Posts Tagged ‘Merkel’

Deal or no deal? Theresa May’s moment of truth on Brexit

September 17, 2018

EU leaders believe an agreement is possible but worry it will not be ratified in the UK

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By Alex Barker in Brussels and George Parker in London

The British have long proved past masters at misreading Angela Merkel. But this time, as reports of the German chancellor’s comments filtered through, even in London there was stunned disbelief. Did Ms Merkel really want to celebrate Brexit?

The exchange had come on a balmy July day in Berlin, with Theresa May sat in the chancellor’s airy, whitewashed office. Brexit talks were stuck. Britain’s cabinet was close to self-combustion. But Ms Merkel wanted to raise something else: it was time, she said, to start thinking of a “celebratory” moment that would mark the Brexit deal.

Soon enough it became clear that Ms Merkel’s intentions had been lost in translation: the zelebrieren she had in mind was a solemn commemoration, more akin to a Lutheran church service than independence jamboree.

Yet her remarks were telling. Britain’s exit talks, two years on from the referendum, are entering a new, decisive phase. Leaders are lifting their sights to the finish line. The Brussels compromise machine is primed. All sides see a deal within reach, possibly just eight weeks away. “It’s clear,” says one EU diplomat, “we’re in the endspiel [endgame]”.

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Conservative Eurosceptic MPs Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and Peter Bone © Getty

A gathering of EU leaders in Salzburg this week will be the first step of what is envisaged as a three-summit jig to a historic UK-EU agreement. Negotiators have even begun considering the choreography of the final act, a denouement expected to be a special summit in mid-November.

This would be the night where leaders around Europe’s top table take a more hands-on role. Mrs May would still be kept apart from the 27 other leaders, based in Britain’s delegation room four floors above, with little but a picture of the Queen for comfort.

Up the lifts would shuttle delegations including Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, the presidents of the European Council and Commission. Should one night prove insufficient, there are rumblings about summits in December or even January. But the push for November is strong; Mark Rutte, the Dutch premier, is telling colleagues he wants everyone locked away “until it’s done”.

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UK prime minister Theresa May met German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin in July © AFP

Deal complete, Mrs May would finally be invited to rejoin the EU’s 27 remaining leaders for that solemn zelebrieren, mixed with smiles, exhaustion and relief. “You have to hope we can be in the same room at the very end,” says one senior EU official handling Brexit.

But even as the stage is set for the end of this Brexit divorce saga, some are growing increasingly alarmed at how unready the conditions appear. Talks on the toughest issues — notably the Irish border— are virtually static, with both sides dug in. Joint drafting of a blueprint for future relations has barely begun, and there are fundamental differences over the prime minister’s Chequers plan for a free movement area for goods.

Serious as these obstacles appear, they are the easier part of Mrs May’s Brexit ordeal: the real problem is selling the exit package to her seething Eurosceptic MPs. “It is very simple. This is not a negotiation between EU and UK,” says Pascal Lamy, the former EU commissioner and director of the World Trade Organization. “What has to be negotiated has been negotiated. This is a negotiation within London between Remainers and Brexiters.”

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EU leaders will meet in Salzburg this week for a Brexit summit

The trick at the final summit, he adds, will be orchestrating a fight in Brussels to solve a problem in London. “If you need messages saying: oh, we’ve really had our arms twisted, it’s terrible, that is easy. Juncker can do that extremely well, full of pain and suffering,” he says. “You need [Italian writer Luigi] Pirandello to do the choreography for this.”

Yet even as the stage is set for this finale, there is no hiding the concern. Mr Lamy and several senior EU negotiators put the odds of a deal falling apart at 50 per cent, with almost all the risk of failure stemming from the ratification process in the UK’s House of Commons.

Sir Ivan Rogers, Britain’s former EU ambassador, has warned that markets are underpricing the risk of “sleepwalking into a major crisis”. It is not for want of a deal, he says, “but precisely because each side misreads each other’s real incentives and political constraints”.

One central participant in the negotiation admits that the risk of a serious miscalculation is very real: “The pieces are falling into place and that is why everybody feels so nervous”. The political jigsaw, in other words, just may not fit.

With some obvious relish, senior officials in Berlin, Paris and Brussels have stressed for months that Brexit is not even in the top 20 priorities for their leaders. That, at least, is set to change in Salzburg.

No formal conclusions will emerge from the lunch discussion between the 27 leaders. Nor will there be a big re-evaluation of the EU position. But this will be the moment the assembled leaders are “brought into the file” that will dominate the EU agenda for the next few months.

