“A majority of French and Germans now trust Russia and China more than the United States”

Donald Trump is shaking up international relations. Some of this may eventually be for the better. He things he deserves a Nobel Peace prize – see Trump boasted at a news conference on Friday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had given him a copy of a five-page letter he’d sent to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which selects the annual Peace Prize laureates – but that is debatable.

But the Trump doctrine (chaos and shoot from the tweet) is also very risky and threatens the established super power balances.

And at increasing risk is relationships between the US and Europe.

Longtime analyst of German-American relations Karl Kaiser: “Two years of Mr. Trump, and a majority of French and Germans now trust Russia and China more than the United States.”

NY Times:  Rift Between Trump and Europe Is Now Open and Angry

European leaders have long been alarmed that President Trump’s words and Twitter messages could undo a trans-Atlantic alliance that had grown stronger over seven decades. They had clung to the hope that those ties would bear up under the strain.

But in the last few days of a prestigious annual security conference in Munich, the rift between Europe and the Trump administration became open, angry and concrete, diplomats and analysts say.

A senior German official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on such matters, shrugged his shoulders and said: “No one any longer believes that Trump cares about the views or interests of the allies. It’s broken.”

The most immediate danger, diplomats and intelligence officials warned, is that the trans-Atlantic fissures now risk being exploited by Russia and China.

The Europeans no longer believe that Washington will change, not when Mr. Trump sees traditional allies as economic rivals and leadership as diktat. His distaste for multilateralism and international cooperation is a challenge to the very heart of what Europe is and needs to be in order to have an impact in the world.

But beyond the Trump administration, an increasing number of Europeans say they believe that relations with the United States will never be the same again.

International relations never remain the same, they keep evolving, but the Trump thump could end up being a seismic shift in power balances.

If Europe moves closer to Russia and China this will further isolate the US. To an extent this is what Trump wants, he puts nationalism well ahead of international interests, but he may not understand the potential repercussions and unintended consequences.

The most visible pushback against Washington came from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany — who delivered an unusually passionate speech — and from her defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen. They spoke about the dangers of unilateral actions by major partners without discussing the consequences with allies.

They cited Mr. Trump’s recent announcements that American troops would leave northern Syria and Afghanistan, as well as the administration’s decision to suspend one of the last remaining arms-control agreements: the ban on land-based intermediate range missiles.

That decision affects European security, and there has been no alternative strategy, Ms. Merkel said. Abandoning the treaty, despite Russia’s violations, helps decouple Germany from the American nuclear umbrella.

“We sit there in the middle with the result,” Ms. Merkel said.

The Syria pullout, she continued, could only help Russia and Iran. That view was echoed by the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who called American policy in Syria “a mystery to me.”

Trump’s Syrian policy is contentious within the US. Immediately following his announcement of the US pulling out of Syria, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis resigned.

Last week: Russia, Iran, Turkey to hold fourth round of Syria talks in Sochi

Thursday’s meeting between Putin, Iran’s Hassan Rouhani and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan will focus on the long-term settlement of the Syrian crisis, the Kremlin said in a statement on Monday.

But the three leaders will also discuss projects and coordination on the international arena.

The Syria talks run in parallel to the Geneva talks organised by the United Nations.

But Russia distrusts the negotiations organised by the West. On Wednesday, Russia stayed away from a Middle East conference organised by the United States in Poland, a NATO member.

Last month (Fox News):  Trump administration riles European Union with diplomatic snub

President Trump has angered European Union officials by downgrading the E.U. delegation to Washington’s diplomatic status — and not telling them.

The move by the State Department, reported by Germany’s Deutsche Welle, downgraded the E.U.’s Washington delegation from member state to international organization.

“We don’t exactly know when they did it, because they conveniently forgot to notify us,” an E.U. official told the outlet, which reported that the move initially happened in October or November.

Two days ago (Fox News): In Munich, Pence doubles down on criticism of Europe over Iran nuclear deal, urges removal of Maduro

Vice President Mike Pence asked European allies to follow Washington’s lead and withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and urged the European Union to recognize Venezuelan politician Juan Guaido as the country’s president during a speech to world leaders at the Munich Security Conference.

“The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining sanctions” against Iran by offering economic incentives in exchange for limiting its nuclear program, Pence said Saturday, speaking after German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

MSNBC: Pence met with silence; Merkel hammers Trump

While speaking at the 55th Munich Security Conference, VP Mike Pence was met with silence after mentioning President Trump. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the Trump administration’s foreign policies.

Wall Street Journal:  Munich Conference Highlights a Divided U.S.

