Jochen Bittner

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The Decisive Test for Germany Is Still to Come

After months of indecision, hand-wringing and uncertainty, Germany last week committed to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. The delay was a measure of the decision’s significance. For a country long wary of active military involvement in conflicts, the release of its most advanced war machine for battle with Russian troops is momentous. A taboo has been shed.

The decision has revealed something of an enigma. Who is the man leading Germany during the fiercest conflict in Europe since World War II: a strategic genius or a fainthearted dawdler? Over a year into his tenure, Chancellor Olaf Scholz remains hard to decipher.…  Seguir leyendo »

America and Europe Are Split on China. They Must Come Together

Maybe it was no coincidence that the German government chose Leipzig as the location for the special E.U.-China summit, scheduled to take place later this year.

After all, Leipzig’s citizens were the first to turn out in droves in 1989 to protest the East German Communists’ despotism and contempt for freedom. Many feared the regime would indiscriminately mow down protesters who demanded basic democratic liberties, just as the Communist Party of China had done in June that same year.

Fortunately, the result was very different: The regime crumbled, the Berlin Wall fell and the country was reunited. Germans call Leipzig “Heldenstadt,” city of heroes.…  Seguir leyendo »

People protested in Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia, Germany, on Saturday with a sign that read, “Better living without Nazis”. Credit Christian Mang/Reuters

Germany’s conservatives are in a mess. And it’s of their own making.

On Feb. 5, the ruling Christian Democratic Union voted with the far-right Alternative for Germany, known as AfD, to install a liberal governor in the eastern state of Thuringia. The outcry was immediate and damaging. The governor stepped down, promising new elections. And soon after, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chosen successor and leader of the Christian Democrats, resigned. A sense of chaos has entered the usually placid atmosphere of German conservatism.

To help understand their current situation, German conservatives would do well to revisit an analysis the philosopher Ernst Bloch offered in 1935.…  Seguir leyendo »

A woman waving the flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union in Brussels on Thursday. Credit Francisco Seco/Associated Press

It’s happening: The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union on Friday. After decades of steady enlargement, the organization will lose its first member.

What can be done to prevent the continent splitting further apart? The question is at least being posed by some. President Emmanuel Macron of France has called for an unsparing conference on the future of Europe, the details of which the commission set out last week. The aim is to allow for an “open, inclusive and transparent debate.”

Well, here is a proposal that might not go down well in Brussels: Make the European Union more flexible.…  Seguir leyendo »

A rally by members of the populist Five Star Movement in Rome last week before European Parliament elections. Pollsters predict that far-right candidates will do well. Credit Filippo Monteforte/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The European parliamentary elections, long seen as merely a test run for “real” — that is, national — elections later in the year, have been getting an unusual amount of attention this spring. Explicitly anti-European Union forces across the continent could win up to a third of the seats, a possibility that has pro-Europeans officials frantic that the far right, long thought of as the barbarians outside the union’s gates, could now be in a place to demolish it from within.

Notwithstanding this danger, the European Parliament has always been a disappointing institution. It is composed of 751 members from all 28 member countries, but the members represent transnational parties, the idea being that they stand for the interests of the European people as a whole.…  Seguir leyendo »

Back in the 1980s, a cousin on my father’s side gave me a memorable lesson in socialism.

Cousin Werner was an engineer in an East German vehicle factory. Like many others under Communist rule, regardless of their education and skills, he and his wife lived in one of the typically small apartments of a concrete-slab housing complex. These so-called Plattenbauten were praised as a symbol of the East’s allegedly egalitarian society under Erich Honecker.

During one of my family’s visits from our home in West Germany, Werner took us to the basement of his building and unlocked the door to a little storage room.…  Seguir leyendo »

Street fighting against British soldiers in 1971 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Credit Bruno Barbey/Magnum Photos

Two weeks ago I was on the outskirts of Derry, a town in Northern Ireland, just a few yards away from the border where Britain ends and the Republic of Ireland begins. Behind a garden wall, a wiry, older man was eager to vent.

“This is Ireland! The English have no business here,” he exclaimed. He pointed down the road toward a small stone bridge. The checkpoint there vanished two decades ago, he said. Should the British try to erect a new guard house, he went on, “we will burn it down.”

