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Archive for the ‘United Land of Germany’ Category

China, German promise closer financial cooperation

January 18, 2019

BEIJING (AP) — China and Germany promised Friday to open their markets wider to each other’s banks and insurers, giving Beijing a burst of positive trade news amid conflicts with Washington and Europe.

The two sides affirmed support for a global trading system that other governments worry is threatened by President Donald Trump’s “America first” policies. That followed a regular annual meeting between German’s finance minister and China’s economy czar.

The initiatives reflect Beijing’s determination to press ahead with changes aimed at making its state-dominated economy more productive and to reduce reliance on the U.S. market by building commercial ties with other countries.

China has tried without success to recruit Germany as an ally in its tariff war with Trump. Berlin expresses support for free trade but Chancellor Angela Merkel has stressed her government is not taking sides.

Delegations led by German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and China’s economy czar, Vice Premier Liu He, signed agreements to cooperate more closely on financial regulation. They included no details or commercial commitments, but Liu said Beijing welcomes “more qualified German banks to participate in the opening and innovation of China’s financial market.”

The two governments support their institutions doing “cross-border business in banking, securities, insurance and other fields,” the vice premier said. Beijing has promised repeatedly to carry out long-delayed commitments made when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 to open its banking, insurance and securities markets. The government promised in 2017 to allow full foreign ownership of banks and insurers for the first time but business groups say they need to see details of regulations to know whether those opportunities are worth pursuing.

Chinese regulators have suspended issuing licenses to American companies in finance due to the tariff hikes imposed Trump in the fight over Beijing’s technology ambitions. Beijing also faces pressure over technology from the European Union. The 28-nation trade bloc filed a challenge in the WTO in June to Chinese rules it says hamper foreign companies in protecting and profiting from their own technology.

Friday’s talks were “also about advancing multilateral cooperation,” Scholz said before the event began. He cited Chinese-German cooperation in the Group of 20 major economies and on Africa, taxation and other issues.

“We want to make further progress,” he said.

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Germany: Local leader of far-right party attacked, wounded

January 08, 2019

BERLIN (AP) — A local leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany was attacked and seriously wounded by several men in the northwestern city of Bremen, an assault that drew condemnation Tuesday from some of the party’s fiercest opponents.

Bremen police said they believe the attack on Frank Magnitz, a lawmaker in Germany’s national parliament who leads the party’s local branch, was politically motivated. They called for witnesses to the attack around 5:20 p.m. Monday near a city theater to come forward.

Magnitz was beaten over the head with an unidentified object by at least three men wearing dark clothing and hoods or hats, who then fled, police said. Two workers who were loading a car nearby found him lying on the ground and called an ambulance. The 66-year-old was hospitalized.

The party, known by its German acronym AfD, said earlier Tuesday that Magnitz was ambushed after he left a local newspaper’s new year’s reception, beaten unconscious with a piece of wood and then kicked in the head as he lay on the ground.

Bremen, Germany’s smallest state, holds a regional election on May 26, the same day as European Parliament elections in which AfD hopes to make gains. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, wrote on Twitter that “the brutal attack on lawmaker Frank Magnitz in Bremen must be strongly condemned. Hopefully police will quickly succeed in catching the perpetrators.”

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, a center-left politician who has been a strong critic of AfD, tweeted that “violence must never be a means of political confrontation — no matter against whom or what the motives are.”

“There is no justification for this,” he said, calling for those responsible to be punished. That was echoed by other politicians from established parties, including prominent Green party politician Cem Ozdemir, who said that AfD must be countered by legal means, not violence. “Anyone who fights hatred with hatred always lets hatred win in the end,” he wrote on Twitter.

AfD is represented in all of Germany’s 16 state parliaments. It entered the national parliament in 2017 and is currently the biggest opposition party there. AfD views the country’s established political parties with contempt, and the feeling is mutual.

“The cowardly and life-threatening attack against Frank Magnitz is the result of constant agitation against us by politicians and media,” party co-leaders Alexander Gauland and Joerg Meuthen said in a statement.

AfD took 10 percent of the vote in Bremen in the 2017 national election, below its nationwide result of 12.6 percent. Bremen is not considered a stronghold of the six-year-old party, unlike three states in Germany’s ex-communist east that hold regional votes in September and October.

