French elections are upon us this weekend, and we’ve got not one, but TWO articles giving some insights into what’s to come. First, through Jonny’s analysis of Marine Le Pen’s rebranded far-right rhetoric and second, through Christian’s WOOM speaking on the implications of the election for Europe. Also, we look at why Germany’s Minister of Defense may be out of the job soon, and why targeted advertising bans are old-school. Happy reading and have a wonderful start to your weekend!
FIRST, SOME SOLID INTEL:
Marine Le Pen and the National Rally – Not Right Anymore?
If you had been in a coma for the last 5 years and woke up to a speech by France’s far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen (maybe not the scenario you wished for but it’s all you get today), you would probably not believe your ears. In the upcoming presidential elections, it seems we’ll have another runoff between Macron and Le Pen like in 2017. Back then, Macron defeated her clearly. Le Pen was too harsh and had positions that were just too unpopular with the general public. This seems to have changed – or has it?
For a Western EU country, France is comparably open to far-right politicians. Still, past proposals from Le Pen like leaving the EU or banning dual citizenship didn’t gain traction. She was seen as a cold idealogue and wasn’t resonating too well with the people. In this election, she’s had concurrence on the far-right by former TV star Eric Zemmour (we reported). Zemmour’s strategy of out-far-righting Le Pen was met with a strategy shift by Le Pen. She focused on “classic topics”: the decrease in purchasing power, missing jobs, poverty. If you only listen to specific parts of her speeches, you could think she joined a left party. However, she still gets the loudest applause when she talks about immigration, still a prominent topic among the French right voters. That being said, it seems her supporters prefer a more “mild-mannered” form of racism. Critics of Le Pen see her as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, arguing she is not one bit less racist than before, but that she only understood it’s better to talk about how she breeds cats than about how she hates immigrants.
Regardless of her true motivations and positions, Macron will have a way tougher time beating her this year. Her new strategy of presenting herself like a left politician with some very racist positions subtly disguised makes her a serious candidate for President. We will keep you posted.
Christine Lambrecht: Puzzling in-Action
The German defense minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) has repeatedly been making headlines the past few weeks, but not the good ones. It began in January, when Lambrecht caused incredulous reactions from Germans and other Europeans alike by promising to support the Ukrainian military with 5000 helmets. German newspapers described the decision as an “embarrassment” and warned that Germany was becoming the “laughingstock”. The Mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitschko, responded by calling the commitment an “absolute joke”.
More recently, Lambrecht caused confusion by stating that the government’s hesitancy towards discussing military aid to Ukraine stemmed from the Ukrainian government’s explicit request for utmost secrecy. The Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany then quickly retorted that no such request was ever made. These missteps have caused journalists, politicians, and the public at large to scrutinize the minister’s actions more closely, which has triggered a number of further embarrassing details surfacing. For example, she allegedly inquired whether attending the Munich Security Conference was truly necessary, even though it is by far the most important security summit hosted by Germany.
Leading politicians of the opposition have begun calling for Lambrecht’s removal. Even coalition partners are criticizing the SPD defense minister, arguing that the communication problems between her ministry and Ukraine are “very dissatisfying”.
Whether Lambrecht will whether the storm or step down is still up in the air. The defense minister’s continued series of gaffs are putting pressure on Chancellor Olaf Scholz to intervene and ask for her resignation. Much like Scholz’s predecessor Angela Merkel, he may be hoping to simply wait out political controversies. After all, Scholz has consciously imitated Merkel a number of times, including her trademark Merkel rhombus.
A Week of Defeats for Health Minister Lauterbach (SPD)
Welcome to this week’s edition of: “We wouldn’t want to switch seats with…”. This edition features Karl Lauterbach (SPD), who is currently Germany’s Federal Minister of Health. This week, the prominent epidemiologist found himself in the hot seat. First, he announced that he and the health ministers of the federal states agreed that from the 1st May onwards, isolation after an infection would be voluntary. Press statements also by the state ministers seemed to be in line with this announcement. Following a Twitter shitstorm, the state ministers backpedaled and left Lauterbach alone in the rain. The minister apologized publicly, took the blame, and announced that isolation will stay mandatory.
