Berlin Bulletin: Scholz government dead to Germans — Habeck’s implosion —Russians persona non grata
A weekly newsletter on German politics, with news and analysis on the new government.
By MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG
with GABRIEL RINALDI
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OLAF’S COALITION MELTS IN BENCHMARK POLL: The latest edition of the closely watched “DeutschlandTrend” poll was published overnight and it could hardly be worse for Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his three-party coalition with the Greens and Free Democrats. Only one in five Germans is satisfied with the government’s performance, the worst result since the coalition took office in 2021 (and just a hair away from the all-time low since the poll, which is published monthly by German public broadcaster ARD, began in 1997).
‘Traffic light’ dims: Altogether, the three coalition parties are supported by just 40 percent of voters, a far cry from the majority they won at the last election. Support for Scholz’s Social Democrats has fallen by nearly one-third to 18 percent, while the Free Democrats have dropped more than 40 percent since the election to just 7 percent. The Greens are steady at 15 percent. The opposition Christian Democrats continue to enjoy a substantial lead with 29 percent. The results are also reflected in POLITICO’s Poll of Polls for Germany.
Looking for an Alternative: The discontent with the establishment is fuelling the far-right Alternative for Germany, which tied its best result in the monthly poll, reaching 18 percent.
Searching for Olaf: The most worrying aspect of the report for Scholz is that 84 percent of respondents said he hasn’t shown clear leadership in the coalition. A similar percentage complain that the coalition is too slow to address the urgent problems Germany faces, and 65 percent say the country is not “in good hands.”
Mounting woes: The malaise is rooted in a familiar laundry list of woes from migration to the economic slowdown (nearly 70 percent say the country’s economy has gone off track) to the ongoing debate over whether to force households to ditch gas-burning boilers (see last week’s Bulletin).
No Top Gun for Ukraine: A clear majority of Germans — 64 percent — opposes sending fighter jets to Ukraine. Overall support for sending arms to Ukraine is also falling, with 37 percent saying the deliveries have gone too far, up from 31 percent in March (43 percent say current support is appropriate and 14 percent say Germany should do more). The jump in resistance to further arms shipments follows a recent commitment by Berlin to increase military support for Ukraine with an additional €2.7 billion.
NO GREEN INTENTION GOES UNPUNISHED: Wondering how difficult the implementation of the EU‘s green targets will be? Just ask Robert Habeck. Germany’s once-popular Green economy minister is facing the fight of his political life as he tries to bring down the country’s carbon emissions, reports Hans von der Burchard.
Heating up: Habeck, who less than a year ago was still Germany‘s most popular politician and considered a strong contender against Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the next election in 2025, has sparked so much controversy that every second German wants him to resign. That’s mainly due to the aforementioned ambitious rollout of a ban on gas and oil heating, which will also serve as a warning to other EU countries.
Poster boy no more: Of course, climate change waits for no one, and Habeck has already vowed to improve the law to make it more acceptable for citizens, meaning that he could still politically recover. A series of other blunders, however, also cast doubts over his chances to one day lead Germany. Or as opposition lawmaker Gitta Connemann put it: “The Greens have been disenchanted — and so has their poster boy Habeck.” POLITICO Pro subscribers can read the full story by Hans here.
BERLIN SAYS ‘AUF WIEDERSEHEN’: Germany revoked the licenses of four of the five Russian consulates in the country, a foreign ministry spokesperson announced Wednesday. Moscow has been asked to “promptly arrange for the liquidation of the four consulates general in the Federal Republic of Germany and complete it by Dec. 31, 2023, at the latest.”
Diplomatic tit-for-tat: The move is intended to create “structural and personnel parity” between the two countries, the ministry added. Before, Russia had limited the number of German state employees allowed in Russia to 350 from June. On Saturday, it was reported that Moscow had introduced “a cap on the number of staff at German missions and German intermediary organizations.”
Berlin had to reduce presence: When announcing the decision to shut down the Russian consulates, Berlin said the number of personnel in the German consulates general in Russia is no longer sufficient to provide consular support. The spokesperson said that operations at three consulates general are being reduced and will be discontinued completely starting in November.
