The European political calendar is winding down, and that means it’s time for Krautshell to take a little summer break. That being said, there won’t be complete radio silence on our end, so keep an eye on your inbox from time to time, you might find something from us waiting there! Take a look at our #RoadToBTW21 article below to find out exactly what Krautshell will look like over the next few weeks, and we wish you a wonderful start into your weekend!
FIRST, SOME SOLID INTEL:
#RoadToBTW21 How We Move Forwards
Well, friends, it was the last week of plenary sessions for this legislative period in Germany. A memorable week has come to an end; a week in which, among others, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) had her last questioning by the parliament – an event in which she must answer any question parliamentarians ask her about any topic for approximately an hour. And we have to say: there were times the author of this article cooked pasta more dramatically than Merkel’s last grilling. But this somehow matches her whole time in office. Hardly ever has she staged her appearances and why bother starting when you are about to leave anyway, I guess? This brings us to how we will move forward with the Krautshell.
With the political summer break, many topics are on hold for the coming weeks, which normally means: no Krautshell (this is the point in time where you should say “OH NO, what a pity!”). But as we’re heading to important elections, we don’t want to pause completely. We hope we could give you valuable insights into the campaigning process and the program of each party with the #RoadToBTW21 series. And we will occasionally send you a campaign edition of the Krautshell now and again as we near the elections. So, whenever something important happens, you will hear from us. We are going back to our roots when we promise: we won’t do it regularly, we can’t tell when we will do it, but we will. We hope you enjoyed this season of Krautshell because we surely did. Ping us for any questions and now enjoy the rest of the last episode for this legislative period. Cheers!
Shut Them out or Find Common Ground? EU Countries Split on Russia Approach
As you know, last week US President Joe Biden came to Europe. Just before returning home, he made a little stopover in Geneva to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and discuss the two country’s differences. This communicative approach to Russia found a warm reception in Berlin and Paris, as Merkel and Macron both praised the “climate of cooperation” initiated by the US. After meeting last week to align their positions, France and Germany surprised EU diplomats by presenting a proposal to reorient the bloc’s Russia policy with a mix of threatening sanctions and organizing an EU-Russia Summit.
Merkel explained the reasoning behind this proposal in front of the Bundestag on Thursday, stating “It is not enough for US President Joe Biden to talk to the Russian president… the European Union must also create formats for talks here… There is no other way to resolve conflicts.” Essentially, use the tried and true “carrot and stick” approach. However, other EU states were not too thrilled about the proposal, especially the Baltic states and Poland. These states have a complicated (ongoing) history with Russia, and they voiced concernthat a Summit between Putin and EU leaders would send the wrong message by meeting with him in the midst of continued heightened. As a senior EU diplomat put it, “We’re not seeing any reason why we should upgrade our relations with Russia, especially when we’re currently dealing with a cyberattack, disinformation.” Other leaders, like Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte took a middle path, not opposing a meeting between the EU and Russia, but clearly delineating he would not participate himself. The final conclusion was a sort of compromise: EU countries agreed to new possible sanctions against Russia, and while not agreeing to a leaders’ Summit, the EU will now “explore formats and conditionalities of dialogue with Russia.” We’ll be sure to update you as these formats are “explored.”
Wirecard: One Question Remains
You probably remember that we reported (several times) about the Wirecard scandal. You know, the German company that created a few billion dollars in cash that didn’t exist and went bankrupt when it came out… Well, the parliamentary investigation committee that got into the case and reviewed tons of documents and data released their final report this week. The report acknowledged, among others, the failure of EY, which served as auditors to Wirecard and as well the failure of German financial authorities to investigate the case earlier.
However, the most important question for our world of politics remains open: who takes political responsibility for the case? In the committee, the governing coalition has the most votes and they prevented the report explicitly blaming Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD). Even though in interviews, the CDU/CSU politicians on the committee made some cautious accusations against Scholz, overall, he came out with only a few scratches. In fact, the SPD politicians involved in the investigation even claimed the committee would have acquitted him of guilt. How, you might ask? Well, it’s election season, Scholz is the SPD candidate, and some might say in return for not blaming him, the SPD held back when, for instance, Transport Minister Scheuer’s (CSU) activities with the “toll scandal” were under scrutiny in a different committee. What remains, besides the question for political responsibility, are thousands of individual investors who lost their money in a shady company that was surely advertised by the German government itself. For those investors, the upcoming criminal and civil court cases against Wirecard and EY might at least be a crumb of comfort.
Time For Statistics: What Happened This Term?
As this is the last episode of this legislative term, we thought it was time for some “funny” statistics and numbers about what happened over the past four years. First, the most important: the Bundestag voted in 524 laws this period (vs. 555 last period). Furthermore, the printers were on fire this term with 30,832 documents printed (vs. only 13,705 last term). In the German parliament, debates are only rarely heated, and it is not often that the chairing President of the Bundestag must call a parliamentarian to order. Last term, it only happened twice. However, this term, the right-wing AfD entered the Bundestag and suddenly 34 calls to order were recorded, 21 of which are attributed to the AfD. Total expenditures of the Bundestag amounted to an astonishing €3.8 billion, which is a lot, but represents a lesser share of the total federal budget than in previous periods.
You all know people that talk VERY much. In the Bundestag, Volker Ullrich (CSU) holds the record of 162 speeches this legislative period, followed by Sebastian Brehm (CSU, 119 speeches) and Helge Lindh (SPD, 106 speeches). Lastly, we sadly have to report that from the 35 parliamentarians that left the Bundestag early, four passed away during the term, with the most prominent one being Bundestag Vice-President Thomas Oppermann (SPD, we reported).