A divided America was on display this weekend in Munich where Vice President Mike Pence and Democrats including his predecessor Joe Biden offered competing visions of the trans-Atlantic relationship that could shape the world for years to come.

Both Mr. Pence and the Democrats claimed to stand for U.S. leadership on the world stage and accused each other of wrecking a world order that is under threat by rival powers, namely China and Russia.

Mr. Pence presented a strong defense of the Trump administration’s “America First” policy to world leaders gathered for the annual Munich Security Conference. The theme this year, “Picking Up the Pieces,” reflected a view widely shared among European nations: that the world order is in danger because of a breakdown in the relationship between the U.S. and its European allies.

Politico.eu: Munich Insecurity Conference

The Munich Security Conference — a forum conceived during the Cold War to discuss security threats and challenges — has never been an event for the faint of heart. Even so, the mood at this year’s gathering, the 55th, would best be described as funereal.

It’s no secret Europeans and Americans (i.e. the Trump administration) have been at odds over a laundry list of issues including the Iranian nuclear deal, climate policy, trade and commitment to NATO. Yet the interaction between the two sides in Munich — which bordered on the caustic, both in public and behind the scenes — left some participants warning that the estrangement threatens to hobble the transatlantic security alliance at a time of growing instability.

Instability heightens risks.

James Stavridis, a retired American admiral who served as NATO’s supreme allied commander until 2013, said the alliance’s paralysis was most apparent where it can least afford it: hybrid warfare, an area that all sides agree poses a severe threat to the stability of democratic systems.

The threat to democratic systems is not just in the US and Europe.

ABC (Australia): Scott Morrison reveals foreign government hackers targeted Liberal, Labor and National parties in attack on Parliament’s servers

He confirmed earlier reports, revealed by the ABC, that the nation’s cyber security agencies believed a foreign government was behind the attacks.

“Our cyber experts believe that a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity,” Mr Morrison told Parliament.

Investigations into hacking and foreign interference in elections in the US are controversial, but connstitutes a major threat to democratic systems.

Back to Europe: Angela Merkel Ruffled at Prospect of More Trump Hardball Tactics, Sources Say

Merkel’s chancellery team is concerned at the prospect of further hardball tactics from the Trump administration after fending off U.S. efforts to turn her European Union partners against a new gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, the people said, asking not to be named discussing private conversations.

The U.S. effort to drive a wedge between Germany and its EU allies had helped spur Merkel to deliver one of her most impassioned speeches when she addressed the meeting earlier in the day. Her defense of the multilateral order challenged by Trump earned a standing ovation from the audience of presidents, prime ministers and senior defense officials.

She also added a geopolitical dimension to her argument, warning that isolating Russia at a moment of tectonic shifts in global relations was not in Europe’s interests.

“Consciously shutting Russia out politically, I think that’s also wrong,” Merkel said. “Europe can’t have a geopolitical interest in halting all relations to Russia.”

If Trump keeps pissing other countries off he will get what he wants to an extent, a more isolated US. What fills that power vacuum could constitute a major shift in international power balances.

Ardern ranked 29th ‘most powerful woman’ in 2018

Forbes have ranked New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as the 29th most powerful woman in the world for 2018. While Ardern obviously has significant power in New Zealand her world-wide power is not obvious to me.

And ‘power’ is not necessarily a positive – Theresa May is ranked second. She seems to have the power to make a mess of things in the UK, and this has major implications for Europe in particular.

Forbes: Power Women 2018

Change is rippling through the business, tech, entertainment, philanthropical and political spheres alike. The 2018 World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list celebrates the icons, innovators and instigators who are using their voice to change power structures and create a lasting impact.

This year, the 15th annual list welcomes 20 newcomers, but what’s notable is who’s moved out, up and down, making way for emerging leaders who are redefining the chief seat and bringing others along with them. We see more change ahead.

It isn’t surprising to see Angela Merkel ranked number 1 – but she recently indicated she won’t stand again for leadership in Germany.

I haven’t heard of most women on the list. Here are some:

  1. Angela Merkel (Germany)
  2. Theresa May (UK)
  3. Christine Lagarde (France)
  4. Mary Barra (USA)
  5. Abigail Johnson (USA)
  6. Melinda Gates (USA)
  7. Susan Wojcicki (USA)
  8. Ana Patricia Botín (Spain)
  9. Marillyn Hewson (USA)
  10. Ginni Rometty (USA)

A few further down:

2. Oprah Winfrey (USA)

23 Queen Elizabeth II (UK)

24. Ivanka Trump (USA)

29. Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand)

30. Gina Rinehart(Australia)

The blurb on Ardern:

