Everyone is well-rested after the Easter Break, and the political buzz is certainly picking back up again. Today we bring you a fine selection of articles speaking about the French Presidential Debate and extreme turmoil in the Left Party in Germany, as well as a captivating House’s View on the expected fall of one of Germany’s rising star politicians. Thanks as always for reading, and we hope you enjoy this weekend’s edition of the Krautshell!
FIRST, SOME SOLID INTEL:
Who is the French Master-Debater?
This Wednesday, the two final candidates for the French Presidential election, incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right icon Marine Le Pen, faced off in a three-hour rhetorical extravaganza that was the Presidential Debate. Last time these two candidates met in the in 2017, Macron absolutely wiped the floor with Le Pen (or more accurately, she wiped the floor with herself) as she was unprepared and visibly uncomfortable. Here’s what you need to know about this week’s debate and what it means for the second electoral round this Sunday.
For starters, Macron grabbed hold of a topic that is not helping Le Pen’s poll numbers: her close ties to Russia. Macron had (in our opinion) the best line of the night stating, “You talk about your banker when you talk about Russia, that’s the problem,” referring to a loan she took out with a Czech-Russian bank to finance her political party. She, in turn, forced Macron to walk a fine line on the topic of free trade. Of course, Macron, a Europhile and economist, is very much convinced of the benefits of globalization. However, to secure votes he’s had to backpedal a bit, putting a hold on negotiations on new trade deals and imposing stricter import restrictions. Furthermore, in a strange twist, Le Pen tried to position herself as a green policy advocate. She criticized the distances goods need to travel in an economic model based on free trade, and therefore tooted her own horn by stating her economic policy focuses on “localism.” The two tussled some more over the retirement age (Macron wants to raise it, Le Pen wants it where it is at 60-62), but ultimately it seems Le Pen didn’t have the silver bullet to get her elected. She definitely did better than in 2017, but all polls are still pointing towards Mr. Macron. We’ll be sure to keep you posted.
Left Wing Down
The democratic socialist party the Left (die Linke) has been in utter turmoil since the magazine Spiegel published an article a week ago detailing numerous sexual harassments allegedly committed by party officials against members of their own party. At the heart of the political upheaval is Janine Wissler, who for now is still the chairwoman of the Left.
Her 40-something boyfriend and party colleague Adrian G. at the time reportedly had an affair with a 17-year-old member of the Left. We won’t go into much more detail here, but feel free to read the article above if you want to know more. What’s important: At the time, the teenager sent an email to Wissler (who was the sole leader of her state parliamentary group at the time) about the matter. Wissler ended her romantic relationship with Adrian G., but did not take further steps. Wissler insists that she was not informed about any sexual harassments or abuses of power (which is hard to believe given that an alleged victim already contacted her years ago).
Now, particularly young members of the Left are demanding structural reforms as well as accountability for a perceived lack of action in the face of sexual misconduct. The hashtag #LinkeMeToo went viral following the revelations and the young woman that contacted Wissler about her boyfriend is actively calling for Wissler’s resignation on Twitter (in German). Other parties have voiced their dismay over the alleged sexual harassments. For example, the Christian Democratic Union is calling for a formal investigation into the matter.
Wissler’s co-chairwoman Susanne Hennig-Wellsow preempted demands for a swift leadership renewal by announcing her immediate resignation, citing personal reasons and her own party’s handling of sexism. Whether Wissler can hold out much longer given the mounting political pressure is uncertain. The party leadership already faced a challenging road ahead after barely managing to remain in the Bundestag with last year’s poor election performance. But for now, she is trying to weather the storm, regardless of how unwise that may be.
Securing those Internal Market Supply Chains
This week, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton stopped by his functional counterpart in the European Parliament: the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee for a chat. Looking at the meeting minutes, there was a lot of bla bla and self-aggrandizement, but one thing specifically caught our attention: a new Single Market Emergency Instrument (SMEI), planned for Q3 2022 (like, soon.) Why should you care? Because if you’re in the European market, this could either be an opportunity… or a massive headache depending on what exactly you sell. And, nothing is set in stone yet: you can even contribute your ideas through the currently-ongoing public consultation.
In a [Kraut]shell, the SMEI is a mechanism to ensure EU internal market doesn’t experience shortages, especially in what it deems as “critical products,” like during the COVID pandemic. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. If your supply chain is deemed “critical,” you could be in for a lot more paperwork. Part of this instrument involves monitoring of supply chains, and EU will mandate that industry delivers facts and figures to conduct said monitoring. On the other hand, the SMEI will seek to blow some of the cobwebs off the infamous EU bureaucracy. For one, in line with both the EU’s and US’s vaccine strategy during the height of the pandemic, cooperation in public procurement is to be accelerated – likely meaning less complexity and more opportunities for public-private partnerships. Then, one idea is also to accelerate the approval procedure for placing “critical” goods and service on the market. So again, less hoops to jump through. As we said, the Commission is currently asking for feedback in the public consultation, so if you have anything to say, feel free to ping us!
TAKE A BREAK, GIVE YOUR EYES A REST.
THE HOUSE’S VIEW
All The Way Up and All the Way Down
If you had asked us a few months ago, for instance directly after the federal elections and state elections in autumn last year: who is the rising star of the SPD? – The answer would have been clear: Manuela Schwesig. Freshly re-confirmed as Minister-President of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern with an even better result than Olaf Scholz on the federal level. Furthermore, a woman, focused, talented, even beat cancer during her first term in office. All seemed to be set for Schwesig. In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, her support for North Stream 2 made her even more popular. Now, this support could end her political career.
