Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Prominent German Erdogan critic to attend controversial state dinner

September 24, 2018

Cem Özdemir, one of Germany’s fiercest critics of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, intends to “send a signal” by attending a dinner for the Turkish president during his state visit. A host of lawmakers have pledged a boycott.

Cem Özdemir (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Riedl)

Opposition Green party politicianCem Özdemir, who has Turkish roots and has repeatedly slammed Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies, is to attend a state dinner for the Turkish President to send a “signal” to Turkey and Germany’s large Turkish community.

“The opposition belongs to politics in this country, we’re an integral part of our democracy,” he told German daily Tagesspiegel.

He stressed that Erdogan “clearly does not deserve a state dinner,” but that the president “will have to put up with me, who stands for criticism of his authoritarian politics.” Özdemir said in July that Erdogan was “not a normal president in a democracy” and should not be granted a full-blown state visit.

On Twitter, he added that “although he won’t like it, that’s how we do things here.” He added #freethemall to his tweet, a hashtag used to protest against the imprisonment of journalists in Turkey and elsewhere.

Cem Özdemir


Ich werde hingehen: Zumindest in Deutschland muss er die Opposition hören, sehen und entgeht ihr nicht. Das muss Herr Erdogan aushalten, auch wenn ihm das nicht gefallen dürfte. So ist es nunmal bei uns. 

Cem Özdemir trifft auf Erdogan – und wiederholt Kritik

Beim Besuch des türkischen Präsidenten wollen Oppositionspolitiker nicht am Staatsbankett teilnehmen. Cem Özdemir dagegen sagt: „Erdogan muss mich aushalten“

He warned the German government that any charm offensive by Erdogan when he visits Germany from September 27-29 would be motivated solely by economic concerns. The Turkish economy is suffering from high inflation and the plunging lira, which is hitting business confidence.

“The German government will have to demonstrate that the German state and its rule of law will not tolerate his [Erdogan’s] despotic behavior and that it is not acceptable for him to take his conflicts to Germany and set up a network of spies and informers,” he said.

Özdemir is well-known to the Turkish establishment. At the Munich Security Conference in February, while staying in the same hotel as the Turkish delegation, Özdemir was called a “terrorist” by some members of the delegation and had to be given police protection.

Erdogan’s AKP party accuses Özdemir of links to the Kurdish PKK party, which is banned in Turkey.

Controversial visit

A state visit is routinely granted to heads of states, involving military honors and a state dinner. However, many in Germany feel Erdogan should only have been granted a working visit because of his increasingly authoritarian rule back home and for what many perceive as his detrimental influence on Germany’s Turkish community — the biggest Turkish diaspora in Europe.

Large protests are expected in various German cities, among them Cologne. Erdogan is due in the city to attend the opening ceremony for a mosque affiliated with Ditib, the controversial Turkish-Islamic Union with close ties to Ankara. Germany’s domestic intelligence service is mulling putting the organization under surveillance.

Read moreTurkish ‘guest workers’ transformed German society

Several lawmakers have declined the invitation for dinner, among them the head of the business-friendly FDP, Christian Lindner, Green party chairs Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck as well as several politicians from the far-right AfD and the Left party.


Germany’s Merkel: gov’t must give up internal disputes

September 24, 2018

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it’s time for her coalition government to stop getting bogged down in internal disputes, after its leaders reached a deal to resolve its second crisis in only three months.

Merkel said Monday that the coalition of Germany’s biggest parties must now “solve people’s problems,” starting with how to avert the threat of bans on diesel cars in some cities.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Horst Seehofer, Chairman of the German Christian Social Union and Andrea Nahles, Chairwomen of the German Social Democrats.  (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

On Sunday, Merkel and the other two parties’ leaders resolved a sometimes-farcical standoff over the future of Germany’s domestic intelligence chief, whose departure the center-left Social Democrats had demanded after he appeared to downplay recent violence against migrants.

They had to revisit the issue after an initial deal last week to remove the official from his current job but give him a promotion prompted a backlash.

The Associated Press


Sex abuse scandal in German Catholic Church sparks celibacy debate

September 24, 2018

German bishops are preparing to respond to a shattering study on widespread sex abuse by Catholic priests. While some think celibacy should be overhauled, others argue that victim compensation should be the focus now.

A priest holds his hands together in prayer (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Weigel)

You seldom hear a bishop say something like this. Franz-Josef Overbeck writes of a “great failure” by the church: “Above all, this includes the alarming indications that some concepts and aspects of our Catholic sexual morality, as well as some power and hierarchical structures have facilitated and are still facilitating sexual abuse.”

Overbeck, the Bishop of Essen, has given the most forthright description yet of the impact unleashed by a report into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The results of the “Study on the Sexual Abuse of Minors by Clergy,” commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference in 2014, were published on September 11 in the German newspaper Die Zeit and the magazine Der Spiegel. Many bishops have expressed their shock and described the numbers as “shameful.”