“New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern continues to be a fresh voice, advocating for families and normalising working parenthood by bringing her daughter and stay-at-home partner to the UN General Assembly”

  • Ardern set new norms as a government leader when she gave birth, took six weeks maternity leave and shared that her partner will be a stay-at-home dad.
  • She said she is using her platform to “create a path for other women” to follow in her footsteps.
  • Rising to power on a tide of “Jacindamania,” at 38, she is the youngest female leader in the world and New Zealand’s youngest PM in 150 years.
  • As leader of the Labour Party, she promises an “empathetic” government, with ambitious plans to tackle climate change and child poverty.
  • In July she announced welfare reforms including a weekly stipend for new parents and an increase in paid parental leave from 18 to 22 weeks.

However Ardern is being criticised in New Zealand for her actions not coming close to living up to her rhetoric.

Helen Clark has been ranked on the list over the years…

  • 2004 – 43rd
  • 2016 – 22nd (most powerful woman in the United Nations)

…but dropped right off it in 2017.

NZ Herald: Jacinda Ardern named among world’s most powerful women

Ardern is one spot higher than Australia’s richest citizen Gina Rinehart, and above some big names such as Beyonce, at number 50, and Taylor Swift, at number 68. Queen Elizabeth is just spots above her at number 23.

Funny that NZH should compare Ardern to celebrities.

Also featured on the list at number 91 is Ana Brnabic, the first female and first openly gay Prime Minister of Serbia, and Zewde Sahle-Work at number 97, the first female president of Ethiopia.

But Serbia (population 7 million) and Ethiopia (population 105 million) are in parts of the world that aren’t so important to a US magazine.

 

Macron and Merkel – emotion and unity on Armistice Day centenary

Angela Merkel, the first German leader since World War 2 to visit the site where the World War 1 armistice site, has joined with French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron in an emotional show of unity in events marking the centenary of Armistice Day.

BBC: Macron and Merkel mark end of World War One

French President c and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have left their own mark of reconciliation at the start of events to mark the centenary of the end of World War One.

They signed a book of remembrance in a railway carriage identical to the one in which the 1918 Armistice was sealed.

Mrs Merkel became the first German leader since World War Two to visit the forest near the town of Compiègne in northern France where the Armistice was signed.

She and Mr Macron unveiled a plaque to Franco-German reconciliation, laid a wreath and signed a book of remembrance in a replica railway carriage.

The original wagon, on which it was modelled, was used by Adolf Hitler to accept France’s capitulation to Nazi Germany in June 1940.

Mr Macron will lead the main event of the centenary – a sombre commemoration on Sunday at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a memorial to France’s fallen under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Sunday afternoon will see Mr Macron and Mrs Merkel attend a peace conference – the Paris Peace Forum – with leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Macron initiated the peace conference. As here in New Zealand commemorations of World War 1 have highlighted the horrors of war and as well as remembrance of the huge number who died in the conflict have had significant promotions of alternatives to war – that is, peace.

But where Donald Trump goes, controversy is certain to follow. He did not take part in the peace conference.

And Trump was widely criticised for not attending a remembrance event at an American cemetery.

After an hour of talks with Mr Macron and lunch with their wives Melania and Brigitte, Mr Trump had been due to visit one of two American cemeteries on his schedule.

But he cancelled his trip to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial due to “scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather”.

White House officials later explained that low cloud would have prevented his helicopter from landing, and cited security concerns about arranging a motorcade to the site.

Gen. John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, attended on the president’s behalf.

Kelly managed to handle the “scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather”.

David Frum (President George W Bush’s speechwriter):

Nicholas Soames, UK Conservative MP and grandson of British wartime leader Winston Churchill:

Trump was grouchy before he got to France, taking a swipe at Macron via Twitter.

The row began when Mr Macron told French radio station Europe 1 radio on Tuesday “we must have a Europe that can defend itself on its own without relying only on the United States”.

Mr Macron went on to mention threats to Europe, including “re-emerging authoritarian powers” that were well-armed on Europe’s borders, and attempts to launch cyber-attacks, before concluding: “We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America.”

Mr Trump responded angrily in a Friday night tweet, writing: “President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the US, China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the US subsidizes greatly!”

Mr Macron has already raised spending considerably to meet a Nato target of 2% of the GDP going to defence.

He is also overseeing the formation of a European Intervention Initiative, a 10-nation endeavour backed by Germany and the UK.

(me controversy also from German far right Alternative for Germany AfD party co-leader Alexander Gauland – Germany has no place in WW1 ceremony for ‘winners’- far-right leader

German Chancellor Angela Merkel should not have taken part in a ceremony in France on Sunday marking the centenary of the Armistice as it is an event for the “winners” of World War One, said the leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Germany lost the war and Merkel’s participation in a ceremony for the former allies amounted to an attempt to rewrite history, AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland said.

