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Germany: Angela Merkel wins fourth term as Chancellor

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Chancellor Angela Merkel, the real force behind the continuation of EU, clinched a fourth term in Germany’s election on Sunday, but her victory was clouded by the hard-right AfD party winning its first seats in parliament.

Merkel, who after 12 years in power held a double-digit lead for most of the campaign, scored around 33 percent of the vote with her conservative Christian Union (CDU/CSU) bloc, according to exit polls. The exit poll made her and her supporters very happy.  Its nearest rivals, the Social Democrats and their candidate Martin Schulz, came in a distant second, with a post-war record low 20-21 percent.

Supporters gathered at the party headquarters in Berlin cried out with joy as public television reported the outcome, many joining in a chorus of the German national anthem.

But in a bombshell for the German establishment, the anti-Islam, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) captured around 13 percent, making it the country’s third biggest political force. The four-year-old nationalist party with links to the far-right French National Front and Britain’s UKIP has been shunned by Germany’s mainstream.

While the likelihood of the AfD winning seats was clear for months, commentators called its strong showing a “watershed moment” in the history of the German republic. It is now headed for the opposition benches of the Bundestag lower house, dramatically boosting its visibility and state financing.

Alarmed by the prospect of what Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel branded “real Nazis” entering the Bundestag for the first time since World War II, the candidates had used their final days of campaigning to implore voters to reject the populists.

Germans elected a splintered parliament reflecting an electorate torn between a high degree of satisfaction with Merkel and a desire for change after more than a decade of her leadership.

Another three parties cleared the five-percent hurdle to be represented in parliament: the liberal Free Democrats at around 10 percent and the anti-capitalist Left and ecologist Greens, both at about nine percent.

As Merkel failed to secure a ruling majority on her own and with the dejected SPD ruling out another right-left “grand coalition” with her, the process of coalition building was shaping up to be a thorny, potentially months-long process.

Merkel, 63, whose campaign events were regularly disrupted by jeering AfD supporters, said in her final stump speech in the southern city of Munich that “the future of Germany will definitely not be built with whistles and hollers”.

Merkel, often called the most powerful woman on the global stage, ran on her record as a steady pair of hands in a turbulent world, warning voters not to indulge in “experiments”. Merkel’s reassuring message of stability and prosperity resonated in greying Germany, where more than half of the 61 million voters are aged 52 or older. Her popularity had largely recovered from the influx since 2015 of more than one million mostly Muslim migrants and refugees, half of them from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the AfD was able to capitalise on a wellspring of anger over the asylum issue during what was criticised as a largely lacklustre campaign bereft of real clashes among the main contenders.

The party has made breaking taboos its trademark. Gauland has called for Germans to shed their guilt over two world wars and the Holocaust and to take pride in their veterans. He has also suggested that Germany’s integration commissioner Aydan Ozoguz, who has Turkish roots, should be “disposed of in Anatolia”.

Law student Sabine Maier dismissed the AfD as “too extreme” as she voted in Berlin. But she also criticised the media for lavishly covering the most outrageous comments by the upstart party. “They aren’t all fascists,” she said.

The SPD said its catastrophic result would lead it to seek a stint in opposition to rekindle its fighting spirit. “This is a difficult and bitter day for German social democracy,” a grim-faced Schulz, a former European Parliament chief, told reporters, adding that he hoped to remain party leader.

This would leave Merkel in need of new coalition partners — possibly the pro-business Free Democrats, who staged a comeback after crashing out of parliament four years ago. In theory they could join forces with the left-leaning Greens, who, however, starkly differ from the FDP on issues from climate change to migration policy.

Schulz, 61, struggled to gain traction with his calls for a more socially just Germany at a time when the economy is humming and employment is at a record low. The SPD also found it hard to shine after four years as the junior partner in Merkel’s left-right “grand coalition”, marked by broad agreement on major issues, from foreign policy to migration. In the final stretch, the more outspoken Schulz told voters to reject Merkel’s “sleeping-pill politics” and vote against “another four years of stagnation and lethargy”.

Angela Merkel has been derided as Europe’s “austerity queen”, cheered as a saviour by refugees and hailed as the new “leader of the free world”. But as the pastor’s daughter raised behind the Iron Curtain just won a fourth term at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy, many Germans simply call her the “eternal chancellor”.

Merkel was born Angela Dorothea Kasner in 1954 in the port city of Hamburg. Weeks later her father, a leftist Lutheran clergyman, moved the family to a small town in the communist East at a time when most people were headed the other way.