Germany has seen other attacks on politicians in recent years. In 2015, a far-right extremist stabbed in the neck a leading mayoral candidate for Cologne, who at the time was in charge of housing refugees. Henriette Reker was elected mayor the following day while in an induced coma and took office about a month later.

In 2017, a man with a knife attacked the mayor of Altena in western Germany. The mayor was known for voluntarily taking in more asylum-seekers than the small town was obliged to.

Germany closes last of black coal mines that shaped country

December 21, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Germany is closing its last black coal mines, ending an industry that laid the foundations for the country’s industrial revolution and its post-war economic recovery. On Friday, Miners planned to hand German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier a symbolic last lump of coal hauled up from 1,200 meters (3,940 feet) below ground at the Prosper-Haniel mine in the western city of Bottrop. Along with another mine, in the town of Ibbenbueren about 100 kilometers (62 miles) to the north, it will be formally shuttered at the end of the year.

“This marks the end of a significant era in Germany,” government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said. “Black coal enabled the industrialization of the region and with it prosperity in all of Germany,” she added. “This should be honored because we all benefit, even indirectly, to this day.”

Black coal mines once dominated the Ruhr region surrounding Bottrop, employing up to half a million people at their peak in the 1950s. But they have since been in steady decline, surviving only thanks to generous subsidies.

The region has received more than 40 billion euros ($46 billion) in federal funds since 1998 and is slated to get another 2.7 billion euros through 2022, in part to deal with mine maintenance and environmental cleanup efforts. The figures don’t include money spent supporting economic redevelopment in the Ruhr region, which has seen a growth in universities, research facilities and IT start-ups in recent years.

The end of the deep-shaft mines is seen as a test for the planned closure of open-cast lignite, or brown coal, mines still operating in Germany. The country generates almost two-fifths of its electricity from burning coal, a situation that scientists say can’t continue if Germany wants to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in line with international efforts to curb climate change.

But some fear that other sources of energy — chiefly renewables — may not be sufficient, especially as Germany plans to shut down its nuclear plants by 2022. A government-appointed panel is due to deliver a report in February laying out proposals for the gradual phasing out of lignite mines. The experts, including party officials, environmentalists and miners union representatives, will also propose ways in which tens of thousands of people whose jobs still depend on the coal industry can find new work in future.

One of the panel’s members said the hundreds of billions in subsidies paid to prop up black coal in Germany were a cautionary tale. “This time we cannot do it incrementally, in a piecemeal way,” Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told The Associated Press.

With about 420 coal mining regions around the globe facing similar pressure to shut down in the coming years, Schellnhuber said Germany could become a pioneer in the transition away from fossil fuels.

At Friday’s ceremony, miners were expected to pay their respects to colleagues who lost their lives underground. The dangers were highlighted Monday, when a 29-year-old worker was crushed to death by a metal door in the Ibbenbueren shaft. And overnight Friday, news emerged of the death of 13 miners in an explosion at a colliery in the Czech Republic.

New head of Merkel party seeks to build bridges with rivals

December 08, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s successor at the helm of Germany’s main center-right party sought to consolidate her power on Saturday after a narrow victory, installing a young conservative in a key leadership post in an effort to build bridges with her rivals.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a Merkel ally close to her centrist stance, was elected as chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union on Friday. She narrowly defeated Friedrich Merz, a one-time Merkel rival representing a more traditionally conservative approach and a clearer break from the longtime chancellor’s era. Another sometime Merkel critic, Health Minister Jens Spahn, was eliminated in earlier voting.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, showed Saturday that she is keen to prevent lasting divisions and give conservatives and younger members a strong voice. She nominated Paul Ziemiak, the 33-year-old leader of the party’s youth wing, to serve as her general secretary — the official in charge of day-to-day political strategy and the job she held herself until she was elected leader.

“This party is not split — we all have the task of working on the unity of this party,” she told a party congress in Hamburg. Ziemiak, who ran unopposed, won the support of 62.8 percent of delegates, a result suggesting Kramp-Karrenbauer still has plenty of work to do.

Ziemiak is further to the right than Kramp-Karrenbauer, is considered a friend of Spahn and comes from the same region as Merz. Kramp-Karrenbauer, a Catholic who is herself a shade more conservative than Merkel on social and security issues, faces pressure to improve the CDU’s electoral fortunes after a dismal year in which Merkel’s uneasy governing coalition with the center-left Social Democrats lurched from one crisis to the next.