From Monday onwards, more than 70 members of the Conference will meet in the central German city of Fulda to discuss the study and make an official comment. According to reports currently available, the investigation covers the period from 1946 to 2014 in Germany, and for the first time specific numbers are given: 3,677 victims of sexual assaults by at least 1,670 accused, the overwhelming majority of them priests. The total number of assaults is presumably exponentially greater. It’s also impossible to say how many cases went unreported. The investigation didn’t even look into all the Catholic Church’s institutions: Religious orders, along with all the schools and children’s homes they run, were not included.

‘Radical self-criticism’

Overbeck intends to take the experts’ recommendations extremely seriously on behalf of his bishopric. He says the church must “truly take a new path,” for the sake of the victims. The Bishop of Passau, Stefan Oster, has also called for a “radical form of self-criticism with regard to the institutions.”

Read more: Opinion: Pope Francis and the Catholic Church’s moral bankruptcy

The church will also need to face up to the discussion about topics like changes in sexual morality, or the abolition of celibacy. It’s not clear what concrete steps the German bishops meeting in Fulda will decide to take: Whether, for example, they will also propose reconsidering the way priests are trained, the issue of celibacy, or the current practice according to which priests generally live alone in a parsonage.

For a long time now there has been argument within the church in Germany about the obligation for priests to remain unmarried. The sexual abuse scandal has reignited the discussion. A celibacy debate could tear the Catholic Church apart. But perhaps the impetus for reflection about the obligation to remain celibate is not in fact coming from academic reflection or long conferences of German bishops, but from the other side of the ecclesiastical world.

Read more: Australian archbishop sentenced for sex abuse cover-up

Initiative from the Amazon

The Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes recently gave an interview to DW in which he talked about the ministry among the indigenous people of the Amazon. The Catholic Church has only 38 bishoprics in the whole of the vast region of Brazil, meaning that there are limits to how the church is able to work there. “We need a different model of clergy,” said the 84-year-old, who for a long time was the prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy in the Vatican. “In this context, we must also consider the obligation to remain celibate.”

Claudio Hummes (AFP/Getty Images)Cardinal Hummes has called for priest celibacy to be reconsidered

Matthias Katsch, the founder and spokesperson of the survivors’ association Square Table Foundation (“Eckiger Tisch”) takes a critical view of this. He himself was the victim of sexual violence at the Canisius-Kolleg, a Jesuit school in Berlin, and for several years now he has been active in calling for the abuse issue to be properly addressed. “Catholics from both the right and left of the spectrum have been debating these questions of the church’s structure for what feels like half a century,” he told DW. This, he said, was “right and important,” but not, as far as he is concerned, the main issue.

“In my view, what is important is that those affected should now be offered help quickly, and that there should finally be compensation that feels like compensation, commensurate with the damage that was done.” The crucial thing, he says, is “that the focus is now on the victims.” Katsch himself, incidentally, believes that the key issue with abuse is not celibacy but the distribution of power within the church.

Matthias Katsch stands outside a Jesuit school building in Berlin (picture-alliance/dpa/Stephanie Pilick)

From Fulda to Rome

Rome could take this as a signal. A few days ago, it became clear that Pope Francis intends to discuss the subject of abuse in February with the heads of all the Bishops’ Conferences worldwide. Australia, Chile, France, the Philippines, the Netherlands, Germany — more and more countries are reporting a stream of cases of sexual violence perpetrated by men of the church.

Matthias Katsch, the survivors’ spokesman, has very specific expectations of the meeting in February. The pope, he says, should invite not only the heads of the Bishops’ Conferences but the victims as well. “There is hardly a single country in which the Catholic Church is active where there has not been sexual violence by clerics against children and young people,” he says. “It would therefore send the right signal — that the church is finally prepared to listen, and not always to have answers to the questions already.”

China’s ports buying splurge is worrying Europe

September 23, 2018

Far-reaching commercial activities raise question of whether port investments are linked to military purposes and represent a security risk in host countries

South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 7:31am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 3:28pm
 A Chinese navy ship visits Haifa port in Israel, where some are concerned about the security implications of Beijing’s involvement. Photo: Alamy

There is rising concern about whether China will use its commercial acquisitions of overseas ports for military purposes, under its drive to put civilian technology and resources to military use.

Under its trillion-dollar “Belt and Road Initiative” – a blueprint announced in 2013 to boost trade and connectivity in Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond – China has significantly increased its global investments, particularly in maritime infrastructure.

Pioneering Chinese companies such as Cosco Shipping Ports and China Merchants Port Holdings are on a march to acquire shares or sign deals to build terminals at seaports overseas.

Cosco began operating a container port in Piraeus in Greece in 2008, when the Greek government was near bankruptcy. Beijing has since become a big player in the European port business.

Cosco is among the Chinese firms agreeing deals to build terminals overseas. Photo: Xinhua

China has gained a foothold in Europe’s three largest ports: respectively Euromax in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, of which it owns 35 per cent; Antwerp in Belgium, in which it holds a 20 per cent stake; and Hamburg, Germany, where it is to build a new terminal.