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Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator © AFP

Once briefed by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, three broad questions loom. One is tactical: should they make clear there will be a special summit in November? France worries that this would relieve pressure on London and let it stall negotiations until the summit.

The second is more political: the Irish border. How should the EU reinforce its support for Dublin, while also “de-dramatising” its proposal to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. This “backstop” plan, keeping Northern Ireland within the EU’s customs union and single market for goods, is intended to apply “unless and until” a better alternative is found.

Finally there will be the issue of negotiating strategy, and the form of the non-binding “political declaration” on future relations. At issue is how detailed and clear the statement need be, especially on customs and a “single rule book” for goods — the parts of Mrs May’s Chequers plan that are seen in Europeas unviable. Should EU leaders push to level up the arrangements to a full-blown customs union, level down to a Canada-style free trade agreement or just leave the issue unresolved until after Brexit?

Delegates in Salzburg will include European Council president Donald Tusk © Reuters

On this France and Germany once stood for clarity above all, so populists across Europe would have an unambiguous lesson in what leaving the EU entails. Ms Merkel, though, is now more minded to say only what is needed to help a withdrawal agreement pass the UK parliament. “The Germans have shifted,” says one EU diplomat in touch with Berlin. But senior French officials still insist that “it can’t be too vague”.

Any conclusions are expected to be reflected in a final piece of guidance to Mr Barnier, formally adopted at a summit in October, which would help him “do the deal”, in the words of one senior EU diplomat. “It all depends on what the Brits think they can sell back home,” the diplomat adds.

The public messages from Salzburg will be encouraging, ambitious but unspecific for Mrs May, calibrated to bolster her without giving ground. For the EU knows that before final judgment on what is “sellable”, they must await the outcome of the Labour and Conservative party conferences in Britain at the end of this month.

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Mark Rutte, the Dutch premier, is telling colleagues he wants everyone locked away ‘until it’s [a deal] done’

Seen from European capitals, Mrs May is in thrall to a hardcore of 50-70 Eurosceptic Tory MPs. Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, has created an impression of chaos with his lurid newspaper columns, vowing to “chuck Chequers” and suggesting that Mrs May has “strapped a suicide vest” to Britain.

Far from convincing them she has a grip over an unruly party, Mrs May’s allies fear the impression of Tory conference chaos could persuade the EU side to delay taking decisions until “things settle down a bit”. Their experience with the party’s Eurosceptics, however, suggests such a moment will never come.

In no area will this be more important than the Irish border — the final, most difficult issue outstanding in Britain’s withdrawal treaty. “It’s all about Northern Ireland,” says one senior British official, noting Mrs May’s outright rejection of anything splitting the UK economy along the Irish Sea.

“Nobody is complacent and it’s not going to be easy, but it can be fixed,” the official says. “The real problem we have is persuading the EU side that the prime minister is a credible negotiator.”

Both sides expect the ultimate compromise over Ireland to come at the final summit. And both sides are absolutely confident the other will back down. The main battleground: how the backstop plan for Northern Ireland is linked to future UK-EU arrangements.

From the British perspective, the deal could be unlocked if Brussels agreed that the Irish backstop provisions include a UK-wide customs element — removing the need for UK-EU customs checks pending negotiation of a final trade agreement.

In those circumstances, Britain would make concessions to Brussels accepting that much of Northern Ireland’s economy would be treated as part of the EU’s single market. This would remove the need for separate standards checks on goods crossing the Irish border.

The prime minister’s team believe such a deal could be brokered, provided the EU gave assurances to Mrs May — and to the Northern Ireland Unionist politicians who prop up her government — that the backstop would never be needed. A future trade deal, in other words, that would be ambitious enough to make it redundant.

Mr Barnier is ready to offer such blandishments, but only in the non-binding political declaration that accompanies a binding withdrawal treaty. Britain is seeking much more solid, legal guarantees, as a minimum on the UK-wide customs arrangement. “We can’t live on promises,” says one UK official.

In calls with other European leaders, Mrs May has also been adamant that any declaration on the future would need to be detailed and clear, paving the way for a goods arrangement that offers as much free movement as Chequers.

Officials on both sides of the Channel doubt such noble goals will last when deadlines loom and leaders can choose obfuscation over purity. “The Brits will have to go through the process and discover it is in their best interests not to go into detail,” says one senior EU official handling Brexit. “But they are not there yet. We will need to give them some time.”

Such an outcome would leave the UK, on exit day, with little but a vague guide to its future relationship with its biggest trading partner. “But what else do they expect?” asks the official. “The dynamic of the negotiation will change 35 times before we reach the final deal on the future. That’s the brutal reality of things.”