Come on, I cajoled him, incredulously. What will really happen if, after Britain leaves the European Union, customs officers or the police might be stationed at what will then be a new border?…  Seguir leyendo »

Pro-Brexit demonstrators marching in London. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

No one knows yet what, if anything, will happen on March 29 — B-Day, the day when Britain is to leave the European Union. It could be a nonevent; it could be a disaster. Likely, it will be somewhere in between. But while the world fixates on the negatives — and there are many — of Brexit, it does have its upsides.

The European Union’s most globally minded member is leaving, forcing the bloc to rethink its mission and vision at just the right time. And a large part of that rethinking will now involve a plan for how London and Brussels will work together over the long run.…  Seguir leyendo »

Chancellor Angela Merkl of Germany casting a ballot at the Bundestag earlier this month. Credit Filip Singer/EPA, via Shutterstock

Women in Germany won the right to vote in 1918, but a century later they still do not enjoy equal representation. Though the country is led by a woman — who will, most likely, be succeeded by another woman — fewer than a third of the members of the federal Parliament, the Bundestag, are female.

That’s why leading figures from all major German parties are now calling for parity: a 50-50 quota for male and female representatives in the Bundestag and the 16 state-level Parliaments. But is achieving a gender balance in Germany’s legislatures worth weakening another hard-fought accomplishment, the right to free electoral choice?…  Seguir leyendo »

Britain Needs a Brexit Insurance Plan

I learned by mail the other day that Brexit poses a risk to my life insurance. My Britain-based insurance company, unsure about whether it would legally be able to cover European Union citizens like me once Britain leaves the 28-nation bloc, wrote me that it intends to transfer my policy to a subsidiary in Dublin.

So far, most of the news and commentary about Brexit has been over how London and Brussels are going to manage their unprecedented divorce. Less attention has been paid to how European governments, companies and everyday citizens are wrestling with the hundreds of ways things will change for them at 11 p.m.…  Seguir leyendo »

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a joint news conference with the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, after a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, last month. Credit Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

What a springtime for Germany’s conservatives this fall has been. The Christian Democratic Union, the leading center-right party, should be suffering: After months of infighting with other conservatives, followed by steep losses in state elections, its leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, announced that she was stepping down from her post as the party’s longtime chairwoman. Instead, it is enjoying an internal revival.

Ms. Merkel’s decision has set off a race to replace her — three contenders will vie to head the party at a conference in Hamburg on Dec. 8. And for once, the race is about more than power, politics and personalities — it is about ideas.…  Seguir leyendo »

Andrea Nahles, Chairwoman of the German Social Democrats, speaks to the media in Berlin last week. Credit Robert Schlesinger /Getty Images

What does it take to make a major political party so frustrated with itself that it prefers therapy over governing?

The German Social Democrats are mired in a sort of depression. Call it power-phobia. The party governs the country as the junior partner with the center-right Christian Democrats, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel — yet many members fear that carrying on in this coalition might destroy them.

The party seems to be in free fall. In recent elections in the state of Bavaria, the Social Democrats, known by their German acronym SPD, scored their worst result ever, sliding from 20.6 to 9.7 percent.…  Seguir leyendo »

Immigration opponents in 2017 at a demonstration celebrating Britain’s planned exit from the European Union. Credit Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media, via Getty Images

Angela Merkel is the chancellor of Germany, not the prime minister of Britain, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that she played a critical, if indirect, role in Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union. If not for her decision not long before the vote to allow for uncontrolled mass immigration into the heart of Europe, the pro-Brexit forces might have lost.

Remember that, like President Trump’s election that same year, Brexit was dismissed as an impossibility, until it happened. But unlike in the United States, Europe has not done much in the way of asking what happened, and why.

In late 2015, the Leave campaign started putting up placards which showed the exodus of refugees from Syria and other countries through the Balkans, and adorned them with slogans like “Breaking Point” and “Take Back Control.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Campaign posters in Stockholm this week. Sweden will hold elections on Sunday. Credit Jonathan Nackstrand/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

To understand why Sweden, a bastion of social democracy, might end up with a far-right party in government after national elections on Sunday, you need to take a walk with Ahmed Abdirahman.

An American-educated Somali immigrant who works as a policy analyst at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Abdirahman grew up and now lives in the suburb of Rinkeby-Tensta, where some 90 percent of residents have a foreign background, roughly 80 percent live on welfare or earn low incomes and 42 percent are under age 25. It is a violent place: Sixteen people were killed there in 2016, mostly in drug-related conflicts, an unheard-of number in this typically peaceful country.…  Seguir leyendo »

Beatrix von Storch of the right-wing AfD party at the AfD convention in Augsburg, Germany, on June 30.Credit Daniel Kopatsch/Epa-Efe -- Rex, via Shutterstock

For a country that caused so many horrors in the last century, Germany today is one of the world’s most innocent. Even in the face of resurgent populism and rampant nationalism, Germans exude a quiet, stolid sense of obligation to a brighter, more integrated future at home and internationally.

Along with this sentiment comes a principled skepticism toward innovative ideas and technologies from more, let’s say, energetic countries. My parents’ generation remembers how long it took bluejeans and chewing gum to become socially acceptable here. I remember thorough debates about the pros and cons of cellphones, long after they were part of the everyday American landscape.…  Seguir leyendo »

Who Will Win the New Great Game?

To claim we are living through a new Cold War is both an understatement and a category mistake. The 20th-century face-off between the Communist East and the Capitalist West was, ideology aside, about two superpowers trying to contain each other. The global conflict of today is far less static.

What we are witnessing instead is a new Great Game, a collision of great powers that are trying to roll back one another’s spheres of influence. Unlike the Great Game of the 19th century between the British and the Russian Empire that culminated in the fight for dominance over Afghanistan, today’s Great Game is global, more complex and much more dangerous.…  Seguir leyendo »

Pantaloncillos lederhose y vestidos dirndl entre las tradicionales galletas de jengibre del Oktoberfest en Múnich Credit Michaela Rehle/Reuters

Después de kindergarten y schadenfreude, llegó la hora de que otra palabra alemana entre a nuestro vocabulario: Heimat. Los diccionarios traducirán Heimat (que se pronuncia [jáimat]) como “hogar”, “país natal” o “patria”, pero ninguna de esas palabras captura el verdadero significado del término.

Heimat no solo describe un lugar geográfico, sino un estado de pertenencia. Es lo opuesto a sentirse extranjero; para la mayoría de los alemanes, se mezcla con el olor de las galletas navideñas de la cocina de mamá. Heimat incluye el paisaje que te marcó, la cultura que te informó y la gente que te inspiró mientras crecías.…  Seguir leyendo »

Lederhosen and dirndls among traditional gingerbread at Oktoberfest in Munich. Credit Michaela Rehle/Reuters

After “kindergarten” and “schadenfreude,” it’s time for another German word to enter the Anglosphere: “Heimat.” German-to-English dictionaries will translate Heimat (pronounced HI-mat) as home, native land or homeland, but none of those words capture the true meaning of the term.

Heimat describes not just a geographical place, but a state of belonging. It’s the opposite of feeling alien; for most Germans, it is mixed with the smell of Christmas cookies from Mama’s kitchen. Heimat is about the landscape that left its mark on you, the culture that informed you and the people that inspired you when you were growing up.

To many, it is the mildest form of patriotism, and it long preoccupied German romantic writers like Novalis, Hölderlin and Eichendorff.…  Seguir leyendo »

As Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and her party prepare to negotiate another coalition government, her silence adds to a sense that she is steadily losing power. Credit Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

Europe sighed in relief on Sunday night when the news broke that Germany’s Social Democratic Party had agreed to negotiate another coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Since the inconclusive national elections in September, it had been unclear how long the country with the largest economy in the European Union — and until now, the anchor of its political stability — would need to form a new government.

Hold your breath for a few more months. The relief is premature.

Whatever might come out of the negotiations between Ms. Merkel and Martin Schulz, the leader of the Social Democrats, in the weeks ahead, the government they form is doomed to be the weakest and most unstable Germany has had in decades.…  Seguir leyendo »

Martin Schulz, the leader of Germany’s Social Democrats, has proposed a “United States of Europe” by 2025 Credit Odd Andersen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

If Chancellor Angela Merkel gets her way, the next German government will include the big loser of the September elections, her center-right Christian Democrats, and the even bigger loser, the center-left Social Democrats. After a failed attempt to forge a coalition made up of the Christian Democrats, the pro-business Liberal Party and the Green Party, Ms. Merkel is urging the Social Democrats, who allied with her in the previous government and were punished at the polls for it, to enter into yet another grand coalition.

The Social Democrats are understandably wary of Ms. Merkel’s courtship. Ms. Merkel used the coalition to co-opt many of their ideas, and analysts here believe they need time for therapy rather than another opportunity to ruin themselves in office.…  Seguir leyendo »