A flood of Chinese investment helped to rejuvenate some of these ports. In Piraeus, for example, Chinese investment in 2016 led to increased trade: Piraeus was ranked seventh in Europe in 2017 by container throughput – up from eighth the year before – and recorded a 92 per cent increase in pre-tax profits.

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Euromax in Rotterdam

But it is not always smooth sailing when Beijing reaches out to ports overseas with its deep pockets.

In Israel, China is building two new ports, in Haifa and Ashdod. Local academics have urged the Israeli government to assess how much China can be involved in its economy without compromising its security interests.

Those who believe Israel should conduct a national security review of the Chinese contract include Shaul Chorev, a reservist brigadier general with the Israel Defence Forces, former Israeli navy chief of staff and chairman of the country’s Atomic Energy Commission.

“China’s leaders increasingly seek to leverage China’s growing economic, diplomatic and military clout to establish regional superiority and expand the country’s international influence,” Chorev said.

“The ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ is intended to develop strong economic ties with other countries, shape their interests to align with China’s, and deter confrontation or criticism of China’s approach to sensitive issues.”

There are increasing worries in the EU that China may use its involvement in European ports to exert political influence in individual member states, according to Frans-Paul van der Putten, a senior research fellow from Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

“China’s rapid advance into the European port sector has already created a backlash,” Van der Putten said. “It is one of the reasons European governments are increasingly suspicious of China’s economic influence, and why an EU-wide framework for foreign investment screening is being discussed.”

China’s port operation also triggered a backlash from the United States, because it threatened information and cybersecurity there, Gary Roughead, a former US chief of naval operations, said at a recent workshop organised by Israel’s University of Haifa and the Hudson Institute, a conservative US think tank.

“Chinese port operators will be able to monitor US ship movements closely, be aware of maintenance activities, have access to equipment moving to and from repair sites and interact freely with our crews over protracted periods,” Roughead said.

Chorev said China’s “integration of military for civilian use” – an approach introduced by President Xi Jinping after he took office in 2013 – had sparked fears about the security implications of China’s overseas port development.

China has embarked on an ambitious drive, modelling the US, to combine defence and civilian industries in the hope of them benefiting each other. It aims to make use of civilian technology and resources for military use to accelerate the modernisation of its army.

This could include drone technology, artificial intelligence and the Beidou navigation system, China’s answer to the US-developed Global Positioning System, which is expected to be ready in 2020 and will be used for both military and civilian purposes.

Military-civilian integration is among the goals China set out in its 13th five-year plan for 2016-20. Xi set up a new committee last year to champion integration of civilian and military investment in technology.

The Chinese military is also extending its presence abroad. It has established a military base in Djibouti, and is expected to establish one in Gwadar Port in Pakistan.

Zhang Jie, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote in an article in 2015 about the concept of “first civilian, later military”, in which commercial ports would be built with the goal of slowly being developed into “strategic support points” that could “assist China in defending maritime channel security and [control] key waterways”.

Port investments are vehicles through which China can cultivate political influence, constrain recipient countries and build infrastructure meant for military as well as civilian use to facilitate Beijing’s long-range naval operations, according to a report by the Centre for Advanced Defence Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

Van der Putten said the Chinese government would have to be careful to avoid creating the impression that its commercial port investments in Europe were linked to military purposes, in order not to antagonise European countries.

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor and water

Gwadar port, Pakistan

But Neil Davidson, a senior analyst of ports and terminals at Drewry, a London-based maritime research consultancy, said some of the ports, especially those in Europe, were still owned by non-Chinese entities.

“It also makes good business sense for Chinese players to acquire overseas port assets,” he said. “I don’t think European countries feel threatened, because in almost all cases the landlord function remains in the hands of the local countries.”

China’s relentless export machine moves up the value chain

September 23, 2018

The country’s move into mid-range manufacturing stands it in good stead as the trade war with the US intensifies
No automatic alt text available.

By Tom Hancock in Shanghai 

At Sany Group’s factory on the outskirts of Shanghai, there is little sign of a trade war involving the world’s two biggest economies.

With 500 workers and 200 robots welding and screwing steel parts into place, the facility can produce up to 50 excavators every day, each weighing 20 tonnes. Outside 200 yellow diggers wait to be transported to a port 30 minutes’ drive away, their hydraulic arms covered in blue fabric sleeves to prevent rusting in the salty sea air.

One of China’s biggest manufacturers of heavy equipment, Sany exports more than 40 per cent of the factory’s production — worth a total of $1.2bn last year, mainly to emerging markets in Asia and Latin America. The group shows no signs of slowing down: Sany aims to increase international sales by 30 per cent this year.

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Sany factory

The success of companies such as Sany is part of the relentless march of China’s export sector, even as tariffs and counter-tariffs between the US and China cast a shadow over the global trading system.