“We can’t put ourselves in a historical situation that clearly favours the winner and walk alongside Mr. Macron through the Arc de Triomphe,” he said, referring to the famous Paris monument.

That totally misses the point of the Armistice Day commemoration. It isn’t about winners, it is about remembering the huge losses suffered by many countries, and trying to avoid any sort of repeat of the stupidity of the war.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters has been representing New Zealand in France – Foreign Minister attends Armistice Day and Paris Peace Forum

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters will represent New Zealand at Armistice commemorations in France and attended the inaugural Paris Peace Forum later today.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern calls for ‘peace and inclusion’ on Remembrance Day

Ardern’s Speech to Armistice Day National Ceremony 2018

I don’t know why Ardern didn’t go to France, but that was signalled in July when New Zealand plans were announced – Government releases details of Armistice Day centenary plans

Trump versus NATO

The NATA summit in Brussels has started with Donald Trump on the offensive.

RealClearPolitics:  In Testy Exchange, Trump Hits Germany for Being ‘Captive’ to Russia

In a combative start to his NATO visit, President Donald Trump asserted Wednesday that a pipeline project has made Germany “totally controlled” by and “captive to Russia” and blasted allies’ defense spending, opening what was expected to be a fraught summit with a list of grievances involving American allies.

Trump, in a testy exchange with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, took issue with the U.S. protecting Germany as it strikes deals with Russia.

“I have to say, I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we’re supposed to be guarding against Russia,” Trump said at breakfast with Stoltenberg. “We’re supposed to protect you against Russia but they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that’s very inappropriate.”

The president appeared to be referring to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would bring gas from Russia to Germany’s northeastern Baltic coast, bypassing Eastern European nations like Poland and Ukraine and doubling the amount of gas Russia can send directly to Germany. The vast undersea pipeline is opposed by the U.S. and some other EU members, who warn it could give Moscow greater leverage over Western Europe.

Trump said “Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia” and urged NATO to look into the issue.

Will Trump install a gas pipeline from the US to Germany to keep them captive to him?

Stoltenberg pushed back, stressing that NATO members have been able to work together despite their differences. “I think that two world wars and the Cold War taught us that we are stronger together than apart,” he told the president, trying to calm tensions.

Guardian: Angela Merkel hits back at Donald Trump at Nato summit

Angela Merkel has pushed back against Donald Trump’s extraordinary tirade against Germany on the first day of the Nato summit in Brussels, denying her country was “totally controlled” by Russia and saying it made its own independent decisions and policies.

In less blunt language than the US president’s, the German chancellor made the point that she needed no lessons in dealing with authoritarian regimes, recalling she had been brought up in East Germany when it had been part of the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence.

Arriving at Nato headquarters only hours after Trump singled out Germany for criticism, Merkel said: “I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union. I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany. Because of that we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions. That is very good, especially for people in eastern Germany.”

She also hit back at Trump’s criticism that Germany contributed too little to European defence. “Germany does a lot for Nato,” she said.

“Germany is the second largest provider of troops, the largest part of our military capacity is offered to Nato and until today we have a strong engagement towards Afghanistan. In that we also defend the interests of the United States.”

Merkel has much more experience dealing with other countries than Trump, something that is essential in a part of the world where there are a lot of countries in close proximity.

Europe comprises 50 countries, has a population of about 740 million,and has an area of 10,180,000 km2.

The United States is a single country with 50 states and has a population of about 345 million, and has an area of 9,833,520 km2.

So about the only thing similar is the land area.

Russian influence in Latvia and Estonia is far more real. The Baltic countries  have been directly controlled by Russia twice (and by Germany once). They border Russia and have many ethnic Russian citizens.

NY Times: Trump Derides NATO as ‘Obsolete.’ Baltic Nations See It Much Differently

As President Trump joins his second NATO summit meeting — having called the alliance “obsolete,” derided its members as deadbeats and suggested that American military protection is negotiable — there is deep unease on the alliance’s eastern flank. And that sense has only been heightened by Mr. Trump’s scheduled one-on-one meeting next week with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The United States ambassador to Estonia, James D. Melville Jr., became so exasperated with the constant statements from Mr. Trump disparaging the alliance and the European Union that late last month he quit in disgust.

And as the Trump-Putin meeting approached, a popular Russian-language Latvian newspaper ran a picture of the two men, cheek by jowl, with the ominous headline: “What Will Trump and Putin Agree On: The End of the E.U.?”