The next important decision in health politics followed on Thursday. The German parliament rejected various versions of a mandatory vaccination (from 18 onwards, from 50 onwards). Chancellor Scholz and Lauterbach both supported mandatory vaccination but refused to come up with a legislative proposal themselves – damage control should it not pass in parliament. This resulted in the need for the parliamentary groups of SPD, Greens and FDP to come up with a proposal. It was a huge mess with several unfortunate compromises. Ultimately, it was sacked as the CDU, whose approval was necessary, rejected it. In the end, the tactic of Lauterbach failed again and even though he can share the blame together with the Chancellor, he is the one who had skin in the game and lost. Thereby, also his party friends from the SPD are not sparing him. The SPD state health ministers blamed him for the communication debacle surrounding the isolation topic and the SPD parliamentarians were unhappy with his approach on the mandatory vaccination. He didn’t even get any love from his supporters who were unhappy he had to compromise in the first place. Lauterbach can feel the hardship of real politics and how fast a “top” can change to a “flop”.
TAKE A BREAK, GIVE YOUR EYES A REST.
Source: Wahlen_DE | Insa
THE HOUSE’S VIEW: LET’S HOLD OUR HORSES ON TARGETED ADVERTISING RESTRICTIONS
Transparency Just ain’t Cutting it
A few weeks ago, we highlighted the EU’s Data Protection Supervisor’s opinion regarding the future of targeted advertising. In brief, his position was: transparency is not enough of a safeguard, there needs to be a prohibition on processing “data that can be used to exploit vulnerabilities” for targeted advertising. Why did he post this opinion? Because if the EU wants to reign in targeted advertising, now is the time to do it through the Digital Services Act (DSA).
In simple terms, and as the original plans for the DSA intended, we’re talking about bans on processing data for targeted advertising based on the user’s sexual orientation, race, or religion, as well as for children. The opinion that this type of targeted advertising should be outlawed is broadly supported by the Left-of-Center parties in the European Parliament, while the Center-Right EPP together with the Liberals oppose this ban. Okay. Now that we’ve explained the situation, let’s get down and dirty.
Let’s Not Get Caught up in Wokeness
Companies on the internet know the most intimate details of people’s lives, and from a regulator’s point of view, it’s their job to draw a line that shouldn’t be crossed. At face value, a ban on this sort of data processing is progressive and in society’s best interests. Also, given the state of current political wokeness, it seems almost monstrous to disagree with this initiative, as anything that reduces discrimination should be promoted without a second thought. What I say though: let’s look at this with more nuance, because not everything has to be black or white. And hopefully, even if you still are convinced that this is the right decision, you will have thought critically about it instead of just supporting it because it sounds right.
Just Some Food for Thought…
Putting the topic of targeted advertising for children aside for a second (young, developing brains are not able to make rational decisions and should therefore not be the target of advertising – little potential for argument here), let’s examine the other categories which are to be banned: sexual orientation, race, and religion. I can think of companies and groups/organizations that have legitimate reasons to reach potential customers through targeted advertising based on one or more of these categories. To outright ban data processing based on these criteria would make reaching these companies’ intended audiences significantly more challenging and lead to financial setbacks.
Let’s think one step further: who gets to decide which labels make someone vulnerable? Unemployed individuals could be considered vulnerable, so job websites can’t target people based on employment status. Another vulnerability could be a person’s disease or medical condition – treatment centers and pharmaceutical companies could not target those individuals who they have a treatment for. Even gender could be considered a vulnerability to be exploited. The list goes on, but I think you get my point: in certain cases, there is a legitimate, non-harmful reason why someone may want to target a certain group of people.
