Posts Tagged ‘#Deutschland’

Germany Goes Mao on Free Speech: Investors Blanche

January 19, 2018

When asked how he went bankrupt, the venerable  American author of “Huckleberry Finn” Mark Twain said „Slowly at first, then all at once.“ It looks like that quintessential Western freedom to speak and write freely (within the already narrow parameters of incitement, libel and genocide denial laws) is heading down the very same path in Germany. Freedom of speech, that core practice that distinguishes the West from its competitors and adversaries, is curling up its toes between the Oder and the Rhine.

On New Year’s Day 2018, veiled government censorship detonated in the Teutonic Twittersphere as a new and eerily named hate speech law took effect – the Netzdurchsuchungsgesetz. I’ve covered the NetzDG ‘s slow dark creep and how it’s the antithesis of all that characterizes the West – arbitrary, without redress, full Mao.

As it seeks to make a thousand flowers bloom, the law also has the potential of spooking investors and even of damaging investor sentiment in Germany. That’s especially true for smaller urban tech start-ups and for downtown real estate, as I discovered at the latest Tech Summit in Lisbon. More on that later. First, here’s a bit of polit-drama to spice up a baleful tale.

Not Tried, But Immediately Tested

After the NetzDG went into effect on the first day of 2018, it was immediately tested by an arch-adversary of the sitting government. AFD MP Beatrix von Storch fired off a Tweet that entered the Shadowland of What is Acceptable. In emotive language, she lashed out at “barbaric, gang-raping Muslim hordes”. The tweet was quickly scrubbed by Twitter. (In a prima facie example of how misguided the law is, a satire of her tweetwas erased as well.) Von Storch then used the censorship as a case in point – that the NetzDG was not about fighting hate, but was instead a cynical bid to ring-fence debate on the CDU/SPD’s Open Borders policy and its consequences. That policy is now facing mounting public rejection and is weighing heavily on tough exploratory talks for a coalition government.

Hate Speech Charges: Used to Smokescreen Policy Failures?

You can argue whether or not the AFD Co-Chair’s Beatrix von Storch’s Tweet was in good taste. But that’s not at issue. What is, is her fundamental right to express her own thoughts and sentiments where, how and when she pleases. Especially when it comes to public policy and police failures to protect the public. Taking it one step further, the very police department her Tweet criticized (Cologne’s) then put her under investigation for incitement for underscoring unpleasant facts that put them in a bad light!  Again, the question here is not whether von Storch stereo-typed a group, hurt feelings or even engaged in incitement. The question is about censoring political speech at the exact moment migration becomes the nation’s most emotional and divisive issue. The Twitter erasure and felony charges arise just as new crime stats point to a direct link between increased unvetted migration and soaring violence and crime in Germany and Europe.

Setting the Cologne police case aside, a public courtroom, not a corporate office for private media police , is the proper venue to judge if Von Storch broke the law. That’s been the democratic norm in the US since 1789 and the Federal Republic since 1949. The CDU/SPD Grand Coaltion has clearly dropped the torch.

A Law Unto Itself 

The NetzDG has been ripped apart by a cross-section of civil society. Even the UN, assorted NGO’s and the EU have expressed concern. And since the NetzDG has the whiff of political sulfur, it’s hardly surprising the AFD, seeing an opportunity, has gone in for the kill. The FDP and the Greens as well have made undoing the law part of their agenda. (The Greens, though, want more, not less, government intervention. According to the DTS News Service, leading Green Renate Kunast wants a national network of courts to convict offenders.) All of this has stoked the debate that Germany is sleepwalking backward into the bad old days of the Stasi in the Communist East. As a young journalist, I spent a number of tours in the grayscapes of the DDR. I never saw a thousand blossoms. But I did meet some of the earnest “Heroes of the Revolution” who were busy monitoring, censoring and arresting fellow citizens for aberrant thoughts and utterances, like the gentleman below.

The NetzDG is not Investor-Friendly 

The NetzDG is tarnishing Germany’ reputation as a progressive society. What it reveals is a jittery nanny state micromanaging Tweets with a legion of amateurs unsuited for their role, whose task is administering directives and whose judgment is final. That might work if your business partner is a sweatshop providing the only jobs in a malarial swampland. It does not work if you’re looking for the best and the brightest. What makes Silicon Valley shine for tech investors is the atmosphere of inventiveness deeply rooted in free thinking. Arabesques of creativity were not exactly the order of the day in the DDR. They will become less likely in a Germany where social media is tightly monitored for missteps.