For the nations of Latvia and Estonia, nestled between Russia and the Baltic Sea and with large ethnic Russian populations, NATO is no abstraction.

Long before the debate over the Kremlin’s interference in the American election, there was alarm in the Baltic nations over Russian attempts to influence public opinion and exploit the complicated issues of ethnic identity in a region reshaped by war and occupation. In both the annexation of Crimea and its actions in Ukraine, the Russian government has used protecting the rights of ethnic Russians as a pretext for intervention. About one-third of the populations of Latvia and Estonia are ethnic Russians.

Most of the ethnic Russians arrived after the war, when the country was under Soviet domination. They have long been educated in separate schools and formed different social bonds as the nation has struggled to integrate them into society.

But the assimilation process has been made harder by increasingly aggressive propaganda campaigns in the Russian-language news media, narratives widely believed to be directed from Moscow with the intent of heightening divisions.

The inter-relationships between European countries are complex, with long histories.

I don’t know if Trump understands any of this. His bully and bluster approach to achieving what he wants may work in some ways for the US, but it is unlikely to reduce Russian influence (or Chinese influence) – and it is at real risk of doing the opposite.

He continues to drive wedges between different countries and the US. His selfish isolationist is likely to reduce  influence over time, as the rest of the world learns to rely less on the United States – especially if the tempestuous Trump stays in charge for any length of time.

 

Weakened Merkel forced to backtrack on illegal immigration

Angela Merkel was always going to have a challenge managing a coalition government that took months to form, and relies on the agreement of several diverse parties.

The contentious issue of illegal immigration put the three month old coalition at threat of collapse, but that was averted with an agreement that will toughen up significantly on cross-border migration, if the agreement holds together. It meanbs setting up transit camps on the Austrian border.

Reuters: Merkel to fight another day after settling migration row

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives settled a row over migration that threatened to topple her fragile governing coalition late on Monday evening after talks with her rebellious interior minister led him to drop his threat to resign.

Emerging after five hours of talks, Horst Seehofer, leader of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), told reporters he would remain in his post after a deal with Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) that he said would stem illegal immigration.

“After intensive discussions between the CDU and CSU we have reached an agreement on how we can in future prevent illegal immigration on the border between Germany and Austria,” Seehofer said as he left the CDU’s Berlin headquarters.

The deal, which brought Merkel’s government to the brink of collapse just three months after it was formed, keeps her in office. But the woman who has dominated European politics for 12-1/2 years appears greatly diminished, raising questions over whether she will serve out her term.

NY Yimes: Merkel, to Survive, Agrees to Border Camps for Migrants

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who staked her legacy on welcoming hundreds of thousands of migrants into Germany, agreed on Monday to build border camps for asylum seekers and to tighten the border with Austria in a political deal to save her government.

It was a spectacular turnabout for a leader who has been seen as the standard-bearer of the liberal European order but who has come under intense pressure at home from the far right and from conservatives in her governing coalition over her migration policy.

Although the move to appease the conservatives exposed her growing political weakness, Ms. Merkel will limp on as chancellor. For how long is unclear. The nationalism and anti-migrant sentiment that has challenged multilateralism elsewhere in Europe is taking root — fast — in mainstream German politics.

Ms. Merkel agreed to the latest policy after an insurrection over migration policy led by her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, threatened to bring down her coalition.

It’s tough when in a tenuous coalition one of your own ministers threatens to bring it down if they don’t get their way.

The new policy still needs to be approved by the third part in the coalition, the Social Democrats, and also needs to be accepted by Austria, so it isn’t a done deal yet.

It would establish camps, called “transit centers,” at points along the border. Newly arriving migrants would be screened in the centers, and any determined to have already applied for asylum elsewhere in the European Union would be turned back.

Administration aside this this may reduce Germany’s immigration problems but it won’t make them go away – the flood is still in Europe, Germany is just blocking a few holes in the dyke.

Under Ms. Merkel, Germany has been a bulwark against the rise of the far right in Europe and the increasing turn against migrants. Even as neighboring countries turned away those fleeing war and strife in the Middle East, she has welcomed more than a million since 2015, and lobbied for a collective European solution.

Since then the number of new migrants has dropped to a fraction of what it was three years ago. But the good will has been eroding as Germany has struggled to absorb those already in the country.

While migration has reduced significantly concerns over what has already happened and is still happening has grown.

This is a huge ongoing problem for Germany and for Europe.

