We are officially back for our first edition in 2022. There’s been plenty of political happenings a-brewing and we’re happy to bring you the most interesting developments this Saturday Morning. Take a look below to find out why “bunga bunga” is being used way too often lately, how German foreign policy is shaping up in 2022, and how Christian is ushering in the new year with poetry.
FIRST, SOME SOLID INTEL:
Berlusconi: Winning the Hearts and Minds, but not the Presidency
85 years old, but definitely not acting like it. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has had a wild ride in politics over the years, and after entering the ring for too many rounds to count, he’s going at it again by (unofficially) attempting to become Italy’s next president. Right off the bat, we just want to say: his chances to actually become President are razor thin. He would need every single vote on the right and about 60 independents to reach the majority of 505 votes. Highly unlikely. Having gotten that out of the way, let’s take a peek into why he’s making headlines.
First, if you’re asking yourself who Berlusconi is, you might want to take a look here and here. Over the past weeks, the current Member of European Parliament (yes, that too) has broken tradition by campaigning both to the public and the “grand electors” for this mainly ceremonial position. He’s called parliamentarians directly, joking about inviting them to his “bunga bunga party,” but it seems some electors are in fact wooed by personal call from Il Cavaliere. Towards the public, Berlusconi is no less “out there.” He’s claimed to have ended the Cold War (in 2002..?) and to have received 200 million votes from Italians… in a country with a population of 60 million. However, for a large part of the Italian public, it’s difficult to see beyond his scandals and political positions. For example, Berlusconi’s ties to Putin make him “radioactive,” as described by political experts. What’s more, many Italians worry a Berlusconi Presidency would significantly harm the country’s international credibility. Whether he officially announces his candidacy is still up in the air, but even if he doesn’t run, who he endorses could have a huge impact on the outcome of the election. If something newsworthy happens, we’ll be sure to update you.
Germany’s Progress in Abortion Law
This week, the traffic light coalition decided that they will erase article 219a from the criminal code. But what does that mean? This particular article of the criminal code stipulated that even though abortion has been possible in Germany for quite a while, it was illegal for doctors to openly inform about the topic or even mention that they “offer” this “service”. While we know that the discussion about abortion is certainly more controversial in the US than here, we are still confident to say that this decision by the new government is a positive step forward. So far, it often was a humiliating experience for women to gather information about a possible abortion (also if they decided to NOT do it). We welcome the end of this.
It was intentionally written that abortion is “possible” in Germany instead of “legal.” Article 218 of the criminal code indeed says that abortion is illegal. However, in practice, the interpretation of the law means that you can have an abortion if you have been pregnant for not longer than 12 weeks, if you have conducted an official counseling session and if the abortion is done by a doctor. You might wonder: when abortion is already somehow “legal”, why wouldn’t you be allowed to inform about it? Mainly conservative politicians are afraid that erasing this article from the criminal code could lead to “advertisements” or flyers promoting abortion in the future. Many health experts and doctors, however, see this worry to be irrational. No matter what your view on abortion is, you can see that the traffic light coalition aims to solve some societal issues that weren’t solved with Merkel’s conservative CDU. Because of the liberal positions of all three governing parties when it comes to social policy, we expect some further changes of existing laws in the future.
The Hulk Takes on Climate Change
While this week Germany’s Green Minister for Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock is receiving lots of media attention (see Jonny’s House’s View), we would like to divert your attention to someone you probably have never heard of, Robert Habeck. Jokingly referred to as “the Hulk” in German media circles, he’s Germany’s New Green Superminister for the Economy and Climate Protection and wields enormous power over Europe’s biggest economy. Last week, Habeck launched some major “climate emergency programs” with a message that was hopeful, but also sprinkled with a dash of harsh reality.
Like broccoli on your child’s dinner plate, let’s get the uncomfortable part out of the way first. Germany’s 2021 climate goals were missed, and ambitions in the next two years will likely fall short as well. By Easter, Habeck will unveil a legislative package to counter this worrying trend, but some measures have already been shared and have caused uproar. At the core of Habeck’s plan is a push to expand onshore wind power. Specifically, he wants to cover two percent of Germany’s land area with turbines, and he’s been met with resistance both from outside and inside his own party. On one hand, you have conservative politicians like CSU General Secretary Markus Blume complaining about the fact that turbines will now be closer to residential areas. On the other hand, you’ve got Green “fundis” (fundamentalists) who see this wind-expansion as a threat to species protection and biodiversity. The man really can’t catch a break. However, despite these criticisms, Habeck has a job to do, and it seems no one will knock him off course. The climate package planned around Easter time will positively send ripples through the economy, and we’ll be sure to be right there to tell you about it.
TAKE A BREAK, GIVE YOUR EYES A REST.
Source: @tagesschau / Infratest dimap
THE HOUSE’S VIEW: by Jonny
Well, it was Christmas, and then the new year began, but somehow geopolitical conflicts don’t take a break. A few weeks ago, we informed you in an article about the EU position in the Ukrainian crisis. However, we think it is worth having a bit of a closer look, especially at the German position in this conflict with all its interdependencies with the EU, the US, Russia, and, finally, the Ukraine. Let’s get to it, shall we?
