Tag Archives: Germany

Unity Day Celebrations in Germany

German celebrated the 25th anniversary of the reunification of the country, which followed a year after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. The fall of the wall was a key turnpoint in the twentieth century, effectively marking the end of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Many Germans celebrated the anniversary, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who attended festivities in Frankfurt. But during the celebrations, Chancellor Merkel highlighted the challenges faced by Germany today—most notably the refugee crisis—and observed that many of the challenges cannot be addressed alone. According to some estimates, Germany may welcome more than 1 million refugees this year—a figure that frightens many Germans and sparks political opposition both inside Germany and in the broader European Union.

What do you think? Should Germany and the European Union welcome refugees that seek political asylum in the EU? Other than the refugee crisis, what are the most important challenges faced by Germany today? And what might be done to address them?

The Resurgence of the Ukrainian Crisis

Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was on CNN yesterday and claimed that there were 10,000 Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil. As part of a plea to the West to help train and equip the Ukrainian military, he also suggested the Minsk Protocol was still viable. Negotiated in late 2014, the Minsk agreement included provisions establishing a ceasefire in Ukraine and mandated the withdrawal of heavy weapons and combat aircraft from  a “line of contact” crossing the eastern part of the country.

To date, the West has been hesitant to take a more proactive stance against Russia. At the G-7 summit over the weekend, US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement agreeing to leave economic sanctions against Russia in place until the Minsk Protocol was fully implemented. At the same time, Jeb Bush, a likely Republican candidate for the Presidency, issued a blistering statement in Germany yesterday, suggesting that President Obama’s permissive stance towards Russia precipitated the crisis in Ukraine, and demanding the United States take a more aggressive posture towards Russia.

What do you think? What factors are driving Russia’s intervention in Ukraine? Is Bush right? Should the United States take a more aggressive posture towards Russia? And if so, what exactly would that involve? What responsibility, if any, do the United States and the European Union have to address the resurgent crisis in Ukraine? Why?

Intelligence, Surveillance and Diplomacy in the Digital Age

AP_angela_merkel_cell_phone_spying_jt_131024_16x9_992The governments of Germany and Brazil on Friday asked the United Nations General Assembly to adopt a draft resolution establishing a right to privacy in the digital age. The draft resolution would declare that United Nations is “deeply concerned at human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of any surveillance of communications,” explicitly including “extraterritorial surveillance of communications, their interception, as well as the collection of personal data, in particular massive surveillance, interception and data collection.”

Because it would be passed by the General Assembly, the resolution would not represent a binding commitment. Instead, it expresses the sentiment of the international community. Its strength would thus depend on the ability of Brazil and Germany to garner consensus among the 193 United Nations Member States on the resolution.

The decision of the German and Brazilian governments to introduce the resolution was driven by expanding accusations of widespread US surveillance abroad, including accusations that it had eavesdropped on the cell phone communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. According to one source, such surveillance has been underway for a decade, but President Barack Obama claims he was unaware of the program. Other governments have also weighed in. Spain last week warned of a breakdown in trust as a result of the operations, and the government of France cautioned that such operations could hinder international cooperation on the war on terror.

The Politics of Parliamentary Systems

GermanElectionAs German voters head to the poll this weekend and interesting challenge is emerging for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats. While the CDU appears to be well positioned to retain its dominant position in parliament, early polling suggests that their coalition partner, the Free Democrats, may underperform. If the Free Democrats do as badly as expected, Merkel may be forced to find a new coalition partner or to include a third party in the ruling coalition, making the government more fragile. Some analysis are even projecting another “grand coalition” that forces rival center-right Christian Democrats and center-left Social Democrats into a government together.

The news is not good for Merkel, whose party is ironically expected to win their largest share of the vote ever. But that’s the politics of parliamentary systems. The voting system encourages a larger number of parties, representing a broader array of interests and issues, to participate. But because of the large number of parties, compromise between rivals is often necessary for government to function effectively, and no single party is usually able to rule without the assistance of others.  It will be interesting to see what the vote—scheduled for Sunday—produces.

What do you think? Does the more inclusive nature of proportional representation systems like that of Germany offset the disadvantage of greater instability? Or is the stability of first-past-the-post electoral systems preferable to the inclusiveness of parliamentary systems? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Radicalization: Inclusivity, Poverty, and other Factors

 

Michael Adebowale, one of the suspects in the Woolwich (London) murder.

