldn’t be opposed to Sputnik V. Furthermore, there are state elections coming up in Saxony-Anhalt where the CDU is in danger of losing against the right-wing AfD. Furthermore, potential CDU voters are not happy about Armin Laschet being the Chancellor-candidate, so the CDU in the East desperately needs some good news to spread. One place the CDU went searching for this good news was in Russia, despite the Ukraine crisis being at an all-time high and Alexei Navalny having to fear for his life in a Russian prison. The whole development peaked last week when Saxonian Minister-President Kretschmer (CDU) traveled to Moscow where he met with the Russian Health Minister and had a phone call with Putin. Allegedly, Putin is willing to deliver the vaccine. Still, the prerequisite would be an admission by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
The Return of Sofagate: Sexism and Political Games
“I cannot find any justification for the way I was treated in the European Treaties. So, I have to conclude, it happened because I am a woman.“ These are the words EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (VDL) used in front of the EU Parliament this week about the recent “Sofagate” scandal (take a look at our recent edition for a recap). EU Council President Charles Michel also spoke at the plenary session, stating he’s always been committed to supporting women and gender equality. While it’s nearly impossible to deny that sexism played a major role in the lack of chairs at the meeting, many political experts believe Michel’s immediate response to the situation was politically motivated.
Both VDL and Michel hold the title of “President” within the EU, and there has been tension between the two about who’s in charge almost since the moment they took office. We could talk about the complex dynamics between their specific offices, but it’s better to show, not tell. We give you what we call the “Ethiopian tug-of-war.” VDL’s first trip after becoming Commission President in December 2019 was to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to meet with leaders of the African Union. Then, in early February 2020, Michel attended the African Union Summit, also in Addis Ababa. Three weeks later, on February 27th, VDL was back in the Ethiopian capital to “forge a new strategic partnership with the African Union.” While the African states are undoubtedly important partners for the EU, are they three-visits-within-three-months important? Our answer here is a unilateral “not really,” but this situation perfectly illustrates the constant struggle between the two leaders to be the face of the EU. Sofa or no sofa, this clash was bound to happen sometime. However, it’s quite regrettable that this already ugly power struggle now has taken on this extra dimension of sexism. Nothing more to add.
Rights for The Vaccinated
German Federal Minister of Justice Christine Lambrecht (SPD) came up with a proposal for how fundamental right restrictions for vaccinated people can be lifted again. In future, vaccinated people and those who have recovered from a COVID infection within the last six months ago shall be treated the same as people who were tested negative. This means, for example, they would no longer need a negative test to go shopping or visit the zoo or a museum. The SPD wants to push this proposal through quite quickly, as the re-acquisition of fundamental rights “is not to be viewed as a privilege but as a necessity of our nation of law” as Lambrecht puts it.
Lifting the restrictions for vaccinated and recovered people might become a central step in fighting the pandemic. This is mainly so as the federal “Notbremse” (transl. “emergency brake”, Germany’s federal law for fighting the pandemic, we reported) will come under scrutiny by the German Federal Constitutional Court. For Germany’s highest judges, one reason to sack the emergency brake could be the current non-differentiation between vaccinated and unvaccinated people. As it seems, vaccinated and recovered people pose no harm to society, so they need to re-acquire their full fundamental rights. An important step which needs to be applied soon.
Global Minimum Tax: Could it Really Happen?
A few weeks ago, we reported on the G20 Finance Minister Summit, at which the groundwork for implementing a global minimum corporate income tax was set. This week the endeavor has moved one step closer to reality, and we’re all looking at each other in Europe going “could this really happen?”
