Merkel moves left to disarm the right

Der Spiegel reports: Angela Merkel has been leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for 17 years, six months and four days, but she still knows how to surprise her party. Last Saturday she dropped by the annual congress organized by its youth wing, the Junge Union. The younger generation has long seen itself in the vanguard of the CDU’s conservative faction, frequently rallying behind politicians who do not see eye to eye with Chancellor Merkel.

At the 2004 congress, Helmut Kohl was given a welcome that suggested he, rather than, Merkel was at the helm of the party (“Who is our idol? – Helmut Kohl”). A year later, the man of the hour was Friedrich Merz, her archrival at the time, who was hellbent on tax reform. This year, the standing ovations were in honor of Jens Spahn, the young state secretary at the Ministry of Finance and the man that many are hoping will spearhead a conservative U-turn within the CDU.

Not surprisingly, there was a rancorous atmosphere when Merkel took to the stage on Saturday morning to field questions from the audience. Was she willing to admit the party had suffered a bitter defeat in the election in late September? Was it not high time she began paying more attention to center-right voters?

Once again, Merkel demonstrated that she is nothing if not flexible when under pressure, and laid out her plan to woo back voters who defected to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) on September 24. The trouble was, her plan was not even remotely what many members of her party want to hear.

In his speech the previous evening, Jens Spahn had spelled out what he sees as the reasons for the CDU’s election humiliation in no uncertain terms. The elephant in the room, the issue no one dares address, in his opinion, is refugee policy. “Does anyone here seriously believe that the reason we lost 12 percent to the AfD in Baden-Württemberg is because of old-age care policy?”

The one person who does seriously believe it is Angela Merkel. She talked about the badly paid care workers for the elderly, about families who can’t afford affordable housing in Germany’s cities. She talked about aging men and women who spent 45 years working only to find their pensions aren’t enough to live on.

“These are social issues we need to resolve,” she said. “The CDU is sometimes more inclined to focus on the economy and less inclined to consider what it actually means for the individual,” she added, in a small swipe at her own party. By the time Merkel left the Congress center in Dresden after about two hours, it had become eminently clear that her response to the rise of the right-wing populist AfD is to shift to the left. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s rogue state: U.S. has no right to terminate Iran accord says EU

Politico reports: The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Friday that the United States had no right to unilaterally terminate the Iran nuclear accord. She called the agreement “effective” and said there had been “no violations of any of the commitments” in the deal.

At a news conference at the European Commission’s Brussels headquarters, Mogherini gave a strongly-worded rebuke of the U.S., which has been a chief ally of the EU on security matters, including the response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.

Her comments were aimed directly at U.S. President Donald Trump, moments after he gave a speech in Washington saying he would not certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement, and was asking Congress to adopt legislation that would potentially trigger the reimposition of sanctions on Tehran.

“More than two years ago, exactly in July 2015, the entire international community welcomed the results of 12 years of intense negotiations on the Iran nuclear program,” Mogherini said, adding: “It is not a bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country. And it is not up to any single country to terminate it. It is a multilateral agreement, which was unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.”

Joining Mogherini in what amounted to extraordinary isolation of the U.S. president, French President Emmanuel Macron, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement reaffirming their support for the accord, which they described as “in our shared national security interest.” [Continue reading…]

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European leaders criticize Trump’s disavowal of Iran deal

The New York Times reports: Iran, Russia and European leaders roundly condemned President Trump’s decision on Friday to disavow the Iran nuclear deal, saying that it reflected the growing isolation of the United States, threatened to destabilize the Middle East and could make it harder to resolve the growing tensions on the Korean penninsula.

The reaction was far from panicked, as Mr. Trump’s decision punts to Congress the critical decision of whether the United States will reimpose sanctions on Iran — a step that would effectively sink the deal.

But Mr. Trump also warned that unless the nuclear agreement was altered and made permanent — to prohibit Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons — he would terminate the agreement, an ultimatum that threw the future of the accord into question.

Though they avoided direct criticism of Mr. Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France said in a rare joint statement that they “stand committed” to the 2015 nuclear deal and that preserving it was “in our shared national security interest.”

“The nuclear deal was the culmination of 13 years of diplomacy and was a major step towards ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program is not diverted for military purposes,” they added.

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, said that Mr. Trump was sending “a difficult and also from our point of view dangerous signal.”