Still, we are very excited for the next legislative period where one thing is certain: no matter how many laws are passed, no matter how many calls to action the AfD receives, A LOT will be different. We are looking forward to it!
The Transatlantic Politician Switcheroo
This week, German-American political cooperation was on full display as prominent politicians from both countries met in each other’s capitals (hence the title of this article) to discuss some hot-button issues. First, as you might have read about already, Secretary of State Antony Blinken touched down in Berlin on Wednesday to meet with Foreign Minister Meiko Maas (SPD) and Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU). We have to admit, we here in the Krautshell team are ecstatic to see Germany and the US back as best buddies again, and our hearts melted slightly when Blinken said that “the United States has no better partner, no better friend in the world than Germany.” However, friendship doesn’t come without its disagreements. The two sides still don’t see eye-to-eye on the issue of Nord Stream 2, a natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. To put it simply: the US doesn’t want Russia to use energy as a coercive tool, as Russian gas would increasingly flow over the Baltic Sea instead of Ukraine, depriving Kiev of transit fees. Meanwhile, Germany is annoyed this is still such a huge topic of discussion causing tension between the two allies. That being said, the positive development here is the two sides are discussing the issues as allies, not adversaries.
To complete the switcheroo, German Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU) flew over to D.C. on Wednesday. He met with top US trade official Katherine Tai, and American aluminum and steel tariffs were at the top of the agenda. After the meeting, Altmaier was convinced that a solution could be found “by the end of the year,” as both sides have concerns about moving toward more environmentally production of steel. One thing the two sides clearly agree on: addressing China’s “non-market practices, including forced labor and excess capacity.” Nothing brings two sides closer together than a common strategic competitor… that’s how the saying goes, right?
Hungarian anti-LGBT Law: How is the Rest of Europe Responding?
The “Anti-Paedophilia Act” started out as a bill intended to increase criminal penalties for pedophilia, but by the time lawmakers from Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party submitted a new draft shortly before a final vote on June 8th, the law essentially conflated pedophilia with homosexuality (explaining the ridiculousness of the measures here would be a waste of space, but click one of the links above if you want to find out more about the law’s specific content). For lawmakers in other European countries, this means a fight is coming. And soon.
Safe to say other EU countries were outraged about the passing of this law, and this week leaders of 17 EU countries published a joint letter vowing to “continue fighting against discrimination towards the LGBTI community.” On Thursday, these same leaders took an unusually emotional approach to appeal to Orban during the Summit of EU Leaders. For example, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte raised Article 50 of the EU Treaty used to trigger a departure from the bloc. However, it was Luxembourgish Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who is gay himself, who spoke directly from the heart: “We have known each other for eight years, but this touches me… You see how many young LGBTI commit suicide. This is very bad. This is stigmatizing… This is really terrible in a European country.” Orban’s cold response: the measures are misunderstood, and they are simply meant to protect children. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her colleagues vowed to use all the powers of the institution to “ensure the right of all EU citizens are guaranteed.” Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynerds launched proceedings against Hungary by sending its justice ministry, asking for clarifications on the bill. Based on Hungary’s answer, the EU may then choose to go to the European Court of Justice, which could stipulate that the country must annul or amend the law. Keep in mind, the Commission has a very big, effective “tool” in its toolbox: withholding pandemic recovery funds through the new rule-of-law budget mechanism. Stay tuned for more.
LONG STORY SHORT:
- No Rainbows: Before Germany’s football match against Hungary, which issued an anti LGBTQI+ law recently (read above), Munich asked UEFA to be allowed to illuminate the Allianz Arena in rainbow colors. The UEFA denied the request, referring to their policy to not mix sports with politics. However, that decision in itself was political. Football fans answered with pride flags and pride masks. UEFA just scored an own goal.
- Delta Is Coming: The German RKI (basically, our institution to monitor the pandemic) just reported on Friday, that the Delta variant of the Coronavirus is accounting for already 15% of new cases in Germany. Thereby, we see a twofold increase of this variant since last week, already creating some worries about how it might affect us in the coming weeks and months.
- Ne Bis In Idem… is the Latin phrase which says that you cannot be prosecuted for the same crime twice. A new law by the Bundestag would offset this basic legal principle for capital crimes. Still, so far it isn’t clear whether this law will withstand an examination by Germany’s highest court. We’ll keep you posted.
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS
Don’t mention her….AWWWW
This week, it happened! Merkel held her last speech in the Bundestag!
AND she held her last speech at the Optimus Prime of all Lobby-Events, the “Day of German Industry.”
AND she visited the G7 for one last time.
AND Merkel will be at the White House for, ?, well, I am going out on a limb here: NOT for the last time but for one last time in her role as Chancellor.
AND I need a minute!
Let’s face it: while Merkel is still very much present, especially at such important meetings, the fact that the “end of the Merkel era” is nearing has really been a taboo topic. President Biden had no reservations about clearly reminding everyone about the end of her term though (albeit in a very charming manner); as outspokenly clear as say: the end of a Boomer-party when Sinatra’s “My Way” is blasted.
So, just in time for the summer break, President Biden has started the endless series of “good byes”. Cheeky as his behaviour was (of course it was, during a meeting of power-people who want to uphold the fact that they are global LEADERS and not national FADERS) it was equally as cheesy.
Yes, Biden might have started the “great eulogy” and he might have made it worse on purpose by sending it out on Instagram. However, when POTUS told Merkel that she was the leader he most admired and that he will miss her, in front of the world, he outcharmed all morals and left us like