A new government in Italy is also trying to deal with illegal immigration – Migration crisis: Italy’s threats a plea for help

As migration to Europe surges, Italy has issued threats against aid organizations assisting refugees in the Mediterranean.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an agency that cooperates with the UN, 85,000 migrants fled to Italy from North Africa by boat in the first half of 2017. That figure is 19 percent higher than the one for the first half of last year. And according to IOM, the high point of the “season” hasn’t even been reached yet.

All of the EU’s attempts to reduce the number of migrants have failed so far. The official aim of the EU is to close off the Mediterranean route, as well as the route between Turkey and Greece, as much as possible.

Almost half of those refugees who have been rescued were saved not by EU ships but by private boats being operated by one of the 10 private aid organizations patrolling the area.

Italy now wants to control the work of aid organizations more closely and is preparing new procedures and new rules of conduct. Missions by Frontex and the NGOs have so far been coordinated by the Italian navy. They have accused individual employees of switching off their ships’ transponders.

Without the transponders automatically indicating the position of their vessels, these individuals then allegedly travel to Libyan waters, where they pick up migrants from inflatable boats and rotten wooden cages.

Now, Italy is threatening to close its ports to NGO ships with migrants on board.

Interior ministers from France and Germany have promised Italy more support.

The deeper problem, namely the failed redistribution of refugees to other EU countries, has still not been solved despite two years of dialog.

Illegal migration has become a huge problem for Europe, with no easy solutions.

Immigration issues in New Zealand are tiny in comparison. Being isolated in a remote part of the southern Pacific Ocean makes us hard to get to and relatively easy to police.

 

G7 – trade issues remain

Trade issues remain after the latest G7 meeting in Canada.

Reuters: Trump demands end to ‘unfair’ trade after G7 summit

U.S. President Donald Trump told Group of Seven leaders that the United States wanted a quick end to trade practices that he says have led to an exodus of American companies and jobs to other countries.

This is someone who has been slapping tariffs on and threatening tariffs all over the place. And someone who pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as soon as he became president.

Trump, who angered his G7 partners last week with tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, the European Union and Mexico as part of his “America First” agenda, vowed to hold firm until U.S. goods had “fair” access to markets.

“The United States has been taken advantage of for decades and decades,” Trump said at a press conference on the second day of a two-day summit in Canada.

He said he had suggested to the other G7 leaders that all trade barriers, including tariffs and subsidies, be eliminated.

So why doesn’t he lead by example? otherwise this looks like posturing bullshit.

Reuters: G7 leaders on track for joint communique: French official

The leaders of the Group of Seven nations are on track to agree a joint communique when their summit ends later on Saturday, a French presidency official said, a day after diplomats cited deep splits over the proposed text.

The official though said the document would make clear that on topics such as the environment, the United States did not share the point of view of the other six members.

In a bid to ease tensions over trade, in particular U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum that infuriated other G7 members, officials were working on language about the international rules-based system that would lead the way to reforming the World Trade Organization, the official said.

It looks like the communique will try to paper over obvious cracks.

Reuters: Merkel says differences on trade remain despite joint G7 communique

Leaders of the G7 countries will stress the importance of rules-based trade in a joint communique but there were still differences between Europe and the United States on the issue, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday.

“For us it was important that we have a commitment to a rule-based trade order, that we continue to fight against protectionism and that we want to reform the World Trade Organization,” Merkel told reporters after G7 talks in Quebec.

Merkel said there was a broad agreement among G7 leaders that tariffs and other trade barriers should be reduced.

“These are jointly shared principles, although the pitfalls lie in the detail,” she said.

The detail – al the exceptions to free trade?

Maybe some progress has been made at  G7 but it’s not apparent.

Ardern meets Merkel

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has moved on from France to Germany to meet chancellor Angela Merkel.

RNZ: Merkel, Ardern discuss threats to world order

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has concluded “warm and engaging” talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel as she seeks to strengthen ties with one of the most powerful and experienced leaders in Europe.

The two leaders discussed a wide range of issues in their first meeting at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin, including the various pressures threatening the world order.

At a joint conference after the meeting, Ms Merkel said they’d discussed Brexit, the ongoing tensions with Russia and the recent military action in Syria.

“We are very grateful New Zealand has taken a very clear stance on all these issues,” she said.

Ms Ardern appeared to slightly strengthen her language on the US-led air strikes on Syria in response to a suspected chemical attack, saying she “utterly” accepted the need to respond to “a blatant breach of international law”.

“Whilst we absolutely maintain the need to – first and foremost – seek resolution through the likes of the United Nations, when that is not possible, we utterly accept the use of alternative means to address what has to be challenged.”

Ms Ardern described the German chancellor as “extremely thoughtful” and thanked her for her strong support for beginning negotiations for an EU-NZ trade deal.