A ‘step of escalation‘: The German Embassy in Moscow and the consulate general in St. Petersburg will remain open. The foreign ministry said Moscow had “taken a step of escalation” by limiting the German presence to 350 people, adding that “this unjustified decision forces the German government to make a very significant cut in all areas of its presence in Russia.” My colleague Gabriel Rinaldi has the full report.
LEFT-WING EXTREMISM: Leipzig left-wing extremist Lina E. was sentenced on Wednesday to five years in prison. According to the court, she belonged to a group that committed assaults on members of the right-wing scene. German commentators have different opinions on the matter. In the evening, Lina E. was released by the judge under conditions until the verdict is final — but by then most of the comments had already been written.
‘Many questions’: Konrad Litschko of the left-wing daily taz writes: “Of course, the verdict is also meant to be a signal … The rule of law is going a long way here. And it is palpable how much some had hoped for an example.” He condemns the violence, but says: “In this prosecution, however, the rule of law must maintain moderation — and here this trial nurtured doubts. Until the end, no victim or witness could identify the hooded attackers, there was only ambiguous circumstantial evidence and many question marks, except for the Eisenach attack.”
A ‘good verdict’: André Bochow writes in the Märkische Oderzeitung “anti-fascism is honorable and actually a civic duty. But brutally assaulting and beating up right-wing extremists, in part with a hammer and baton, is a serious crime. It is also inhumane.” Bochow adds: “it doesn’t change the fact that the victims are often inhuman perpetrators themselves. No one has the right to place themselves above the law. The verdict against Lina E. and the other left-wing extremist thugs is a good verdict.”
‘Lax action against right-wing agitators’: “There is … nothing against the rule of law wanting to teach a lesson and imposing a prison sentence, as has now happened in the case of the Leipzig antifa organizer Lina E.,” writes Ronen Steinke in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “Illuminating misdeeds that come from the left-wing scene by every trick in the book and bringing them swiftly and strictly before the courts has been a pet project of Saxon state politics, which meanwhile still often takes rather lax action against right-wing agitators and perpetrators of violence.”
The acts were prepared: “The scene was not considered a cause for concern for a long time,” writes Anne Hähnig at Zeit Online. “After the trial of four left-wing extremists before the Dresden Higher Regional Court, that can no longer be said … Most of their victims were right-wing radicals. Another victim, however, merely looked like one, according to the court.” Hähnig adds that the acts had been “prepared for a long time, the victims had often been scouted out, and the attackers and assailants had trained especially for this.”
DIGITAL SOCIETY MEETUP: This year, re:publica, the self-proclaimed fair for the digital society, will take place from Monday to Wednesday in Berlin. The theme: Cash. The conference also asks what human rights and climate are worth to us. My colleague Louis Westendarp found an interesting event that claims we should “recognize [the] potential as a transformative force for socio-ecological change [of public toilets].” Various German ministers are also coming. More info can be found here.
WOMEN IN BUSINESS: The Franco-German Business Circle organizes the panel discussion “Women in business: looking at both sides of the Rhine” on Wednesday. The stocktaking and discussion looks at both countries and lets various female entrepreneurs and founders have their say. It starts at 7 p.m. in the conference rooms Paris/London of Mazars in Berlin-Moabit.
EASTERN GERMANY: At the stadium of Union Berlin (which qualified for the Champions League last weekend), DenkRaumOst and the club’s business council will discuss what makes Eastern Germany so attractive on Thursday. The panel brings together different representatives from politics, business, media and the creative industry. Carsten Schneider, the Federal Government Commissioner for Eastern Germany, has also been invited. The discussion begins at 6 p.m.
RISKS OF AI: On Thursday, the Green parliamentary group in the German Bundestag will discuss the consequences of artificial intelligence on sustainability and democracy. These also play a crucial role in the current negotiations on the AI Regulation at EU level. “The possibilities to influence the public opinion-forming process and democratic elections with AI [are] immense,” the Greens write. The hybrid event begins at 10 a.m.
OVER AND OUT
PARLIAMENT OF DOGS: A cross-party group of dog-loving German MPs has formed the “Parliamentary Circle for Dogs” with the aim of convincing the Bundestag to change the current house rule banning canines on the premises. So far, about 80 members have joined the group. “It looks like dogs are an issue where we have a broad consensus,” CDU MP Mareike Wulf told Süddeutsche Zeitung.
THANK YOU: To my editor Jones Hayden and producer Giulia Poloni.
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