Guy Chazan

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© FT montage: Getty; Reuters | Olaf Scholz and Xi Jinping

Rarely has a deal encountered such strong government opposition. Six German ministries came out last month against Chinese shipper Cosco’s planned acquisition of a stake in a Hamburg container terminal. But it went through anyway.

The man who ensured its safe passage through the German cabinet was Chancellor Olaf Scholz. He insisted on a compromise — Cosco would have to make do with a 25 per cent stake, rather than the 35 per cent that was initially proposed.

But the German foreign ministry remained opposed, even after Scholz pushed it through. State secretary Susanne Baumann wrote an angry letter to Scholz’s chief of staff, Wolfgang Schmidt, saying the transaction “disproportionately increases China’s strategic influence over German and European transport infrastructure and Germany’s dependence on China”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Europe’s fight to stay united over war in Ukraine

Marlies Jakob was one of dozens of ordinary Germans who took part in a phone-in show on Deutschlandfunk radio last week about sanctions against Russia. Her intervention should alarm policymakers from Paris and Brussels to Berlin.

Jakob said she was prepared to take cold showers and wear three sweaters in winter if that would stop Russia’s war against Ukraine. But, she insisted, “the opposite is true”, adding: “Thanks to sanctions . . . prices are rising and Russia is raking it in as never before”.

She wasn’t the only one to hold that view. A listener called Werner Bauer said people might support punitive measures against Moscow for now, but as soon as higher energy prices start to feed through “the mood will change completely”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Germany's military has declined more sharply than other states' since reunification

Three days after Russia invaded Ukraine, the German government said it would spend €100bn on modernising its army, the Bundeswehr. For Renzo Di Leo, a captain in Germany’s 37th armoured infantry brigade, the big question is: what took it so long?

“We’ve known about the threat from Russia at least since it annexed Crimea in 2014”, he says. “The political response to that could have come much sooner”.

Di Leo is part of a multinational Nato force that held a major training exercise in northern Germany earlier this month. For days, tanks and artillery guns pounded the moors and forests of the Lüneburg Heath, stirring up clouds of dust so high they blocked out the sun.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Worst crisis since the second world war’: Germany prepares for a Russian gas embargo

Rosenthal, one of Germany’s oldest porcelain manufacturers, has seen plenty of disruption in its 140-year history. But nothing has prepared it for this: the threat of a cut-off of natural gas that would bring production of its bone china plates, bowls and vases to an abrupt halt.

“We can’t live without gas”, says Mads Ryder, Rosenthal’s chief executive. “We don’t have an alternative energy source”.

The war in Ukraine is reordering the global energy landscape. Shocked by the devastation visited on Ukrainian cities by Russian bombs, the EU has imposed swingeing sanctions on Russian hydrocarbons. Coal is banned; oil could be next.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘The birth of a new Ukraine’: how Russia’s war united a nation

At an aid distribution centre in Ukraine’s embattled capital Kyiv this week, people were collecting and dispatching donations of emergency food, medicines, clothes and children’s toys for cities under attack by Russian troops, missiles and bombs.

While about half the donations came from abroad, where Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion has created a groundswell of global support for President Volodymyr Zelensky and his people, the rest came from quieter parts of Ukraine.

“Look at these boxes”, says Oleksandr Horbach, an activist, pointing to food packages from Bibrka in western Ukraine. A box of baked goods was intended for the eastern city of Kharkiv, which has withstood some of Russia’s heaviest bombardment in three weeks of war.…  Seguir leyendo »

Lithuania tests the EU’s resolve on Chinese economic coercion

The name of a small office at the top of a drab skyscraper in the centre of Vilnius has set off a geopolitical firestorm that threatens billions of dollars in trade.

This is the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania, a diplomatic outpost so new that the chief of mission’s business cards still carry the address of his previous posting in Latvia.

At issue is the fact that the name of the mission explicitly refers to the disputed island of Taiwan — and not, as is more common, its capital city of Taipei. To Eric Huang, who heads up the office, this makes complete sense.…  Seguir leyendo »

Germany’s Russia problem: Ukraine crisis tests new government

Under mounting pressure to provide more help to Ukraine as it braces for a possible Russian invasion, the German government proposed last week what it thought was a bold new initiative: it would supply Kyiv with 5,000 helmets.

The announcement was met with a wall of derision. “What kind of support will Germany send next?” asked Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. “Pillows?”

In the first crisis of the post-Merkel era, Germany is floundering. The complex legacy of the second world war is weighing on its efforts to craft a coherent policy on Russia. A new government in office for only seven weeks is being pulled in one direction by its powerful pacifist lobby and in the other by Washington.…  Seguir leyendo »

Germany’s election: a new era of uncertain coalition politics

With just three days till polling day, Germany’s election is wide open. Rarely has such a crucial democratic exercise been tinged by so much uncertainty. Never before have Germans faced such a broad spectrum of possible electoral outcomes.

Angela Merkel is quitting the political battlefield and the army of voters the chancellor once commanded is now up for grabs. Her departure, after 16 years in power, has disrupted a system that once seemed the model of stability.

“For so many people the primary loyalty was to Merkel — and now she’s going,” says Andrea Römmele, professor of communication in politics at the Hertie School in Berlin.…  Seguir leyendo »

Dr Katharina Lenherr with new face masks. She recalls scrambling to buy diving goggles and welders’ masks at the outset when there was a shortage © Manuel Nieberle

This April, Walther Leonhard got an unusual call from the authorities in Rosenheim, his hometown in southern Germany. He was being given a new job, in a new field, with a title that had just been invented, “containment scout”.

Leonhard, 33, who had been working as a court officer in Munich, was soon back home and hitting the phones. He was the latest recruit into Germany’s army of Kontaktmanagers (tracers) — the foot soldiers of its strategy for containing coronavirus.

Leonhard’s job is to call people who have tested positive — and all those they have recently come into contact with — to tell them to self-isolate for a fortnight.…  Seguir leyendo »