A protestor outside the Greek parliament (Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
It’s no secret in Athens that austerity-weary Greeks would like to see a grand coalition emerge from Sunday’s elections in Germany. The participation in government of Peer Steinbrück and his Social Democrats, say café pundits, could bring a softening of the “keep-them-on-the-reform-treadmill” approach associated with Angela Merkel’s previous term as chancellor. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
The sheer triviality of the German election campaign is a tribute to the success of the country. Only a nation that is secure and prosperous could afford to have a political debate that is so focused on the little things of life. “It’s funny,” says one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s senior advisers, “foreigners want to know what the German election will mean for the Middle East or for the future of Europe. But we are debating ‘veggie day’ and road tolls.”
By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ Though support for a vote in favour of military intervention in Syria appears to be strengthening in the US, the sceptics still have strong arguments and Obama still has a number of battles to win such as gaining partisan and public support.
♦ A back and forth between the Washington Post’s Max Fisher and writer Teju Cole provides an entertaining and thought provoking exchange on the tone in western coverage of the conflict in Syria, use of chemical weapons and potential western military intervention.
♦ The opening up of the debate on European issues to the wider population afforded by pre-election debates between Merkel and her opponent Peer Steinbrück is a necessary part of moving forward on deepening of the European Union and the healing of the eurozone, says the FT in an editorial.
♦When the Muslim Brotherhood moved to take over the ministry of culture under Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian intellectuals were gripped by a fear “sometimes well-founded, sometimes bordering on hysteria” about the threat of the brotherhood to Egypt’s identity, which helped drive them “back into the reassuring embrace of the military.”
♦ The UK Labour party’s rejection of David Cameron’s proposal for action in Syria is not based on its position, argues David Aaronovitch, but is rather a strategy of following behind the leader to “wait for slip-up and exploit his or her mistakes.” Read more
For campaign issues that Germany’s political elite had all but agreed to shy away from, the eurozone debt crisis in general and Greece in particular are proving remarkably capable of generating unscripted campaign trail surprises. Read more
There is now less than a month to go before Germany’s general election. The summer holidays are mostly over. Children are either back at school, or due to return on Monday, in 12 of Germany’s 16 Bundesländer. And that means the so-called “hot phase” of the campaign is getting under way and the main parties are releasing their election TV ads.
Here is a quick round-up of some of the more notable ads hitting the airwaves ahead of the September 22 election. Read more
By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ Angela Merkel’s plan is not to fire up her own supporters, but to lull the other side, says Josef Joffe, editor of Die Zeit.
♦ The collapse of Rana Plaza focused attention on the grim conditions of garment workers, but it is the toxic political culture that undermines Bangladesh’s attempts to lift itself out of poverty, writes Victor Mallet.
♦ Silvio Berlusconi’s political career could be over after a sentence was upheld temporarily barring him from holding or running for public office – speculation is bubbling that his oldest daughter Marina could be in line to relaunch his political party.
♦ A villa in a leafy neighbourhood in Cannes will be used as evidence in the criminal trial of Bo Xilai, the former Communist party chief at Chongqing.
♦ You may well have heard that a publication called the Washington Post is being sold – to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, no less. The newspaper itself examined how its history is inextricably tied to that of the Graham family.
♦ Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was surprised by a $250m charge on his credit card earlier today, the New Yorker’s Borowitz report says. He was shocked to find out he had clicked on the Washington Post by mistake. Read more
♦ An Egyptian doctor observes the pro-Morsi protests outside the Republican Guard barracks in Cairo and the subsequent military intervention that wounded hundreds and killed 51 people, mostly protesters. Egyptian authorities have cracked down on Muslim Brotherhood businesses — reportedly shutting some down. The FT writes on the debate between Islamists and the military over who is to blame for the violence. The FT’s Geoff Dyer questions whether the United States still has influence in the country — with the military or the Islamists.
♦ For German chancellor Angela Merkel, the allegations of collaboration between US and German intelligence services may be an election problem, since data protection is a sensitive issue for Germans. She has sent a team of intelligence and interior ministry officials to Washington for an explanation of US activities. The New Yorker analyses Mr Obama’s motives for spying and whether it is justified.