Michael Adebowale, one of the suspects in the Woolwich (London) murder.

A British soldier was beheaded in an attack by two Muslims on the streets of London earlier this week. The two men who murdered Lee Rigby, a soldier in the British army, who had served in Afghanistan and Cyprus, were described as Nigerian-British who converted to Islam after college. The attacks have sparked concerns about the threat of reprisal attacks against Muslims in England, and raise concerns about a general anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe.

Muslims in Europe were already concerned about laws they perceive as undermining the practice of their faith. While the United Kingdom had historically avoided much of the attention, Muslims in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands had complained of discriminatory laws which they argue impinge on their religious freedoms. A 2004 French law, for example, banned the wearing of the conspicuous display of religious symbols in school, a move which French Muslims claimed was intended to prohibit wearing the burqa or hijab. In 2010, a more expansive law was passed, prohibiting the wearing of face coverings (like the burqa) in public. Belgium and the Netherlands have passed a similar “burqa bans” in public spaces.

Such bans have proven wildly popular among the electorates. Even in countries without such prohibitions—like Sweden and Denmark—public opinion polling regularly finds support for such bans exceeding 60 percent of respondents.

Why is there so much concern over Islamic religious practices in Europe?

Muslims in Europe are a growing and highly visible minority population. Across Europe, approximately 6 percent of the total population is Muslim. Many far-right European political parties have painted immigration—particularly Muslim immigrants—as a threat to the “traditional way of life,” arguing that immigrants pose a threat to national identity. Europe’s current economic instability no doubt contributes as well. And in the United Kingdom, British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan likely also plays a role.

The nature of citizenship in Europe is an important underlying factor. In the United States, citizenship is based on is determined by birthplace. People born in the United States are American citizens, regardless of the citizenship of their parents. In international law, this is referred to as jus soil, the right of the soil. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about 8 percent of all children born in the United States are born to parents who were not citizens of the United States. Many European countries, by contrast, base citizenship not on birthplace but on the citizenship of the parents. This is referred to as jus sanguinis the right of blood. Children born to German parents, for example, are German citizens regardless of where they were born. People born in Germany to non-German parents, by contrast, do not necessarily receive German citizenship. In the case of Germany, this has created a problem for millions of Turks born to parents who were guestworkers in Germany but who lacked German citizenship.

Some observers note that the differing conceptions of citizenship under such a system can help to radicalize the minority population. Because they are not accepted as “true” citizens, members of such minority populations may become more radicalized and embrace violence as a vehicle for addressing perceived grievances.

Radicalization, of course, is a far more complicated process than can be attributed to citizenship laws. Indeed, Britain is one of the most diverse countries in Europe, and London, its capital, is among the most diverse cities in the world, and Britain has been more accepting of immigrants—and their diverse identities—than has been the case in many other countries.

What do you think? What is the most important factor in explaining the radicalization of minority populations? Does citizenship play a role? Is citizenship and inclusion more important than economic factors? And what do you think will happen in Europe as Islam continues to grow as a minority religion? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

The Politics of UN Security Council Reform

President Barack Obama chairs a meeting of the UN Security Council, September 24, 2009.

President Barack Obama chairs a meeting of the UN Security Council, September 24, 2009.

Blogging at Foreign Policy, David Bosco yesterday posted an interesting proposal for reform of the United Nations Security Council. As most readers probably already know, the UN Security Council is comprised of 15 members. The five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) each possess a veto over Security Council action. In addition, ten non-permanent members are elected by a two-thirds majority vote of the General Assembly to two year terms on a regional basis.

The structure of the Security Council was set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when the five permanent members made more sense. The structure makes little sense today, though. Several important countries (such as Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan) lack a permanent seat but want one. Meanwhile, the current permanent members of the Security Council are hesitant to embrace expansion, as any expansion would dilute their position.