Although it may be Mrs May’s fallback plan, such a fudge may also be one of her strongest cards in Westminster since Brexiters would still have all to play for after Brexit. “The real debate over the future relationship is still to come and in many respects will only start after exit,” says Stephen Adams, a former EU trade official now at Global Counsel. “Many Brexiters are likely to end up betting on this fact.”


Crunch time: Number 10 confident of support at home for a deal

The Conservative party conference, starting on September 30, will be watched in Europe for signs that Theresa May has a grip on her party and the authority to deliver Brexit.

Instead, they are more likely to see Tory activists queueing around the block to cheer their Eurosceptic heroes — including Old Etonians Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg — as they denounce Mrs May and her Chequers compromise plan.

In spite of the ominous political backdrop, there is an air of confidence among Mrs May’s team in Downing Street that the prime minister is on course not only to secure a deal in Brussels, but to push it through the House of Commons.

Mrs May believes she can win approval for the legally binding withdrawal treaty — covering issues including a £39bn exit bill and Northern Ireland — while deferring tricky talks on a future trade deal until after Britain leaves the EU.

Tory Eurosceptics insist that they will oppose any “blind Brexit” deal, but Mrs May is already starting to put the squeeze on her critics.

The first stage is already under way: persuasion. Gavin Barwell, Mrs May’s chief of staff, and Robbie Gibb, her pro-Brexit head of communications, last week held three dinners with Eurosceptic MPs, urging them to support the Chequers compromise.

The second stage will be more menacing. Mrs May will tell Tory MPs that unless they support her final Brexit deal, the result will be political chaos and the possibility of a general election, with the risk of letting in a leftwing Labour government.

“They will have to explain themselves to their local parties and explain why they have brought the government down and handed the country over to a Marxist,” says one May lieutenant. “I hope their principles are strong enough.”


Germany’s top spy under spotlight amid rise of far-right

September 12, 2018

Secret services typically work away from the limelight, but Germany’s top domestic spy Hans-Georg Maassen has repeatedly crashed into the public eye, with his latest outing pitting him directly against Chancellor Angela Merkel.

After anti-migrant protests rocked the eastern city of Chemnitz, Merkel firmly condemned a “hunt against foreigners” backed by videos circulating on social media.

© POOL/AFP | German top domestic spy Hans-Georg Maassen’s questioning of the authenticity of a video purporting to show a ‘hunt against foreigners’ has set him directly against Chancellor Angela Merkel

But Maassen, 55, in an interview with Germany’s top-selling daily Bild last week, challenged the authenticity of at least one of the videos, sparking uproar.

For critics, Maassen’s claim played into the hands of the far-right and his attitude was viewed as symptomatic of a domestic intelligence service riddled with far-right sympathisers.

As pressure mounted on him to prove the video was a fake, Maassen denied questioning its authenticity and said his quarrel was with how the original poster on Twitter had oversold it as a “hunt against people” which he thought was intended to inflame tensions.

He is due to be grilled by two parliamentary committees later Wednesday, and the leader of the Social Democratic Party Andrea Nahles has suggested he should step down.

The episode has also reopened uncomfortable questions over a service that for long has struggled to escape a lingering whiff of the far-right.

Maassen in August 2012 took over at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) after his predecessor was forced to quit as it emerged the service had shredded files on suspects of the deadly neo-Nazi cell NSU.

As BfV chief, Maassen leads an agency charged with collecting and evaluating information on efforts to harm the democratic order or which jeopardise Germany’s interests.

But among his key tasks following the NSU scandal was also to restore public confidence in an institution accused of being too lax with the far-right threat and too heavy-handed on extreme left activism.

– Contacts with far right –

Married to a linguist from Japan, Maassen was born in Moenchengladbach close to the Dutch border.

He headed the interior ministry’s counter-terrorism team before being appointed domestic spy chief.

Recognising that wars are increasingly waged in cyberspace, the former lawyer quickly boosted the BfV’s digital armoury.

He has also repeatedly warned against Russian cyber-espionage, including raising eyebrows when he told a parliamentary inquiry that he thought NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was actually a Russian agent.

But he came under intense pressure following the attack at a Berlin Christmas market in 2016 when Tunisian failed asylum applicant Anis Amri drove a truck into crowds.

According to media reports, Maassen wrongly claimed his service had no agent in Amri’s circles, even though it had a source at a mosque the Tunisian frequented.

But it is his handling of the AfD that has proved most controversial, particularly as he was known to share the far-right party’s opposition to Merkel’s decision in 2015 to keep Germany’s borders open to asylum seekers.

Despite repeated calls for the BfV to formerly place the AfD under surveillance, Maassen has refused to do so.