♦ With a debt burden of $18bn and city infrastructure plunging in quality, Detroit may have to file bankruptcy — an extremely rare act for so populous a city — and may even sell the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
♦ Eliot Spitzer resigned in 2008 after a call-girl scandal. However, the former governor of New York, is running for comptroller — the city’s third-highest elected office. But he is met by resistance from Wall Street executives — since he advocated reigning in their salaries — and by others who question his moral integrity. In a satire, the New Yorker reported yesterday that the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is considering running for office in New York City because New Yorkers are much more forgiving of political mistakes than Italians. Read more
♦ The west’s dominance of the Middle East is coming to an end, says Gideon Rachman.
♦ Protests against student bus fares spread throughout Brazil’s major cities, with hundreds of protesters invading areas of the national Congress complex in Brasília.
♦ Hassan Rohani pledges greater transparency for the Islamic Republic’s controversial nuclear programme and says he will work to ease international sanctions.
♦ Iran’s hardliners blame each other for their election defeat, forgetting the millions who turned out in the streets for the jailed reformist Mir-Hossein Moussavi in 2009.
♦ America is the world’s number one and Germany is Europe’s, yet both seem content to punch below their weights, says Josef Joffe, editor of Die Zeit.
♦ The new governor of Luxor comes from the political arm of an Islamist group that once carried out terrorist attacks that killed dozens in the same city.
♦ Chen Guangcheng’s charge that he has been asked to leave NYU because of pressure from China will be followed closely by other universities grappling with the potential difficulties of setting up programmes and campuses in China. Read more
♦ All change in Europe? French labour market reforms start to bear fruit, with signs of movement in industrial relations and eurozone austerity might be on its way out.
♦ India’s economy grew at the slowest rate in a decade – hampered by electricity shortages and poor infrastructure.
♦ Mexico’s highest-grossing film is still filling multiplexes 10 weeks after its release. The NYT looks at whether audiences just want to see rich people humiliated, or whether they are actually looking for a form of middle class catharsis.
♦ Neal Ascherson reports on the state of German politics: “They are pissed off with Angela Merkel’s governing coalition, but reluctant to let go of Mutti’s hand. In short, the public are in one of those sullen, unreasonable moods which make politicians despair.”
♦ Ethnic strife in Xinjiang, northeast China, is worsening with the growth of immigrant-dominated settlements – Uighurs are resentful of such powerful entities dominating the region and employing so few of their own ethnic group.
♦ And here’s something to chew on this weekend. When you’re having your morning pastry spare a thought for New Yorkers who have been lining up at 6am, or paying as much as $40, for a delectable new pastry – the cronut, a croissant-donut hybrid. It seems the bakery has a scaling problem, which is driving cronut-craving customers to the black market. Read more
♦ The FT argues today that Apple’s decision to borrow money in order to fund a dividend, despite being one of America’s most liquid companies, indicates a need for reform to the US tax system.
♦ Despite impressive economic growth, improvements in living standards in Malaysia have lagged behind those of its neighbours, building pressure for change ahead of Sunday’s election.
♦ North African governments are trying to stem the flow of young Islamic militants, heading to Syria to fight the regime.
♦ President François Hollande is struggling to please everyone and, in fact, anyone – leading to concerns that France might become the next European problem child. After a draft paper by the president’s party described Angela Merkel as “selfish”, Mr Hollande has had to reassure her that he still believes in a Franco-German relationship.
♦ William Finnegan discusses his article on Mark Lyttle, a US citizen from North Carolina who was deported to Mexico despite ample evidence that he was an American, and the soaring number of deportations.
♦ Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has told the FBI that he and his brother considered suicide attacks on July 4, but instead decided to strike on Patriots’ day.
♦ Politics and vetting processes mean that Barack Obama has yet to fill some long-empty posts in his cabinet.
♦ Evangelical Christians in California have struck up a debate over whether yoga is a religion or not – where is the line between the body and the soul?
♦ SAYA, a Jerusalem-based design studio, is trying to provide a architectural resolutions to territorial disputes: “you can’t stop terror with just a fence. We need to imagine structures that can build hope instead of fear and resentment.”
♦ When Alex Christodoulou tried to quit his job for life in the Greek public sector, he found the process harder (and more labyrinthine) than he ever thought it could be, especially when the government had committed to taking thousands of workers off the public payroll. “They wanted to rehire him so that they could fire him and include him in the number of public servants being laid off to appease Greece’s international creditors”.