He said that the Iran deal, and other diplomatic achievements, were necessary “to convince countries like North Korea, and maybe also others, that it is possible to create security without acquiring nuclear weapons.”

“Destroying this agreement would, worldwide, mean that others could no longer rely on such agreements — that’s why it is a danger that goes further than Iran,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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As Germany and Spain prove, history – with all its wounds – is not over

Natalie Nougayrède writes: History is back in Europe. The Catalan referendum and the German election illustrate this spectacularly. The scale of the far-right vote in what was once East Germany and Catalonia’s apparent march towards independence may look like they happened on separate planets – to be sure, they are fuelled by different political beliefs – but they both have to do with pent-up frustrations. Citizens who feel that they have been insulted have gone to the ballot box, and in some cases taken to the streets, to protest. In both situations there is a vivid historical backdrop, with memories of Europe’s 20th-century nightmares playing an important role: in Catalonia, the fight against fascism and Franco; in the east of Germany, the experiences of Nazism and Soviet communism.

In Leipzig and the nearby small town of Grimma, I was told about how citizens felt their self-esteem had been trampled on. German reunification has not led to a shared sense of community. Rather, it’s compared to colonisation: “westerners” took over everything – regional administrations, courts, education and the economy. Everything about life in the Communist state – the way people dressed, what they ate, what they learned in school, how they decorated their homes, what they watched on TV – became an object of scorn and ridicule. It’s not that life isn’t better now: of course it is. There is freedom. And living standards have improved immensely. But many eastern Germans feel their identity has somehow been negated, as if they were being asked to forget about it.

Speaking with Catalan friends in recent days, I heard similar qualms: “We were waiting for a sign that our voice would be heard, but as the years passed nothing was changing” … “Our cultural difference isn’t being acknowledged as it should be”: these were common sentiments, even from people not altogether enthusiastic about breaking away from Spain. [Continue reading…]

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Merkel should follow Macron’s lead on Europe

Christiane Hoffmann writes: After the election victory, it didn’t take long for the congratulations to come in. Just one day afterwards, the most powerful man in the world, Donald Trump, called German Chancellor Angela Merkel with his best wishes for her party’s success.

That was in March, after the Christian Democrats had just won an election in the tiny state of Saarland. A half year later, though, the U.S. president was conspicuously reticent with his compliments, waiting several days after last Sunday’s general election in Germany before finally calling on Thursday. One could see it as a form of brutal honesty: Given Merkel’s weak result, there isn’t much to celebrate. But perhaps it was also a preview of the new reality: Merkel’s loss of power.

Since the election, the chancellor is no longer viewed as the uncontested leader of the German government, a woman who almost secured an absolute majority for her conservatives in 2013. Instead, if she manages to assemble a coalition with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens, she’ll be heading up a government experiment born of necessity. And she will be a chancellor whose turn at the top is coming to an end. That will erode Merkel’s authority on the global stage. Leaders like Trump, Putin and Erdogan know only too well when someone in power has passed their zenith. Indeed, that may have been a reason for Merkel’s uncanny imperturbability both on election night and since. Anything to avoid showing signs of weakness. [Continue reading…]

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Europe and its discontents

Ivan Krastev writes: While the fear of foreigners seems to be at the heart of the conflict between Europe’s East and West, the East’s alienation from the European project could be better understood elsewhere. It is rooted in the trauma of those who have left. Think of it as a delayed reaction of the consequences of millions of East Europeans emigrating to the West in the past 25 years.

In the period between 1990 and 2015 the former G.D.R. lost 15 percent of its population. The mass migration from post-Communist Europe to the West not only impaired economic competitiveness and political dynamism, but also made those who decided to stay home feel like real losers. Those with roots have grown resentful of those with legs. It is the people in the depopulated areas in Europe who most enthusiastically voted for populists.

And while political anger has erupted both in the east and in the west of Germany and in the east and the west of Europe, there’s a clear pattern: When dissatisfied with the status quo, Westerners largely seek alternatives in or around the political mainstream — many of those disappointed with Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats in western Germany voted for the Liberals — while in the east, voters seek alternatives in political extremes.

