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.

Merkel may now attend Davos forum

There could be more attention to the World Economic Forum due to be held in Davos, Switzerland in about two weeks, with US President Donald Trump scheduled to attend. It is seen as contradictory that Trump would want to attend a forum focussed on globalisation given his preference for US isolation.

Reuters: Swiss mountain town Davos relishes its turn in Trump spotlight

The Swiss Alpine town of Davos is used to celebrities and high-rollers, but even it is relishing the new challenge posed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to attend the World Economic Forum this month.

“This is the 48th WEF,” said Reto Branschi, CEO of Davos Klosters Tourism. “Every year, we have 20 presidents from all over the world. We are used to the visits of presidents.”

Trump’s visit to Davos for the annual meet-up of global political and business leaders will be the first by a sitting U.S. president since Bill Clinton came in 2000.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Ernst Wyrsch, who was director of the hotel where Clinton stayed during his WEF visit and now heads the region’s hotel association.

“Davos, for at least a couple of days, will be at the center of the world.”

While dignitaries come each year — British Prime Minister Theresa May and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping made the trek to the town last year — they lack the media pulling power of a U.S. president that throws a spotlight on a community reliant on tourism.

Trump, whose entourage will include Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, may drop in for just a day, give a speech and then depart.

There is something of a contradiction in all this.

The WEF is a haven for supporters of globalization espousing the very free trade pacts that Trump has blasted as unfair to the United States.

It had been thought that German leader Angela Merkel would not attend but after a preliminary agreement on a coalition was reached last week this may change.

Reuters: Merkel could join Macron in Davos for epic clash with Trump

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is considering joining French President Emmanuel Macron at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week in what could turn into an epic clash of competing world views with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Merkel, who has been struggling to put together a government since a German election in September, had been expected to skip the annual gathering of leaders, CEOs, bankers and celebrities in the Swiss Alps for a third straight year.

But after clinching a preliminary coalition agreement with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) on Friday, German officials said Merkel could travel to Davos after all, possibly setting up a major confrontation with Trump, who is expected to speak on the final day of the forum.

An appearance would signal Merkel’s return to the world stage after months of political limbo in which she has avoided the limelight and been dismissed by some in the German and international media as a spent force.

It would also allow her and Macron, who is scheduled to speak at the forum on Jan. 24, two days before Trump, to reaffirm their commitment to reforming the European Union after Britain’s decision to leave, and to defend liberal democratic values in the face of Trump’s “America First” policies.

Brexit plus Trump’s “America First” aims are likely to change international affairs and alignments significantly.

However it seems that the New Zealand Prime Minister won’t be at Davos.

Stuff: The international year ahead: What international trips could be on the prime minister’s radar?

World Economic Forum: This is held in Davos, Switzerland, every year and Trade Minister David Parker is going. And incidentally, the US Government has just announced President Trump will be there. But it’s not a common one for the leaders to visit every year, and it’s unlikely Ardern will have the chance to attend this year – the meeting is just two weeks away.

There are no plans (made public anyway) for Ardern to meet with Merkel, but that would be a significant event if it happened. New Zealand is working towards a trade agreement with the European Union.

A meeting with Theresa May would also be significant as the UK looks for trade deals outside the EU. May attended and spoke at Davos last year and is expected to attend again this year.

Ardern will probably be happy to not meet Trump in the US.

Preliminary coalition agreement in Germany

Germany had their elections the same weekend as our general election in New Zealand, in September last year.

It took a few weeks to sort out a coalition agreement, a confidence and supply agreement and an functional Government. Jacinda Ardern as sworn in as Prime Minister on 26 October.

It’s taking a lot longer in Germany, where a preliminary coalition agreement has just been made.

Der Spiegel: Progress for Merkel In Search for a Government

An end to Germany’s leadership vacuum may finally be in sight as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats reached a preliminary agreement on Friday morning. But there are plenty of hurdles still left to clear.

It was a grueling night for Christian Democratic Union (CDU) head Angela Merkel, Christian Social Union (CSU) leader Horst Seehofer and SPD chair Martin Schulz. Indeed, it seemed at times as though it would never end. The talks, aimed at determining whether there was sufficient agreement among the three parties to begin formal coalition negotiations, had begun 24 hours earlier on Thursday morning.

Merkel called the 28-page document a “paper of give and take, as it should be.”

Seehofer, who leads the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, said he was “extremely satisfied.”

And Schulz, who hosted the talks, even went so far as to speak of an “outstanding result.”

Germany still doesn’t have a government — the talks that concluded on Friday morning were merely to determine if a coalition was possible — but the three party heads made it sound like most of the hurdles had been cleared.

Despite the positivity, however, the talks were extremely tough, with some of the news that leaked out during the night seemingly indicating that the talks were on the verge of collapsing — just as the first attempt to form a government did several weeks ago. Schulz, though, denied on Friday morning that failure had been imminent. “They were never on a knife’s edge,” he said, to Merkel’s agreement.