And therein lies the challenge. Given the competing positions, there has been little agreement on how to move forward.  And any changes would require the approval of 2/3 of the Member States in the General Assembly and agreement by the five permanent members of the Security Council. Thus while a general consensus that the Security Council’s structure needs reforming is widely shared, the specifics of any individual country’s membership on the Council draws opposition. Italy and Spain oppose Germany’s claim, Mexico, Columbia, and Argentina oppose Brazil, Pakistan opposes India, South Korea opposes Japan. The African bloc also demands membership, though precisely which countries would represent Africa on the Council is not entirely clear. Given this level of disagreement, it has been relatively easy for the permanent members of the Council to avoid the difficult decisions associated with reform.

And this is what makes Bosco’s proposal so intriguing. He suggests that the General Assembly engage in a policy of collective disobedience, refusing to approve any new rotating members for the Security Council until the permanent members of the Security Council move forward with a real reform of the Council. It would also force the various camps in the General Assembly to set aside their competing positions and develop a coherent reform proposal. Bosco notes the collective action problem that would have to be overcome for this proposal to work. Nevertheless, it represents in interesting possibility in moving a twenty-year old debate forward.

What do you think? Should Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan be granted permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council? Can the United Nations overcome the structural challenges it faces and reform its structure to become more relevant in the 21st century? Or will competing positions and the structural power of the permanent members undermine proposals for reform? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

The Cyprus Bailout and European Banking Stability

Cypriot protestors demonstrate against the EU's proposed savings tax.

Cypriot protestors demonstrate against the EU’s proposed savings tax.

The Cypriot parliament on Tuesday rejected a proposed bailout package from the European Union that would have imposed a surcharge on bank deposits. The tax was resoundly defeated, with 36 members of parliament opposing the measure and 19 abstaining; no one voted in support. Meanwhile, thousands of protestors had taken to the streets to voice their opposition to the measure.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble noted that he “regretted” the Cypriot parliament’s decision, asserting that “There is a danger they won’t be able to open the banks again at all.”

The measure would have imposed a 6.75 percent levy on all deposits of less than 100,000 euros, and a 9.9 percent surcharge on deposits of more than 100,000 euros. In a last-ditch effort to save the measure, the government of Cyprus announced ahead of the vote that accounts of less than 20,000 euros would be exempted from the tax.

Cyprus, which like Ireland and Iceland had attempted to position itself as an international banking center, had an exceptionally large number of foreign depositors. It was estimated that approximately 40 percent of all deposits on the small island were held by foreigners, mostly Russians. The European Union’s measure angered the Russian government, which announced that it would need to reconsider the terms of a 2.5 billion euro loan it had made to Cyprus in 2011. Cyprus’ Finance Minister, Michalis Sarris, was in Moscow on Tuesday, hoping to extend repayment terms and lower the interest rate on the original loan.

International observers widely condemned the European Union’s proposed bailout package, the terms of which were released on Saturday. Economist Paul Krugman argued that,

You can sort of see why they’re doing this: Cyprus is a money haven, especially for the assets of Russian beeznessmen; this means that it has a hugely oversized banking sector (think Iceland) and that a haircut-free bailout would be seen as a bailout, not just of Cyprus, but of Russians of, let’s say, uncertain probity and moral character…The big problem, however, is that it’s not just large foreign deposits that are taking a haircut; the haircut on small domestic deposits is a bit smaller, but still substantial. It’s as if the Europeans are holding up a neon sign, written in Greek and Italian, saying “time to stage a run on your banks!”

The Cypriot case is particularly interesting. According to an IMF report, the country was doing well before the 2008 global economic crisis, experiencing “a long period of high growth, low unemployment, and sound public finances.” But the global financial crisis hit Cyprus particularly hard, as the country was exceptionally dependent on foreign depositors. By 2011, concerns were emerging. Cypriot banks had made loans to Greek barrowers totaling more than 160 percent of the Cypriot GDP, and those ties to the Greek economy were beginning to drag down Cyprus.

What’s interesting is the moral hazard that the imposition of the new levy poses for other banks in the European Union. As Krugman notes, Europeans watching from other troubled economies (think Spain, Portugal, and Italy) the bailout requirements in Cyprus may be an incentive for them to relocate their assets before their country is forced to undertake similar reforms.

What do you think? Are the conditions imposed by the European Union on Cyprus as a prerequisite for receiving a rescue package reasonable? Or do they threaten to undermine economic stability in other troubled European economies? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.