Finally, we have a week where our news sphere and your news sphere overlapped, so of course we had to write a House’s View about it. Take a look below for some scandalous search warrants, uncertainties about Germany’s military deployments, and why Olaf Scholz’s tightrope walk is a strategic decision. Also, check out Anna’s WOOM to find out about why she thinks the Greens are shooting themselves in the foot. Happy reading, happy weekend and ping us for more!
FIRST, SOME SOLID INTEL:
The Independence of the Justice System
Only a few days before the federal elections in Germany, it became public that the German justice- and finance ministries were subject to a raid based on fraud accusations. Both ministries were in the hands of SPD ministers: former Finance Minister and vice-chancellor Scholz (now Chancellor) and former Justice Minister Lambrecht (now Defense Minister). Already then, both ministers assumed the search was politically motivated given the short time frame until the election and its public nature. Now, a German court proved them right (probably).
The court ruled that the search of the Justice Ministry lacked proper reasoning. The object of desire for the prosecution: a letter from the Justice Ministry to the Finance Ministry. There was no need to place a search warrant on the letter, as there was no fear it would magically go “missing,” and the matter was not time sensitive. And, even better, it came out the prosecution authorities were already in possession of the requested document for over a year (LOL).
But, letter aside, several German newspapers raise an uncomfortable suspicion. They found out that both the prosecutor who filed for the search warrant as well as the judge who granted it are active CDU authorities on the regional level. Furthermore, the State Justice Ministry of Lower Saxony that gave the go-ahead for the raid is also headed by a CDU minister. If this indeed was a planned action utilizing the justice system to influence the election results, this would pose a major scandal typically characteristic of banana republics. The court which now ruled the search warrant as illegitimate condemned the initial decision to execute the warrant in the first place, citing the danger this decision posed for the credibility of the German legal system.
Emmanuel Macron, Vladimir Putin, and One Very, Very Long Table
While Germany’s Chancellor Scholz spent the week in Washington, French President Emmanuel Macron went Eastwards, making trips to Moscow and Kyiv. Macron went into Russia on a mission to find some sort of diplomatic solution and came out on the other side with disputed anecdotes, a few memes, and a PR-win for his Presidential campaign.
With Germany’s new government finding its footing, the French Presidential campaign phase heating up, and tensions at an all-time high between Russia and Ukraine, the stars aligned for Macron to try save the day. Regrettably, he didn’t exactly get what he wanted out of the endeavor. First, after refusing a Russian COVID test to prevent Russia from getting a hold of his DNA, Macron was forced to keep a minimum 6-meter distance from Putin. This lead to the two leaders sitting on opposite ends of a comically long table. Like, so long I expected them to be communicating with a tin-can phone. Of course, memes ensued. Second, sources from inside Macron’s circles posited that Russia had made a commitment to not begin any new military initiatives (which would of course be a huge win). However, the Kremlin immediately refuted this claim. To be precise, the quote from the Kremlin spokesman was “in the current situation, Moscow and Paris can’t be reaching any deals”. Ouch. Macron did have one positive takeaway from the diplomatic mission: Ukranian president Zelenskyy seems to have been quite pleased with France’s efforts to pave the way for a so-called “Normandy format.” This would be a summit with the leaders of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine. Overall, I’d say this trip was like room temperature beer: a little disappointing, but we’ll take what we can get.
What About Mali?
One region in which German armed forces are currently deployed is Mali. The former French colony has fallen victim to multiple jihadist activities over the years and multiple international military missions are stationed in the country. Just to name two examples, the EU has a training mission there (EUTM) and the UN runs a peace-stabilizing mission called MINUSMA. The land is coined by unstable political conditions and has experienced various coups, with the latest one taking place in May 2021. The military overtook the government. The current military junta promised new elections for February 2022 and a return towards a democratic political system. But now they decided to postpone that for up to five years.
State minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Katja Keul (Greens) warned of the consequences of a complete withdrawal of German troops. When we think about completely withdrawing, we now fear a repeat of the mistakes made in Afghanistan. However, the mandate of the German military ends in May and would need to be renewed by the parliament. Currently, it is conceivable that Germany will decide to end its participation in the EU mission. Still, a continuance of the MINUSMA peace operation seems likely. As its former colony, France seems to have the biggest stake in Mali. However, even the French aren’t sure whether they would rather relocate their forces to neighboring Niger where a similar mission is underway. Lastly, geopolitics might play a role in Mali: the country traditionally has good connections to Russia and increasingly relies on Russian forces and military support. The decisions around Mali seem to (partly) depend on how much influence the EU is willing to give Russia in this part of the world, especially given the complicated situation in the Ukraine. A lot to decide for German politics and Defense Minister Lambrecht (SPD) and Foreign Affairs Minister Baerbock (Greens).
TAKE A BREAK, GIVE YOUR EYES A REST.
THE HOUSE’S VIEW: by Mats
Weekend at Biden’s: Scholz Goes to Washington
This week, our political worlds collided when Olaf Scholz (SPD) made his inaugural trip to Washington DC as Chancellor. The visit got off to a bit of an awkward start. First, German social media erupted over these images of Scholz when he landed in DC because… wait for it… he decided to wear comfortable clothes for a 10-hour flight instead of his usual suit and tie. To be honest, it reminded me of this story from 2005 when the Northwestern Women’s Lacrosse Team won the NCAA Championship and was publicly shamed for wearing “flip flops” to their visit in the White House. Ridiculous. Then, when Biden gave his song and dance welcome speech, Scholz didn’t pick up on the social queue that he was supposed to respond. Only after a slight verbal nudge did the German Chancellor string together a few words to say thank you for having him. It was cringeworthy. So how was his trip received over here?
Scholz’s Visit from the German View
Last week, Jonny explained how Scholz has been criticized in Germany for not being very visible since he took office. Whether or not you think his strategy is effective, it’s hard to disagree that this visit gained Scholz some brownie points back home. First, it’s true that a picture speaks a thousand words. You can’t get around the fact that pictures of Scholz and Biden together just communicate authority. Then, Scholz gave an interview on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” in ENGLISH. It might not seem like such a big deal to you. However, even though Germans generally speak excellent English, politicians here will normally revert to German to avoid any faux-pas. Scholz’s decision communicated confidence and strength, as well as reinforced the image that Germany is an international player.
…But It Wasn’t all Sunshine and Rainbows
Looking at the media response to Scholz’s visit on the American side though, I recognized a certain degree of frustration with and confusion about Germany’s positions on the Ukraine crisis. First, with Nord Stream 2. Biden made it clear that any Russian military action would mean the axe for the gas pipeline. Scholz, on the other hand, wouldn’t even mention the pipeline’s name. Congress wanted strong guarantees that the two countries are on the same page when it comes to “securing peace,” Scholz offered diplomatic language. To understand why this is the case, you need to understand where the pressure on Scholz is coming from. First and foremost, Germany’s dark history means that speaking about possible military intervention, even in the form of weapons support, is an extremely delicate matter. On top of that, Scholz has to keep his traffic light coalition together by appealing to the largely pacifist Greens. Then, you add another layer of complexity: parts of Scholz’s own party, the SPD, are strongly opposed to confronting Russia. In fact, former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was nominated to the board of the Kremlin-controlled gas company Gazprom. Thirdly, let’s not forget that over one-third of Germany’s energy comes from Russian gas. Despite the US desperately searching for alternatives, a hard cut-off from Russia would be catastrophic for Germany. So, with one misplaced sentence, Scholz could (theoretically) disband his coalition, split his party, and bring economic ruin to Germany.