Germany’s central role for the future of Europe is defined not only by its economic and political power but also by the fact that Germany like no other European country experiences the East-West divide not as a clash between member states but as a split in its own society. [Continue reading…]

 

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The far right is reeling in professionals, hipsters, and soccer moms

Quartz reports: Following the political earthquakes of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, commentators tried to get a better understanding of who was leading this seismic change in politics. A picture quickly emerged: angry, working class (“left behind”) men were the driving force of right-wing populism. But a year of bruising elections in Europe has highlighted an uncomfortable truth—support for the far right is far more widespread then angry, old, white working class men.

Last Sunday (Sept 24), German voters put a far-right party into parliament for the first time since the Second World War. Right-wing nationalists Alternative for Germany (AFD) won 13% of the vote, easily overcoming the 5% threshold needed to enter the German Bundestag. A previous study (link in German) showed that AFD supporters come from different social classes, including workers, families with above-average incomes, and even academics. The study concluded that what was common among AFD voters was their dislike for Angela Merkel’s so-called open-door policy to refugees.

A snapshot of where AFD voters came from highlighted the party’s ability to win over voters from a wide array of political affiliations. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (and its sister party the Christian Social Union) lost over one million voters to the AFD. But it wasn’t just right-wing voters who switched to the AFD; the center left Social Democrat lost over 500,000 (or 8.6%) of its 2013 voters to the AFD, the far left Left Party lost 420,000 (11%), and the Greens saw 50,000 defections (0.84%). Polling also showed that the AFD’s received the most votes among voters aged 33 to 44-year-old and that the party had done well with workers, and even managed to win over 10% of support from white-collar workers.

The AFD’s widespread support isn’t particularly surprising or unique. Far-right populism has always been dependent on a fragile coalition of voters—wealthy professionals, disaffected workers, and extremists—to break out of the margins and succeed. While white working class discontent is an important driving force for populism, so is anger from wealthy suburbanites and millennials. [Continue reading…]

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Is Germany’s election result ‘the revenge of the East’?

The Guardian reports: Two days after a historic vote saw an overtly nationalist party enter the German parliament for the first time in more than five decades, a group of over-60s vent their grievances over lunchtime beers and cigarettes in the smoky back room of a dry petrol station on the border between the German state of Saxony and the Czech Republic.

The German government is throwing cash at refugees “while native pensioners can’t afford to buy a new pair of glasses”, they complain. Putin is Europe’s “only guarantor of peace”, they argue, and Germany is still “under occupation” by America.

A retired lorry driver with a handlebar moustache cites a joke he read in the tabloid Bild, which says that in the wake of Sunday’s federal elections, Angela Merkel should consider handing Saxony to the Czechs in exchange for some of their toxic waste. “Let’s have it,” he shouts. “We’ll become Sudeten Germans again.”

Oppach lies in the new heartland of Germany’s far-right upstarts, part of a cluster of five villages in the district of Görlitz where Alternative für Deutschland won more than 44% of the vote on Sunday.

With 12.6% of the national vote, the AfD will be the third-strongest force in the next Bundestag, but in Saxony the party is already top: 27% of voters cast their ballot for the party that wants to hold a referendum on leaving the eurozone, ban burqas and minarets, and have Merkel prosecuted for her decision to open Germany’s borders to refugees in 2015. [Continue reading…]

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Macron lays out vision for ‘profound’ changes in post-Brexit EU

The Guardian reports: The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has set out his plans for a “profound transformation” of the EU with deeper political integration to win back the support of disgruntled citizens, but suggested a bloc moving forward at differing speeds could become somewhere the UK may “one day find its place again”.

Macron, a staunchly pro-European centrist who came to power in May after beating the Front National’s Marine Le Pen, pleaded for the EU to return to its founders’ “visionary” ideas, which were born out of the disaster of two world wars.

In what was hailed on Tuesday as one of the most pro-European speeches by an EU leader in years, he spoke up for common EU policies on defence, asylum and tax, called for the formation of European universities, and promised to play Ode to Joy, the EU anthem, at the Paris Olympics in 2024.

He said time was running out for the EU to reinvent itself to counter the rise of far-right nationalism and “give Europe back to its citizens”.

With Brexit looming, Macron warned the rest of Europe against the dangers of anti-immigrant nationalism and fragmentation. “We thought the past would not come back … We thought we had learned the lessons,” he told a crowd of European students at Sorbonne University in Paris.

Days after a far-right party entered the German parliament for the first time in 70 years, Macron said an isolationist attitude had resurfaced “because of blindness … because we forgot to defend Europe. The Europe that we know is too slow, too weak, too ineffective”.