A former AfD member has also accused him of having met repeatedly with the party’s leaders to advise on how to avoid being placed under surveillance — an allegation Maassen and the far-right group have denied.

AfD leader Alexander Gauland told journalists this week he had three conversations with Maassen about “overall security evaluations”. Maassen did not give him advice, he added.

But Gauland recounted the BfV chief told him “he could turn to him if there were any problems”, an offer he said he took up over suspicions of Russian infiltration in the party’s parliamentary group.

Heribert Prantl of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung noted that “among the worst things that can happen to a top domestic intelligence officer is for him to be accused of sympathy for a far-right party”.

“There is more doubt about whether he has put enough distance between himself and the AfD than whether there has been xenophobic incitement in Chemnitz,” Prantl said.

“Given the rather strange news about Hans-Georg Maassen, one wonders whether the BfV should not take a closer look at its president.”


Germany: Bundestag gets rowdy over far-right violence, immigration

September 12, 2018

MPs are holding a tense debate in the Bundestag in the aftermath of far-right protests in eastern Germany. A pending national budget plan and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies are also in the spotlight.

Merkel and the AfD in the Bundestag (Reuters/H. Hanschke)

Lawmakers in Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, gathered for a lively and occasionally bad-tempered debate on Wednesday, with immigration, far-right violence, and the nation’s budget high on the list of issues.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), the largest opposition party in the Bundestag, kicked off the debate by taking aim at German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the government’s criticism of violence at far-right rallies in Chemnitz.

AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland condemned the depiction of protesters who took part in protests in the eastern German city of Chemnitz — many of which were organized by right-wing extremist groups. He described the majority of them as “concerned citizens.”

Gauland speaks in the Bundestag (Reuters/H. Hanschke)AfD parliamentary leader Alexander Gauland rails against the chancellor in the Bundestag

He acknowledged that some protesters did give Hitler salutes during the demonstrations, which is illegal in Germany, but he said that they were “in a minority” and that “the real crime was the bloody act committed by two asylum-seekers in Chemnitz.”

Taking aim at Merkel’s comments on the protests, Gauland said: “Hatred is not a crime.” “Who is endangering public peace in this country? Not us,” he concluded.

‘The means of fascism’

Gauland’s speech drew an extraordinary intervention from Martin Schulz, the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) chancellor candidate from last year, who stood up to accuse the AfD of adopting “the means of fascism” — specifically, the strategy of reducing complex political problems to a single topic, “in general related to a minority in a country.”

“‘Migrants are to blame for everything’ — there have been similar words in this house before,” Schulz said. “It’s time for democracy to defend itself against these people.” His fellow Social Democrats stood up to applaud their former leader’s impassioned statement.

Merkel also pushed back against Gauland’s comments, saying that outrage over a German man’s death cannot justify the violence that took place. “There is no excuse or justification for attacking people who look different,” she said.

Merkel’s speech was then promptly answered by an AfD intervention, from MP Stephan Brandner, chairman of the Bundestag’s justice committee, who called Merkel’s “general statements” about “migrant crime” a “mockery of the victims of your policies.”

The mother of all problems

The leader of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), Christian Lindner, used his speech to rail against both sides. Lindner, who has himself been criticized for making populist right-wing overtures in the past few months, said the German people were tired of seeing the “ritualized” outrage from the AfD being answered by equally routine outrage from the left.

Lindner expressed frustration that political debate in Germany was being reduced to the question of migration. After listing all the things that the government should have done better in its budget (driving digitalization, investing in research and education, unburdening taxpayers), Lindner complained that “we could deepen all these problems, but there’s no point, because once again all we talk about is migration.”

Lindner also addressed Interior Minister Horst Seehofer’s contentious statement that “migration was the mother of all problems,” widely read as an attempt to field the populist right-wing vote ahead of an election in Seehofer’s native Bavaria next month.

“Mr. Seehofer, migration is not the problem,” Lindner said. “The problem is the management of migration, for which your party has also been responsible over the last five years.”

European Parliament to debate disciplining Hungary

September 11, 2018

The European Parliament is to discuss whether to launch disciplinary proceedings against Hungary.

MEPs will debate whether the right-wing government poses a serious risk to the EU’s values due to its policies on issues like migrants.

It comes just months after the European Commission took the step of launching similar proceedings against Poland.

However, this is the first time the parliament has tried to use the power, known as Article 7.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is expected to fight the claims personally in the chamber, brandishing a dossier of counter-arguments more than 100 pages long.

Mr Orban and his Fidesz party say many of the accusations against them on issues over rule of law were solved long ago.