Four state elections loom next year, including three in the ex-communist east, where the anti-migration Alternative for Germany is strongest. That party’s co-leader, Alice Weidel, described Kramp-Karrenbauer as “Merkel 2.0” and said that “the last conservative Christian Democrats have lost their battle.”

Kramp-Karrenbauer will need to prove her wrong. She says she plans to review her party’s migration and security policies early next year. And she faces a first nationwide vote in May’s election for the European Parliament, often a painful experience for governing parties.

Kramp-Karrenbauer served for years as the governor of Saarland state, a western border region with strong ties to neighboring France, Germany’s traditional partner in leading European integration. Setting out her pitch on Friday, she called for “a strong Europe that completes Schengen,” Europe’s border-free travel area, and advocated for a European army, something France’s president has called for.

“There must be no doubt that we are the party that really stands for Europe,” she said on the campaign trail last month. Kramp-Karrenbauer is promising to give her party the first say in discussing policies, rather than digesting decisions already made by the government. It’s unclear how much friction that could cause with Merkel.

Merkel plans to continue as chancellor for the rest of this parliamentary term. The next election isn’t due until 2021, but it’s uncertain whether her governing coalition will last that long. Kramp-Karrenbauer is the favorite to run for chancellor in the next election, though that isn’t automatic.

Merkel ally becomes German conservative party’s leader

December 07, 2018

HAMBURG, Germany (AP) — Angela Merkel’s center-right party elected an ally of the longtime German chancellor as its new leader on Friday, opting for continuity and experience as it handed her the challenge of opening a new chapter and improving the party’s electoral fortunes.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, narrowly defeated one-time Merkel rival Friedrich Merz to become the Christian Democratic Union’s new chairwoman. The vote came hours after the party feted Merkel with a lengthy standing ovation as she wrapped up 18 years at the helm.

Merkel has said she plans to remain chancellor until Germany’s next election, which is due in 2021 but could come earlier. Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU general secretary since February and previously a popular state governor, is now the favorite to run for chancellor in that vote.

That isn’t automatic, but all but two of Kramp-Karrenbauer’s seven predecessors as CDU leader became chancellor. She was quick to call for party unity after defeating Merz 517-482 on Friday, saying “there is a place in this party” for Merz and Health Minister Jens Spahn, who was eliminated in a first round of voting at a congress in Hamburg.

Merz stood for a more conservative, business-friendly approach than Merkel, while Kramp-Karrenbauer — often known as “AKK” — was closer to Merkel’s centrist stance. Kramp-Karrenbauer said she wants to ensure that the CDU avoids the fate of shrinking center-right parties in France and elsewhere.

“We’re a bit like the last unicorn in Europe — the last big people’s party that still exists,” she told delegates before the vote. “I want that to be the case tomorrow too. This Europe, this Germany, this world needs a strong CDU.”

Kramp-Karrenbauer has shown a greater willingness than Merkel to cater to conservative rhetoric, and on Friday rejected the notion that she would be a Merkel clone. “I’ve read a lot about what I am and who I am — ‘mini,’ ‘a copy,’ ‘simply carrying on the same way,'” she said. “I stand here as I am and how life has formed me, and I am proud of that.”

She described herself as a mother of three “who knows herself how difficult it is to reconcile family and professional life” and listed her long experience in regional government. Kramp-Karrenbauer was the first woman to be a German state’s interior minister, or top security official, and served as the governor of western Saarland state, defying expectations to win re-election by a wide margin last year. In February, she gave up the governor’s job to become the CDU’s general secretary, managing the party’s day-to-day political strategy.

In 18 years of experience, she said she “learned that leadership is more about internal strength then external volume.” And she said the CDU must attract voters with its own ideas, not by competing to see “who attacks our political opponents the hardest.”

In his speech, Merz highlighted the need to tackle the “intolerable” success of the far-right Alternative for Germany party and called for a more combative approach toward the CDU’s rivals in the political center ground.

Merz, who was the CDU’s parliamentary leader until he was pushed out of the job by Merkel in 2002, had sought a spectacular comeback in Friday’s vote after a decade away from front-line politics. Merkel has been CDU leader since 2000 and chancellor since 2005. She has moved her party relentlessly to the center, dropping military conscription, accelerating Germany’s exit from nuclear energy and introducing benefits such as encouraging fathers to look after their young children. She also allowed the introduction of gay marriage, which Kramp-Karrenbauer was more vehement in opposing.

