Angela Merkel will host the annual G20 meeting in Hamburg this weekend, welcoming state leaders from the world’s most important economies in Germany to discuss a whole plethora of urgent world affairs. Topics on the agenda include for instance the most recent diplomatic incidents concerning Qatar, the ongoing civil war in Syria, potential threats posed by digitisation and large-scaled hacker attacks and future prospects for the African continent. More than 19,000 policemen have been deployed to protect the chancellor’s high-profile guests since at least two major protest marches have been announced, one of them including well-known militants that are particularly likely to use violence. For world leaders, the summit itself is widely considered an expedient platform to familiarise themselves with each other and to address major challenges as a seemingly unified bloc. However, Ms Merkel may also take the opportunity to distinguish her calm leadership approach from the more impulsive style of U.S. President Trump and his Turkish colleague Erdogan, thus strengthening her own role as a global key player.
Domestically, the chancellor is maintaining a strong position as well. Together with CSU chairman and Bavarian Minister-President Horst Seehofer, Ms Merkel has just presented their parties’ election manifesto, labelling it „a great opportunity to dream a little bit about the future.“ With not even 80 pages, the CDU/CSU’s program is not particularly extensive but still aiming at a great number of different subjects: More housing construction projects, lower unemployment figures and taxes, increased investments in the fields of research and education and a more restrictive asylum policy are all mentioned in the text. However, the refugee crisis has lost its topical dominance with even Mr Seehofer stating that his infamous „Obergrenze“ (upper limit) won’t play any further role for the election campaign. „It’s alright. There is not a single point where we had a serious content-related dispute“, he proclaimed. Since Ms Merkel is still leading in the most recent GMS (06.07., 39% to 23%), Forsa (05.07., 39% to 23%) and Forschungsgruppe Wahlen (07.07., 40% to 24%) polls by double digits, the CDU/CSU’s manifesto will most probably serve as the foundation of a potential coalition treaty with either the FDP or the Greens – maybe even with both.
In a historic vote, a strong majority of Bundestag MPS has approved same-sex marriage (393 MPs voted in favour, 226 against) on Friday, making Germany the twelfth European nation and the twenty-third worldwide to fully allow and recognise the „marriage for all“. Previously, Greens, FDP and SPD have voiced sharpe criticism on the CDU/CSUs stance on the subject, declaring same-sex marriage a non-negotiable precondition for entering a Merkel-led coalition after the upcoming federal elections in September. Things started to gain steam when Ms Merkel subsequently called the question one „of conscience“, thus enabling SPD lead candidate Martin Schulz to call for a successful last minute vote. Political commentators remain divided over the question if the hasty vote on the issue was based on Ms Merkel’s intention to take a crucial topic with approval ratings of more than 80 percent off of the agenda or if the chancellor was tactically outsmarted by her parliamentarian opponents. In any case, the fact that much more CDU/CSU MPs than expected supported the bill – despite the confusion surrounding its introduction – may serve as a strong indicator of growing intra-party comfort with the issue.
Just shortly before, Mr Schulz has dominated the headlines with his sharp attack on Ms Merkel who he accused of „assaulting democracy“ by dangerously depoliticising Germany’s political discourse. After harsh criticism, Mr Schulz has defended his claims and reiterated his plan to replace the Merkel administration as a hole instead of just entering another grand coalition. However, Mr Schulz is still running low in the polls with the most recent Forsa projection giving his SPD a mere 23.0% – a result that would match the party’s historical 2009 defeat.
Meanwhile, the Wirtschaftstag, a yearly convention held and organised by the CDU’s Economic Council, has shown new cracks in the already strained relationship between the U.S. and Germany. Ms Merkel and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross presented quite divergent visions of how future trade exchange could look like with Mr Ross heavily lamenting Germany’s and Europe’s trade surplus, a topic more and more shaping up as a recurring pattern of criticism the Trump administration seeks to put emphasis on. On the other hand, Ms Merkel demanded a reform of European competition law to deal with the challenges mostly U.S.-based digital platform are providing for the local European markets. According to Merkel, digitisation will bring together different industry sectors in an unprecedented way but the current legal provision are not yet suited to handle the possible implications of such a developments.
