Reducing supermarket plastic

Eliminating plastic supermarket bags is getting a lot of attention, but that addresses only a part of plastic overload at supermarkets. A lot of foods are individually wrapped in plastic, which at best end up in our landfill.

Here is an interesting idea from Germany, where you take your own plastic containers to the supermarket. For hygiene reasons you place your container on a tray so the staff don’t touch yours (for hygiene reasons), they place the food – meat, cheese, whatever – into the container and hand you back the tray, and then you put the lid on and take your container.

This supermarket is fighting against unnecessary plastic

As you often put foods like this in containers at home anyway this saves the plastic packaging for transit from the supermarket to home.

It means you have to plan ahead, as you do taking your own bags to pack your groceries into, and all you have to do is take the storage containers as well. We should be able to manage that most of the time.

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.

 

Germany crash out of world cup

 

Germany were, as usual, one of the favourites for the football world cup currently running in Russia, but they started badly with a loss to Mexico. This put pressure on them.

They were able to scratch out a win against Sweden with a last minute goal.

But they have just lost to South Korea 0-2, so have finished bottom of their pool.

Bittere Tränen der deutschen Fans auf den englischen Titelseiten

„Der Weltmeister hinterlässt eine gedemütigte Nation“

This is a major upset – but sports can be like that.

German crime rate lowest since 1992

Scare claims of escalating crime in Germany after recent influxes of refugees are contrary to what has been happening there. But the good news comes with a warning.

Deutsche Welle: Crime rate in Germany lowest since 1992, but Seehofer still issues stern warning

“Germany has become safer,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer proclaimed on Tuesday morning in Berlin, as he presented the latest crime statistics for the first time since taking over the post in the new German government.

The latest figures show that some 5.76 million crimes were reported in 2017, 5 percent fewer than in the previous year and the lowest number since 1992. Taken as a percentage of the population, the crime rate is actually at its lowest in 30 years, Seehofer said.

However, Seehofer’s press briefing still had a somber tone to it. The interior minister acknowledged that the latest trends come at a time of public wariness, fueled largely by an increase in terror attacks in recent years, coupled with the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The latest figures show that 44 percent of the German population feels less secure today than they did a few years ago.

“There is no reason to sound the all-clear and much remains to be done” Seehofer said, adding that rule of law must protect itself against all forms of extremism and terrorism.

However, Andre Schulz, the head of Germany’s Federation of German Police Officers, described the differentiation between German public sentiment and actual safety as “a paradox,” adding that the two had no bearing on one another.

These numbers support that:

The statistics separately list the number of offences perpetrated by non-German nationals. Here the number of incidents perpetrated by migrants also dropped significantly — by 23 percent from around 950,000 to just over 700,000. However, Seehofer pointed out that this sharp drop was mostly due to fewer instances of illegal migrants arriving and settling in Germany.

Politically motivated crimes fell for the first time in four years and made up just 0.7 percent of all reported criminal incidents.

Attacks on asylum and refugee shelters dropped significantly by 69 percent to just over 300 reported incidents. The number of attacks on immigrants returned to the level recorded before the 2015 migrant crisis and the influx of some 1 million refugees into Germany.

Anti-Semitic attacks are increasing, mainly due to right wing extremists.

Worryingly, however, there was a notable 2.5 percent increase in the number of anti-Semitic attacks, taking the total number in 2017 to 1,504 cases. Seehofer acknowledged a rise in so-called “imported anti-Semitic crimes,” referring to attacks on Jews perpetrated by Muslim migrants.

However, the minister stressed that the vast majority of such incidents, some 94 percent, were perpetrated by right-wing extremists.

More: Germany: Crime rate drops, but fear rises

German reaction to Ardern visit

The visit if a prime Minister from a small remote country is not a big deal in Germany, but Jacinda Ardern has had some (relatively limited) coverage there. Collated by Geoffrey Miller in Twitter.

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.

Trump administration sanctions Russians over election interference

The Trump administration’s Department of the Treasury has imposed sanctions on 19 Russian individuals (including the 13 indicted in the Mueller inquiry) and 5 Russian entities over interference in the 2016 US elections.

Fox News: Trump administration sanctions Russians for interfering in 2016 elections

“These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The sanctions mean all property of these individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked. United States people are also prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

The Treasury Department said the sanctions are meant to counter Russia’s destabilizing activities, including its interference in the 2016 election and its destructive cyber-attacks. The department cited the NotPetya attack, a cyber-attack the White House and the British government have attributed to the Russian military.

Last month, 13 Russians and three Russian companies were indicted in Mueller’s probe, accused of a sophisticated plot to wage “information warfare” against the U.S.

The three entities are Internet Research Agency LLC, Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering.

The sanctions also target two entities and six individuals accused of being cyber actors operating on behalf of the Russian government.

Those entities are the Federal Security Service and the Main Intelligence Directorate.

And it goes further than election interference.

The Trump administration also accused Russia on Thursday of a concerted, ongoing operation to hack and spy on the U.S. energy grid and other critical infrastructure.

U.S. national security officials said the FBI, the Homeland Security Department and American intelligence agencies determined that Russian intelligence and others were behind the attacks on the energy sector.

The officials said the Russians deliberately chose U.S. energy industry targets, obtaining access to computer systems and then conducting “network reconnaissance” of industrial control systems that run American factories and the electricity grid.

The accusations and accompanying sanctions are some of the strongest actions to date by the administration to punish Russia for hacking and other efforts to sow discord in the American democracy.

I didn’t see this coming. In the past Trump has repeatedly tried to downplay Russian interference in the election.

This is on top of the US joining the UK and Germany over the alleged Russian use of a nerve gas attack in Salisbury, England.

In a joint statement Thursday, President Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May said they “abhor” the attack against Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury on March 4. A police officer who came to the pair’s aid was also sickened.

“This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War,” the statement said.

The big question now must be how Russia might react.

It will also be of interest how Trump reacts to the sanctions. He has commented on the nerve gas issue – U.S. hits Russians with sanctions for election meddling, cyber attacks (Reuters):

Trump told reporters during a White House event with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar that “it certainly looks like the Russians were behind” the use of a nerve agent to attack Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent in England. Trump called it “something that should never, ever happen, and we’re taking it very seriously, as I think are many others.”

But Trump has claimed he one the election on his merits and without Russian assistance.

Trump has frequently questioned a January 2017 finding by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign using hacking and propaganda in an effort eventually aimed at tilting the race in Trump’s favor. Russia denies interfering in the election.

But Mnuchin was unequivocal in saying that Thursday’s Treasury action “counters Russia’s continuing destabilizing activities, ranging from interference in the 2016 election to conducting destructive cyber-attacks.”

Both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress, which nearly unanimously passed a new sanctions bill against Russia last summer, had criticized Trump for not punishing Moscow. The Trump administration in January did not announce sanctions against Russia, for now, under the new law.

Republican Ed Royce, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the new sanctions as an important step. “But more must be done,” Royce said in a statement, promising that his committee would “keep pushing to counter Russian aggression.”

A senior administration official told Reuters that Trump, who campaigned on warmer ties with Putin, has grown exasperated with Russian activity.

That seems like a major change of direction for Trump.

 

 

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.