The House’s View: Do Better, EU
Blanket bans or blanket approvals fail to recognize that life is complex. The EU Parliament has done an excellent job at identifying a problem that many people see: we are being shown ads based on the most intimate details of our lives. And that can be uncomfortable. However, given the European Union’s self-set goal of “Better Regulation,” I would call on the EU institutions to come up with a more modern and nuanced solution to this problem. If, by democratic process, lawmakers agree that targeted advertising based on certain criteria is posing a problem, come up with a way to ensure that those who target are doing it in an ethical way. Set up a non-partisan regulatory authority that gives licenses to companies to target their advertising after an application and approval process. Create an ongoing ledger of “vulnerabilities” and regularly reevaluate the list if it still corresponds to the times. Set up a mechanism to challenge decisions. Currently, many companies’ financial well-being depends on the ability to reach the right audience at the right time and some people might even be happy to find the right product/group/service without having to search extensively. This proposed ban communicates a certain laziness and fails to take into account the negative externalities it could cause. I hope lawmakers can see the gray in between the black and white.
LONG STORY SHORT:
- More Cooperation, Please: Japan and the EU will cooperate on the German-French cloud initiative GAIA-X. According to reports, Japan will receive an own GAIA-X hub while activities of the Japanese Data Society Alliance will be supported in the EU. Both sides hope for more progress in standard setting in the topic areas of data sovereignty and cloud.
- Armed Drones: A new confidential document from the Federal Ministry of Defense shows that Germany will be able to navigate its upcoming armed drones from German soil. Furthermore, it shall also be possible to navigate the drones from countries that neighbor the deployment area. This can be seen as a significant progress in a topic, which is discussed controversially in Germany.
- Finland to Join NATO: Finland’s President and Prime Minister await to reach a majority in the Finnish parliament for their country to join the NATO. Already an EU member, Finland and especially the Finnish population was always skeptical in view of a NATO membership. A position that has obviously changed since the Russian war on Ukraine.
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS
La Grande Nation in Context
Somewhere between tomorrow night and Monday morning, we will know who the French will have chosen as the two candidates for the second and final round in the presidential elections. Drama might unfold, as Macron’s lead to the second placed right-nationalist Marine Le Pen has shrunk to a few percent, both followed closely by the (post-) socialist left Jean-Luc Mélenchon. This time, most of the votes from the extreme right candidate Éric Zemmour, the “anything but Macron” campaign supporters from the Mélenchon-camp, the center right, and abstaining “voters” might make Le Pen the new President of the French republic.
But, does this election matter for Europe? Well, yes, but in a roundabout way and not in the eyes of the French. What originally was an election about the direction of the European Union has become a domestic campaign focusing on mainly domestic issues. By the way, the Germans might, to some extent, be a co-founder of this phenomenon: The EU wasn’t even worth a discussion between the candidates for Chancellor during the TV debates. Worse even before, when Macron proposed some bold initiatives to develop the EU in hopes of instigating a forward-thinking debate with Angela Merkel, her belated and shallow response made Macron look like
French voters might have noticed, too, that the French-German couple as the “engine of Europe” has run out of gas. It’s hard to imagine leaps and bounds, such as the establishment of the Internal Market or the Euro, in the near future. The context of financial crises, climate change, economic disruptions, war and similar existential challenges makes it difficult for a national political leader to credibly promise he or she will make a difference. So, the awareness that the French President might be caught in such an imperative context anyways might lead to justifying the actions of those who abstain from voting or those who think Le Pen wouldn’t and couldn’t be that much of a difference after all.
Non, mais attends!
The French might not vote for or against a bold European agenda. However, they do vote on a context for tomorrow. Since Helmut Kohl, German chancellors, including the current one, have not been torchbearers of a stronger EU. But, if Macron is not being given a second term, the post-war EU will have no one left with the ambition to lead us Europeans to where our individual nations surely can’t.