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:
#RoadToBTW21 John Kerry, Role Model for Armin Laschet?
European affairs will be a matter for the boss – at least if Armin Laschet (CDU) becomes Germany’s Federal Chancellor. In an interview this week, Laschet presented his reform plans for the European Union. His plans give hints that Laschet is not just in close contact with France’s President Macron but is also getting some ideas from the US.
We would assume Laschet is likely a fan of US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, as he wants to establish a similar position in the EU. Laschet fancies John Kerry and his reputation, urging that the EU needs someone of his caliber. Furthermore, the ex-EU Parliamentarian’s plans are supplemented by a CDU working group for EU affairs, which handed in their proposal for the election manifesto this week. Like Laschet, they demand to expand the areas in which the EU can make decisions with majority votes (instead of unanimity). Furthermore, the working group demands several other reforms like a right of initiative for the EU Parliament (they don’t have one yet), an EU version of the FBI with cross-border competencies, a European judicial review body to foster cutting of red tape, and many more. Various reforms proposed both by Laschet and the working group would require a change of the EU treaties, which Laschet would like to combine with the establishment of an EU constitution. These are all big projects and even if Germany and France would both be willing to implement them, it would certainly not be easy to get all other Member States on board. Still, the EU has lacked this sort of big-picture, visionary thinking for a few years now and Laschet surely isn’t afraid to rock the EU boat a little.
Switzerland and the EU: Together, but also Apart
Switzerland likes doing its own thing, but the landlocked country is surrounded by EU Member States, making it quite difficult to truly go it alone. In fact, the Alpine country is the EU’s fourth biggest trading partner, while the EU is trading partner number one for the Swiss. Given this close relationship, you would assume the two have some sort of comprehensive trade agreement in place. However, that is not the case; trade between the two is regulated by a patchwork of deals governing individual aspects of trade policy, spanning all the way back to 1972 and making an update to relations tedious. The simplest way to explainthe current status of relations is that Switzerland gets access to the European single market in exchange for open borders and an alignment of Swiss and EU law. That being said, this week the most recent effort to formalize and streamline trade relations between the two countries was scrapped, throwing seven long years of negotiations out the window and possibly jeopardizing future EU-Swiss relations.
What happened? On Wednesday, Swiss President Guy Parmelin announced that his country had decided to terminate talks with the EU over the so-called framework agreement in areas like travel, mutual recognition of industrial standards, state aid, and medical devices. For the Swiss, the framework agreement infringed upon their sovereignty, especially in terms of wage levels and social protections. As the country enjoys comparatively high wage levels, there was a general fear that opening up the country to more cross-border workers from the EU would lead to lower wages and worse working conditions. Following the rejection by the Swiss, the Commission issued a veiled warning, hinting that the country may have difficulties accessing the single market in the future and predicting that EU-Swiss relations will deteriorate as a direct result of the breakdown of these talks. If you’re curious to find out more about EU-Swiss relations, feel free to ping us!
The Great Ryanair Grounding in Belarus: What are the European Political Consequences?
Over the past week, it’s been hard to avoid the stories around the Ryanair flight that was forced to land in Minsk by Belorusian authorities. As a quick recap: the flight, heading towards Lithuania, was carrying Raman Protasevich, a Belorusian journalist and outspoken critic of his country’s President Alexander Lukashenko. When the flight entered Belorusian airspace, ground control radioed the pilot, telling him to divert to Minsk due to a “suspected bomb threat.” Upon landing, Belorusian authorities escorted Protasevich and his partner off the plane and, surprise surprise, the “bomb threat” was only a false alarm. Prostasevich remains in jail and faces 15 years in prison over the charges. German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the actions of the Belorusian authorities and called for an immediate release of Prostasevich and his partner. French minister for EU affairs called the event “an act of state piracy,” and European Council President Charles Michel called the event an “international scandal.” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen didn’t mince her words, pointing out that the EU has a €3 billion economic and investment package ready to go for Belarus when it decides to become democratic. Ouch.
For all the jokes we make about the EU being slow and ineffective, we must say this time the EU’s responsewas swift and intense. The list of sanctions against Belarus are meant to “harm Lukashenko and his allies” while also avoiding more broad sanctions that could affect the general population. For one, Belorusian airlines are barred from EU airspace and airports, and leaders have urged EU airlines to avoid the country. The exact details of the sanctions are currently in the works, as EU diplomats and lawyers are working on designing them to be legally airtight.
How The Vaccination Campaign Shall Progress in Germany
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s (CDU) promise was that everyone who wants to be vaccinated would have the opportunity to get at least a first dose by the end of the summer. Despite some delivery problems, the Chancellor is still optimistic this goal can be reached. But how do we proceed as priorities are lifted (we reported) and what are the decisions about vaccinating children with BioNTech/Pfizer?