Biographers say life in a police state taught Merkel to hide her true thoughts behind a poker face. Like most students, she joined the state’s socialist youth movement but rejected an offer to inform for the Stasi secret police while also staying clear of risky pro-democracy activism.

A top student, she excelled in Russian, which would later help her keep up the dialogue with President Vladimir Putin, who was a KGB officer in Dresden when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

During that momentous upheaval, Merkel joined the nascent Democratic Awakening group, which later merged with the Christian Democrats (CDU) of then-chancellor Helmut Kohl, who fondly if patronisingly dubbed Merkel his “girl”. But Merkel’s mentor was not the last politician to underestimate her and pay the price. When Kohl became embroiled in a campaign finance scandal in 1999, Merkel openly urged her party to drop the self-declared “old warhorse”.

The move, which has been described as “Merkelvellian”, kicked off her meteoric rise. As an outsider, she remade the CDU, anchoring it in the political centre by pushing progressive social policies, abolishing compulsory military service and scrapping nuclear power. She emerged as Europe’s go-to leader during the debt crisis, though she was derided as a puritanical “austerity queen” in the worst-hit southern countries.

As she starts her fourth term, there is no challenger in sight, but plenty of challenges ahead for Merkel, whom New Yorker magazine just labeled “the most powerful woman in a world filled with unstable men”.

Brexit and consolidation of EU, Turkey’s legitimate EU membership are some of the issues she is likely to concentrate on in the near future.

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Europe

Who are the ‘Willing’ in Central Europe – Axis of the 1930s coming back ?

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The idea of an “axis of the willing against illegal migration” between Italy, Germany and Austria has been proposed by Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s right populist leader. He spoke about it with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, a Bavarian conservative who shares the Austrian chancellor’s views on tighter border control. Kurz said fighting illegal immigration will be a top priority for Vienna’s EU presidency from July 2018. Kurz and Seehofer met on the same day as Merkel’s “integration summit,” leading to media reports about serious political clashes between Germany’s coalition parties.

“We shouldn’t wait until we have a catastrophe, like in 2015,” Kurz said, referring to the refugee crisis when German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened her country’s borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants. “Instead it is important to act on time.”

Kurz’s meeting with Seehofer means the German minister was unable to attend Merkel’s “integration summit” happening the same day in Berlin. Referring to media reports that this was meant as a snub to the German leader, Seehofer said his reason for not attending was the presence of a journalist, Ferda Ataman, who opposed German deep state and has compared his policies on migration to the Nazis.

“I cannot be part of an integration summit where there is one participant who in an article compared my strategy on homeland to the homeland understanding of the Nazis,” Seehofer told reporters.

Seehofer takes a much harder line than Merkel on immigration and was expected to present a “migration master plan” this week. That has been postponed, but Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and Seehofer’s Christian Social Union (CSU) hope to find a compromise on the plan this week, Seehofer said.

“From my point of view, it would be ideal to secure the external borders of the European Union,” Seehofer said after the meeting with Kurz. Dismissing voices about the brewing putch within the German ruling coalition, he continued: “I promised Chancellor Kurz that on the question of strengthening the external borders he has my full support as interior minister.”

Seehofer, after talks with yet another government that of Italy, notably with a populist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, said the new government in Rome is also keen to build a partnership with Vienna and Berlin on security, counterterrorism and migration. Seehofer and Salvini are in ‘full agreement’ on how to secure the EU’s external borders, the German minister said.

Concluding, youngish and hawkish chancellor Kurz said: “In our opinion we need an axis of the willing in the fight against illegal migration.”

This choice of words raised a few eyebrows, as a previous “Axis” between those three countries carries much darker historical undertones, as does former US President George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” in Iraq. But the Austrian chancellor didn’t seem to care.

Home troubles

An “axis of the willing” would inevitably be seen as an anti-Merkel alliance. Even further, “perhaps the end of the grand rapprochement between the Atlantic and Central Europe” – says prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic whose long standing claim is that one EU turns into five Europes in times of crisis and externally induced stress.

Mr. Salvini, who heads the far-right League, attacked Ms. Merkel during Italy’s recent election campaign and demonstrated his harsh stance on immigration by refusing to let a rescue boat with more than 600 migrants dock in the country. He stands for pretty much everything Ms. Merkel opposes: unilateral national action and a merciless approach to asylum-seekers. “The good life is over for the illegals, they’re going to have to pack their bags,” he said recently.