In the decade since the financial crisis, China’s export sector has proved remarkably resilient. After overtaking Germany as the world’s top exporter of goods in 2009, Chinese exports have grown at an average of 5 per cent a year, compared with annual global export growth below 2 per cent.

China’s share of manufacturing exports expanded from 12 to 18 per cent during the past decade — adding to gains made after China’s 2001 entry to the WTO which accelerated the decline of manufacturing employment in developed countries. One study from the US National Bureau of Economic Research blamed Chinese imports for 2m-2.4m US job losses in the decade to 2012.

Sany’s booming sales also reveal something important about the trade war and the competition between the US and China. Officials in President Donald Trump’s administration have focused on Chinese advances in high-tech areas such as artificial intelligence and robotics to justify their use of tariffs.

Yet in the short term, the bigger threat to industry in the US and other developed economies comes from the rapid increase in Chinese exports of medium-level technology, such as vehicles and their parts, electrical machinery and the sort of construction machinery that Sany produces. It is in products such as these — rather than high-tech goods — that Chinese companies are swiftly winning market share.

“Chinese companies are abandoning low-end goods to move to middle-range goods, its actually a very fast change,” says Xu Bin, a professor at the China Europe International Business School. “I estimate the net effect of US tariffs will be such that it speeds up the upgrading. Chinese companies may be forced to upgrade their product line in order to offset the negative effects.”

China is the now dominant producer in medium high-tech industries, with its global share nearly tripling in the past decade to 32 per cent, according to the US National Science Board, surpassing the US in the late 2000s and the EU this decade.

Most of that growth has come from privately owned Chinese companies such as Sany. China’s share of global bulldozer exports has grown to nearly 10 per cent from just 2 per cent a decade ago, and the company is taking on Japan’s Komatsu in global markets.

“Sany’s product quality and performance has reached Japan’s, and our service is even better than theirs, so we are very competitive in south-east Asian countries,” says Zhou Wanchun, head of overseas sales. “The price of excavators is higher than Korean products, so we are not just competing on price.”

Image result for bulldozers, Sany, Photos

Its fortunes highlight another trend — the share of Chinese exports going to countries outside the OECD club of developed economies has risen from 43 to 48 per cent over the past decade.

Sany also reflects that much of China’s move up the value chain has been in capital goods — goods used to make other goods — and components, rather than consumer products. Its share of global exports in electrical transformers and their components, which are crucial to power grids, has doubled to 20 per cent in the past decade.

JDMachine in the eastern city of Ningbo exports machines used to make air-conditioning units for cars to auto parts makers in Europe and the US, generating more than $100m in foreign sales last year. It entered the market a decade ago after taking on the staff of a British company that had gone bust.

The industry began moving to China after the financial crisis, says Mark Forster, an executive at JDMachine. “Technologically, the machines are better than those we used to make in the UK,” he adds.

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A TCL factory in Huizhou, Guangdong province. Chinese white goods producers have increased their market share overseas and exported a combined $15bn-worth of consumer electronics in 2016 © Bloomberg

The shift by Chinese companies into more sophisticated capital goods has altered trade between China and developed countries. Over the past decade, telecommunications and transportation equipment and auto parts have grown as a proportion of China’s exports to the US, while the share of textiles and footwear has shrunk. China’s share of the global capital goods market rose from about 5 per cent to 20 per cent between 2007 and 2016, according to the World Bank.

Consumer goods have played a role, too. Chinese white goods producers such as Midea, TCL and Hisense have increased their market share overseas and exported a combined $15bn-worth of consumer electronics in 2016, according to Chinese customs.

Some economists see the rise up the value chain as a near inevitable result of competition. “Once an economy gets to produce electric generators, say, or motor vehicles, labour productivity in that industry is placed on an automatic upward trajectory,” according to Harvard economist Dani Rodrik. The trick is to get a toehold in these automatic convergence industries and to expand domestic employment in them.”

Average wages in China’s manufacturing sector have more than tripled in the past decade, putting them above Brazil and Mexico and forcing companies to increase productivity.

Rather than groundbreaking innovations, Chinese companies have become adept at incremental improvements. According to Dan Breznitz, an innovation researcher at the University of Toronto, they are good at making “new versions, often simpler, cheaper and more efficient, of technologies and products . . . after they are invented and marketed elsewhere.”

China’s investment boom after the financial crisis enabled producers of industrial goods to hugely expand domestic production, increasing economies of scale. Manufacturers have upgraded through acquisitions of foreign technology. Sany acquired German concrete pumpmaker Putzmeister for €360m in 2012. Multibillion-dollar deals for western manufacturers include Midea’s €4.5bn deal for German robot-maker Kuka the same year.

There has also been technology transfer by developed-world companies — and technology theft. About 20 per cent of US companies say they have been asked to transfer technology to China — often when they set up joint ventures in the country, according to a US-China business council survey last year. Several of China’s top exporters have faced lawsuits over patent violations.