The informational update came from a status report from the German Federal Ministry of Finance, which, among other things, declared a “massive step forward” in the US supporting the Franco-German initiative. Furthermore, this document also seems to serve as a reminder for everyone of what exactly Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) and his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire are trying to achieve. Like an anti-tax avoidance battle cry. Back in 2018, the two countries submitted a proposal for global tax reform, now incorporated into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) plan to end tax avoidance. The first pillar of the proposal sets the groundwork for anchoring taxable profits in a physical location, especially for companies with a digital business model. The second pillar IS the actual minimum global corporate income tax rate proposal, laying out the framework for states to levy taxes retroactively on parent companies with subsidiaries in countries with lower tax rates. Now, sorry to rain on the parade, but let me just list a few obstacles still standing in the way of this undertaking: First, US Congress. Necessary compromising here will likely whittle down the final rate to something less than the proposed 21%. Second: Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and co. These countries will fight tooth and nail to defend what they call “competitive tax systems.” Thirdly, there are some (quite valid) questions about whether the EU even has the authority to sign such a deal. We’ll keep you posted.
LONG STORY SHORT:
- Digitalization Paradoxon: According to a recent survey, 71% of Germans are not satisfied with the Federal Government’s digital policy. Still, the most trusted party when it comes to digital competence is the CDU/CSU (25%). However, we should mention that at least a quarter of the respondents don’t consider any party as capable for digitizing this country. Hurray!
- The Integrator: Above we already implied it: Armin Laschet integrates an opponent again. His rival for the CDU party leadership, Friedrich Merz, will join his campaign team. Laschet hopes for Merz’ popularity in Eastern Germany (where Laschet is completely unpopular) and Merz allegedly hopes for the job of the Federal Minister of Economic Affairs after the election. We are excited!
- Nice Try: In Germany, we like to think of ourselves quite highly in terms of engineering prowess. Maybe not this time. While a few weeks ago, Chinese company Bilibili painted a giant, scannable QR-code over the Shanghai waterfront using a fleet of drones, the Technical University of Flensburg tried its hand at its own drone show. Let’s just say the results were slightly less impressive than what happened in China. (Seriously, check out the pictures).
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS
Go down Moses
Today, on May 1st, Europeans observe Labor Day and are mindful of the good and the bad of our capitalist political system. Labor Day also reminds us that we might be caught in these capitalist perspectives, unable to put our minds towards imagining a better world. Much like Germans currently cannot imagine a somewhat better future with “The Integrator” Armin Laschet: After his first week as the Chrsitian Democrats’ candidate, nationwide polls place the CDU/CSU behind the Greens and Armin behind Annalena, their candidate for – as she calls it – “chancelloress office.”
Some “labor” ahead for Laschet, who understands politics from a “deeper point of view than the polls.” That deep point is his strong Christian conviction: To gain power without populism, use it for the weak, and recalibrate it to not obliterate opponents (like Angela Merkel did). Instead, he integrates them (see LSS above). However, how can he pursue his biblical mosaic mission to lead the people and unite all groups if they don’t want him to lead, rather telling him to integrate their truth into his point of view, literally like
To stay in this biblical picture: Before Moses had a people he had to go “down” to Egypt, then his people grumbled against him, preferred death over his leadership and attempted a coup. Also, don’t forget, Moses died before reaching the promised land. Not like I’m trying to imply that Laschet could be seen in a similar way, leaving his safe haven as prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, facing grumbling Merz, Söder and Baerbock in his way, never reaching the promised Chancelloress-Office making him a holy martyr or anything….
But there really is a point in which Laschet is the kind of Moses that Merkel never was: When God wanted to eliminate the grumbling people and replace them, Moses managed to change God’s mind and kept them (mostly) untouched. Just like Laschet, who offers a hand to all his contenders and accepts those who got eliminated, silenced or fired by Merkel. Despite all rivalry he accepts those inconvenient party protagonists or even offers them a role at “The Integrator’s” side. Laschet does not use power the way Merkel did and widens our perspective that way. He forces us to tolerate all those voices we have been putting away for over a decade. Having favored Söder over him myself, I like his leadership by example, disclosing this deeper point of view far outside his own ego. He accepts the people as they are before leading them into the campaign together.