News Digest 11th September

Brexit and the spätimperialistischer Oxfordschnösel Johnson

As the prospect of a no-deal Brexit draws nearer, German media outlets have focused on Boris Johnson’s threats and negotiating tactics.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung commented that, “Basically, the more Johnson is under pressure, the more intense the attacks on Brussels. The attacks are usually brought by newspapers which are well-disposed towards Johnson. And so the Daily Telegraph wrote on Saturday that the EU states were about to overthrow their chief negotiator Michel Barnier.” The paper noted wryly that, “If there is no agreement on a trade agreement with the EU by the end of the year, an Australian solution will ultimately be found – and Abbott is at least familiar with this. You should know: Australia has no trade agreement with the European Union.”

The threats of no-deal are old hat. The Spiegel, noting that tensions between the EU and the UK are high, reported that the EU’s response to the threat of no-deal was a shrug: “A Brexit ultimatum from the British prime minister? What the hell. They just shrug their shoulders in Brussels. Such threatening gestures are part of the business, at least in these negotiations with this partner. In addition, they have also noticed in the EU capital that Johnson’s star is falling, among other things because of the poor management of the corona crisis at home. Brussels bashing is always a tried and tested method.”

The German ambassador to the Uk expressed his astonishment

However, the Spiegel argued that, “What is causing great and persistent displeasure in Brussels” are the reported plans to override the Withdrawal Agreement.

Other media outlets agreed: the Frankfurter Allgemeine referred to Johnson’s ‘hand grenade.’ The Welt wrote that “a new level of escalation has been reached,” and “What is astonishing in the current situation, however, is Johnson’s now well-known plan for national legislation that calls into question exactly the agreement concluded shortly before the deadline.”

In an article entitled ‘Threats, law-breaking and a resignation’, the Tagesschau wrote in relation to the FT report that Johnson wants to overturn two core agreements with the EU on Northern Ireland, “the mood is in the basement: the British government is openly threatening the EU – but at the same time admits that a change in the law violates international law.”

The Tagesspiegel wrote an article headed, “Rules don’t apply to Boris Johnson – not even his own.” The paper asks the question, “What does Boris Johnson care about his signature from yesterday?” and comments “Rules that others have agreed do not apply to him – the world has now got used to this attitude of the English prime minister. After all, the whole of Brexit is one big revolt against existing rules. What is new is that from now on Boris Johnson himself will no longer be subject to the rules that he himself agreed upon.” ‘Zig-zag Johnson’, as the Tagesspiegel dubs him, “who now no longer wants to keep his own promises, not only betrays the supposedly ancient English invention of fair play, he also uses his betrayal as a strategy.” The strategy is this: “Johnson is the sailor who uses the headwind to constantly change course with one turn after the other, but thereby come ever closer to his actual goal. The observers see the billowing sails, hear the noise of the wind. You see the storm hairstyle on his head, comment on every turn and lose sight of the fact that Johnson is almost where he wants to be.”

In an article about a portrait of Boris Johnson written by a Zeit journalist, a Financial Times article comments that the book’s author writes that Johnson is routinely dismissed as a clown or a spätimperialistischer Oxfordschnösel (late imperialist Oxford snotty-nosed brat).

Russia

Following the transfer of the poisoned opposition activist Alexei Navalny to Berlin’s Charité hospital and the government statement that he was poisoned by the military grade nerve agent, novichok, the media has reported a change in government mood towards Russia. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he hoped Russia would not force Berlin to “change our stance” by failing to co-operate with the investigation into the poisoning. Maas did not rule out sanctions against Nord Stream 2, the pipeline to carry gas from Russia to Germany, which is currently under construction. There have also been calls for former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder to step down from his positions at Russian state-owned energy companies including as chairman of the shareholders’ committee of Nord Stream 2.

The Tagesspiegel commented that “It can not go on like this. He is not a ‘flawless democrat’, as Gerhard Schröder once said – Vladimir Putin is on his way to becoming an oppressor. You don’t need a magnifying glass for this…….. The end of the Nord Stream 2 gas project must no longer be ruled out; it is at least one of the things that urgently needs to be checked.”

The Zeit focused on the criticism of Schröder made by CDU/CSU and Green Party politicians, as well as the CDU leadership contenders statements on the pipeline. Current CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is open to sanctions, while the 3 contenders foe her position made different statements: Friedrich Merz called for a two-year construction freeze on the pipeline, Armin Laschet spoke out against a hasty decision and Norbert Röttgen had pleaded for sanctions.

The Welt reported on a controversy on a political talk show, when a Left Party politician cast doubt on the assertion that the Russian government was to blame for the poisoning and wandered into conspiracy theory territory. The Green Party politician Jüregn Trittin told the Left politician, “You shouldn’t pretend to be more stupid than you are. Navalny collapsed on a flight over Siberia. Where should a Western secret service have delivered the poison during this process?”

The Left Party leadership

Last week, it was reported that the Left Party leaders Bernd Riexinger and Katja Kipping would not be seeking re-election in October, since they have been in office for 8 years, the longest allowed by the party rules. Currently, the two names being discussed as successors are Janine Wissler, the parliamentary group leader in the Hessian state parliament, and the Thuringian state leader Susanne Hennig-Wellsow.

