Posts Tagged ‘#Germany’

Unstable Germany? Not if President Steinmeier Acts Fast

November 20, 2017

With the collapse of coalition talks, German has entered unchartered territory and many fear weeks if not months of political uncertainty set to cost jobs, give investors cold feet and undermine faith in Europe’s leading economy and in Berlin’s ability to shape the post-Brexit European Union. People are worried and they should be.

A fraying Europe – with Brexit, Catalaxit, challenges to the rule of law in Poland, corporate censorship in the form of hate speech laws for social media, a disingenuous Russia and a migration crisis that will be with us for decades – has just received another loud rip in its fabric.
There is a way, though, to save Germany and Europe from further damage

The wise authors of the nation’s 1949 Constitution, having lived through the associated horrors of weak institutions during the Weimar Republic anticipated exactly this moment. They’ve provided us with the excellent remedies within the guidelines of Article 63.

Sicherheitskonferenz - Munich Security Conference

 

How Article 63 Works

With the collapse of talks, following Article 63 means the Federal President, Frank-Walter  Steinmeier steps in. The political initiative and the power to decide who is chancellor passes to the Federal President. Frank Walter Steinmeier.  He’s already indicated he understands what is at stake.

Step One: The Bundestag Vote for Absolute Majority

„The Chancellor is elected by the Bundestag in accordance with Article 63. The Federal President is allowed to propose a candidate only in the first round of voting. Here the authors of the Basic Law learned a clear lesson from the Weimar Republic where the President was able to appoint and dismiss the Chancellor at will. If there is no absolute majority in the first round of voting the Bundestag has fourteen days time in which it can elect a Chancellor in as many rounds of voting as desired. Here again, an absolute majority is needed to win (Article 63, 3, Basic Law). „

Step Two: The Bundestag Vote for a Simple Majority

„If this second phase fails to produce the desired result the parliament must vote without delay in a third phase. If the candidate for Chancellor receives only a relative majority the President is required to step in. He must either appoint the candidate for Chancellor who received the largest number of votes or he must dissolve the Bundestag (Article 63, 4, Basic Law).In the 18 times a Chancellor has been elected since 1949 all the heads of government have received the required a majority in the first round of voting. However the candidate elected is not officially Chancellor until he has received a certificate of appointment from the Federal President (Article 63, 2, Basic Law)

Step Three: The Constructive Vote of No-confidence

A Chancellor’s term in office normally ends when the newly elected Bundestag convenes for its first meeting (Article 69, Basic Law). However, the parliament can express a lack of confidence in the head of government by electing a successor with an absolute majority (Article 67, Basic Law). Helmut Kohl is the only Chancellor in the history of the Federal Republic to have been elected in this way. He succeeded Helmut Schmidt as a result of a constructive vote of no confidence in 1982. At the request of the Federal President, a deposed Chancellor is required to continue to conduct the affairs of office until the appointment of his successor (Article 69, Basic Law).

The German President Should Act Swiftly, Today Would be Good

German President Frank Walter Steinmeier should act swiftly and begin the parliamentary process.

Now that the FDP is out, we can be spared the spectacle of similarly doomed negotiations. The FDP, Greens and the conservative CDU/CSU have demonstrated they can’t reach even the show of a workable compromise in the following areas:

1.) Migration and the prospect of bringing over hundreds of thousands of family dependents to join the hundreds of thousands of refugee already here. Non-starter.

2.) Fossil Fuels. Ending coal mining and coal-fired power plants is a no-go zone that was barely touched on.

3.) Tax Reform Never easy even when partners are ideologically close let alone at dagger’s edge.

AfD Bundesparteitag 23. April 2017 in Köln

 

If all else fails : New Elections 

With this in mind, and should the Bundestag vote fail, the Federal President then calls new elections. That’s not the end of the world. It will most likely, however, be the political end of the Angela Merkel. Under her leadership, her Christian Democrats have lost most of their conservative contours, especially regarding migration, open borders and a cap on asylum seekers and migrants. These issues, and whether refugees already in the country will be allowed to bring over their families from places like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, will be at the heart of the next election campaign. The party most likely to benefit from the new uncertainty and new elections will be the Alternative for Germany which has made an anti-migrant stand the central plank in its platform.