The House’s View
Being a politician is a lot like being a plate-spinning circus performer. Your focus constantly needs to be shifting from plate to plate, and you can’t focus on any single one too much. If you do, all the others come crashing down. This is the case for Olaf Scholz. This situation is a trial by fire, and frankly, anything he says or does will be criticized from one side or the other. If he takes a hard line against Russia before any military action, he risks his country’s economy. If he sticks with the pipeline, he risks tearing apart his coalition and losing the US as an ally. However, Scholz is not ignorant, nor is he naive. First, Scholz is hyper aware of the fact that a dependence on Russian gas is in no way sustainable. It will take some time, but Germany is trying to transition into other, more sustainable (politically and environmentally) energy sources. For the moment though, this dependence exists and there’s no workable alternative. Second, I see someone who is biding his time and trying to avoid unnecessarily making enemies internally and externally. What I mean by this: Scholz can’t predict the future. If he shows Russia the cold shoulder and tensions die down, he’s left standing there without natural gas. If he decides to go the other way by continuing to deepen economic ties with Russia and an invasion occurs anyway, he’s a chump on the wrong side of history. I have no doubt that in the case of military action, Germany will side with its allies. However, Scholz still seems to be gambling on the premise that Russia won’t act militarily. If tensions die down, Scholz can come out of this crisis with a positive image, having stuck with his allies while also keeping the Russian gas flowing into Germany. He’s chosen his strategy, and now he needs to be ready to face the consequences of remaining diplomatic in times of crisis.
LONG STORY SHORT:
- Case Dismissed! Germany’s plan of a partly compulsory vaccination seems to work. The decision that caregivers and medical personnel needs to be vaccinated withstood a first complaint in front of Germany’s highest court. Now it’s up to the federal states to enforce the law. Further quarrels are expected here since few states like Bavaria in the meantime publicly philosophized about not enforcing the new law. Many battles left to fight for Chancellor Scholz.
- Da Vinci’s Power Plant: For sure, Leonardo da Vinci (given his ingenuity) would have been impressed by the functionality of a nuclear power plant. Still, it might be arguable whether he would be happy with French President Macron calling the energy plans for his country a “nuclear renaissance”. This term was used by Macron to present the strategy of constructing six new nuclear reactors to ramping up the country’s energy-production capacity in the long-term. Let’s see whether the atomic waste also finds its personal renaissance.
- Activism or Politics? Jennifer Morgan, the boss of Greenpeace up until a few days ago, has become the new German special envoy for international climate policy (i.e., our new John Kerry). As she does not have German citizenship, she cannot become state secretary yet (the level directly under the minister). Morgan is known to be a tough negotiator and has dozens of years of experience in her new topics. The next few years will show if she is also talented in politics. Attribute: most thrilling personnel matter of the week.
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS
THE GREEN MISTAKE
We all remember Greta, the Fridays for Future movement, as well as the Friday demonstrations and how they contributed significantly to moving environmental protection and sustainability into the focus of decisionmakers worldwide. And, I might add, contributed significantly to the Green Party’s success in the federal elections last September. The Greens now are a part of the German Government and strive to make Germany climate neutral, car-free (or as close as you can get to it), and generally eco-friendly.
While most Germans, including myself, generally support this goal, the Greens run the risk of losing support. Except for a radical minority, most people are not ready to immediately sacrifice as much as is needed to achieve what the Greens dream of. Enforcing their concepts without giving too much thought to which effect they have in the daily life of most citizens, in the countryside or for people with little money to spare, will only lead to an outright rejection.
And, the protesters who blocked Berlin’s highways over and over last week, leading to traffic jams and the corresponding anger in Berlin’s population, were not helpful. Even less so, since the Greens had a very hard time publicly distancing themselves from what was clearly illegal activity. Seeing the remarks of Federal Minister for Environment, Steffi Lemke*, I couldn’t help thinking at least some of them were secretly supportive.
They should think twice about how they move on with their ideas. While baby steps combined with economic adjustments are not as satisfying in the moment, in the long run they seem the more promising recipe to me. Otherwise, this might end up being their only shot.
*She commented in an interview that “civil disobedience” would be “absolutely legitimate”.