Macron said he was deliberately not saying much about Brexit in his speech, but a reinvigorated EU with various levels of integration and cooperation was somewhere the UK may “one day find its place again”. He left the suggestion deliberately vague. [Continue reading…]

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Far-right AfD enters German parliament: What it means for German politics

Jefferson Chase writes: For the first time in the modern history of the Federal Republic of Germany, voters have elected a far-right party to the country’s parliament. But what does “far-right” mean and how will political culture change? The answers are both very complicated and really simple.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) promotes itself as a patriotic, democratic, conservative party. However, critics from across the political spectrum say it’s an association of right-wing extremists. In a pointed reference to the AfD, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel bemoaned the fact that “true Nazis” would once again be part of the Bundestag.

Speaking to foreign journalists, Germany’s leading academic expert on political parties, Oskar Niedermayer, defined the AfD as follows: “The spectrum of positions represented in the AfD cannot be summed up by one word. I call them a nationalist-conservative party with increasing connections to right-wing extremism.”

That’s the complicated bit. The simple one is the AfD’s lone effective issue. The official party platform may be 76 pages long and offers many positions on everything from taxes to public TV to animal rights, but a recent study by the respected Bertelsmann foundation found that the only topic upon which significant numbers of Germans believe the AfD had any expertise was immigration. [Continue reading…]

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Germany’s slide to the right

Klaus Brinkbäumer writes: The one side says things like: “We will hunt them down. We will hunt down Ms. Merkel or whoever else and we will take back our country and our people.” That is what Alexander Gauland, the self-proclaimed guardian of the German people, said shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday evening when the first exit polls were made public.

The other side strikes a different tone: “We had hoped for a slightly better result.” That is what Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday evening. She also said she “wasn’t disappointed.” It was a unique display of exceedingly unsuccessful political dissembling.

This year’s general election in Germany has been heralded as an epochal shift. Merkel’s “grand coalition,” pairing her conservatives with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), was voted out of office and the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) became Germany’s third-strongest party. In the search for reasons for the shift, the language of politics is a good place to start. The AfD professed to be clear and decisive, their language was explicit — and voters rewarded them for it. The chancellor, by contrast, sought to avoid discussions and to completely ignore major issues focused on by the populists: foreign migrants and German uneasiness. Merkel’s political style, which is characterized by avoiding clashes, was punished to the greatest possible degree. [Continue reading…]

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What the stunning success of AfD means for Germany and Europe

Cas Mudde writes: In 1991 Belgium had its (first) black Sunday, when the populist radical right Flemish Block gained 6.8% of the national vote. Since then many other western European countries have gone through a similar experience, from Denmark to Switzerland. And now, even the ever stable Germany has its own schwarzer Sonntag, and it’s blacker than most people had expected.

The populist radical-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party not only enters the Bundestag, the German parliament, but does so almost certainly as the third biggest party, with a stunning 13.3%, an increase of 8.8 percentage points according to the exit poll. Moreover, both the centre-right CDU/CSU and the centre-left SPD scored their worst electoral results in the postwar era, with 32.5% and 20% respectively. This means that AfD got two-thirds of the SPD vote, and 40% of the CDU/CSU vote.

Polls from German state TV, showed that AfD has its Hochburgen (strongholds) in the former communist east of the country. While it scored on average 11% in west Germany, it got 21.5% in east Germany, more than twice as much. This is in line with its results in the regional state elections, in which AfD also gained its largest support in the east.

AfD got more votes from past non-voters (1.2 million) than from the CDU/CSU (1 million) or SPD (500,000). In many ways this is an anti-Merkel vote, reflecting opposition to her controversial Willkommenspolitik towards refugees, which not only pushed some voters of mainstream parties to switch but also mobilised previous non-voters. The same poll also shows, for example, that 89% of AfD voters thought that Merkel’s immigration policies ignored the “concerns of the people” (ie German citizens); 85% want stronger national borders; and 82% think that 12 years of Merkel is enough. In other words, AfD has clearly profited from the fact that immigration was the number one issue in these elections. [Continue reading…]

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Germany faces first far-right party in parliament since World War Two

The Guardian reports: Germany is bracing itself for a watershed moment in its postwar history, with an overtly nationalist party is set to emphatically enter the country’s parliament for the first time in almost six decades.

Rightwing populist Alternative für Deutschland has strengthened its upward trajectory in the last week before the vote, with two polls published on Friday showing the party on third place.