♦ In a review of The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future, Richard Lloyd Parry argues against the idea that North Korea is a “zombie nation”, but wonders if the idea that the country is in a state of “political undeath” doesn’t perhaps suit some other states. Read more
A poster for Social Democrat Stephan Weil next to one of the CDU's David McAllister (AFP/GettyImages)
Voters handed a narrow victory to Germany’s centre-left opposition in Lower Saxony on Sunday. ‘But it’s only a regional election!’, you cry. Here’s why it matters:
1) The vote in Lower Saxony is considered a dry run for Germany’s general election in September this year.
The defeat of Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition in the swing state on Sunday – albeit by one seat – is a blow to the Chancellor. It emboldens her opponents, the centre-left alliance of the Social Democrats and Green party, who won power with 69 seats compared to the 68 seats of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led coalition. Merkel is still favourite to win in September – particularly because her personal ratings in the polls are excellent – but Lower Saxony suggests she has a battle ahead.
2) Merkel’s party, the CDU, lost power due to the downward drag of its coalition partner, the Free Democrat Party (FDP) – and the fear is that this effect could be replicated in the national elections.
Merkel’s own party still came top in Lower Saxony, with 36% of the vote, but in coalition politics, it’s all about team performance – and the chancellor’s chosen teammate let her down. The voting results slightly hide this: on first glance, the FDP did far better expected, winning 9.9%, compared to polling that showed them with just over 5% last week. Read more
One of this morning’s reports from the EU summit is headlined – “David Cameron fails to cut EU bureaucrats pay and perks“. With the EU budget talks collapsing on Friday afternoon, it appears to be true, at least for now. And it’s a great shame. I know that sentiment will deeply irritate my friends in the EU bureaucracy – some of whom have been emailing me to point out that spending on administration is a mere €6bn a year, which is less than 6% of total EU spending. Even so, there is plenty of waste in the EU budget that could be easily sliced away.
What is true is that one element of Cameron’s approach – which is to suggest a 10% cut in the budget for pay – is potentially too crude. Not all EU operatives are overpaid. Some of the lawyers, for example, have relatively modest salaries by private-sector standards. Rather than an across-the-board cut in pay it would be much more productive to start eliminating entire agencies, functions and perks. This would cut the payroll and the budget, while preserving the bits of the EU that actually do something useful. Here are some candidates for the chop. Read more
President François Hollande at the Elysee palace on October 15 (BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/GettyImages)
François Hollande’s interview with a group of European newspapers this week makes for interesting reading – particularly if you are in Berlin, as I am. It really serves to emphasise how large the gap between the French and the Germans currently is.
I tried out Hollande’s statement that – “We are near, very near to an end to the eurozone crisis” on a variety of German officials yesterday. This was met with a mixture of wry smiles and incredulity. The most positive reaction I got was from one official who said – “Well, it’s nice there are still some optimists in Europe.” Read more
German chancellor Angela Merkel with Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras on October 9 in Athens (Thanassis Stavrakis/AFP/GettyImages)
The last time Angela Merkel visited Greece was in 2007 – which, incidentally, was also the last year the country recorded positive economic growth. Greece has seen its annual output shrink ever since; its economy rocked by a debt crisis, its political leaders repeatedly forced to go cap in hand to its richer eurozone cousins. Of these, Germany is the most important, but opinion polls suggest its public has long grown impatient with Athens’ failure to keep its promises. Locked in an embrace that neither would have chosen – Germany attempting to pull Greece out of its fiscal crisis; Greece, ever more dependent on Berlin’s support, but resenting its interference – the question is whether the two countries will hug tighter, or finally break apart. Could Merkel’s meeting with Antonis Samaras on Tuesday herald a friendlier era? Read more
Add Poland to the list of European Union countries turned off by the incoherent, self-isolating policies of Britain’s Conservative-led government towards Europe.
First there was Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel restricts her visits to the UK these days to the barest minimum. She has been lukewarm about David Cameron, the UK prime minister, ever since he pulled the Conservative party out of the pan-European centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), of which her Christian Democrats are a leading light.
Next came France. President François Hollande hasn’t forgotten how Cameron refused to meet him when he visited London on an election campaign trip earlier this year. Hollande is not inclined to do Cameron any favours on crucial issues such as the protection of British interests in a more deeply integrated Europe. Read more
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