Multinationals have also played a big role in the growing sophistication of China’s exports. About 43 per cent of China’s exports came from foreign-invested companies last year, according to official statistics. The figures are higher for high-tech products such as laptops and smartphones, and for large companies. Thirteen of China’s top 20 exporting companies are foreign-owned, according to Chinese customs.

Much of China’s export upgrade has come from multinationals deepening supply chains in China. Companies such as General Electric, chemicals maker BASF and US conglomerate Honeywell have opened more sophisticated plants in China in the past decade, sometimes at the expense of jobs in the US.

Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump © AP

The companies were often motivated by China’s domestic market, which has been the fastest-growing for chemicals and heavy equipment over the past decade. But such plants often turned into export bases. “Any large US conglomerate will have a substantial presence in China . . . and if you have a Chinese machine, why not export it,” says Jonathan Woetzel, director of the McKinsey Global Institute.

In the past, one of the consolations of China’s export machine was the huge volume of components made in developed economies that it required. China was a final-assembly point for components made elsewhere, known as the “processing” trade.

However, that trade has fallen as a share of Chinese exports, from about 46 per cent a decade ago to 35 per cent today. The domestic content of China’s exports has risen from about 60 per cent a decade ago to about 80 per cent, according to Chinese estimates. Panels for flatscreen TVs, largely imported a decade ago, are now made in China.

Apple is an example. Its China-based suppliers have more than doubled over the past five years to 19 companies in 2017, up from only seven in 2012. If Hong Kong-based suppliers are added, the total rises to 28. They include Goertek, a company which began to supply audio parts for the iPhone in 2014 and has increased its share at the expense of US company Knowles.

As China makes more advanced products, it often needs to import the components and the capital goods to make them — China’s imports from Germany nearly doubled in the past decade.

Yet the effect could fade. “If China is adding new, import-intensive sectors at a rapid rate, this could keep the import ratio high for a number of years; but it could then fall quickly once Chinese firms master the component techniques,” note Arthur Kroeber and Dan Wang at Gavekal, a consultancy.

Moving up the chain

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Chinese exports which came from foreign-invested companies last year, according to official statistics

China’s share of exports in electrical transformers and their components, a doubling in the past decade

Share of Chinese exports going to countries outside the OECD club of developed economies, up 5 per cent over the past decade

Probably the most threatened by China’s move into mid-tech sectors are China’s east Asian neighbours. In the decade up to the financial crisis, a triangular trade arose, with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan running large surpluses exporting components to China,

But China’s trade deficit with those countries began to shrink in 2013, as China produced more of what it used to import. “It’s a big question facing the region. South Korea is the one which feels the most threatened,” says Yukon Huang of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Even Germany, which has a much smaller deficit than the US with China because of its strong machinery exports, is feeling the pressure. Hermann Simon, a consultant specialising in “hidden champions” who dominate niche sectors. “I see the Chinese as the most serious competitors of the German hidden champions,” he says. “The competition is mostly in machinery, household appliances or metalworking products”.

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Despite its growing prominence in medium-level tech goods, the one relief for western countries is that China remains far from the forefront in high-tech manufacturing. Indeed, it is barely a presence in export markets for computer chips, diesel engines and passenger vehicles. Where it does compete, Chinese exports still often challenge on price but at slightly lower quality.

“Chinese companies are upgrading into mid-range goods but still rely on a price advantage to provide products which are welcome in developing economies,” says Prof Xu. “It’s a lower-end version of German and Japanese goods.”

Additional reporting by Wang Xueqiao


The end of flying geese? Why the low-value factory base keeps ticking over

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Workers sew clothes for Adidas at the Shengyuan clothing factory in Suzhou, Jiangsu province © EPA

China’s development model has often been compared to its east Asian neighbours. As exporters in those countries moved to higher technology sectors and wages rose, they shed labour-intensive exports such as clothing, passing them on to neighbouring countries.

This trade pattern, named “flying geese” by Japanese economists, has to some degree held true for China. The share of textiles in its overall exports has stayed steady for the past decade, but the mix has changed from more labour-intensive apparel to capital-intensive cloth, exported largely to garment makers in south-east Asia.

Pou Chen, the world’s top contract footwear maker, made 17 per cent of its 325m pairs of footwear in China last year, down from 29 per cent in 2014, while 46 per cent of its production is now in Vietnam. Vietnam now accounts for 44 per cent of Adidas footwear last year, compared with 19 per cent in China.

But while China’s share of the global apparel trade peaked in 2015, it is still the biggest apparel exporter with 33 per cent. It also still has large shares in labour-intensive toys and furniture.

China’s ability to retain low-end exports — contrasting with its east Asian peers — may reflect “its larger labour pool, greater economies of scale and stickier supply-chain clusters,” says Mr Kroeber and Mr Wang at Gavekal.