The fact that the three parties were able to reach a tentative agreement after less than a week of talks is hardly a surprise. After the initial round of coalition talks failed in November — negotiations that involved the CDU, CSU, Green Party and Free Democrats — Merkel’s conservatives are eager to establish a stable government as rapidly as possible.

After publicly ruling out a coalition with Merkel following the election last September, and repeating that rejection in late November, the Social Democrats ultimately realized that there was no alternative to seriously considering another alliance with the conservatives.

The pressure had simply become too great, particularly from German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Furthermore, the idea of new elections was particularly unappetizing for the Social Democrats.

It is not over yet, there are still hurdles to overcome.

SPD head Schulz, meanwhile, will embark on Monday on a mini-tour through Germany to speak to the party base — a trip that promises to be a difficult one. The party is extremely wary of yet again playing second fiddle in a Merkel-led government, and without approval from delegates to the special party convention set to take place a week from Sunday in Bonn, the SPD will be unable to enter formal coalition talks.

Merkel’s conservatives don’t face such difficulties. It is seen as a virtual certainty that CDU and CSU leaders will authorize their party heads to enter formal coalition talks. The two parties are eager to finally set up a stable government.

Schulz isn’t just fighting for a coalition with Merkel and Seehofer, he is also fighting for his own future as party head. If the convention should vote against formal coalition negotiations with the conservatives, he would likely be forced to step down — and the party’s entire senior leadership would come under pressure to do the same.

That, in turn, would put Merkel’s own hold on power to the test: Two failed attempts at assembling a government could prove to be too much to withstand.

And Seehofer would be in the same boat.

In comparison, our negotiations circus with Winston Peters as ringmaster seems to be quaint and distant political history.

A CDU/CSU coalition with SPD is a bit like National/ACT forming a coalition with Labour.


German parties involved:

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) / Christian Social Union (CSU)

Leaders: Angela Merkel (CDU)/Horst Seehofer (CSU)

Voters: People over the age of 60, churchgoers, living in rural areas – especially in southern Germany – still represent the hardcore of CDU and CSU voters. The CDU has also traditionally done well among small business owners and people with lower or medium education levels.

2017 Bundestag election result: 33 percent (246/709 seats)

History: The CDU was founded in West Germany in 1950 in the aftermath of World War II as a gathering pool for all of Germany’s Christian conservative voters. It became the most dominant political force in the post-war era, unifying Germany and leading the government for 47 of those 67 years, alongside its Bavaria sister-party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

CDU Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who governed from 1949 to 1963, is the closest the Federal Republic has to a founding father. It was Adenauer and his economy minister (and successor as chancellor), Ludwig Erhard, who presided over West Germany’s “economic miracle.” The party’s reputation as Germany’s rock of moral and economic stability continued under another long-term CDU chancellor, Helmut Kohl, who drove German reunification in 1990 – a key historic moment important in understanding today’s politics.

Social Democratic Party (SPD)

Chairperson: Martin Schulz

Parliamentary leader: Andrea Nahles

2017 Bundestag election result: 20.5 percent (153/709 seats)

Voters: The SPD has traditionally been the party of the working classes and the trade unions. The SPD’s most fertile ground in Germany remains in the densely-populated industrial regions of western Germany, particularly the Ruhr region in North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as the states of Hesse and Lower Saxony.

History: The SPD was founded in 1875, making it Germany’s oldest political party. In the tumultuous first decades of the 20th century, the party acted as an umbrella organization for a number of leftist movements, trade unionists, and communists. But with the founding of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in 1919, the SPD became the permanent home of the social justice reformers, rather than the revolutionaries – though that didn’t stop its politicians from being sent to concentration camps during the Third Reich.

The SPD’s first chancellor, Willy Brandt, governed West Germany from 1969 to 1974. He earned an international reputation for reconciliation with Eastern Europe during his time as foreign minister in a CDU-led coalition government. He was succeeded by Helmut Schmidt, an SPD icon until his death in 2015. Both remain hugely respected figures in German politics. Altogether, the party has been part of the German government for 34 of the 67 years of the Federal Republic and led governing coalitions for 21 of those. Though its reach has eroded significantly in the past few years, it was still behind some of Merkel’s most significant social reform policies during her third government, which has just ended.

Source: Deutsche Welle – Germany’s political parties CDU, CSU, SPD, AfD, FDP, Left party, Greens – what you need to know

 

German coalition talks collapse, EU and the West vulnerable

There were complaints about New Zealand political parties taking several weeks to work out who would be in the new government. The German election was at the same time as ours, but their coalition talks have just collapsed.

The green FDP party walked away from talks, but they are not the only party to blame for the talks collapsing.

Der Spiegel: Everyone Loses in Coalition Collapse

After the collapse of the German coalition talks, the blame game has already begun. Yet all the parties bear responsibility for how the negotiations failed.

The reason for the collapse is clear: The parties involved failed to forge the one thing that is indispensable to keep such an alliance together: trust. And trust, it goes without saying, is the single most important currency in politics. Without trust a coalition cannot work.