And it sets Germany on a slippery slope. How long is the descent from censored tweets to China’s social media ratings that determine your employment or housing possibilities? Far-fetched? Some in the German elite are openly lobbying for pivoting to China as Berlin’s preferred partner rather than Trumps’ America. It’s not only perceptions of what Germany’s is becoming that’s worrying investors. At the Tech Summit in Lisbon, young founders also grilled me on security in business hubs like Frankfurt and Berlin in light of the arrival of thousands of unvetted migrants.

They’re Only Numbers 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t provide them with concrete numbers, and could only point to the anecdotal record. That, as mentioned, has changed as I write this, and the latest numbers confirm aggregated police blotter reports showing a connection and a causality between a spike in migrant numbers and a spike in certain types of crime. This topic has been largely ignored by Germany’s mainstream news networks. (Some of the questions raised at the Tech Summit were based on personal accounts of recent travelers to Germany.) I left Lisbon with the impression there are growing reservations among digital nomads about German cities, especially about my home, Berlin. For Generation Z, I discovered, it no longer enjoys a reputation as a  laid-back locale for hipsters looking to start up the next Spotify or Netflix. Now it’s Lisbon that’s topping the charts for groove and the buzz.   Not just because of its young tech scene, its modest prices and its stunning natural beauty and nostalgic architechtural beauty. It’s also one of Europe’s safest cities – especially for young women. (But watch out for the pickpockets on scenic Tram 28!)

            Taking a break at TechSummit17 with the Tall Ships

Can Germany Get Its Freedom Mojo Back?

Step One to a new German Mojo is dumping NetzDG on the scrap heap of history. Germany’s leading publications are already leaning that way. Editors are recalling Europe’s rich heritage: what has distinguished us, beginning with the Greek city-state until this very day, is the freedom to speak our minds publically and in assemblies, the Agora, without fear. The NetzDG imbues the Digital Agora with an atmosphere of denunciation and suspicion. The choice for Germans is clear: they can choose freedom, with all its nuances and responsibilities, or they can choose fear, the great paralyzer and destroyer. Let’s hope 2018 will see Germans reconnecting with the Freedom Mojo that was their glory in 1848 and in 1989. The world would be a better place for it.

Copyright 2018 by Brian Thomas All rights reserved. All photos thanks to Wiki Commons.

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Trump and Bild: Merkel’s Poisoned Chalice

January 16, 2017

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Trump Lays it Out for Germany’s Best Selling Tabloid

The news hit the stands (online) Monday night at 23:00 and has been burning it up on the air waves and the internet since then. Everyone has an opinion it seems on a German publication’s first interview with the president-elect. It was conducted by Bild Zeitung, Germany’s biggest tabloid, a brilliant pick to reach out to as many everyday Germans as possible. Editor-in-Chief Kai Diekmann did a solid job, asked the right questions and drew the right conclusions, among them:

1.) Trump is breaking all the rules,  diplomatic,political  and otherwise, and will continue to do so for as long as he governs.

2.) He’s rude, confrontational and annoyingly honest – which can actually be an asset in solving encrusted conflicts.

3.) Trump is the biggest political experiment since the end of the Cold War.

And then the kicker – Trump might just be the first president to change the office more than having the office change him.

It’s a good bet: after redefining campaigning, expect Trump to reshape the Oval Office.Think Twitter, cabinet picks he knew would disagree with him, and the call he repeated in his Bild interview with Diekmann to roll back NATO and his dire prediction for a demise of the EU.

German Politicos Bump Along in the Fog

I listened to a top CDU politician Norbert Röttgen on Deutschlandfunk giving his response to the Trump interview  after dropping the kids off at school. He’s very bright but continues to analyze Trump from a far too German perspective. He remains confused about Trump’s intentions, and consternated that  Trump thinks mainly of American jobs and America’s borders, deems NATO obsolete and thinks Merkel’s decision to allow in hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees “probably one of the worst if not the worst decision in the country’s history.”   He shouldn’t be.  Theses are positions, sometimes word for word,  Trump laid out countless times in his campaign speeches.