“It is remarkable that China has remained competitive in labour-intensive production for so long,” said a 2016 IMF report. “It may be that the extreme efficiencies, network effects and other factors associated with exporting from China’s coastal provinces have caused the “geese” to stop flying”.


German leaders to reevaluate Hans-Georg Maassen — 67 percent of Germans have lost faith in Merkel’s coalition

September 23, 2018

The outrage that followed the apparent promotion of Hans-Georg Maassen has forced Angela Merkel’s government into renewed talks. In the fallout, some 67 percent of Germans have lost faith in the chancellor’s coalition.

Hans-Georg Maassen and Horst Seehofer standing in front of a blue wall

Amid unrelenting criticism, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s tenuous governing coalition will meet on Sunday to renegotiate the fate of former domestic intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen. Merkel is set to meet with CSU leader Horst Seehofer and Social Democrat leader Andrea Nahles for another shot at a compromise.

Maassen came under fire last week for questioning the validity of a video that showed a far-right mob chasing foreigners in the eastern German city of Chemnitz, and for his links to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Amid calls for his resignation, Merkel’s coalition removed Maassen from his post, but relocated him to a higher level job with higher pay.

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The move drew outrage across the political spectrum. A weekend survey by pollster Emnid for German weekly Bild am Sonntag showed that in the aftermath, some 67 percent of Germans no longer believe the three coalition leaders can work together. Nonetheless, a majority of the public is against the break up of the government and new elections, which effectively puts greater pressure on coalition leaders to make things work.

Read more: Opinion: Keep your nerve, Germany!

SPD under pressure

Strong objections to Maassen’s apparent promotion pushed the SPD’s Nahles to insist on the new round of negotiations. “The government will not collapse over the Maassen case,” Nahles told Bild am Sonntag, in a bid to reassure an anxious public. Merkel signaled on Friday she was open to the new talks.

Read more: Angela Merkel’s fate may rest on SPD solidarity

CSU’s Seehofer, for his part, has rejected the notion that Maassen holds right-wing extremist positions and insisted he should stay in his new post.

The interior minister added there would be “many phone calls over the weekend” and there would only be a meeting on Sunday if he deems the SPD’s demands legitimate enough to find a suitable solution.

Forty-three percent of Germans surveyed answered that Seehofer had lost credibility in their eyes.

jcg/jlw (dpa, Reuters)

Germany’s military, testing rockets accidentally starts fire — expected to take hundreds of firefighters a week to extinguish

September 22, 2018

The fire, started by Germany’s military testing rockets in the area, was expected to take a week to extinguish, an on-site firefighter told DW. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen paid a visit to affected area.

Germany's Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen meeting with local officials

Germany’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen traveled to the area on Saturday, surveying the damage and meeting with local officials. She thanked emergency response teams for their work and also praised support from civilians. However, she emphasized that, “We haven’t yet reached the end.”

“We’ve still got to hang in there for a while,” she added in her remarks to the press.

Authorities in the German state of Lower Saxony said on Friday that up to three towns near the site of a moorland fire at a Bundeswehr testing facility may have to be evacuated.

Smoke from moorland fire near Meppen, in north west Germany close to the border with the Netherlands. Smoke from moorland fire near Meppen, in north west Germany close to the border with the Netherlands.

The head of the Emsland district authority, Reinhard Winter, said it could no longer be ruled out that the approximately 1,000 residents of the towns of Gross Stavern and Klein Stavern just over 15 kilometers to the north east might have to be taken to safety.

“It, of course, depends on how firefighting efforts go on the Bundeswehr terrain and on the changing weather conditions as to whether there has to be an evacuation at all,” Winter said.

He said stormy conditions, such as 85 kph (52 mph) winds, meant that smoke and flying sparks could increase.

A firefighter brought in from Hanover told DW that it could take weeks to douse the blaze.

“I expect to remain in the area for at least one-and-a-half weeks — if not more. We were not told how long it may take, and a lot depends on the weather. All I can say is that we’re talking about weeks — not days,” said the firefighter, who asked to be identified only as Timo N.

Read moreGerman army to get €4 billion spending boost

Local official Marc-Andre Burgdorf said the residents of the two towns “are advised to keep calm, but should pack up the most important documents such as IDs, as well as necessary medications, just in case.”

Later in the day, authorities in the district of Emsland said that 7,500 people living in the area of Sögel might also need to be moved.

Prosecutors in Lower Saxony said they were investigating the possibility of “negligent arson.”

Bundeswehr under criticism

So far, smoke has been detected more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the site of the fire near the town of Meppen, causing residents to complain.

“The real question is how such a routine exercise leads to such a disaster,” 42-year-old Marina Alke told DW. “We are given no explanations as for how and why this has happened, and worse than that, why there are no solutions to such cases. If the military knows how to start a fire, it should also know how to extinguish it.”

The fire broke out more than two weeks ago after helicopters fired rockets over the moor as part of a drill. Usually, special fire engines are employed to douse the flames ensuing from such tests, but one was out of action and the other undergoing maintenance work at the time.