It was this week that new German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) made two difficult state visits. First, she was hosted by the Foreign Minister of the Ukraine before she took a flight to Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. In Ukraine, Baerbock is a warmly welcomed guest. She makes no secret of her disapproval of the North Stream 2 project and in their campaign the Greens always assured the public that supporting Ukraine was one of their foreign policy targets. Somehow it felt like everyone is on the same page. Baerbock came out of this visit well without saying or doing too much.
Next stop: Moscow. Russia’s Foreign Minister is like the Bogeyman for German Foreign Ministers. Baerbock’s predecessor Heiko Maas (SPD) was humiliated at the shared press conference on his first visit. Baerbock obviously wanted to do better. Her whole visit was planned thoroughly, and the staging was perfect. She visited the Tretjakov Gallery with an exhibition called “Diversity United” (spicy). Afterwards, wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Alexander Garden followed by a statement at the press conference, saying she felt “shame and reverence” standing there as a German (plus points for reflective dealing with history). Then, a bilateral and a press conference with Lavrov. Baerbock managed to bring up all German priorities: rules for a common Europe, human rights, the imprisonment of Alexey Navalny, the prohibited NGO Memorial and, finally, the Ukraine. She got through her points, Lavrov gave his side of affairs, sparing Baerbock the humiliation he gave Maas or the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell. A success for Baerbock – or not?
What’s behind Germany’s role and Baerbock’s actions in this conflict? Germany potentially has a powerful sanction mechanism at its disposal – stopping or at least further delaying North Stream 2. Baerbock would like nothing more than that, but Chancellor Scholz (SPD) also has a say and he wants the project. So, if Scholz continues the Merkel-like course of talking and appeasing all parties, what remains of Baerbock’s often conjured “value-driven foreign policy” if she needs to act so cautiously?
She made her points at the press conference with Lavrov. She didn’t cause a miracle, but she was confident and clear in a position where every wrong word could have severe consequences. With that, she probably gained herself some respect in the geopolitical arena. And she did another clever move. It became very visible why she sees climate policy as a top priority for foreign policy: she aims to solve potential conflicts with it. Baerbock has refined former German Minister Egon Bahr’s 1963 concept of “change through trade.” Everyone needs to take part in fighting the climate crisis, even Russia came to that conclusion. And this was the part of the press conference where both ministers reaffirmed their willingness to cooperate more, in potentially all areas.
The House’s View
Baerbock’s position is utterly difficult. She wants to set her own geopolitical agenda, but the buck stops with the Chancellor who (so far) seems to be willing to let her have her shot and see what happens. This gives Baerbock some leeway. She promised to stick to certain values in foreign policy and needs to deliver on that now, at least for her own party and voters. Still, Baerbock is experienced enough to know that she can’t confront Russia too much, which would also bring her the anger of her EU partners. Whether the solution at the end comes with dialogue, sanctions or something else we don’t know about today, we are sure that Baerbock made first but very important steps on the geopolitical stage. Her rather clear words and positions probably struck a chord with her US colleague Antony Blinken, but the US and some EU countries will wait and see whether she delivers on some of her promises towards the North Stream 2 debate.
To put it simply: we wouldn’t want to swap seats with her right now. Still, we can definitely see that some new tone is evolving in German foreign politics. History or even the next few weeks will tell us whether she is right.
LONG STORY SHORT:
- Rest in Peace, il Presidente: President of the European Parliament David Sassoli sadly passed away in the early hours of the morning on Tuesday, January 11th. Many messages poured in from European leaders, thanking him for his service, both as a journalist and politician.
- New President in Town: The European Parliament elected Maltese MEP from the European People’s Party Roberta Metsola to replace Mr. Sassoli. At 43, she is the youngest person ever to be elected to the position.
- Thanks, but No Thanks: Former Chancellor Angela Merkel has turned down a job offer from the UN this past week. After a decade and a half at the head of the German government, she would rather spend her time reading and sleeping, which, if you ask us, is well-deserved.
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS
It is amazing how the own perception of possible positive changes shifts between New Year’s Eve and the last week of January when it comes to new year’s resolutions. I personally, like every year, felt like a poet in those first seconds of 2022.
Hugging at the windowsill,
We drank Champagne,
We knew we will,
Shall we live or shall we kill,
Still the first one I throttle,
In winterish chill.
That deep moment when I can feel the poetry and the change coming into my personal 2022. And tears well in my eyes while I conclude historic resolutions to finally become the man I’ve always wanted to be. Virtually quoting Amanda Gorman, I put aside all fear and all anger against me for I am brave enough to listen to, and learn from, my fear. Yes: This time will be different because this time I’ll be different. I already am! And so, I run to the stage of my personal 2022 and
Just seconds away from our resolutions: Life hits hard. Central Banks start to diverge on monetary policies, the Ukraine-crisis escalates, Australia closed out Djokovic for the Opens and all promised changes within the newly-built German government seem to take (so incredibly) much longer than expected while the EU-Commission deems nuclear energy to be officially “sustainable”, so that France, the Netherlands and many other Member State feel better.
We are thrilled to see if “the rest is history” (Gorman) or rather historic “silence” (Shakespeare) or something completely and again surprisingly else (2022).