Founded just four years ago as an anti-euro force, the AfD is polling on between 11% and 13%, with Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc and the Social Democrats dropping percentage points while the Left party slipped into fourth place.

According to polls by respected institutes INSA and Enmid on Friday, Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance was on between 34% to 36% and the SPD on between 21% and 22%. Die Linke was polling at between 10% and 11%, the pro-business Liberal Democrats on 9% and the Greens had crept up to 8%.

The results would pave the way for the continuation of a grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD or a so-called Jamaica Coalition between Merkel’s conservatives and the FDP and Greens, never before seen on the national stage.

AfD leaders have urged their members to act as election observers, keeping a close eye on the voting process amid mounting suspicions within the party that their results might be manipulated, citing the threat the party posed to the established parties.

The AfD, under their top candidates Alice Weidel, a 38-year-old management consultant – who has made much of her same-sex relationship in recent days – and Alexander Gauland, a 76-year-old German nationalist with strong anglophile leanings, have made considerable strides over the course of the campaign in spite of a rightward lurch in its rhetoric criticised even by the party’s leader.

Vowing in its manifesto to ban all mosques and minarets, prohibit Muslim calls to prayer and criminalise people wearing the veil, the AfD has also called for a change in attitude to Germany’s historic crimes in the second world war.

If polls are accurate, the AfD is expected to garner between 60 and 85 parliamentary seats, and would become the largest opposition group in parliament if Merkel’s conservative alliance and the SPD agreed to continue their coalition. [Continue reading…]

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Who’s the world’s leading eco-vandal? It’s Angela Merkel

George Monbiot writes: Which living person has done most to destroy the natural world and the future wellbeing of humanity? Donald Trump will soon be the correct answer, when the full force of his havoc has been felt. But for now I would place another name in the frame: Angela Merkel.

What? Have I lost my mind? Angela Merkel, the “climate chancellor”? The person who, as German environment minister, brokered the first UN climate agreement, through sheer force of will? The chancellor who persuaded the G7 leaders to promise to phase out fossil fuels by the end of this century? The architect of Germany’s Energiewende – its famous energy transition? Yes, the very same.

Unlike Trump, she has no malicious intent. She did not set out to destroy the agreements she helped to create. But the Earth’s systems do not respond to mission statements or speeches or targets. They respond to hard fact. What counts, and should be judged, as she seeks a fourth term as German chancellor in the elections on Sunday, is what is done, not what is said. On this metric, her performance has been a planetary disaster.

Merkel has a fatal weakness: a weakness for the lobbying power of German industry. Whenever a crucial issue needs to be resolved, she weighs her ethics against political advantage, and chooses the advantage. This, in large part, is why Europe now chokes in a fug of diesel fumes.

The EU decision to replace petrol engines with diesel, though driven by German car manufacturers, predates her premiership. It was a classic European fudge, a means of averting systemic change while creating an impression of action, based on the claim (which now turns out to be false) that diesel engines produce less carbon dioxide than petrol. But once she became chancellor, Merkel used every conceivable tactic, fair and foul, to preserve this deadly cop-out. [Continue reading…]

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Meddling in Germany’s election by alt-right

USA Today reports: Less than a week before Sunday’s vote that is likely to hand German Chancellor Angela Merkel a fourth term, evidence of anticipated Russian meddling has yet to materialize, but U.S. right-wing groups have interfered, according to German researchers.

“So far we have not been able to track down any specific Russian activity,” said Simon Hegelich,” a professor of political science data at the Technical University of Munich who has advised the German government about the threat of hacking and fake news.

Instead, Hegelich and others point to an alliance of mostly anonymous online trolls and extremist agitators who are disseminating right-wing materials through YouTube; messaging board sites like 4chan and reddit; and Gab.ai, a texting service.

“A lot of the stuff we are seeing in Germany can be linked to, or is at least inspired by, the ‘alt-right’ movement in the U.S.,” Hegelich said, referring to a loosely defined group whose far-right ideology includes racism, populism and white nationalism.