No one really expected politicians with such fundamentally different politics and outlooks as Alexander Dobrindt of the CSU and Jürgen Trittin of the Greens to become bosom buddies. But if you want to govern together for four years, you can’t always be assuming that your cabinet colleagues are out to get you at every turn.

This mistrust was due to a number of factors. One, of course, is that such a four-party coalition would have been an unusual constellation, bringing together very different political cultures and ideas. The ongoing tensions between the CDU and CSU over Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to refugees in the autumn of 2015 further complicated matters.

And then there’s the issue of authority: Angela Merkel’s star power in German politics has begun to fade. Her political opponents don’t hold her in the same awe they once did.

NBC News: Angela Merkel’s rule in doubt as German coalition talks collapse

Germany faced an uncertain political future Monday after the collapse of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s talks on forming a new government, raising the prospect of new elections looming.

The Sept. 24 election produced an awkward result that left Merkel’s two-party conservative bloc seeking a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats and the traditionally left-leaning Greens.

The combination of ideologically disparate parties hadn’t been tried before in a national government, and came to nothing when the Free Democrats walked out of talks Sunday night.

Merkel said her conservatives had left “nothing untried to find a solution.” She said that she “will do everything to ensure that this country is well-led through these difficult weeks.”

CNBC: Merkel’s coalition is in chaos — here’s what happens next

  • Merkel is set to meet with the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier Monday to decide what to do next
  • There are three options on the table, but any of them is bad news for Merkel
  • Without clear leadership in Germany, Europe seems to be about to enter standby mode

“There are three possible options right now: minority government, another grand coalition or new elections,” Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING, told CNBC via email on Monday morning.

Given the way the talks now failed, a minority government looks unlikely,” he added. If Merkel were to lead a minority government, passing legislation in the Bundestag would be a political nightmare given the differences between the several parties.

The second possibility — a so-called grand coalition — would mean Merkel’s CDU sharing power with the Socialist Party, something that it did until the elections in September. However, this is also unlikely given that the latter has stated repeatedly that it wants to stay in opposition and rebuild.

“This realistically only leaves one option: new elections,” Brzeski said. However, it’s even uncertain whether the political impasse could be solved with a new vote.

This is not just putting government on hold in Germany, it has a flow on effect of inaction in the European Union.

Reuters: German president presses parties to form coalition for good of Europe after talks collapse

Efforts to form a three-way governing coalition in Germany collapsed on Monday, pitching Europe’s biggest power into political crisis, and its president told parties they owed it to voters and European neighbors to form a government.

The major obstacle to a deal was immigration, according to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was forced into negotiations after bleeding support in a Sept. 24 election to the far right in a backlash at her 2015 decision to let in over 1 million migrants.

President Walter Steinmeier said Germany was now facing the worst governing crisis in the 68-year history of its post-World War Two democracy. After meeting Merkel, he warned parties not to shirk their democratic duties – remarks seemingly targeted at the FDP and Social Democrats (SPD), who on Monday ruled out renewing their “grand coalition” with the conservatives.

“Inside our country, but also outside, in particular in our European neighborhood, there would be concern and a lack of understanding if politicians in the biggest and economically strongest country (in Europe) did not live up to their responsibilities,” he said in a statement.

With German leadership seen as crucial for a European Union grappling with governance reform and Britain’s impending exit, FDP leader Christian Lindner’s announcement that he was pulling out spooked investors and sent the euro falling in the morning.

The failure of coalition talks is unprecedented in Germany’s post-war history, and was likened by newsmagazine Der Spiegel to the shock election of U.S. President Donald Trump or Britain’s referendum vote to leave the EU – moments when countries cast aside reputations for stability built up over decades.

With the UK government in disarray after a disastrous snap election called by Prime Minister Theresa May, and as they grapple with exiting the EU, governance in Europe is looking very shaky. Alongside the international weakening of the United States under Donald Trump’s presidency the  state of the West is looking the weakest it has been for a long time, and vulnerable.

Der Spiegel: What’s Next for Merkel and Germany?

Now, after a month of talks, German doesn’t know what will happen next. It is an unprecedented moment of uncertainty for a country that prizes stability and predictability above all else. “At the very least,” said Merkel, “it is a day of deep reflection on the path forward for Germany.”

It is difficult to overstate the impact of the collapsed talks. Indeed, for Merkel herself, Sunday night could mark the beginning of the end to her political career after 12 years in the Chancellery. Clearly drained from the exertion of the past several weeks, Merkel said on Sunday night that she would “almost even call it an historical day.” It was the kind of sentence Germany has become used to from Merkel: a bit unpolished and inelegant. But it could end up being true.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier now has a key role to play. For the time being, Germany will continue to be governed by the acting coalition pairing Merkel’s conservatives with the center-left Social Democrats. But it is up to Steinmeier, himself a Social Democrat, to navigate the path forward toward new elections – unless Merkel decides to experiment with a minority government.

The third possibility, one being discussed intently on Monday, is a repeat of the current “grand coalition.”