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.

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.”

 

Examining the Russian media war

A very interesting article by Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times that claims Russian influence in what has become known as fake news, used to promote discord and protest and to interfere in elections in countries around the world.

Examples are given of interference in Germany over immigration, in the UK over Brexit, and in the US election.

RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War

How the Kremlin built one of the most powerful information weapons of the 21st century — and why it may be impossible to stop.

…Steltner found the phone calls he received that morning confounding. They came from police officers from towns far outside Berlin, who reported that protests were erupting, seemingly out of nowhere, on their streets. “They are demonstrating — ‘Save our children,’ ‘No attacks from immigrants on our children’ and some things like that,” Steltner told me when I met him in Berlin recently.

The police were calling Steltner because this was ostensibly his office’s fault. The protesters were angry over the Berlin prosecutor’s supposed refusal to indict three Arab migrants who, they said, raped a 13-year-old girl from Berlin’s tight-knit Russian-German community.

Steltner, who would certainly have been informed if such a case had come up for prosecution, had heard nothing of it. He called the Berlin Police Department, which informed him that a 13-year-old Russian-German girl had indeed gone missing a week before. When she resurfaced a day later, she told her parents that three “Southern-looking men” — by which she meant Arab migrants — had yanked her off the street and taken her to a rundown apartment, where they beat and raped her.

But when the police interviewed the girl, whose name was Lisa, she changed her story. She had left home, it turned out, because she had gotten in trouble at school. Afraid of how her parents would react, she went to stay with a 19-year-old male friend. The kidnapping and gang rape, she admitted, never happened.

The allegations were false, but Russian news agencies kept publishing them, promoting protests and discord over immigration in Germany.

Officials in Germany and at NATO headquarters in Brussels view the Lisa case, as it is now known, as an early strike in a new information war Russia is waging against the West. In the months that followed, politicians perceived by the Russian government as hostile to its interests would find themselves caught up in media storms that, in their broad contours, resembled the one that gathered around Merkel.

They often involved conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods — sometimes with a tenuous connection to fact, as in the Lisa case, sometimes with no connection at all — amplified until they broke through into domestic politics. In other cases, they simply helped promote nationalist, far-left or far-right views that put pressure on the political center.

What the efforts had in common was their agents: a loose network of Russian-government-run or -financed media outlets and apparently coordinated social-media accounts.

And this is effective. This is evident in New Zealand where ordinary people, especially those with conspiracy tendencies or with strong views about things like immigration or politics, pick up on and amplify the messages – which is of course one of the aims.

After RT and Sputnik gave platforms to politicians behind the British vote to leave the European Union, like Nigel Farage, a committee of the British Parliament released a report warning that foreign governments may have tried to interfere with the referendum.

Russia and China, the report argued, had an “understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals” and practiced a kind of cyberwarfare “reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion.”

I wouldn’t rule out other countries either, like North Korea, from the Middle East – and the US, who are also one of the main targets.

But all of this paled in comparison with the role that Russian information networks are suspected to have played in the American presidential election of 2016.

In early January, two weeks before Donald J. Trump took office, American intelligence officials released a declassified version of a report — prepared jointly by the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency — titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections.” It detailed what an Obama-era Pentagon intelligence official, Michael Vickers, described in an interview in June with NBC News as “the political equivalent of 9/11.”

“Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” the authors wrote. “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency.” According to the report, “Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

The intelligence assessment detailed some cloak-and-dagger activities, like the murky web of Russian (if not directly government-affiliated or -financed) hackers who infiltrated voting systems and stole gigabytes’ worth of email and other documents from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

But most of the assessment concerned machinations that were plainly visible to anyone with a cable subscription or an internet connection: the coordinated activities of the TV and online-media properties and social-media accounts that made up, in the report’s words, “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.”

The assessment devoted nearly half its pages to a single cable network: RT. The Kremlin started RT — shortened from the original Russia Today — a dozen years ago to improve Russia’s image abroad.

But it is not simple to isolate and combat.

Plenty of RT’s programming, to outward appearances, is not qualitatively different from conventional opinion-infused cable news.

Its fans point to its coverage of political perspectives that aren’t prominent on mainstream networks — voices from the Occupy movement, the libertarian right and third parties like the Green Party. The network has been nominated for four International Emmy Awards and one Daytime Emmy.

This makes RT and Sputnik harder for the West to combat than shadowy hackers.

 RT might not have amassed an audience that remotely rivals CNN’s in conventional terms, but in the new, “democratized” media landscape, it doesn’t need to.

Over the past several years, the network has come to form the hub of a new kind of state media operation: one that travels through the same diffuse online channels, chasing the same viral hits and memes, as the rest of the Twitter-and-Facebook-age media.

In the process, Russia has built the most effective propaganda operation of the 21st century so far, one that thrives in the feverish political climates that have descended on many Western publics.

It is a long article but worth reading if you have any interest in international propaganda and information wars.

As stated it is not just the use of news organisations, it is the use of social media as well. Facebook is gradually admitting how they were used during the US election campaign.

Reuters: Facebook says some Russian ads during U.S. election promoted live events

Some of the ads bought by Russians on Facebook last year promoted events during the U.S. presidential campaign, Facebook Inc said on Tuesday, indicating that alleged meddling ahead of the 2016 election went beyond social media.

Facebook said in a statement that its takedown of what the company last week called Russian-affiliated pages included shutting down “several promoted events.”

Facebook declined to provide details of the promoted events.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, said last week that an operation likely based in Russia had placed thousands of U.S. ads with polarizing views on topics such as immigration, race and gay rights on the site during a two-year period through May 2017.

The Daily Beast, the news website that first reported on the promoted events posted on Facebook, said one advertisement promoted an anti-immigrant rally in Idaho in August 2016.

The rally was hosted by a Facebook group called “Secured Borders,” which was a Russian front and is now suspended, according to the Daily Beast.

In social media they commonly target people who want to believe certain things and  spread issues that have dubious merit.

Trump meets Putin

A much anticipated meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin has taken place at the G20 meeting in Hamburg. This may have been better done separately so as not to overshadow the G20, but both Putin and Trump seem to like being the focus of attention.

U.S. President Donald Trump told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that it was an “honor” to meet him for the first time and said he looked forward to “positive things” in the relationship between the former Cold War rivals.

Trump and Putin spoke through translators with their respective foreign ministers present for six minutes before reporters were allowed into the room for their statements. Afterwards the reporters were ushered out and the meeting continued.

“President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it’s going very well,” Trump told reporters, sitting alongside the Russian leader.

“We’ve had some very, very good talks. We’re going to have a talk now and obviously that will continue. We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everybody concerned. And it’s an honor to be with you.”

Putin, through a translator, said: “We spoke over the phone with you several times,” adding: “A phone conversation is never enough.”

“I am delighted to be able to meet you personally, Mr. President,” he said, noting that he hoped the meeting would yield results.

The body language here seems to tell it’s own story:

Putin has been dealing in international politics for a long tome, Trump is the apprentice.

There is sure to be more reporting and PR on the Trump-Putin meeting.