He said proving connections among sympathizers is extremely difficult and may never be conclusive. But an analysis of 300 million tweets over the past six months by Hegelich and researchers at the Technical University of Munich shows Germany is a hotspot for posts that use the hashtag “#AltRight.” [Continue reading…]

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RT, Sputnik and Russia’s new theory of war

Jim Rutenberg reports: One morning in January 2016, Martin Steltner showed up at his office in the state courthouse building in western Berlin. Steltner, who has served for more than a dozen years as the spokesman for the Berlin state prosecutor, resembles a detective out of classic crime fiction: crisp suit, wavy gray hair and a gallows humor that comes with having seen it all. There was the 2009 case of the therapist who mistakenly killed two patients in an Ecstasy-infused session gone wrong. The Great Poker Heist of 2010, in which masked men stormed a celebrity-studded poker tournament with machetes and made off with a quarter-million dollars. The 2012 episode involving the Canadian porn star who killed and ate his boyfriend and then sent the leftovers home in the mail. Steltner embraced the oddball aspect of his job; he kept a picture of Elvis Presley on the wall of his office.

But even Steltner found the phone calls he received that morning confounding. They came from police officers from towns far outside Berlin, who reported that protests were erupting, seemingly out of nowhere, on their streets. “They are demonstrating — ‘Save our children,’ ‘No attacks from immigrants on our children’ and some things like that,” Steltner told me when I met him in Berlin recently.

The police were calling Steltner because this was ostensibly his office’s fault. The protesters were angry over the Berlin prosecutor’s supposed refusal to indict three Arab migrants who, they said, raped a 13-year-old girl from Berlin’s tight-knit Russian-German community.

Steltner, who would certainly have been informed if such a case had come up for prosecution, had heard nothing of it. He called the Berlin Police Department, which informed him that a 13-year-old Russian-German girl had indeed gone missing a week before. When she resurfaced a day later, she told her parents that three “Southern-looking men” — by which she meant Arab migrants — had yanked her off the street and taken her to a rundown apartment, where they beat and raped her.

But when the police interviewed the girl, whose name was Lisa, she changed her story. She had left home, it turned out, because she had gotten in trouble at school. Afraid of how her parents would react, she went to stay with a 19-year-old male friend. The kidnapping and gang rape, she admitted, never happened.

By then, however, the girl’s initial story was taking on a life of its own within the Russian-German community through word of mouth and Facebook — enough so that the police felt compelled to put out a statement debunking it. Then, over the weekend, Channel One, a Russian state-controlled news station with a large following among Russian-Germans, who watch it on YouTube and its website, ran a report presenting Lisa’s story as an example of the unchecked dangers Middle Eastern refugees posed to German citizens. Angela Merkel, it strongly implied, was refusing to address these threats, even as she opened German borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants. “According to Lisa’s parents,” the Channel One reporter said, “the police simply refuse to look for criminals.”

The following day in Berlin, Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party held a protest at a plaza in Marzahn, a heavily Russian neighborhood. The featured speaker was an adult cousin of Lisa’s, who repeated the original allegations while standing in front of signs reading “Stop Foreign Infiltration!” and “Secure Borders!” The crowd was tiny, not much more than a dozen people. But it was big enough to attract the attention of RT, Russia’s state-financed international cable network, which presents local-language newscasts in numerous countries, including Germany and the United States. A crew from the network’s video service, Ruptly, arrived with a camera. The footage was on YouTube that afternoon.

That same day, Sputnik, a brash Russian-government-run news and commentary site that models itself on BuzzFeed, ran a story raising allegations of a police cover-up. Lisa’s case was not isolated, Sputnik argued; other refugee rapists, it warned, might be running free. By the start of the following week, protests were breaking out in neighborhoods with large Russian-German populations, which is why the local police were calling Steltner. In multiple interviews, including with RT and Sputnik, Steltner reiterated that the girl had recanted the original story about the kidnapping and the gang rape. In one interview with the German media, he said that in the course of the investigation, authorities had found evidence that the girl had sex with a 23-year-old man months earlier, which would later lead to a sexual-abuse conviction for the man, whose sentence was suspended. But the original, unrelated and debunked story continued circulating, drawing the interest of the German mainstream media, which pointed out inconsistencies in the Russian reports. None of that stopped the protests, which culminated in a demonstration the following Saturday, Jan. 23, by 700 people outside the Chancellery, Merkel’s office. Ruptly covered that, too.