The Environment Protection Foundation
Last year, finishing the construction of North Stream 2 would have resulted in massive US sanctions for all involved German companies. Then, North Stream 2, the subsidiary fully-owned by Gazprom came up with an idea: let’s found a foundation with an official focus on environmental protection, that operates the completion of the pipeline in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern where it ends. By this, sanctions could be prevented on the companies. Schwesig and her government were enthusiastic about this idea, even the CDU (then still part of the state government) didn’t think about objecting to it in the state parliament. So, the foundation was founded and Schwesig’s predecessor Erwin Sellering (SPD) was chosen to run it.
Is It Too Late Now to Say Sorry? (Enjoy here)
Schwesig wishes to dissolve the foundation as quickly as possible. However, the foundation has obviously evolved an independent existence and Sellering seems to be unwilling to let Schwesig tell him what to do. Their relationship has allegedly cooled down recently. But it gets even worse for Schwesig. First research by various German newspaper tabloids and an investigative non-profit organization have shown the ties between Schwesig’s government and the North Stream 2 company.
Not only has the government massively supported the construction of the pipeline and the construction of the foundation vehicle, but it also went even further. Documents prove that Schwesig and her state minister for the interior let North Stream 2 write them talking points to counter arguments by opposition parties. Several arguments from presentations that North Stream 2 held at Schwesig’s office were later used by Schwesig and her colleagues in plenary debates. Often even word by word.
Furthermore, it doesn’t come in handy that it took Schwesig until the Russian invasion in Ukraine to publicly admit that her support for North Stream 2 was a mistake. And she can’t even say it without adding a “from what we know today”.
The Role of Others
Biggest critic of Schwesig is now of course the major opposition party on the federal level, the CDU. Merkel’s old party doesn’t spare Schwesig one bit. This is of course mainly tactics also to divert from own failure. Even though it is true that Schwesig’s connection to the project and the Kremlin in general seems to be the worst, it’s also part of the truth that this project was very much supported by Angela Merkel in her times as Chancellor. Also, the state CDU in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, who was a junior coalition during the last legislative term, heavily supported the project. But it’s certainly more comfortable to talk about Schwesig than questioning the party’s own Russia policy over the last few years or even centuries.
The House’s View
Schwesig’s connections to the whole North Stream 2 project have the potential to end her very promising political career early. How powerless she already is can be seen by the example of the foundation: her influence is not high enough anymore to prompt the shutdown. And then there is the dithering. It seems like Schwesig is either unable or (probably more likely) unwilling to create full transparency. Because what might have seemed okay a few years ago when also many people in Germany generally supported continuing connections with Russia, now probably looks VERY, VERY bad for her. But as the investigative research teams already produced first reveals about Schwesig’s role, her unwillingness to create transparency will let others set the tone about her: the media, the opposing parties, the outraged public on Twitter and co.
Whenever you are not powerful enough to influence the tone of the debate or to at least force the U-turn, it can be a sign of your term coming to an end. While it’s clear that Schwesig is certainly not alone the one to blame for Germany’s and especially the SPD’s failed Russia policy, she might be the scapegoat. And not completely free of own’s fault.
LONG STORY SHORT:
- The Pegasus in the Room: After 63 Catalan politicians, academics, and lawyers associated with the independence movement were targeted by the Israeli spyware Pegasus, Catalan leaders are turning to the EU Commission for help. There doesn’t seem to be much interest from the Madrid to investigate the incident, hence the appeal towards Brussels.
- Recession on the Horizon: The German Bundesbank (Central Bank) warned this week that a further escalation of the Ukraine conflict together with further sanctions on Russia would hit the German economy hard. Specifically, the Bundesbank estimated these measures would lead to a two percent reduction in GDP compared to 2021.
- So Long, Mr. Minister! The Minister of the Interior in the state of Saxony, Roland Wöller (CDU), has been discharged from duty by his state’s Premier. The reasoning: too many scandals surrounding Wöller. His successor will be current President of the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance Armin Schuster (CDU).
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS
Two weeks ago, the Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Anne Spiegel stepped back. One of her missteps was going on a family vacation too soon after the flooding in Rhineland-Palatinate took place, where at that time she was State Minister for the Environment. This resignation was precedented by a resignation from Ursula Heinen-Esser, State Secretary for Environment in North Rhine-Westphalia, which originated basically in the same misdemeanor, a vacation in crises times. Since a few days, yet another politician has come under scrutiny, this time for going on a 4-day-Easter vacation: Federal Minister of Defence, Christine Lambrecht.
Now, I have no way of telling if there were still reachable, still (partly) working or, if not, made sure their job was being done while they were vacationing. The interesting thing is, though, that this question is not being asked, at least I haven’t seen it being considered anywhere. It does not matter if the job is being done, if they, what I suspect, were just doing home office with a nicer view. Following the op-eds and media coverage, one gets the impression that politicians are generally not allowed to go on a holiday.
Admittedly, it was bad timing. But honestly, as a high profile politician, when is it not? There is no way to figure out upfront when there will be a crisis, or when it will be over, or what will count as a crisis at all in the aftermath. We should stop treating our politicians as some kind of morally impeccable superhumans, and rather ask the one question that really counts: Did they do their job?
P.S.: I know, I know, there were some other issues as well, but still.
P.P.S.: While writing this WOOM, I learned that in most job descriptions for Ministers and State secretaries a vacation is indeed not mentioned. So, maybe they are not entitled to a vacation while in office after all…