Merkel New German Chancellor
On Tuesday, November 22, 2005, East German Angela Merkel was elected and sworn in as the first German female chancellor. The national and international reactions were mixed:
AFP (“Agence France Presse”) reported: “Angela Merkel made history when she was elected German chancellor, becoming the first woman, the first from the former communist east and the youngest person to lead Europe’s biggest economy. She received an overwhelming majority — 397 of the 611 valid ballots — in a vote in the Bundestag lower house of parliament.” The paper described Merkel, a trained physician, as the “self-effacing pastor’s daughter who lacks the charisma and occasional flamboyance of her predecessor Schroeder… She has undergone an astounding transformation since serving in the cabinet of her mentor Helmut Kohl, who gave her the affectionate but condescending nickname ‘the girl’ [‘das Maedchen’]. Merkel rocketed to the top of the party in 2000 after publicly calling for Kohl’s ouster — a brazen move that made her several powerful enemies.”
The Associated Press added:
“Angela Merkel was elected Tuesday as Germany’s first female chancellor, taking power at the helm of an unwieldy alliance of the right and left that now officially has the job of turning around Europe’s biggest economy… Merkel will need all the help she can get as her government, made up of politicians who until a few weeks ago were partisan opponents, tackles chronically high unemployment, currently at 11 percent, and lagging economic growth.”
Der Spiegel Online published the following insightful comments:
“Angela Merkel made history on Tuesday, as the German parliament elected her as the country’s first-ever female chancellor. But she will need plenty of determination and a healthy dose of passion if she is to make her government a success… On paper, Germany’s two largest political camps will have a commanding majority in the lower house, the Bundestag. But Tuesday’s vote tells another story. Merkel received 397 votes — 51 fewer than what CDU/CSU and SPD have in total. Granted, that far surpasses the parliamentary working majority of 308, but it could augur ill for Merkel’s efforts to pursue tough yet necessary reforms in the future… Unlike her congenial predecessor Gerhard Schröder, she finds it difficult to connect to people… The response to her proposed program of tax hikes and spending cuts has been muted, to say the least. And unless she can convince her fellow Germans that such sacrifices will lead the country to better days, there is the real danger the steps the government is considering could do as much harm as good.
“Anyone who has spent time in Germany recently is aware the country is deeply mired in a CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE. Germans are almost pathologically PESSIMISTIC about their future prospects and they frequently UNDERESTIMATE THE GROWTH POTENTIAL of the world’s third-largest economy.”
AFP reported on November 23, 2005, about Merkel’s first official visit with a foreign government since her appointment as German chancellor:
“German Chancellor Angela Merkel took her bow on the international stage in Paris where she and President Jacques Chirac underscored the Franco-German alliance at the heart of the European Union. Merkel, who took office Tuesday, made France her first foreign destination as leader of Europe’s biggest economy in a gesture seen as affirmation of the strength of their partnership. ‘This is not about ritual, it is about a deep conviction that a strong relationship between Germany and France is both necessary and beneficial for Europe,’ Merkel [said]… Chirac said the two nations were united in their wish for ‘a political and social Europe’ and that ‘a truly strong Franco-German axis’ was necessary for the 25-member European Union. Calling their countries’ reconciliation following World War II a ‘miracle’ of history, Merkel said the ‘relationship must be nurtured, must continue to develop, must remain full of life.’… ‘I believe the challenges of globalisation force us to act together in Europe: Germany and France, with their notions about the social market economy, about globalisation, should be driving forces, ‘she said… In Paris, she stressed that France and Germany had a ‘shared duty’ to help development of the new EU states of central and eastern Europe… Merkel said she wished to keep up the rhythm of Franco-German meetings developed under her Social Democrat predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, and invited Chirac to visit Berlin in early December.”