In January last year, Dr Merkel pledged to push the EU to work towards a quick trade accord after meeting then-Prime Minister Bill English.

Germany’s support is important for negotiating an NZ -EU trade deal, and President Macron has also just indicated French support.

Dr Merkel was asked how the meeting had gone – to which Ms Ardern quipped, “they want to know if you found me likeable”.

Really? Cringe.

The German chancellor said the time had flown and the conversation had been fun.

“You can be proud of your Prime Minister. If you want to write this down for the New Zealand press. This will be the headline in the morning papers I trust.”

It didn’t make the RNZ headline but it waste some space in the article.

France pledges support for NZ-EU trade agreement

In their first meeting French president Emmanuel Macron has pledged support alongside Jacinda Ardern for a European trade agreement with New Zealand.

RNZ: France supports NZ-EU trade negotiations

France has come out in support of allowing trade negotiations between New Zealand and the European Union to go ahead.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French president Emmanuel Macron have issued a joint declaration, after an hour-long meeting.

Ms Ardern says she was struck by the close alignment of their views which proved they were “natural partners”.

Mr Macron says he hopes an EU-NZ free trade agreement could reflect a “new generation of trade deals”.

Their written declaration included a commitment to promoting a progressive trade agenda, and an agreement to enhancing bilateral trade.

The pair’s meeting comes roughly a month before the EU member states decide whether to greenlight negotiations for a trade deal with New Zealand.

This is a positive step, and a good start to Ardern’s European trip.

On to Germany next, where support for a trade deal has already been indicated.

Stuff: Jacinda Ardern meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel to talk trade, education and visas

That’s a misleading headline, they have not met yet.

Trade wars and the threats of protectionism, as well as climate change, will be priority discussion points between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, when the pair sit down for formal talks tomorrow.

Trade is set to be a key theme, however Germany has been publicly supportive of a free trade deal between New Zealand and the European Union (EU) and making the case for it was less likely to dominate the talk in way it would with Macron.

New Zealand would have common ground in that area, said Ardern.

“When it comes to trade, for me it’s about raising the international environment.

Ardern said she would also be discussing ways to potentially increase movement between New Zealand and Germany.

“Particularly around our education exchanges, and also over our working holiday visas.”

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Germany is New Zealand’s sixth largest trading partner, representing $5.2 billion in two-way goods and services trade.

Nearly 80,000 German tourists visit New Zealand each year, and the country was also New Zealand’s 6th largest education market and its largest in Europe. About 3500 students study each year here, and about 15,000 young Germans are granted visas under a working holiday scheme.

Following her meeting with Merkel, Ardern would be giving a major speech on trade at Berlin’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation, overnight, New Zealand time.

She will then head to London for talks with Theresa May, a private audience with the Queen and to attend the Commonwealth heads of Government meeting with about 50 other world leaders, including Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull.

This is a big tour of Europe for Ardern.

German government to be formed after nearly six months

Germany held a national election at about the same time New Zealand did last September. After four weeks complaining about Winston Peters holding the country to ransom and playing to his ego an agreement was reached here to form a government.

It has taken five and a half months to reach a coalition agreement in Germany, and a fourth term Merkel led Government should be up and running in a couple of weeks.

Deutsche Welle: Germany’s SPD members approve coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservatives

More than five months after Germans went to polls in the September 24 national election, Germany will be getting a new government. The final hurdle was cleared when the Social Democratic Party (SPD) rank-and-file sanctioned the coalition deal that party leaders had negotiated with Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

Sixty-six percent of party members who voted supported a continuation of the grand coalition, while 34 percent opposed it — a clearer margin than many in the party had expected.

“This wasn’t an easy decision for the SPD,” said acting party Chairman Olaf Scholz. “In the discussion [about the deal], we’ve come closer together. That gives us the strength for the process of renewal we are embarking upon.”

The coalition agreement can now be signed, and the Bundestag will elect Merkel chancellor of Germany for the 19th legislative period. It’s thought the vote will take place on March 14. It will be the third grand coalition in Merkel’s 13 years as German leader, but it only came about after efforts to form a coalition with the Greens and center-right Free Democrats (FDP) failed.

Former SPD Chairman Martin Schulz initially ruled out another grand coalition and was forced to resign after he flip-flopped on the issue. Social Democratic leaders were persuaded to conclude another deal after winning key concessions from Merkel and her Christian Democrats (CDU), as well as earning consent on these posts from the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The SPD will have control of Germany’s powerful Finance Ministry, among other things.

The decision about whether to form a new partnership with the conservatives divided Social Democrats, many of whom blame the SPD’s participation in grand coalitions for the party’s slide to historic lows in opinion polls.