The BBC’s Nick Thorpe in Hungary says the country’s ministers, along with its vocal pro-government media, speak of a witch hunt against Fidesz, for standing up for national sovereignty against what they call the liberal elite.

Eurosceptic Mr Orban was re-elected earlier this year after campaigning on an anti-immigration platform, with Fidesz winning two-thirds of parliamentary seats.

But while he has support at home, critics in the European Parliament say his policies are evidence he does not respect the values of the EU.

A committee of MEPs points to the Hungarian government’s approach to migration – including a new law which criminalises lawyers and activists who help asylum seekers – as well as media, the courts and universities as proof.

However, in order for any sort of disciplinary proceedings to go ahead, it needs the backing of two-thirds of MEPs – and it is not clear which way the vote, due to take place on Wednesday, will fall.

If MEPs do decide to support the process, which could end up with Hungary being monitored by Brussels, it may be a very slow process.

The European Commission took the unprecedented step against Poland in December 2017, giving it three months to address concerns that its judicial reforms threatened the rule of law.

However, there is still very little sign that a conclusion is coming, BBC Brussels reporter Adam Fleming says.



Hungary’s Orban Tests EU’s Ability to Enforce Rule of Law

September 11, 2018

Prime minister pillories bloc’s lawmakers as elites, but he has cultivated ties with traditional parties that may shield him from censure motion

Viktor Orban has been dubbed the “Trump before Trump” by former White House adviser Steve Bannon.
Viktor Orban has been dubbed the “Trump before Trump” by former White House adviser Steve Bannon. PHOTO: MARCO BERTORELLO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has built almost unchecked power at home by attacking the European Union as a club of liberal, internationalist elites. Now he is counting on some of them to protect him from censure by the bloc.

A majority of lawmakers in the European Parliament, the EU’s legislative arm, wants member countries to admonish Hungary, as they did last year with Poland, for failing to uphold European legal standards. But for the vote to pass on Wednesday, a two-third majority of the 751-strong parliament is needed.

Whatever the outcome, Mr. Orban is likely to emerge unscathed thanks to his skills in testing the limits of what is acceptable in a Western democracy.

Dubbed the “Trump before Trump” by former White House adviser Steve Bannon, Mr. Orban rose to power by pillorying the EU. But unlike President Trump, who has lambasted political establishments on both sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Orban over the past decade cultivated links with Europe’s traditional parties. Their support could be pivotal in a vote that will test the EU’s authority to check the powers of nationalists.

Mr. Orban will have the chance to defend his government in a speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday, in which he is expected to appeal to some of those supporters, who span members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, British conservatives and Italian lawmakers in the far-right League party.

His government has attacked the vote as a “witch hunt,” with government spokesman Laszlo Kovacs on Monday accusing lawmakers of perpetrating lies to punish Hungary for its opposition to liberal migration policies.

The lead drafter of the censure, Judith Sargentini, a Dutch lawmaker from the leftist Greens party, last week said her motion was based on the findings of many international bodies critical of Mr. Orban. “There is no turning back to a normal functioning democracy in Hungary,” she said.

To mollify his critics, Mr. Orban is expected to promise he will roll back some measures that sparked ire, such as his government’s targeting of universities and NGOs critical of his regime, an EU parliamentary official said.

But even if the vote passes and the sanctions procedure is triggered, the conflict with Brussels could help Mr. Orban, who has for years reveled in several disputes with the EU. The sanctions procedure carries little more than political stigma and the bloc would struggle to impose sanctions, such as a suspension of its voting rights. Mr. Orban has promised to veto any sanctions against Poland, which is fighting an EU case against it, so that he can count on Warsaw doing the same for him.

Since returning to power in 2010, Mr. Orban has given his party authority over Hungary’s courts, media, the central bank and tax inspectors to build what he has called an “illiberal state” modeled on Russia, China, and Turkey. He won a resounding two-thirds majority in parliament in April, in a vote that election observers called free, but not fair.

Viktor Orban with Matteo Salvini, the interior minister of Italy’s coalition government and the leader of the League, which has taken inspiration from the Hungarian leader’s stance on immigration.
Viktor Orban with Matteo Salvini, the interior minister of Italy’s coalition government and the leader of the League, which has taken inspiration from the Hungarian leader’s stance on immigration. PHOTO: MARCO BERTORELLO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Mr. Orban blames the EU’s political elite, and Ms. Merkel in particular, for allowing a “Muslim invasion” of Europe during the 2015 migration crisis that brought more than one million people fleeing war or seeking a better life into the bloc.