Von der Leyen apologized in the name of Germany’s Bundeswehr “to all of the people in the region suffering the effects of the fire. Speaking to the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on Friday, she said the moor fire was “a very serious incident that must not happen this way.”

Dana Regev

800 hectares of moorland are still burning in northwestern Germany. The fire was caused by a Bundeswehr rocket test, and is raging for almost 3 weeks. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen visited the area a few minutes ago.

The Bundeswehr has been criticized for conducting the tests amid the extremely dry summer conditions. The moor is made even more flammable by its peat reserves, which can lead to smoldering fires underground that are hard to detect and fight.

The situation is made yet more dangerous by unexploded ordnance buried in the soil of the area, which has been used by the German army since 1876.

DW’s Dana Regev contributed to this article from the scene.

Fire truck near Meppen against background of smoke (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Konjer)Hundreds of firefighters are on the scene, assisted by Bundeswehr personel

ap, es/jm (dpa, AFP)

Is a new US military base in Poland a realistic option?

September 20, 2018

US President Donald Trump has said he is “seriously considering” a Polish request that Washington build a new military base in the country. DW spoke with two security experts to determine the viability of such a plan.

US soldiers take part in the opening ceremony of the Rapid Trident-2017 international military exercises

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump and his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, raised the prospect of building a new US military base in Poland. Duda even suggested it might be named Fort Trump at the joint press conference in Washington, stressing Poland’s “very strategic location” and pointing to the need for an expanded US presence to counter Russia’s aggressive behavior. Trump voiced openness to the proposal.

Although the name got the attention of the US president and the rest of the world, the idea came as no surprise to security experts. The Polish government has spent months actively lobbying for the project in Washington.

Read more: US-Poland base plans must include NATO, says ex-Pentagon official

Poland’s former foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, for instance, told DW’s Zhanna Nemtsova: “I worked very hard to bring it about. We want in Poland the kind of allied forces that would deter Russia but not threaten Russia.”

DW News


“We want in Poland the kind of allied forces that would deter Russia, but not threaten Russia,” former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorsko told DW as his country pushes for a permanent US military base: 

At Tuesday’s press conference, Trump said the US would “seriously consider” the proposal. But how realistic is the idea and what would be the implications? DW spoke with Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Jorge Benitez from the Atlantic Council to get their assessments of the situation.

Lengthy process

Conley stressed the lengthiness of the US decision-making process. “When President Trump says ‘we are seriously considering it,’ it means that Congress has asked the Defense Department to study this proposal. The Defense Department, I think, has some very important questions,” she said. “I don’t believe US defense officials are that enthusiastic about this. I don’t think there is great speed or enthusiasm for this.”

Both Conley and Benitez picked up on the bilateral nature of the proposal. “Whatever decisions are reached bilaterally would have to be in close consultation with NATO, and of course the NATO-Russia Founding Act [of 1997] would have to be part of that conversation,” said Conley. “But again this is to ensure that there is a greater deterrence and readiness capability on NATO’s eastern flank. The US bilateral arrangement with Poland, should it happen, would have to be inside that context.”

Read moreNATO views Vostok with both a shrug and a show of force

“The Polish offer would make sense as part of a multinational investment of NATO forces in Central Europe, such as the Alliance’s Enhanced Forward Presence battalions in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania,” said Benitez. “Accepting the Polish offer without doing it through NATO would mean more direct US resources for European defense without any matching investment by other NATO allies. This is counter to Trump’s priority to make NATO allies less dependent on US military assistance. Building a US base in Poland would be a step in the opposite direction. It would make the US unilaterally more responsible for security near NATO’s borders with Russia.”

Undermining European security? 

Benitez said the stationing of US troops in Poland would not, as Moscow warned in May, undermine European security. “Quite the opposite, more US troops in Central Europe will strengthen deterrence and thereby increase stability in the region,” he pointed out.

Speaking on Russian objections to the move, Benitez was quite blunt. “The Russians will respond with wild allegations and negative propaganda. But the truth is that the Russians will complain if a group of Girl Scouts visit Poland,” he said. “Moscow tries to portray everything as a threat, even though the small number of US troops likely to be moved to Poland will be no threat to the quarter of a million troops Russia has stationed near its border with NATO.”

Pulling troops out of Germany?

Asked about the threat that the US might shift troops from Germany amid growing US-German tensions, Conley said the scenario was quite unlikely. “With the world-class and premiere facilities that the US has in Germany and Italy, both the cost and the movement to Poland would not make cost effective sense. I don’t think it has anything to do with current US force posture in Germany,” she said.

Conley, however, sees another issue as a potential impediment to realizing the proposal. “The other big question is: Where would those additional forces come from? What would the global footprint be if the US would decide to move additional capabilities farther to NATO’s eastern flank? The global picture will be a very big constraint on any further US decision,” she said.