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John F. Kennedy Calling with a Free Speech Message this Saint Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2017

This Saint Patrick Day I’m thinking about one of my favorite Irish heroes, the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy – a man of clarity, purpose, and courage. His speeches, written by himself, remain part of classic rhetorical training, as they were when I was learning to cut the cliches and mixed metaphors.

To celebrate Paddy driving out of the snakes, here’s the audio and text version of his oft-cited address to the American Newspapers Publishers Association on April 27, 1961. It represents the gold standard when it comes to style. But it’s often overlooked when it comes to its substance – namely that a vigorous and free press it essential to a lively democracy. Without it, debate and discussion withers to what is allowed and approved by the powerful and wealthy, not what is essential to a free and independent people. And the shield and sword that protects the press is the First Amendment.

Here in Germany, a bill is being crafted that would undermine free speech in this country. It’s the Hate Speech bill by Justice Minister Heiko Maas that I have warned about in other commentaries and will continue to report on. The German journalist Marcus Reuter has done some especially good reporting on the type of creeping government censorship it imposes, masked in good intentions. It takes aim at communications on social media, but can easily be applied to Bragh! services as well. The list of forbidden content includes the usual “hate speech” and “incitement” clauses which are famously elastic, as well legal sanctions for failing to delete illegal material like copyrighted images or text. At the same time, it contains no sanctions for failing to delete pornographic material that may be accessible by a minor.

But let’s put all this aside for today – it is, after all, Saint Patrick’s and that means, since everyone is Irish today, it’s time for a beer, and some corned beef and cabbage out of solidarity with the Emerald Isle. One last thought – just like Saint Patrick is the protector of Ireland, JFK told journalists that they, and the First Amendment, were the protectors of America’s freedom:

“Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution …”

Here’s to Saint Patrick and a snake free life: Erin Go Bragh !

Copyright by Brian Thomas 2016 . All rights reserved.

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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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Does Germany Need a 1st Amendment ? Censorship’s Nose is under the Tent

November 26, 2016

It looks like Germany – and the EU – needs a First Amendment.

And by the pace of developments – it can’t come quickly enough.

Following the Trumpquake and the Brexnami, the political establishment wants to contain other political upheavals. They want to hold on to power. Upstart parties and movements have been articulating the unhappiness of large segments of the electorate. The anger began with the bank bailouts two legislative cycles ago in 2008. It’s been simmering since then.

Many politicians and their adherents in the media are going down the wrong path.

They’re supporting the most desperate and fear driven response possible: the censorship of ideas they deem threatening and the technologies that deliver them. By doing so they will discredit themselves and undermine our democracies.

And they will fail for all their ardor.

Fake News – Schamke News – Who cares?

With a weather eye towards upcoming elections, and with a chill in her back from the US vote, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced to the Bundestag this week it’s time to debate government regulations for the New Media. Many of us hoped she would be the „torch bearer“ for the „European values“. It looks like her torch is dimming.

More than two centuries ago – America had a massive debate on free speech. It built on another much older debate in Europe that included Martin Luther.  It’s fruit was the US Constitution. The oldest and best guarantor of freedom of its kind on the planet.

A quick reminder: The fundamental values are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Liberty is enshrined in the 1st Amendment. It’s the first for a reason. Here it is:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

„No laws“ means no laws.

I’m Not Feeling the Freedom

Without a completely free press, there can be no other freedoms. That in a nutshell, powered the American, the French, and the German Revolution(s). It is still powering them today from Hong Kong to Turkey.

The threat to free speech in Europe today does not come from an Erdogan type of edict following mass arrests of opponents. It’s coming in the form of administrative directives from Brussels and government lawsuits at the local and state levels.

It has already started.

Brussels Overreacts – A Sign of Weakness, not Strength

Two disturbing events have taken place in Brussels in the last weeks. One of them is the October recommendation by the European Council to the British press which especially upbraids popular mass market tabloids in the UK for „excessively“ associating terror attacks with Muslims. You can agree or not agree with that. What’s alarming is the power and animus of the administrative organs churning out recommendations on „hate speech“. No one, of course, likes hate. We all want love. But associating „hate“ with speech is a mistake. You can outlaw hate as much as you can outlaw love. It is Orwellian. And look at the practical side. Who decides what constitutes „hate speech“? And the penalties for its use? Whoever is doing it right now in Brussels remains anonymous for most of us. Can you name the individuals responsible for determining what you can say without possible state sanctions?

I can’t. And I work in the „word and ideas“ sector.

These positions are too important not to be elected on a local level. And that’s the problem. Without a 1st Amendment, politicians will create a distant and huge administrative unit to „protect“ speech, which quickly becomes subject to a definition in terms of acceptability. It’s an old game and must be ended lest we destroy what made „The West“ an envied success.

It’s time for Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights to be replaced by the First Amendment.

Failed Templates

The Council of Europe is putting itself in the company of other abysmal failed Councils.

For starters: the Sharia Council will see you stoned to death for blasphemy in a number of Islamic jurisdictions. All for a good cause, of course, heaven. It’s a lot loftier than the „public safety“ the EU is pushing for.

In China, criticizing the political elite or exposing their business, plans will activate the „People’s Council“. “Equality” is the good cause in Beijing. I like heaven better. „Speech violations“ there will make you eligible for slave labor in a smartphone factory where  „suicide nets“ are part of the fashion landscape.

Just ask Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia or Ai Weiwei in China about free speech and Councils. I’ll wager they’d prefer a vigorously defended 1st Amendment.

Why do we rally to their defense and not jealously guard our own freedoms? We need to do both. Or we’re hypocrites.

The second disappointing and hypocritical case from Brussels is from the EU parliament. It has voted for a non-binding resolution to clamp down on Russian English news outlets like RT.

Here’s their assessment and the EU’s remedy:

Propaganda pressure on the EU from Russia and Islamist terrorist groups is growing, MEPs warn in a resolution voted on Wednesday. It seeks to distort the truth, incite fear, provoke doubt and divide the EU. To counteract anti-EU campaigns, MEPs suggest reinforcing the EU’s tiny “strategic communication” task force and investing more in awareness raising, education, online and local media, investigative journalism and information literacy.

(More on that here : http://bit.ly/2fqP0KY)

The main goal here is shut down RT – the popular Russian news site, pure and simple. I’m not here to break a lance for RT. I am here to protect my and your right to listen to what they have to say. Or what anybody has to say about anything.

Here’s a „values“ quote we need to pass around again. Forgetting it is of too great a consequence:

„I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.“ A little Voltaire with your coffee.

By the way, no human, no „body“ gives me that right. I was born with it. That’s what’s meant by „inalienable“. It’s the fruit of the Enlightenment and puts all your holy „Councils“ in the shadows.

Today we take Ankara – tomorrow Berlin

The Chancellor’ s call for a debate on regulating speech is wrong on its face and its timing is catastrophic.  With the war against free speech intensifying from Turkey and the Islamic world to China and beyond – it’s time to for Europe and its political leadership, NGO’s and civil society to stand up for free speech. Germany and Europe need a First Amendment.  Compare it to what the European Council has to offer. It’s too long to quote (surprised?) so I’ve posted below.

The Path to freedom

The camel has stuck its nose under the tent. It’s time to deal with the beast. We need a swift and rigorous debate about introducing a 1st Amendment in Europe at the EU and national levels.

Without one, we risk sinking back into the darkness Europe has known all too often. Oppression thrives in the fine print and in lofty goals. The 1st Amendment is overdue in Europe. I challenge anyone to convince me otherwise.

 

In my next post, I explore how Mark Zuckerberg’s trip to China is bad for freedom, 1st Amendment rights and the small and medium size businesses that depend on free speech to thrive.

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Article 10 : http://bit.ly/1foTq0D