Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
After his Social Democrats scored their worst-ever result in European elections on Sunday, Frank-Walter Steinmeier might have thought things couldn’t get much worse. But then the man who hopes to beat German Chancellor Angela Merkel in September’s federal election sat down for a late night television talk show. During the one-hour broadcast, a tense-looking Steinmeier tried to answer the growing number of critics who say he lacks the charisma for the top job — but to many, he only ended up confirming that view.
Breaking from his normally polite, soft-spoken manner, Steinmeier frequently interrupted presenter Anne Will. When Will presented him with a video clip of SPD activists questioning his ability to energise the party, Steinmeier tried to sell his ”seriousness” as a vote-winning virtue. Perhaps the oddest moment came at the very end, when an unemployed man from eastern Germany complained about his struggles to find work. After quizzing the gas fitter about his search, Steinmeier announced that he had “two or three ideas” about jobs in the man’s region and promised to personally take charge of finding him a job. To derisive chuckles, his spokesman was asked at a regular government news conference on Monday whether Germany’s other 3.5 million jobless could count on the SPD candidate to personally sort out their work woes. No, the spokesman said, shifting uneasily in his chair: “The situation yesterday was very special.”
German media were ruthless in their verdict on the man one newspaper called “Mr Colourless”. ”The SPD candidate has rarely looked less confident,” Spiegel magazine said in its online version. Berlin daily Tagesspiegel said: “Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s suffering continues and we suffer with him.” Vice Chancellor in Merkel’s uneasy grand coalition government, Steinmeier has tried over the last few weeks to carve out a new image for himself as a staunch defender of German workers. He pushed aggressively for the government to rescue carmaker Opel, which it did, and backed similar treatment for retail group Arcandor until it became clear that wouldn’t fly. The European vote made clear his party is not winning points on the issue. The SPD scored a record-low 20.8 percent on Sunday, compared to 37.9 percent for Merkel’s conservative bloc.
Germany’s 37-year-old economy minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, could become a liability for Chancellor Angela Merkel in September’s election thanks to his open criticism of the government’s 11th-hour rescue of carmaker Opel.
Guttenberg, a rising star in Merkel’s conservative camp, had argued for an Opel insolvency in the days preceding the deal.
It’s not quite as bad as it was back in 2003 when Gerhard Schroeder publicly chastised George W. Bush for invading Iraq and Condi Rice introduced a new policy in the White House called ”ignore Germany” (France was to be punished and Russia forgiven for their opposition to the war).
But relations between Berlin and Washington are probably as poor as they’ve been since Angela Merkel replaced Schroeder in 2005 and set Germany on a course of reconciliation with the United States.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her would-be allies, the opposition Free Democrats, did not waste any time putting their spin on the re-election of President Horst Koehler on Saturday – a razor-thin victory for the conservatives over the rival candidate put up by their coalition partners, the Social Democrats, in a vote four months before the parliamentary election.
Mere minutes after Koehler squeaked out a one-vote victory in the 1,224-seat Federal Assembly to win a second term as Germany’s ceremonial head of state, a beaming Merkel popped up on national television alongside FDP chairman Guido Westerwelle for a joint impromptu news conference rich with symbolism; it was the first time they appeared together in such a formal setting since the 2005 campaign.
A debate about whether Communist East Germany was an “Unrechtsstaat” (“unjust state”) or merely not a “Rechtsstaat” (“state based on the rule of law”) has been dividing the German political class for months — and it now has spilled onto the front pages this week as the reunited country celebrates its 60th anniversary.
What might seem like a nuance of history has turned into a full-fledged battle that is splitting many eastern and western Germans once again along the fault lines of the long since dismantled Wall that separated them during the Cold War.
“The accomplices. Hitler’s European helpers in the Holocaust” is the cover story on this week’s Der Spiegel magazine, Germany’s most authoritative weekly.
Complete with a big picture of Hitler, the headline is deliberately provocative and could even hurt relations with Germany’s neighbours.
Retired U.S. auto worker John Demjanjuk, 89, has been deported to Germany and prosecutors in Munich want to put him on trial for assisting to murder at least 29,000 Jews at the Sobibor extermination camp in 1943. With most Nazi criminals dead, it is likely to be the last big Nazi war crime trial in Germany.
Barely noticed, the United States sent a top diplomat to Europe this week to seek help on an important commitment by President Barack Obama — to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
The trip by veteran envoy Dan Fried to Brussels and Prague is part of efforts to persuade European states to take in some of the 241 remaining detainees at the prison, synonomous for many with rights abuses in the “war on terror” under U.S. President George W. Bush.
Europe has long called for the jail to be shut down, but only a few countries — such as France, Portugal and Albania — have volunteered to resettle any inmates from third countries such as Afghanistan or China.
Time is steadily running out if Obama is to achieve his goal of clearing and closing the prison by next January. A perceived lack of European help could sour the much-vaunted new start in transatlantic ties which both sides say they want.
But many European officials are asking why they should help the United States out of a hole it dug itself into.
The main problem does not involve the small number of so-called high-value terror suspects in the camp — they will remain in detention and Washington does not seriously expect anyone to come forward and take them off its hands.
Nor does it involve the 17 detainees who have already been cleared for release. The really hot issue is the fate of the remaining detainees who are not high risk but have not been given the full all-clear.
European officials fear the affair could turn into a legal and political nightmare. Who will take which detainees? Given that much of Europe is now border-free, how will one country reassure its neighbours if it agrees to resettle inmates? And doesn’t the fact that European states have different national policies on surveillance and detention pose extra problems?
Worse still, the political fall-out could be devastating. If , for example, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner carried out an attack in Germany just before an election this year, how would Chancellor Angela Merkel explain it to voters?
Washington knows it won’t be easy to get the Europeans on board. But it says it would be hypocritical for Europe now not to help after all its criticism of Guantanamo.
It took only a few disarmingly pointed questions from four 7th grade Berlin students to get German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck to loosen up and deviate from the usual stock answers he – and fellow political leaders – serve up.
In perhaps his most candid public comments since taking office three years ago, Steinbrueck admitted long meetings cause his rear end to get sore and also compared deficit-spending just for consumption purposes to spending money on chocolate bars. He also said he doesn’t forget the names of journalists who write nasty comments about him. Here are a few of the more choice morsels from Steinbrueck’s interview in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper published on Sunday:
Unveiling the SPD’s election campaign programme at a party conference on Sunday, Steinmeier (who is also Germany’s foreign minister) tried hard to satisfy everyone gathered at the Berlin Tempodrom – and by and large succeeded.