Minor parties in coalitions have problems retaining support under MMP in Germany too. Voters seem to have little tolerance for parties that are not in a dominant position and therefore can’t  implement many of their preferred policies, but that’s something that can’t be avoided in coalitions.

Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU)  sanctioned the coalition agreement last week at a party conference. And the chancellor was quick to express her pleasure at Sunday’s announcement.

“I congratulate the SPD  on this clear result and look forward to further cooperation for the welfare of our country,” the CDU tweeted in Merkel’s name.

In a statement, CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer welcomed the Social Democrats’ vote.

“This is a good decision by the SPD and especially for our country,” Kramp-Karrenbauer wrote. “With it, after the conservatives, Social Democrats have declared that they’ll willing to accept responsibility for the country in a joint government.”

There is probably some relief there. The alternative was probably going to the polls again.

 

Coalition deal in Germany

Remember that Germany had it’s election the same weekend New Zealand did, back in September last year. There were complaints here about how long it took us to have a government formed – it took about 4 weeks. It has taken the German parties nearly five months, and it’s not a done deal yet.

Deutsche Welle: Germany’s Angela Merkel finally reaches coalition deal with SPD

After protracted talks, Angela Merkel’s conservatives have made a deal with the Social Democrats for a new coalition contract in Germany. The SPD confirmed this in a message to its members, who will have the final say.

Wednesday’s key developments

  • The SPD, CDU and CSU have agreed in principle on a coalition deal, but a vote of SPD members still awaits.
  • SPD to now have three major portfolios: finance, foreign affairs and labor.
  • Bavaria’s CSU, which advocates a tougher line on immigration than Chancellor Merkel, takes over the Interior Ministry.
  • Merkel’s CDU gains the Economy Ministry and smaller posts, but is giving up the influential Interior and Finance ministries.

Negotiators from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU); their Bavarian partners, the Christian Social Union (CSU); and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) have finally hashed out a contract for a new grand coalition government — probably ensuring that Angela Merkel will stay in office for a fourth tenure as German chancellor.

The SPD leadership confirmed initial reports of a deal in a group WhatsApp message to its members: “Tired. But satisfied,” it said, adding that final details were now being added to the text of the contract, which would then be assessed by the SPD negotiating team.

It’s not over yet.

SPD negotiators have spent the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s deal trying to convince skeptics within party ranks that they had won significant concessions from their conservative partners. SPD members will have the final say on whether to accept the coalition agreement in a vote to take place by post in the coming weeks.

Regional party officials have reported several thousand new members joining the party ahead of the vote, taking the ranks past 460,000. If the voters approve the deal — and it could well be close — Merkel could then appoint a Cabinet and the parties could sign the coalition contract. Then, if all goes to plan, Germany would have a new government by Easter.

Easter is six months after the German election. The country seems to have managed to survive in leadership limbo, but if this deal falls through then Germany would just about have to go to the polls again..

Parts of the deal that may be of interest here:

 

Immigration:

One of the most contentious issues was dealt with fairly early in negotiations: The two sides agreed  last week that the number of immigrants brought to Germany via family reunification would be capped at 1,000 a month (for those with subsidiary protection) — the same figure that was set out at the end of exploratory talks a few weeks ago — and that the current suspension on reunions would end on July 31. Cases of “extreme hardship” would also be allowed to apply for family reunion, beyond the quota.

Refugee rights organizations such as Pro Asyl argued that this was a cosmetic difference anyway, as the exception has already been in place for the past two years and was only invoked in about 100 cases last year. Hundreds protested outside the Reichstag in Berlin last week as the measure was passed in parliament.

Europe:

The three parties have agreed that the European Union needs “more investment,” specifically in the shape of an investment budget for the eurozone. That deal was celebrated by the SPD as “an end to the austerity mandate” across the European Union, but it remains to be seen how the details pan out. The parties also promised a special focus on reducing unemployment among young people and “fair taxation of companies — especially the internet giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon in Europe.”

Arms exports: 

The two sides have agreed to tighten Germany’s arms export controls — last updated in 2000 — and will specifically exclude all countries taking part in the war in Yemen. This would be a significant change, as it would mean that Saudi Arabia, historically one of the best customers for German arms outside the EU and NATO, will no longer be receiving German weapons.

The civil war in Yemen has had a low profile here but started nearly three years ago, in March 2015. As with other conflicts in the Middle East it is complicated, both within the country and internationally.

Neighbouring Saudi Arabia has been condemned for bombing civilian targets. A coalition military operation led by the Saudis has had US intelligence and logistical support.