Almost exactly twelve months after the infamous referendum of June 2016, EU lead negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart David Davis have formally begun Brexit negotiation talks in Brussel, thereby opening up the latest chapter of the British withdrawal from the European institutions. Meanwhile, German politicians have voiced strong criticism against the UK’s negotiation stance which appears to be all too vague, erratic and additionally weakened by the recent parliamentarian elections’ political turmoil and the subsequent government reshuffle. „A negotiation partner not knowing his own goals is a difficult partner“, German MEP Elmar Brok noticed – a position that was quickly seconded by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and SPD lead candidate Martin Schulz. Both SPD politicians called for „British realism“ and clear yet reasonable negotiation demands.
Previously, Mr Schulz has unveiled his tax plans which would not only see top income but also corporate tax rates rising. Consequently, reactions varied between staunch opposition and cautious praise: the President of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), Dieter Kempf, didn’t withhold criticism and accused the SPD of knowingly hampering the economy. Contrasting this position, economists from the SPD-leaning German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) praised the plans as a reasonable and feasible balancing act between appeasing the party base and reassuring the corporate world that a Schulz chancellorship might only seek comparatively moderate changes. Yet, there is no hint that embracing the issue might save Mr Schulz from his quickly deteriorating poll numbers and generally poor chances to replace Ms Merkel.
This is even more the case since another party is already rising in the polls and creating the kind of momentum the SPD has lost since the May 2017 state elections: the FDP. Germany’s liberals have been revitalised by an energetic campaign and the increasing popularity of party chairman Christian Lindner who is widely considered to be young, smart and well-spoken enough to successfully reshape the party’s unfavourable image. With recent FDP numbers steadily oscillating between 8.0% (Forsa) and 10.5% (Allensbach), the chances of a CDU/CSU-FDP coalition have also been elevated to the rank of a serious theoretical possibility. For Ms Merkel, it would be another power option to use as a bargaining chip in possible coalition negotiations. For Mr Schulz, It’s another burden to overcome.
Considerable progress has taken place in transforming Germany into a digital society but further digitisation efforts could be jeopardised by rising sentiments of complacency among corporations. This is the core of politicians’ and experts’ joint assessment at the recently held 2017 Digital summit in Ludwigshafen, Germany’s most important platform to exchange high-level views on the subject and its various implications.
This year’s conference had a remarkably broad focus with issues reaching from regulative strategies to the transformative power of workplace digitisation. In her keynote address, Chancellor Merkel put special emphasis on underscoring the important role small and medium-sized enterprises are supposed to play in the future, at least if they don’t want to get marginalised by powerful platform providers already making use of Big Data. Also highlighted were the necessity of a better legal framework to ensure competition and support innovation and the call for better cooperation structures between relevant actors on the national as well as on the European level.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has warned of perils and insecurities emerging from the severe crisis between Qatar and the fourteen countries that have fully or partially cut diplomatic ties with the emirate. „There’s serious danger of this dispute turning into a full-fledged war“, Gabriel said, a war which would greatly hamper future efforts to stabilise the region and to balance out the effects of its smouldering Sunni-Shia divide. Gabriel also spoke out in favour of a more restrictive arms export policy that would increase transparency and parliamentarian involvement.
Meanwhile, the long-awaited Jamaica coalition between CDU, FDP and Greens has been formed in Schleswig-Holstein, elevating Germany’s northernmost state to a pioneer position since only the Saarland has ever experimented with this combination. CDU lead candidate Daniel Günther is expected to head the coalition as Minister-President while Green key figure Robert Habeck will remain in charge of an enlarged environment department. The coalition is widely seen as a rehearsal to test a more and more popular power option for the upcoming federal elections in September.