They also represent a deep continuum in American Isolationism.  And – like we’ve seen in the “Mother Country” Britain –  isolationist populism erupts when America’s working and middle classes feel endangered by changes that pose a threat to the nation’s character and customs. Terrorism, radical Islam and  mass migration top that list, although the rise of artificial intelligence and an economic system that mainly serves the hyper-rich as Oxfam just pointed out, are right up there.

Wait and See is the Worst Strategy with Trump

Other top politicians here have not been doing the character study of  Trump they should have. In response to his plan to slap steep 35 % tariffs on BMW, SPD Vice-Chancellor Sigmar  Gabriel says just wait and see what comes out of all this.

Foreign Minister frank Walter Steinmeier is taking a similar approach when it comes to Trump’s intentions of changing NATO. Both are banking on Trump running into opposition in Congress on getting protectionist and isolationist  legislation pushed through. In doing so they are not taking three key factors into consideration:

1.) Many of the voters who put Trump in office  are among the bottom 50 % of Americans who’ve seen no income growth  for 30 years while the top 1 % has seen a 300 % increase in wealth. They are ripe for protectionism, not more globalism. Congress will mirror that.

2.) Donald Trump is the Ultimate Deal Maker. He is also a driven individual who works tirelessly to achieve his goals. His ego will allow for nothing less than total success and victory.

3.)  European nations started closing borders as soon as the migrant crisis unfolded. It led to new  alliances  in the form of  a revitalized Visegrad Group.  The dynamic of crisis led  Russia to  decouple form the West and  seek an invigorated Shanghai Group.   America has seen that Europe’s East and Putin’s Russia are successful in achieving their goals via national and regional solutions as opposed to trans-national agreements and  is opting for the same path.

Instead of playing defense and  preparing to react to Trump initiatives, Germany and the EU needs to move forward with it’s own agenda on migration and jobs. If  Europe does not act with athletic confidence in key policy areas, the EU  will be steamrollered by a newly assertive America on everything from trade to migration to security.

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Expect Much More of the Same – Not Less

 “America First” has been the historic norm for America, not the  corporate globalism and interventionism of the last 70 years. That is what’s behind Trump’s own consternation about how Merkel responded to the migrant crisis that unfolded in Europe in 2015.  A similar migrant situation has been in the making  on America’s southern border .It was Trump’s promise to “build the wall”, along with bringing home jobs, that galvanized the conservative base and got out undecided and first-time voters.

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Photo :By P. Heinlein [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Safe Zones for Syria – Why Not for Somalia ? The Poisoned Chalice

Talking to Bild, Trump laid out a plan for “safe zones” in Syria funded by oil sheiks   to shelter refugees until they can return home.  He said that was what Germany should have done as as the crisis unfolded. But in 2015, Germany  did not have the  military and logistical capacity for such a mission.  It  still doesn’t.  Could German diplomacy though have  cobbled together an alliance to create safe zones in Syria?  And if militarily protected safe zones could have been an alternative for Syria in 2015, are they an option today?  Are  “safe zones”  perhaps the best solution for all involved in Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea as well?  Those countries are sending tens of  thousands of refugees to Europe monthly.  Tragically, all too many die making the risky voyage to Europe.

Those  questions are the poisoned chalice that Donald  Trump has extended to Angela Merkel, her coalition and the next government as well. Trump’s delivery of  his   critique of  Angela’s  Merkel’s claim there was  no other option at that time than to allow  the refugees in, via Bild as the election seasons here kicks off, shows just how much of a political operator he is.

No wonder Angela Merkel has chosen to play down the Bild interview. But will her political opponents inside  and outside of the coalition do the same for very long?   Just as the Bild interview was making the rounds, so too was the news that a veteran CDU grand dame had quit the party , condemning Merkel for  violating EU law  with her unilateral decision to suspend the Dublin accords,  a move that legalised the influx of refugees into Europe. The debate over migration and what transpired at Europe’s borders in 2015  is set to shape the 2017 German election.

Since Merkel has chosen to run for a fourth term as Chancellor, her decision not to engage Trump,  but to avoid him at every turn, and not  to rebut his criticism is a misstep. If she wants to win, she will need to explain to voters why her decision in 2015 was the right one and why her current migration policy is the best way forward.

As I have previously mentioned, instead of  playing “wait and see” or  taking Trump’s bait,  Merkel’s  adjutants should be down at Trump Tower glad-handing every palm they can press. Her success or failure at the polls could depend on her relations with Germany’s most important ally.

All Copyrights ©Brian Thomas 2017

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