The most vulnerable groups in Germany are now protected with over 40% of citizens already receiving their first shot. Generally, you could say the vaccination campaign has progressed well in the past two months. That being said, there are still some lingering problems. For example, various Federal States haven’t received enough vaccines. In Hamburg, for instance, the prioritization has been upheld simply because the city-state simply doesn’t have enough vaccines, running the danger of not being able to offer any more appointments, even to those on the list. The chief doctor of Hamburg’s vaccination center (the biggest one in Germany) announced this week on Twitter, that – if no more vaccines can be delivered – appointments over the next month will only be for people receiving their second shot. The same problem can be seen among vaccinations for children. Even though it is likely that by the time you’re reading this, the European Medicine Agency has already given its approval for vaccinating children, the doses are simply not there. So, we have many possibilities in theory, however, we might still need to wait quite a while before we can benefit from them. Again, this can have some repercussions for the parties if the issues are not completely resolved by the election in September.
The Pacifist Greens
This week, Robert Habeck, co-chair of the Greens and sidekick of Chancellor-candidate Annalena Baerbock made some unfavorable news when he said he would support supplying Ukraine with defensive weapons in an interview. The Greens have a long and profound history of pacifism and, as you can imagine, Habeck’s foray didn’t land well. Not only his party colleagues but also the Federal Government rejected Habeck’s proposal. Both the Federal Government and the EU have made it clear they want to solve this crisis through diplomacy.
Not delivering weapons in crisis regions, even if it is for defensive purposes, is one basic principle of the Greens. Therefore, Habeck felt forced to specify his proposal by explaining that he really meant medical support equipment. For many, it was like closing the barn door after the horses escaped. But one fact remains: the Ukraine crisis is ongoing for seven years now and the EU’s diplomatic approach is not working (so far). Lately, the battles in East Ukraine have intensified, especially in Corona times, but it’s not getting too much attention. So, Ukrainians are not wrong when they say they feel left alone by the EU. This case also poses questions on how the Greens plan to resolve foreign policy issues in the future because even if a peace-seeking policy is the ideal, some situations may bring forward some hard, undeniable realities. We’ll keep you posted.
AfD – The Right Winn(g)ers
Germany’s right-wing party AfD (Alternative for Germany) is divided into two factions: the nationalistic and economically liberal wing and the hardcore nationalistic wing. The latter used to be organized in a loose association within the party called “Der Flügel” which was officially dissolved after it was announced that German intelligence put them under surveillance. Now the party nominated Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla as frontrunners for the Federal Elections. This constitutes a clear win for the “Flügel” even though it doesn’t exist anymore (officially).
Party co-chair Jörg Meuthen is part of the more liberal group in the AfD, but he’s losing control of his party. The nomination of the frontrunners underlines this development as Meuthen’s candidate duo lost by a margin of over 50%. The extreme right-wingers gained control in the AfD and now have their prominent duo in pole position. The AfD hopes to attract frustrated former CDU voters with a far right and nationalistic course where the key essence of each message is essentially that refugees are to blame for any problem. Still, with Weidel and Chrupalla, the AfD was clever enough to nominate a duo where one candidate comes from Eastern and the other from Western Germany, presenting unity and showing that the far-right faction now also has Western Germany under its control. So far, polls look like the AfD won’t be able to increase the result of the last elections. If they lose votes, it might be a chance for the more liberal members to regain some control, otherwise it looks like the AfD will remain in its far-right corner for quite some time.
LONG STORY SHORT:
- €8 Billion for Hydrogen: Within the EU hydrogen alliance, 62 projects will be supported with €8 billion to foster progress towards climate neutrality in the chemical and steel industries. This was announced by Federal Economics Minister Altmaier (CDU) this week.
- Germany Admits to Having Committed Genocide: Of all terrible German crimes, the actions during colonial times may be the least prominent. Therefore, it is even more important that Germany acknowledges its war crimes against the Herero and Nama in Namibia, classifying them as genocide. After six years of negotiations, together with the Namibian government, Germany agreed on a reparations plan, paying €1.1 billion in aid over 30 years.
- Horizon Europe in the US: The EU’s research and innovation program Horizon Europe operates beyond EU borders. Since Thursday, researchers in the US are now eligible to get funding under certain circumstances. If you want to know more or whether you might qualify, ping us for more.
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS
Healing or Stealing
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier wants to serve a second term as head of state and is currently making his pitch for another five years in office, four months before the country elects a new parliament.
As the news network Bloomberg puts it, he is “providing a degree of stability as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s tenure comes to a close.“ Steinmeier explained his decision saying, “The pandemic inflicted deep wounds. I want to help to heal those wounds.”
Ja, ja, says Reuters commenting that Steinmeier, whose term ends next March, is “gambling that the likely winners of September’s national election would not turf out a sitting national figurehead from a different party.” According to current polls, his party, the SPD, is unlikely to play a role in Germany’s next government. One could claim that he was only relying on a German convention of respect for sitting presidents to hold on to this office. However, shame on anyone who thinks evil of it, as it may prove to not be that bad of a move after all.
However, it is true, some stability could help this year. Steinmeier is respected and well received in public. He served well, and let’s put it all out there: On the one hand, it the highest-ranking job Germans can give to any official and it might be bold to “steal” a second term just before federal elections. On the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t change too many doctors in the middle of surgery. That’s ultimately not for me to decide.