This week, it was reported that Wissler is a member of the Trotskyist group Marx 21. The Welt reported that Marx 21 “is observed by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and classified as left-wing extremist. According to its own statements, the group works with the inner-party association ‘Movement Left’, which advocates a renewal of the Left Party and focuses on work within trade unions and protest movements. Marx 21 explicitly rejects participation in government….”The aim is to establish a communist social order,” said the 2019 report by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Marx 21 tries to use a strategy of infiltration to gain influence on the Left Party….In addition, Marx 21 showed in the past a tendency to play down anti-Semitism.”

The Zeit reported that it had asked Wissler about her membership of the group: she confirmed that she no longer belongs to the group: “I am applying as party chairman, so it is customary and right to end support and membership in internal party currents and contexts” and commented that “By withdrawing from these groups, Wissler is likely to become more eligible for the party’s progressive reformer wing.”

The question of the Left Party leadership is crucial for the SPD’s Chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz, who has doubts about a coalition with the Left Party after next year’s federal election. The Welt comments that Wissler is sceptical about joining a government coalition, whereas Hennig-Wellsow has been instrumental in keeping the Left Party-SPD-Green coalition in Thuringia functioning well. Hennig-Wellsow, reported the Welt, elegantly answered a question about Scholz: “asked by the Spiegel whether Olaf Scholz was the right chancellor for a left-wing government project in the federal government, Hennig-Wellsow’s answer was filigree: “I like his North German way.”

Moria refugee camp

The fire which displaced thousands from the Moria refugee camp in Greece prompted more debate about Germany and Europe’s responsibilities towards refugees, while the Minister Presidents of some states, including North Rhine Westphalia, Berlin, Thuringia and Brandenburg pledged to take in some people from the camp. However, proposals from states to take refugees from the camps have been in place for some months, even before the fire, but have been blocked by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who has argued that the EU needs to take responsibility. Angela Merkel has been arguing for some years that there needs to be a fair redistribution system amongst EU countries.

The Welt reported that thousands of people had demonstrated to demand the admission of migrants, with around 3,000 people taking part in Berlin, 1800 in Leipzig, and 1200 in Hamburg more than 1200 and the Tagesschau that pressure was increasing on Seehofer to act; coalition partners the SPD accused him of a ‘blockade mentality.’ By Thursday, reported the Frankfurter Allgemeine, CDU leadership contender, Norbert Röttgen, together with other MPS, wrote a letter to Seehofer calling for “concrete help” and for 5,000 refugees to be taken from the camp and brought to Germany. One of the signatories said that people in Moria have been “treated worse than our cattle.” On Friday, it was reported that ten mayors had added to the pressure by writing a letter offering to take refugees from the camp, and that Germany would be taking 150 minors. By Friday, reported the Tagesschau, pressure was building on the government to do more, despite Seehofer announcing that he federal government wants to start addressing the most pressing problems for a common EU asylum policy next week as part of the German EU Council Presidency.

The Bundestag debated the issue on Friday: details can be found in the Parliamentary Digest.

Right-extremism

Following the outrage about the storming of the Reichstag by right-extremists last week, the Welt reported that a question from the Left Party parliamentary group had elicited the information that, according to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, more than 90 rallies against corona measures have taken place nationwide since the end of April, with right-wing extremists setting the tone.

The Deustche Welle reported that the trial of the man who stormed a synagogue in Halle last year, killing two people outside, has exposed ignorance of the dangers of online far-right radicalization on the part of the police.

Polls

The Deustche Welle reported on two interesting polls this week.  First, an annual survey into the fears of people living in Germany, which has been carried out for the past 28 years, found that, despite the corona pandemic, Germans are less afraid than the have been in decades.  The ‘fear index’ fell from 39% to 37%, the lowest value since the survey began in 1992. People have the feeling that “we have everything under control as far as the corona pandemic is concerned – a very different attitude to a few years ago when war, terrorism, immigration, and extremism were among the Germans’ biggest fears.  Today, President Trump ranks number one on Germans’ list of fears, at 53%.

Another poll by the CDU’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation, carried out by Infratest dimap, found that a third of people in Germany believe that “secret powers” control the world. 12% named secret services such as the CIA, Mossad or the KGB. 11% spoke of “rich people,” “rich families” or named individual families such as the Rockefellers or the Rothschilds. People with higher levels of education were less likely to believe conspiracy theories and those who voted for the AfD party were particularly likely to believe them, with 56% of AfD voters considering the statement to be certain or probably correct.

BER airport debacle

Berlin’s new airport, BER, was due to open in 2013 and has been plagued by so many delays and problems that it is now a running joke in Germany. In an article entitled ‘The debacle continues’, the Tagesspiegel reported this week that a letter from the Finance State Secretary Bettina Hagedorn to the Bundestag’s budget committee of the Bundestag has stated that the airport, now planned to open this October, will be bankrupt immediately if the partners the states of Berlin and Brandenburg and the federal government do not transfer 300 million euros to the FBB company immediately.

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