Yet some of those elites still defend Mr. Orban. His Fidesz party belongs to the powerful European People’s Party in the European Parliament. The EPP includes Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. One EPP official described Mr. Orban as “our most loyal” member, and favorably compared his party with the ruling party in Poland, which isn’t affiliated with the EPP and has long shunned answering any questions from Brussels.

“Mr. Orban always knew when to back down and avoid sanctions,” the EPP official said.

Tensions within the German government also help Mr. Orban. Ms. Merkel may want to punish him, but the Bavarian CSU—which has pressed the chancellor to take a tougher line on migration—has not only backed Mr. Orban, but has also invited him to speak to their party gatherings.

The party and Ms. Merkel in July barely papered over their differences on immigration to avert the government’s collapse. With Bavarian elections set for October, Ms. Merkel and EU lawmakers from the CSU are unlikely to test their fragile alliance so soon, according to two EU officials.

Still, pressure is mounting on the EPP to take a stand against its Hungarian member: French President Emmanuel Macron, who isn’t affiliated with any pan-EU party, said last week that the EPP couldn’t support both Ms. Merkel and Mr. Orban and should “clarify its position.”

Yet other parties in the European Parliament support Mr. Orban. The Hungarian president has bolstered his position by supporting nationalist parties in Austria, Poland, and Slovenia that see Hungary as a model. Italy’s League, a member of the country’s ruling coalition, is taking inspiration from him on migration.

The ruling party in the U.K. is also voting against punishing Hungary. British Conservative EU lawmaker Daniel Dalton said, “We don’t think the EU should meddle in the internal situation, where member states are sovereign.”

Write to Valentina Pop at and Drew Hinshaw at

Germany: Fears of ‘second Chemnitz’ as Afghans held over German man’s death

September 10, 2018

2,500 march in far-right demonstration Sunday after a local man dies after fight with two Afghans; doctors say death ‘not directly’ related to brawl

People with lighters are pictured after a mourning march in Koethen, eastern Germany, on September 9, 2018.
German officials pleaded for calm on September 9, 2018, after two Afghans were detained on suspicion of killing a German man in a fight, fuelling fears of fresh anti-foreigner unrest after racist violence shook the city of Chemnitz.
The two suspects were taken into custody after a 22-year-old man died in a dispute on a playground on September 8, 2018 in Koethen, like Chemnitz located in the former communist east.
Local police and prosecutors stressed that "the concrete circumstances of the event are not yet known" and that all lines of inquiry remained open.

People with lighters are pictured after a mourning march in Koethen, eastern Germany, on September 9, 2018. German officials pleaded for calm on September 9, 2018, after two Afghans were detained on suspicion of killing a German man in a fight, fuelling fears of fresh anti-foreigner unrest after racist violence shook the city of Chemnitz. The two suspects were taken into custody after a 22-year-old man died in a dispute on a playground on September 8, 2018 in Koethen, like Chemnitz located in the former communist east. Local police and prosecutors stressed that “the concrete circumstances of the event are not yet known” and that all lines of inquiry remained open. / AFP PHOTO / Odd ANDERSEN

KOETHENGermany (AFP) — Around 2,500 people marched in a far-right demonstration in eastern Germany Sunday after a man died following a fight with two Afghans, as officials pleaded for calm to avoid the anti-foreigner unrest that has shaken Chemnitz.

Local police and prosecutors said the 22-year-old victim had suffered acute heart failure after coming to blows with the Afghan suspects during a dispute on a playground in the town of Koethen late Saturday.

The German man’s death was “not directly” linked to the injuries suffered in the brawl, they said in a statement, and media reports said he died in hospital and that he had a pre-existing heart condition.

Prosecutors said one of the Afghan suspects, aged 18, stands accused of causing grievous bodily harm. The other, aged 20, faces charges of causing bodily harm with fatal consequences.

The incident was expected to inflame anti-migrant tensions, coming just two weeks after the fatal stabbing of a 35-year-old German man in the city of Chemnitz, allegedly by two asylum seekers.

“With emotions running high, we have to resist any attempt to turn Koethen into a second Chemnitz,” the state premier of Saxony-Anhalt, Reiner Haseloff, told DPA news agency.

Chemnitz, also located in Germany’s former Communist east, has been rocked by a series of far-right demonstrations that saw participants assault foreign-looking people and shout anti-immigration slurs while some flashed the illegal Nazi salute.

Immediately after news of the latest incident broke, right-wing groups called on social media for a “mourning march” in Koethen from 7:00 pm.

Police estimated the turnout at some 2,500 people, and reported no major disturbances. Many of the demonstrators waved the German flag and shouted “Resistance! Resistance!”

A counter-demo by far-left protesters at Koethen’s rail station drew 200 people, according to police.