And on top of a new cross-border alliance against her, Ms. Merkel is facing enough domestic troubles as defiant conservatives are pressuring her into toughening her immigration policy by means fair and foul.

Mr. Seehofer, whose right-wing Christian Social Union is trying to woo sympathizers of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) ahead of a regional election in the CSU’s home state of Bavaria in October, has drafted a package of measures to curb the number of asylum-seekers coming to Germany.

They include turning away refugees at the border if they have already registered in another EU country — a step that Ms. Merkel rejected on Monday because it would amount to a reversal of her open-border policy and undermine her efforts to find a pan-European agreement on how to deal with refugees. The chancellor’s veto was the spark that reignited the simmering asylum dispute with her Bavarian ally.

Über-muttisummoned

The two held late-night crisis talks on Wednesday with Markus Söder, Mr. Seehofer’s successor as Bavarian premier, and with Hesse state premier Volker Bouffier, a senior figure of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union who is running for re-election in the fall.

However, the two-and-a-half-hour talks failed to deliver a breakthrough. Ms. Merkel did compromise with the CSU’s plan to turn away asylum seekers at the border, but she also proposed this to be first agreed bilaterally with other European countries during the upcoming EU summit later this month, in order to avoid unilateral decisions from Berlin that could further jeopardize the EU’s shaken unity. “It makes sense to wait two more weeks until the summit to find solutions jointly with partner countries,” she said.

For the Bavarians, however, that offer wasn’t enough. Mr. Söder said on Thursday that hoping to reach bilateral deals so soon was unrealistic. “We don’t believe that in two weeks it will be possible to achieve something that has been impossible for three years,” he said. The hawkish Bavarian leader added that instead, creating a fait accompli as soon as possible might force the rest of the EU to adopt a common solution at last.

Rescue plan

An unbending CSU is instead looking into ways to strong-arm Ms. Merkel’s CDU into adopting its proposed immigration plan in the days ahead. The Bavarians are mulling submitting it to a vote within the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag on Friday, as they believe a majority of Ms. Merkel’s CDU lawmakers would side with them. They were probably looking at a survey tabloid Bild published on Thursday. The country’s most-read daily asked all 246 conservative lawmakers in the Bundestag whether they sided with Ms. Merkel or with the Bavarians. Of the 70 who answered, just three backed the chancellor. But that was before she made her compromise on Wednesday night.

On Thursday, CDU lawmakers abruptly interrupted a parliamentary session to hold a group meeting on Ms. Merkel’s latest offer. It turns out that, after Bundestag President Schäuble, who long served as Ms. Merkel’s finance minister, gave a “moving” speech on the future of Europe, the Christian Democrats overwhelmingly endorsed their leader’s proposal after all.

The Bavarians are still digging in their heels, though. The CSU announced that it will make its next move known after an internal summit scheduled for Monday. Some are saying that Mr. Seehofer could disobey the chancellor, his boss, and enforce his plan. The Bavarian party could also break with its sister party, the CDU, as a last resort — but this highly unusual move in Germany’s post-war history could topple the chancellor and plunge the country into a political crisis.

Or Mr. Seehofer still has his axis with Mr. Kurz and Mr. Salvini to fall back on. In the long run, the trio may indeed find a way to defeat a weakened Ms. Merkel and march the EU into unknown.

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The Aegean Dilemma: Turkish-Greek Complexity Challenging European Solidarity

Alexandros-Ioannis Papamatthaiou

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On the 12th of February2018, a Turkish coast guard patrol rammed into a Greek patrol boat near the Imia islands (Kardak in Turkish). The pair of uninhabited islands has been a source of dispute between Greece and Turkey since a military crisis in 1996, which almost resulted in war. The collision has been the climax of a number of Turkish violations on Greek territorial waters and airspace, which have damaged Greek-Turkish relations and escalated the tensions between the two countries. In this article I argue that Turkey’s geopolitical advantages over the US and the EU embolden it to pursue an ambitious foreign policy in the Aegean Sea, while its toxic domestic politics necessitates that it must do so. This combination creates a ticking time bomb for crisis in the Aegean Sea.It is time for the EU to act.