Farewell to Schroeder
On November 13, 2005, The LA Times published a piece on Gerhard Schroeder, former German chancellor, who left office after seven years of leadership. The article pointed out:
“Schroeder… restored Germans’ confidence in their country’s handling of world affairs, most notably through his vigorous opposition to the Iraq war… In 2002, down in the polls by almost 20 percentage points, he led the Social Democrats to a startling reelection victory against the Christian Democrats. The turnaround was credited to Schroeder’s shrewd exploitation of German opposition to the Iraq war, and his everyman ability to connect with and provide assistance for families who lost homes in a spate of summer floods… The son of a cleaning woman widowed by the war, Schroeder grew up a poor outsider in Lower Saxony… many Germans empathized with him when he visited Romania in 2004 and paused at the grave of a German soldier he never met: his father… In one of its most passionate debates in decades, Parliament in 1999 voted to send peacekeeping troops to Kosovo. The decision broke the post-World War II psychological barrier against dispatching German troops to other countries. Schroeder argued that Germany had to accept its responsibility in a new Europe. The chancellor agreed to send soldiers to help U.S. forces in Afghanistan, but Schroeder’s refusal to deploy German troops to Iraq revealed Berlin’s evolving independent streak. ‘During my leadership, Germany won’t take part in any attack on Iraq,’ Schroeder said. The policy damaged relations with the Bush administration and reminded both countries that Cold War alliances were being recalibrated…
“Germany under Schroeder became a ‘counterpoint to U.S. politics in the last three or four years,’ said Lothar Probst, a political analyst at Bremen University. ‘People in Europe said he was courageous.’… Schroeder also irritated Washington with his friendship with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who helped him and his fourth wife, Doris Schroeder-Koepf, adopt a Russian child in 2004. Schroeder was often criticized in the German media for not condemning Moscow’s harsh military action in Chechnya. His warm relationship with Putin and strained one with Bush ‘was one of the weaker points of his chancellorship,’ Probst said.”
Baptist Father Jailed in Germany
Bild Online reported on November 18, 2005, that in Paderborn, West Germany, a 42-year-old father was sentenced to 10 days in jail, for refusing to send his child to school. The father is a Baptist and opposed to some of the teachings in German public schools, including courses on sex and evolution. In Germany, school attendance is mandatory, and home schooling is not considered a viable alternative.
On November 17, 2005, Der Spiegel published a remarkable article, asking the question: “Are Your Cosmetics Killing You?” The article explained:
“The European chemical industry uses about 100,000 substances to produce such beneficial consumer products as rubber ducks, insulation material, emulsion paints and night creams. But the astonishing thing is that most of these everyday chemicals, though in use for decades, have never been or have only been insufficiently tested for their potential toxicity… In truth, Europe has been criminally negligent in addressing the problem of existing chemicals. Meanwhile, consumers are rubbing chemicals into their armpits and washing their underwear with substances whose long-term effects are often unknown.
“For example, many cosmetics contain the preservative imidurea, which is suspected of causing genetic damage. Under current law, dyes used in clothing are not required to be tested for adverse effects on the skin, even though some are said to cause allergies… Last year, 40 members of the EU Parliament were able to experience first-hand just how urgent the problem of existing chemicals is. In a study commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature, researchers found a cocktail of 76 different synthetic substances when they analyzed the politicians’ blood samples. Their arteries, it turned out, were conduits for the residues of brominated flame retardants, softening agents, fluorine chemicals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)… [which is] considered carcinogenic…”
European Nationalist Parties Unite
On November 18, 2005, canadafreepress.com reported that “Nationalist parties from seven European countries convened in Vienna last weekend to join forces. The ‘patriotic and nationalist parties and movements’ signed a so-called ‘Vienna Declaration’ calling for a stop to immigration in the entire European Union and the defence of Europe against ‘terrorism, aggressive islamism, superpower imperialism and economic aggression by low-wage countries.’ The parties also reject the European Constitution and demand that ‘geographically, culturally, religiously and ethnically non-European territories in Asia and Africa’ will be excluded from joining the European Union… The participants were invited by the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and included Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National from France, Alessandra Mussolini’s Azione Sociale from Italy, the Spanish Alternativa Española, the anti-Hungarian Great Romania Party, the openly anti-Semite Bulgarian party Ataka, and Belgium’s largest party, the Vlaams Belang. The Italian Lega Nord, the Danish People’s Party and Poland’s governing Law and Justice were not present but are said to have sent their greetings… Up till now the animosity between Jean-Marie Le Pen and FPÖ leader Jörg Haider had made international cooperation impossible. Le Pen and Haider each regarded themselves as the leading figure of the European nationalist right. Last April, however, the FPÖ split and Haider founded a new party, the BZÖ. With Le Pen growing older, Filip Dewinter, the charismatic strongman of the Vlaams Belang (VB), is generally seen as the new man to lead the European nationalist right.”
However, one should not rule out Joerg Haider too quickly. Recently, he made some headlines in the press, demanding that the religious affiliation of religious schoolteachers, as well as their teaching, are to be approved by the Austrian government, as the government is employing and paying them; and he has made new overtures for running in the next 2006 government election.
Sharon’s New Party
On November 21, 2205, der Spiegel Online published an article about “Sharon’s New Party.” The magazine wrote:
“Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to leave the Likud Party in order to set up his own party [for new elections expected in March] has shattered Israel’s political landscape. The divisions in his old party are mirrored in Israel’s deeply conflicted society… Israeli commentators weren’t shy about how they described Sharon’s move: Army Radio said ‘Sharon dropped a bomb’ that would cause a ‘political earthquake.’ The newspaper Maariv went even further, labeling it a ‘political big bang.’… The divided nation–those who oppose making concessions to the Palestinians against those willing to sacrifice land for peace–has helped to reshape the country’s politics… Without Sharon at the helm, Likud is widely expected to lurch to the right. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu–a fierce opponent of the Gaza withdrawal–is expected to have the best shot at taking over the remaining rump of the party… Following Sharon’s announcement, Israel’s parliament decided in a preliminary vote on Monday to dissolve itself.” Subsequently, Israel’s president dissolved the parliament and determined March 28 as the day for new elections
President Bush Under Attack
On November 22, 2005, the British “Daily Mirror” published a highly controversial article about an alleged personal conversation, in April of 2004, between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair about an alleged contemplated bombing of an Arab TV station. The tabloid stated: “President Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a ‘Top Secret’ No 10 memo reveals. But he was talked out of it at a White House summit by Tony Blair, who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash… The attack would have led to a massacre of innocents on the territory of a key ally, enraged the Middle East and almost certainly have sparked bloody retaliation… Yesterday former Labour Defence Minister Peter Kilfoyle challenged Downing Street to publish the five-page transcript of the two leaders’ conversation. He said: ‘It’s frightening to think that such a powerful man as Bush can propose such cavalier actions.'”
The tabloid which has been highly critical of Iraq’s invasion from the outset, added the following highly charged remarks: “The No 10 memo now raises fresh doubts over US claims that previous attacks against al-Jazeera staff were military errors. In 2001 the station’s Kabul office was knocked out by two ‘smart’ bombs. In 2003, al-Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayyoub was killed in a US missile strike on the station’s Baghdad centre.”
The European and American press, including Der Spiegel, The Associated Press, AFP, the Austrian Network, and The Washington Post, have quoted extensively from the Daily Mirror’s article. According to AP and AFP, the official governmental reaction to the article was indecisive. AFP stated on November 22: “A Downing Street spokesman said: ‘We have got nothing to say about this story. We don’t comment on leaked documents.’ And The Associated Press added, on November 22: “‘We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response,’ White House spokesman Scott McClellan told The Associated Press in an e-mail.”
On November 23, the British “The Times” reported about an unprecedented development in Britain: “Newspapers editors were threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act last night if they published details of a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush in which the President is alleged to have suggested bombing al-Jazeera, the Arab news network. Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, informed newspapers editors including that of The Times that ‘publication of a document that has been unlawfully disclosed by a Crown servant could be in breach of Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act’… Charges under the Official Secrets Act have to be approved by the Attorney-General. His involvement suggests the prosecution intends to hold part, if not all, of the trial, behind closed doors.”