‘Keep calm’

Mayor Bernd Hauschild, in a Facebook message, urged locals to shun the right-wing demo because he had “information that people prepared to use violence were planning to travel to Koethen in large numbers.”

Bild newspaper said around 100 federal police officers had been sent to Koethen to help keep the peace, after police were criticised for underestimating the scale of the Chemnitz demostrations.

According to local media the latest incident started when three Afghan men were arguing with a pregnant woman over who was the father of her unborn child.

Two German men then approached the group and the row escalated into a brawl.

The third Afghan was not arrested as he was not believed to have been involved in the fighting.

Local residents and politicians on Sunday placed flowers and candles at the scene.

State interior minister Holger Stahlknecht said on Twitter that he deeply regretted “the tragic death” and understood citizens’ concerns.

But he urged residents to “keep calm” and let justice run its course.


The recent unrest in Chemnitz in neighboring Saxony has reignited debate in Germany about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to open the country’s borders at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis.

More than a million asylum seekers have arrived since then, deeply dividing Germans and fuelling the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Merkel has strongly condemned the angry mobs in Chemnitz, saying there was no place for “hate in the streets.”

But interior minister Horst Seehofer of her CSU sister party, and one of Merkel’s fiercest critics, responded by blasting immigration as “the mother of all political problems.”

It also emerged at the weekend that a Jewish restaurant was attacked on the sidelines of the Chemnitz protests on August 27.

Uwe Dziuballa, owner of the ‘Schalom’ restaurant in Chemnitz, eastern Germany, describes to a journalist on September 8, 2018, how his restaurant was attacked by a group of masked men on August 27, 2018 in an apparent anti-Semitic attack. (AFP/John MacDougall)

The owner told AFP that around a dozen masked neo-Nazis shouted: “Jewish pig, get out of Germany!” and hurled rocks, bottles and a metal pipe at the Schalom restaurant.

The head of the New York-based World Jewish Congress slammed the “reprehensible” attack.

“It is inconceivable and outrageous that neo-Nazi elements or Nazi-inspired individuals in Germany continue to feel empowered to engage in violent acts against Jews and other minorities,” Ronald Lauder said.

Seehofer told public broadcaster ARD on Sunday that Germany faced three big challenges: growing right-wing radicalism, “worrying” anti-Semitism and violent crimes committed by foreigners.

“We aren’t blind to any of this,” Seehofer said.


Support for Merkel’s coalition parties hits record low: poll

September 9, 2018

Combined support for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative alliance and their partners, the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD), has hit a record low for any such ‘grand coalition’ government, according to a survey published on Sunday.

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German chancellor Angela Merkel

Germany’s two biggest and most established parties have had a torrid summer, blighted by infighting over immigration that is flaring up again after violent right-wing protests in the eastern city of Chemnitz followed the fatal stabbing of a German man, for which two migrants were arrested.

The survey by pollster Emnid for the weekly newspaper Bild am Sonntag had support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), down by one percentage point on the week to 29 percent.

In last September’s federal election, the CDU/CSU bloc won 32.9 percent of the vote.

The poll put support for the SPD down two points to 17 percent. In the last election, the SPD won 20.5 percent of the vote.

Their combined score of 46 percent was the lowest for any CDU/CSU/SPD coalition – a combination that also held power in 2005-09 and 2013-17 – in Emnid’s poll for the Bild am Sonntag. The pollster surveyed 2,472 voters between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5.

Support for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) was unchanged from the previous week at 15 percent, the poll showed. The far-left Linke gained one point to 10 percent. The ecologist Greens were unchanged at 14 percent and the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) remained at 9 percent.

Support for other parties rose two points to 6 percent.


Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Kevin Liffey

German far-right wants to ‘reclaim’ Chemnitz after fatal stabbing — “East Germany has remained more German than the West.”

September 8, 2018


“I don’t care if they call us racist but things simply cannot carry on this way,” said Paula Neubach at a far-right rally in the flashpoint German city of Chemnitz, rocked by anti-foreigner violence since late August.

Extremist groups and thousands of locals have taken to the streets since a fatal knife attack on a German man allegedly by asylum seekers, with many participants shouting anti-foreigner slurs and flashing the illegal Nazi salute.

Mobs have also assaulted reporters and police, sparking counter-racism demonstrations and prompting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to declare that “hate in the streets” had no place in Germany and that vigilante justice would not be tolerated.

© AFP/File | People hold national flags during a march organised by the right-wing populist ‘Pro Chemnitz’ movement

“It’s normal to help people who have fled war in their country,” said 55-year-old Sabine Sterben, standing near the rally late on Friday.

The city in the former East Germany has been polarised over the question of migrants since Daniel Hille was stabbed to death on August 26.

The 35-year-old carpenter was repeatedly knifed and his suspected attackers, according to police, are three Iraqi and Syrian asylum seekers.

The far-right has seized on the attack as further proof that crime and insecurity have soared since Merkel opened the borders to millions of asylum seekers three years ago after Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II.

They are also calling for a “peaceful revolution” to change what they call the “Merkel system” and held a rally in Chemnitz late Friday like in the past week.

– ‘We are not Nazis! –

“We are not Nazis!”, said Daniel Reichelt, 55, who was one of the 2,000-odd people who turned up at Friday’s demo.

He brushed off the Nazi salutes in earlier rallies as a “mistake”, adding: “There are bad people everywhere.

“I’ve had enough of the social and economic inequalities” in the former Communist east, he said.

“Salaries and pensions are still lower than the West and we don’t have work,” he said.

Neubach came specially from Berlin to attend Friday’s rally and laid flowers at a makeshift memorial where Hille was killed.

“One cannot enter another country and kill people,” she said.

A few metres away stood an imposing statue of Karl Marx with his famous slogan “Workers of the world unite” written in four languages.

Meanwhile, a counter-demonstration by the far-left took place nearby with police and barriers separating the two sides to pre-empt clashes that have broken out in the past.

– East-West divide –

Sabine Sterben said she could not understand how the city, formerly named Karl-Marx-Stadt, had changed so radically.

“I never thought there would be so many extremists in my city,” she said, adding: “It’s really important to take a humanitarian position.”

The divide in Chemnitz is also playing out across the country and has even rocked Merkel’s government with the conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer backing the right-wing rallies.

“We are not racist. I myself have Arab friends but crime has exploded since the migrants arrived,” said Uchi Tuhlman, 43.

Official figures however show that crime has actually declined during this period.

“We just want to reclaim our city,” said Tommy Scholz, 31. “We are just patriots, we don’t want violence and we are fed up of keeping quiet.”

This tide of xenophobia does not surprise historian Klaus-Peter Sick, who specialises in the far-right.

The former East Germany “was less open to the rest of the world and people encountered foreigners less,” he said.

“East Germany has remained more German than the West,” he said.


Alternative for Germany (AfD) Gains In Polls, Overtakes Social Democrats (SPD), After Anti-Merkel, Anti-Immigrant Protests

September 4, 2018

Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has overtaken the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), a poll showed on Tuesday, days after some of the most violent protests by radical right-wingers the country has seen in decades.

A protest organized by the AfD, and the Pegida and “Pro Chemnitz” movements | John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images


Some 6,000 supporters of the AfD and anti-Islam PEGIDA joined protests in the eastern city of Chemnitz on Saturday following other demonstrations last week after a man was stabbed to death there on Aug. 26. Two immigrants were arrested for the killing.

An INSA poll on Tuesday put the AfD up half a percentage point at 17 percent, with the SPD, who share power with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, slipping by the same amount to 16 percent. Merkel’s conservative bloc was on 28.5 percent.

Germany’s next electoral test comes on Oct. 14 when Merkel’s Bavarian allies face a major challenge from the AfD for state government.

The AfD, the third-biggest party in last year’s election and main opposition, seized on the killing of a 35-year old German in Chemnitz and the subsequent arrests of a Syrian and Iraqi to ramp up criticism of Merkel’s open-door asylum policy.

Prosecutors said on Tuesday they are looking for a third suspect and Der Spiegel reported there was some doubt about the identity of two already under arrest.

Pictures showed skinheads at last week’s protests chasing migrants through the streets, hurling bottles and fireworks and some even making the Hitler salute, illegal in Germany.

Calls have mounted for the domestic intelligence agency to place the AfD under surveillance.

Bjoern Hoecke, an AfD leader from the state of Thuringia who has criticized Germany’s main memorial to the victims of the Holocaust as a “monument of shame” and wants Germany to re-write its history books, took part in Saturday’s march in Chemnitz.

In a show of resistance against the right-wing “mob”, some 65,000 people attended a rock concert “against xenophobia” on Monday night in Chemnitz given by mostly left-leaning groups.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Peter Graff



Merkel condemns Chemnitz stabbing and violent protests afterwards

August 28, 2018

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described as a “horrible incident” a deadly stabbing in the eastern city of Chemnitz but said violent protests that followed on Monday were unacceptable.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a joint news conference with Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze in Tbilisi, Georgia August 23, 2018. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

“That was a horrible incident,” she told a news conference in Berlin, adding: “What we saw afterwards is something that has no place in a state under the rule of law.”