Turkey’s control of refugee flows has EU hands tied

The Syrian crisis has increased Turkish power over European nations that receive the greatest part of refugee flows. Currently, over 2.5 million Syrian refugees reside in Turkey. Turkish officials have threatened to force an influx of Syrian refugees into Europe, a situation that would destabilize already complex tensions within European states and further the far-right political crisis of Europe. The potentiality of this development provides Turkey with a favorable bargaining position over many Western European governments, which are interested in actively averting extremist actions against immigrant populations in order to prevent sectarian divide.

In addition, the waning desire of the Turkish administration to join the EU has removed any leverage the EU had over Turkey. In the past, Turkey has been willing to engage in bilateral talks with Greece over territorial disputes, mainly in an effort to withdraw Greece’s veto over its potential membership in the EU. However, Brexit and the emergence of anti-European movements in founding members like France and Italy, has caused Turkish officials to have second thoughts about the prospect of joining a union on the verge of collapse, according to reports. This development has reduced the bargaining advantage Greece previously enjoyed.

The US is unlikely to react in the event of a crisis

Since the time of the Cold War, American policymakers have viewed Turkey as a key ally against the Soviet Union and now Russia. The proximity of Turkey to Southern Russian cities favors the deployment of strategic nuclear weapons, while, most significantly, the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits create a double chokepoint that checks Russian maritime activity from the warm ports of the Black Sea. This means that in the case of conflict, if Turkey cooperates, Russia’s supply lines from the south could be shut down.

The location of Turkey, north of the Levant, gives Turkish leaders influence in Middle East matters as well and the ability to affect the political situation in both Syria and Iraq. The proximity of Turkey to the Syrian conflict allows it to intervene militarily as it did through Operation Olive Branch in Afrin in January. Turkey also holds a large portion of the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which hydrate the majority of agricultural land in Syria and Iraq. In the past, Turkey has used its control over these river flows as a bargaining tool to curb Kurdish militant activity along its borders with the two countries.These geopolitical facts give Turkey a unique advantage in influencing politics in the Middle East, both directly through military operations and indirectly through river flows.

Turkey’s capacity to contain the Russian navy in a time of a crisis, its ability to directly get involved in the Syrian war, and its influence on the prosperity of Iraq, gives influence over key American strategic objectives: namely, keeping Russia under control, maintaining peace in the Middle East, and ensuring the stability of oil outflows. Despite the status of both Greece and Turkey as members of NATO, the US is unlikely to risk bringing Turkey and Russia closer diplomatically and tempting Turkey to intervene more often in the Middle East.

How are Turkish domestic politics exacerbating the conflict?

Turkey’s militarism is informed by the institutional friction between Turkish politicians and the Turkish army. Since the death of Ataturk, the Turkish army has assigned itself the role of the protector of Ataturk’s ideals. Frequent army intervention in Turkish politics through coups has made politicians apprehensive of the army and ready to externalize the army’s domestic pressure into international operations. After the coup attempt of 2016, President Erdogan has become increasingly determined to preoccupy the army with military operations and maintain stability domestically, as he concentrates power through institutional change and purges political and intellectual dissidents. Turkey’s leaders have also been empowered by public support. The Turkish public has a deep historical understanding of the Turkish identity, the memory of the Greek invasion of 1919, and the unfairness of the Treaty of Lausanne. President Erdogan’s popularity after the failed coup attempt of 2016 has enabled him to empower these conservative opinions and silence opposing Euro-friendly voices in Turkey.

Greek leadership has also done its part to worsen the tensions. The Greek Minister of Defense, Panos Kammenos, leader of the nationalist minority party in Greece’s coalition government, has been vocal on Greece’s expansion of territorial waters, mainly as a feat to maintain his party’s share of the vote. Historical tensions between the two countries, as well as President Erdogan’s public and institutional empowerment and Greece’s current diplomatically inept administration have fueled Turkish nationalist sentiment against Greece, counterbalancing against public support for European integration, and emboldening Turkey’s aggressions in the Aegean.

What are the objectives of Turkey?

Turkish perceptions and expectations of European and American passivity embolden Turkey to act in calculated aggression according to its favorable estimation of the balance of power. Turkey’s primary goals are to increase its claim on maritime territory that may contain potential oil reserves in the Aegean Sea and to hinder Greek efforts to expand territorial waters according to proposed international law [1]. These objectives constitute a reversal of the Treaty of Lausanne, which gave Greece control of the entire Aegean archipelago, and essentially landlocked the Turkish western coast. In a highly complex domestic climate, if Turkish policymakers judge that tensions have risen enough to even minimally justify translation of rhetoric into action, then Turkey is likely to annex the Imia-Kardak islands in a symbolic statement of intent, or even to potentially claim control over Kastelorizo, which would extend Turkey’s continental shelf into the southeast Mediterranean Sea.