Merkel coalition slides into ‘permanent crisis mode’ with spy row

September 19, 2018

A clumsy compromise to end a row over the fate of Germany’s spy chief has exposed a cruel fact: the parties in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s right-left coalition are loveless partners in a dysfunctional relationship that none of them can afford to quit.

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FILE PHOTO: Hans-Georg Maassen, Germany’s head of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt fuer Verfassungsschutz)

The coalition leaders sought on Tuesday to end a scandal that had rumbled on for 11 days by agreeing to replace the head of the BfV domestic intelligence agency, who has faced accusations of harboring far-right sympathies.

Their solution – promoting spymaster Hans-Georg Maassen to a better paid position at the Interior Ministry – has only inflamed tensions among the rank-and-file of the ruling parties, whose leaders are united by fear more than collective purpose.

The scandal, the latest in a series of setbacks to shake the six-month-old coalition, threatens to erode further the German ruling elite’s authority and may point to years of policy drift just as Germany and Europe are crying out for firm leadership.

Polls show both Merkel’s conservative bloc and its junior coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), would bleed votes to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the ecologist Greens in any new elections.

That leaves their leaders hanging on to the awkward right-left ‘grand coalition’ as Merkel, serving her fourth and likely final term as chancellor, tries to secure her legacy as a stateswoman and the SPD struggles to remain relevant to voters.

“The grand coalition is like a dead marriage where the spouses have too many intertwined assets to be able to separate without heavy losses,” said Josef Joffe, publisher-editor of weekly Die Zeit.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer addresses a news conference a in Berlin, Germany, September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

“They would be trounced in snap elections. Nor can they recruit more docile partners among the four opposition parties.”

The Maassen scandal comes only two months after Merkel closed a painful row with her Bavarian CSU allies on immigration – an issue that goes back to her 2015 decision to leave open Germany’s borders to refugees fleeing war in the Middle East.

The SPD had wanted Maassen removed after he questioned the authenticity of video footage showing far-right radicals hounding migrants in the eastern German city of Chemnitz.

But Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), stood behind Maassen.

By promoting the spymaster to the post of state secretary in his Interior Ministry, Seehofer found a solution that satisfied the SPD’s demand for Maassen’s removal from the BfV but left the coalition looking lame.

“The only thing that is still grand in this coalition is the absolute determination to carry on muddling through,” mass-selling daily Bild wrote in an editorial in its Tuesday edition.


The grand coalition only took office in March, nearly six months after last year’s election, as there was effectively no other viable governing option following the collapse of talks between Merkel’s conservatives and two smaller parties.

After the Maassen deal, pressure is growing in the SPD for its leaders to reconsider the coalition or else deliver results that will win back working class voters who are turning to the far right or left, and middle class voters moving to the Greens.

“Patience in the SPD with this grand coalition is extremely thin,” said Ralf Stegner, a senior SPD official.

Even SPD Secretary General Lars Klingbeil questioned Maassen’s promotion, adding: “We must finally get out of this permanent crisis mode.”

Merkel’s 2015 decision on refugees has proved to be the defining moment of her leadership and one that still haunts her as the CSU, fearful of losing votes to the AfD in Bavaria’s state election on Oct. 14, tries to sound tough on immigration.

The CSU is likely to lose its absolute majority in Bavaria, which could make it an even more difficult partner for Merkel.

Nationally, the conservative bloc is polling around 30 percent, down from 33 percent in last September’s election. The SPD is on about 18 percent, down from 20.5 percent. The AfD is polling around 15 percent, with the Greens close behind.

“So it is in (Merkel’s) interests to keep up the image of a coalition that is functional and capable of acting,” said Gero Neugebauer, political scientist at Berlin’s Free University.

“She is managing to do that less and less,” he said, adding that even after the Maassen deal conflicts between the coalition parties were “bubbling away like lava in a volcano”.

Editing by Gareth Jones


Germany: Iraqi suspect in Chemnitz stabbing released

September 18, 2018

The 22-year-old was detained along with another immigrant on suspicion of stabbing to death a German man in Chemnitz. The suspect’s lawyer has threatened legal action against those responsible for the unjustified arrest.

Karl Marx monument in Chemnitz

An Iraqi man detained over a fatal stabbing of a German man in the eastern German city of Chemnitz has been released after a court hearing.

The 22-year-old was detained along with another immigrant on suspicion of stabbing to death the 35-year-old German man in Chemnitz last month. The killing of Daniel H. triggered large anti-immigrant protests and counter-protests in the eastern German city.

The lawyer for the suspect, Ulrich Dost-Roxin, said the prosecutors could not find any evidence linking his client to the stabbing and that witnesses had not been able to identify him.

Dost-Roxin said he was considering taking legal action against those responsible for the unjustified arrest. His client spent three weeks in detention as the potential case against him was investigated.

The district court, however, refused to lift the arrest warrant against a second suspect, a 23-year-old Syrian man, who has also been taken into custody in the case.

Police are searching for a third suspect in the case.

ap/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP)