Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
A German central banker, Thilo Sarrazin, whose outspoken comments on race and religion sparked a fierce national debate unexpectedly quit the Bundesbank board on Thursday evening, sparing Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Christian Wulff and Bundesbank President Axel Weber a messy legal and political battle.
But Sarrazin, 65, made it clear that he will not go away and plans to use his new-found fame to press forward with the issues tackled in his best-selling book: that Muslims are undermining German society and threatening to change its character and culture with their higher birth rate. Whether Germans like his views or not, there is no denying that Sarrazin has struck a chord.
“It seemed to me to be too risky…to try to push forward against the entire political establishment and 70 percent of the media,” Sarrazin told hundreds of people at a book reading in Potsdam near Berlin. “That would have been arrogant and wouldn’t have worked. That’s why I’m making this strategic retreat now and will tackle the issues that are important to me.”
Despite widespread condemnation from political leaders, opinion polls showed there is widespread public support for at least some of Sarrazin’s observations in his bestselling book “Deutschland schafft sich ab” (“Germany does away with itself”).
Rainer Bruederle is not normally someone many Germans pay a lot of attention to. The Economy Minister from the pro-business Free Democrats party, junior coalition partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right government, does not have a lot of clout and few of his ideas have ever gone beyond the proposal stage. Bruederle, 65, has been called one of the most ineffective ministers since Merkel’s centre-right government took power nine months ago.
But now — with the big cats out of town — Bruederele has turned into mighty mouse. He has played the German media like a fiddle, floating one trial balloon after another with a near daily deluge of newspaper interviews. With little else to write about, German correspondents are filling their columns with Bruederle.
“Koenig des Sommerlochs” (King of the summer hole) was the headline in Stern magzine’s website on Monday after a fresh batch of Bruederle proposals over the weekend. “No one has jumped into the Sommerloch with as much vigour as Bruederle,” wrote Hans Peter Schuetz of Stern magazine. “But, let’s be honest about this, Bruederle is helping journalists like me get through the Sommerloch.”
Like with most Sommerloch proposals, Bruederle’s will likely not get anywhere close to becoming law. And Bruederle knows that. He also knows his ideas will only cause tensions in the ruling coalition anger Merkel and almost everyone else in her Christian Democrats — and many of her deputies have already rejected his suggestions. But he also knows the publicity could help him raise his profile a bit.
Bruederle first said the government should scrap its 2009 promise for a guaranteed minimum pension level, an idea widely picked up in the German media for a few hours one day last week. It was summarily rejected by Merkel’s party. Yet that didn’t stop Bruederle. A few days later, in another newspaper interview, he suggested relaxing rules to allow more foreigners into Germany to counter a looming labour shortage of skilled labour, comments that filled airwaves for a few more glorious hours.
And then Bruederle criticised Merkel’s party, the coalition partners, for not having enough enthusiasm about reforms — just a few weeks after party leaders had promised to stop that very same sort of sniping that had sent the government plunging to record low levels in opinion polls. On Monday, Bruederle was at it again with a new banking proposal.
“Bruederle is doing his best to fill the Sommerloch,” wrote Sascha Raabe in the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper. But he attacked Bruederle as a “colourless minister with an addiction to headlines”. He pointed out, for instance, that Bruederle’s ideas on cutting pensions actually contradicted the position of his own ministry, which views the steady pension levels as an important pillar of economic growth. “If Bruederle had only read the position of his own ministry instead of frightening millions of pensioners,” Raabe wrote. “Maybe it’s time for Bruederle to retire himself.”
Angela Merkel has come up with a risky – but intriguing – choice for one of the most-talked-about and closely scrutinised jobs in Germany: her spokesman.
The German chancellor is not normally known for rolling the dice with her decisions. Cautious to a fault, Merkel tends to seek consensus and the “safe road” with just about every decision she makes – whether that angers France when she first drags her feet on whether to push ahead aggressively with economic stimulus measures during the 2008 crisis or annoys Greece in early 2010 when it badly needed cash or at least strong words of support.
But Merkel has suddenly picked a complete outsider to try explain her government’s policies, an eye-raising choice of that may come back to haunt her. German government spokesmen have an incredibly high public profile and appear in public almost daily explaining what Merkel and her ministers are trying to do. She will surely be hoping “Seibert’s smile will help get rid of Merkel’s woes” as Bild newspaper wrote
As the sun started to set on the west side of the Reichstag on Wednesday evening — and perhaps on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right government as well — delegates to the Bundesversammlung (Federal Assembly) began switching to beer from the preferred beverage earlier in the day — coffee, water and apple juice.
There was an unmistakeable air of “Endzeitstimmung” (doomsday atmosphere) on the comfortable rooftop terrace of the historic German parliament building, where the catering is superb and the view of Berlin breathtaking.
The conservative delegates on the Reichstag roof were easy to spot — they were the ones with worried looks on their faces after a couple dozen unidentified “rats” from within their ranks twice failed in votes during the afternoon to give Merkel the votes she needed to get her candidate elected.
The conservatives were drinking their beer and trying to forget the day’s humiliation before going into battle for a third and final round later in the evening.
Angela Merkel has already abandoned plans to pursue billions of euros in tax cuts next year — the central policy pledge of her 2009 election campaign and main plank of her 7-month-old coalition agreement with the Free Democrats.
But now her uneasy government looks ready to go one step further and raise value-added tax on certain products which benefit from a reduced rate to help it consolidate the budget.
Whichever way you look at it, Germany is in a bit of a quandry.
For the past 11 years, since the launch of the euro single currency, Europe’s biggest economy has enjoyed steady current account surpluses as it has exported its manufactured goods around the world, while keeping labour costs down and productivity steady at home.
Its economic growth may not have been stunning in recent years, but it has experienced none of the huge budget-deficit and debt problems of its euro zone partners, particularly those in southern Europe such as Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy. And it has none of the nagging competitiveness issues that all those countries also face.
Today marks the 65th anniversary of the end of World War Two. No big deal, you might say. And on the surface there is certainly nothing all that extraordinary about May 7, 2010. There has been none of the celebrating that marked the 40th or 50th or even 60th anniversaries.
But what is interesting about this 65th anniversary of the end of the fighting in Europe is that it means every German (and Austrian) born before the war’s end has now reached retirement age. In other words, the entire war-era generation – even those who were infants on V-E Day – is now in retirement. It means all those running Germany now – in government or management, or running factories or driving busses – had, as documented by their birth certificates, nothing whatsoever to do with World War Two.
Greece and the euro zone are still very much in the midst of a debt and deficit storm, with not just Athens but possibly Portugal and Spain at risk of being swept up in the maelstrom.
But that hasn’t stopped economists and political analysts looking for a silver lining in this unprecedented meltdown.
Germans have spent the last six decades trying to be as un-militaristic as possible.
Their struggle to make a complete U-turn from their belligerent past has caused many an awkward moment for the country and its NATO allies. In avoiding the mere mention of the word “war” that seemed to be all but banished from their vocabulary, German leaders raised in a post-war era and the motto “Nie Wieder Krieg!” (No more war ever) have gone through tortuous tongue-twisting excursions about what the increasingly deadly mission in Afghanistan isn’t – a war.
The surge in the spread of Greek bond yields over German ones since European leaders issued a promise of emergency loans to Greece last month indicates financial markets do not believe the pledge of euro zone support is anything more than a bluff.
And they are itching to call it.
Euro zone leaders have been betting that a promise of loans to Greece and strong words of political support will be enough to calm markets and allow Athens to borrow at more reasonable rates, therefore rendering any real aid — the dreaded bailout — unnecessary.