Why should the EU care? What can be done?

In an environment of European reluctance and American rejection of involvement, the clock is ticking before the Turkish administration could make bolder moves. The crucial coming election could be the catalyst in materializing Turkish threats over the annexation of disputed territory. In the ever-increasing tense domestic politics of Turkey, political rivals try to outdo each other on anti-Greek rhetoric, resulting in heightened public expectations of conflict. Under the current circumstances, if Turkey escalates the conflict, then the EU stands to lose in all possible scenarios. If the EU intervenes, then Turkey may retaliate with the release of Syrian refugees into the continent, which will increase the influence of the far-right and break the EU from within. If the EU fails to act, then trust in its institutional power will wane, discouraging potential members from joining and increasing the separatist sentiments inside member countries.

The Aegean Dispute sheds light into the most important institutional anomaly of the EU: the absence of political unification to support economic integration.The European experiment has been successful in integrating economic activity within the continent. However, it now teeters with an unstable equilibrium, between further integration and outright demise. The Aegean dispute offers both a challenge and an opportunity for Europe: EU policymakers must look into ways of integrating security strategy, through cooperation agreements, security guarantees and investment into border control, while also moving towards an integrated and centrally-organized immigration plan for Europe. Tighter border security in the Balkan Peninsula will stop Turkey’s use of refugee flows as a bargaining chip and also appease nationalist sentiment in European countries, while security agreements will halt Turkish aspirations in the Aegean Sea and improve public trust in the EU’s institutional power. If the EU wants to remain relevant far into the future across the greater European continent, then it must start behaving as boldly and strategically as Turkey has over the past several years. If it doesn’t it will simply be outmaneuvered and, potentially, replaced as a major political voice in the global community.

[1] Wolff  Heintschel von Heinegg Der Ägäis-Konflikt: Die Abgrenzung des Festlandsockels zwischen Griechenland und der Türkei und das Problem der Inseln im Seevölkerrecht. (Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, 1989)

 

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Catalonia would have been facing severe problems had it broke away from Spain

Bahauddin Foizee

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Catalan independence referendum, held in late-2017, had thrown Spain and Catalonia into severe political crisis and has created uncertainly for the foreign investors inside Catalonia.

What fate would the Catalans have embraced had Catalonia broke away from Spain after referendum?

Catalans from all walks of life would have suffered severe problems had the pro-independence camp got what they wished for in the referendum.

Here’s some food for thought for the Catalans who voted in the referendum and who didn’t, and for the ones who had been a keen spectator from Europe and elsewhere.

State Structures

Inception of an independent state requires the setting up of the essential state structures, including central bank, tax authority, judicial system, social security, a diplomatic service, a central bank and even an army.

Though most of these state structures/elements are available to Catalonia as an Spanish state/province, there are obvious concerns whether these elements are self-sufficient and mature enough to take the responsibilities of a newly born state.

Chaos

Had Catalonia become a sovereign state, a greater political uncertainty would have arose. There would be political chaos between the ones who opted for independence and the ones who didn’t.

The ones who sought to remain with Spain, or atleast didn’t actively support pro-independence campaigns, could have ended up facing rage and infuriated gestures from the opposite camp immediately after independence (had it been achieved).

Debt, currency, exodus of businesses

Moreover, Catalans would then have to assume a significant part of Spain’s debt. They would have to find a currency other than the Euro, as Spain would veto Catalan membership in the Euro Zone.

Without a confirmed currency in the market and with political uncertainty, there would have been a likely evacuation of multinational and Spanish companies from Catalonia to other parts in Spain. Already some multinational and Spanish companies either left or declared to leave Catalonia immediately after last independence referendum.

Access to EU market

If the membership to the European Union (EU) was delayed after Catalonia’s independence, Catalan products would have lost the privilege of unrestricted access to the EU market.

This newly independent state would have lost the leverages of entering into the EU member states’ markets as a free trade zone – a leverage its commercial products enjoy now as Spanish products.

Duties on Catalan goods and services would have been imposed not only by Spain, but also by other EU member states. Moreover, in times of economic disasters, Catalonia could not have called upon the help of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the European Central Bank (ECB).

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