Most controversially, Merkel allowed in large numbers of migrants in 2015. Kramp-Karrenbauer has talked tough on immigration issues in recent weeks, but warned that endlessly rehashing the debate about Merkel’s 2015 decision on migrants is a turn-off for voters

In her farewell speech as leader, the 64-year-old Merkel said Friday that “our CDU today is different from the year 2000, and that is a good thing.” For years, Merkel’s popularity lifted the CDU and its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union. In the 2013 election, they won 41.5 percent of the vote and only just fell short of an outright parliamentary majority.

At present, the center-right bloc is polling around or below 30 percent. Merkel’s fourth-term governing coalition with the center-left Social Democrats has lurched through a series of crises since taking office in March, and the CDU has lost supporters both to the liberal Greens and to Alternative for Germany.

Merkel, however, recalled that the CDU was in a deep crisis when she took over in 2000, mired in a party financing scandal surrounding ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl. She said it “kept a cool head” to recover.

“I wasn’t born as chancellor or as party leader,” she said. “I have always wanted to do my government and party jobs with dignity, and one day to leave them with dignity … now it is time to open a new chapter.”

Kramp-Karrenbauer said the competition to succeed Merkel “has given us lift.” It was the first contested CDU leadership election since 1971. “This upswing must continue,” she said.

Moulson reported from Berlin.

Germany marks 20th anniversary of Nazi looted art agreement

November 26, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — German officials, Jewish leaders and others are marking the 20th anniversary of the international agreement on returning art looted by the Nazis with concrete pledges and proposals aimed at breathing new life into the process.

Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said Monday it is Germany’s responsibility to improve upon the so-called Washington Principles to restore cultural objects to their original Jewish owners or heirs, noting their meaning is much more than financial.

She says “behind every stolen object is the fate of an individual.” Germany is implementing measures to make both research of looted items and restitution easier. World Jewish Congress head Ronald Lauder says Germany has been “exemplary” in many ways but he called for more to be done and noted several other countries that endorsed the Washington Principles have largely ignored them.

Merkel rebuffs German nationalists over migration pact

November 21, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday rejected calls from nationalist lawmakers for Germany to drop its support for a U.N.-backed agreement on migration. Several countries — including the United States, Hungary, Austria, Israel, Australia and Poland — have announced they won’t back the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, set to be approved next month in Marrakech, Morocco.

Speaking during parliament’s annual budget debate in Berlin, Merkel told lawmakers that the pact would ensure “reasonable conditions” elsewhere that already exist in Germany, such as the right for migrants to access health services and get financial support.

“That’s why it’s in our national interest that the conditions around the world, for refugees on the one hand and migrants on the other, are improved,” Merkel said. Opposition to the pact has come mainly from the far-right Alternative for Germany party, but a number of lawmakers from Merkel’s own party have also begun to question the agreement.

Health Minister Jens Spahn called recently for a broader debate about the pact and, if necessary, for a delay in approving it. Spahn appears to be trailing other high-profile candidates in a bid to succeed Merkel as leader of her Christian Democratic Union party next month.

One of the leading contenders, Friedrich Merz, called Wednesday night for a clarification that the U.N. pact won’t create any new grounds for asylum “through the back door.” At an event in eastern Germany with the other candidates, Merz also advocated a wider discussion on how the right to asylum in Germany is defined.

Merkel, who has announced she won’t run for a fifth term in 2021, said the migration pact is an example of the way in which global problems can only be solved through international cooperation. Amid a rise in nationalist sentiment around the world, Merkel has become one of the most vocal defenders of multilateralism, frequently noting that Germany owes its revival after World War II to institutions such as the European Union and United Nations.

Presenting her government’s 356 billion-euro ($407-billion) budget for 2019, Merkel cited plans to invest more in care for children and the elderly, improve integration of migrants, raise pension levels and boost renewable energy.

Alternative for Germany’s co-leader, Alice Weidel, earlier accused Merkel’s government of spending “without thinking about tomorrow.” Weidel used much of her speech to defend her party over its receipt of foreign donations and accuse rivals of having similarly dubious sources of income.

Merkel didn’t respond to Weidel’s comments about party funding.

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