An official in the Merkel government told me that the administration was completely perplexed, at first. Then, a few days later, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, held a news conference in Moscow. Bringing up Lisa’s story, he cast doubt on the official version of events. There was no way, he argued, that Lisa left home voluntarily. Germany, he suggested, was “covering up reality in a politically correct manner for the sake of domestic politics.” Two days later, RT ran a segment reporting that despite all the official denials, the case was “not so simple.” The Russian Embassy called Steltner and asked to meet, he told me. The German foreign ministry informed him that this was now a diplomatic issue.

The whole affair suddenly appeared a lot less mystifying. A realization took hold in the foreign ministry, the intelligence services and the Chancellery: Germany had been hit. [Continue reading…]

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Merkel offers German role in Iran-style nuclear talks with North Korea

Reuters reports: German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a newspaper she would be prepared to become involved in a diplomatic initiative to end the North Korean nuclear and missiles program, and suggested the Iran nuclear talks could be a model.

South Korea on Saturday braced for a possible further missile test by North Korea as it marked its founding anniversary, just days after its sixth and largest nuclear test rattled global financial markets and further escalated tensions in the region.

“If our participation in talks is desired, I will immediately say yes,” Merkel told Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in an interview to be published on Sunday. [Continue reading…]

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The Merkel effect

Emily Schultheis reports: On August 12, German Chancellor Angela Merkel kicked off her reelection campaign in the west German city of Dortmund. Fresh from a three-week vacation in the Italian Alps, she joked that she’d neglected to mention that the election wasn’t yet over and done with. “I almost forgot to say that the election isn’t already decided,” she said. “And of course, we need every vote.”

With the way this campaign is going, Merkel could be forgiven for nearly forgetting that crucial piece of information. After expectations that this year’s campaign would be Germany’s most contentious one in years, the final weeks of the election have felt decidedly devoid of drama—enough so that the Wall Street Journal’s headline in a recent story about the campaign declared succinctly: “Wow, it’s Boring.”

But still, the fact that Merkel could make so casual a comment barely a month before election day is a sign of how much the political outlook has shifted even in the last six months—and how secure her position has become. A confluence of several factors, from her opponent’s stumbles to an improving outlook for refugees, have converged to Merkel’s benefit, seemingly making her reelection an all-but-foregone conclusion.

2017 was expected to be Merkel’s toughest campaign yet: to start, it’s the year when Europe’s far-right populist parties, including the anti-immigration Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), have sought to showcase their electoral strength amid a growing backlash against globalization and Europe’s refugee crisis. When Merkel announced her reelection bid last December, she did so battered by more than a year of tough criticism over her open-door policy toward refugees, and facing a certain degree of voter fatigue after hitting her 12th year in office. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. ad agency boosts Germany’s right-wing populist AfD

Der Spiegel reports: For several days now, many Facebook and Twitter users in Germany have been confronted with a disturbing image on their profile pages: It shows bloody tire tracks running across the screen, reminiscent of the ones left by Islamic State terrorists in several European cities. It is accompanied by the slogan: “The tracks left by the world chancellor in Europe.”

Angela Merkel as a terrorist — that’s the motif that the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has chosen to launch the internet portion of its campaign leading up to national parliamentary elections on Sept. 24. The right-wing populists plan to spend a large part of their 3-million-euro budget on similar publicity offenses. The party is planning a digital campaign that may well be more drastic and aggressive than anything German voters have ever seen.

The party’s election posters, designed by advertising professional and prize-winning scandal author Thor Kunkel, have already stood out from those of other parties. One shows the belly of a pregnant white woman with the slogan, “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves,” a reference to the party’s rejection of immigrants in the country. Yet another shows a piglet with the words: “Islam? It doesn’t fit in with our cuisine.” Finally, the one getting perhaps the most attention states, “Burkas? We prefer bikinis.”

But now the AfD, which has always been an internet-savvy party that likes to use the medium to bypass the mainstream media and communicate its messages directly to its fans, has had enough of dead-tree media. It intends to rely heavily on the web as it enters the last, intense phase of the campaign.

To assist in its efforts, the party has tapped Kunkel’s contacts to engage the services of advertising professionals in the United States with experience on the right-wing spectrum. The party is working together with the Texas-based agency Harris Media, which recently presented its plans to the AfD’s national committee. With its provocative and aggressive campaigns, the agency has already contributed to the success of a number of controversial politicians. In Britain, it worked with the anti-EU UKIP party; in Israel, it worked with the governing Likud party; and in the United States, news agency Bloomberg has dubbed company founder Vincent Harris “the man who invented the Republican internet.” [Continue reading…]

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