Merkel Hangs on but Trouble on Horizon

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Christian Democratic Party still holds the cards despite record losses. Free Democrats (FDP) back in the Bundestag, the Right-winged Alternative for Germany (AfD) enters national politics as the third strongest party. 

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BERLIN- The German Federal Elections of 2017 will go down as one of the most controversial elections in modern history. While we have seen government coalitions being taken down because of the vote of no-confidence- the last one being in 2005- there has not been a time where the election campaign has been hotly contested, sometimes even corrupt as this one.  Before looking at the reasons behind this argument, it is best to look at the results.

Summary:

Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU remains the most powerful of the political parties in Germany, having garnered 32.9% of the votes, according to the polls. Unfortunately, that is a loss of 8.6% from the results in the 2013 Elections. Its coalition partner, the Social Democrats, barely finished second with 20%; with the loss of 5.1% of the votes, they set a new low for the number of votes. The director of the party, Martin Schulz, declared at the close of the polls that his party would no longer work together with Merkel’s party, thus forcing the chancellor to look for new partners to rule the country. A very difficult task given the fact that third place finisher, the AfD, finished with 13% of the votes. The party’s candidate, Alexander Gauland, vows to chase Merkel’s government and her policies, especially with regards to refugees and the environment. Gauland is one of many in the party who wishes to bring back policies once carried out by Adolf Hitler during his time in power, minus the holocaust. While Merkel will definitely discard the AfD and has vowed to win back the voters who have left her party for the far right during her next four years in office, she has the possibility of forming a coalition with the Greens (who won 8.9%), FDP (who returned to German parliament after a four-year absence with 10.6% of the vote) and the left-wing party Die Linke (which got 9%).  Most likely will Merkel form a Jamaika Coalition with the Greens and the FDP but according to information from German public channel ARD, all three parties would have to work together to create a joint mandate on several points. Given their hard stance on several issues, this will be rather difficult to achieve. But in order for the coalition to be realized, some compromises and sacrifices may be needed in order for the coalition to work for the next four years. Merkel will most likely face not only one but two sets of opposition. Apart from the AfD preparing to attack her policies at every possible convenience, she will have the far left in the Linke and SPD to contend with, especially with Martin Schulz, who tried to play down her policies during his campaign, but to no avail.

Critique Points:

So what exactly went wrong with the 2017 Campaign? Everything possible, but it would be difficult to point everything out without having to type until seven in the morning, so I will focus on one aspect and that is how the campaign was run.

Firstly, the campaign was very Americanized. Instead of including the parties in the debates, especially on television, it was merely a divorce battle between two coalition partners, the SPD and the CDU. Nothing from the Greens, FDP, Left, AfD and others that were running. Surely with the other parties taking part in the debates, we would have a better idea on the stances of each one plus their plan on how to tackle the problems facing Germany.

Secondly, there was only one TV debate with, as mentioned in the last point, just the two coalition parties. Normally in a multi-party elections, there would be more than one TV debate- better three: two with the main four parties and one with the remaining parties, pending on their performance in the Bundestag. Even in the past, there were at least two TV debates. And with that TV debate between Merkel and Schulz, it turned out to be the German version of the Hillary vs. Trump debate: 100% mudslinging and not getting to the point with the debate at hand. No wonder why Martin Schulz wanted a second TV debate as there were several themes not discussed during the first debate. A big plus for him.

Thirdly, the focus was for the most part on the refugee crisis and what went wrong. Merkel has been sandwiched between Schulz’s accusation of her not doing enough for them and the accusation of the AfD and even the sister party the Christian Socialists (CSU) in Bavaria for not enforcing restrictions on the number of refugees entering the country. There was almost no space for themes that are bigger than that, such as climate change, trade agreements with North America, the EU, the widening gap between rich and poor, etc.  While Merkel and Schulz were wrestling it out politically, the AfD fed off the lack of selection and frustration of the voters who eventually went for them to begin with.

Fourthly, there should have been a TV debate with the AfD, period. Following the Beutelsbach Consensus for Political Discussion in the Classroom (enacted in 1977), having Gauder, Höcke or even Petry as a spokesperson in the debate against Merkel, Schulz and other candidates would produce discussions for all to watch with the purpose of bringing out whatever they have for plans should they be elected. As chaotic as the party has been due to political struggles and controversial remarks from members of the party, this party could be a one-term party unless they have a clear platform that will win over voters, which the only platform they have up until now is to throw out the immigrants in favor of the uneducated- something that was seen 84 years ago.

Fifthly, the last argument has resonances from America’s elections last year: The election was based too much on fame and picking apart the candidates and not on the themes concerning the German and European population. We have Merkel whom many think she’s too old and naive. We have the Schulz effect which is like buying Levi’s jeans just because it is a brand. We have Petry who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We have Göring-Eckhardt, who is the brains but not the support. OK, to be blunt, we have several flavors of Dithmarscher Beer but they all taste the same! And that is what we see with our candidates, period!

What Happens Next?

It is clear that Merkel will start her fourth term and is on course to outgovern Helmut Kohl before the next elections in September 2021. It is also clear that Schulz’s declaration of the divorce from the CDU and going on the opposition is final and that Merkel has just the Greens and FDP to form a coalition. The question will be how she will manage two different oppositional groups: the AfD, who will do everything possible with its 13 representatives in parliament to make her life very difficult, and the SPD and Linke, who will use all measures possible to fight the AfD and keep Merkel in check. For the first time since 1945, we have a right-wing party in power with a potential to repeat history, but this legislative period will feature three factions fighting it out in the German parliament: the far-right, the far-left and the traditional center. This will make things very difficult for Merkel’s coalition to pass any policies agreed on that would satisfy the population.  It is certain that Merkel cannot afford to ignore the AfD and has already declared to win back voter who had left her party to join the far-right. But in order to do that, Merkel will not only have to change her mandate and appease the voters, but she will have to face the AfD directly, consistently, at every possible convenience and especially, proactively.  She will not be able to be passive to the party as she did during the elections and even before that.  She will need to present themes that are complicated for the AfD to comprehend, let alone far-left. And she will need to use all legal measures possible to ensure that there is order in Berlin. She doesn’t need to be Margaret Thatcher, but in order to succeed in the next four years, she will need to go away from her passive approach and go on the proactive to ensure that her policies get through and her oppositions are in check. Only then will she be certain to break Kohl’s record and keep her party the CDU’s reputation as the party that shaped Germany. All other approaches would have fatal consequences for Germany, Europe and Democracy, in general.

For more on the election results, please check out ARD online, which will show you the results and the predictions of what will happen in the coming months. Link:

http://www.ard.de/home/ard/ARD_Startseite/21920/index.html

 

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Genre of the Week: Allentown by Billy Joel

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We all have been paying attention to the recent developments in the United States, especially when it comes to Donald Trump. Already he has destroyed generations-long ties with traditional neighbors, like Germany, France and the rest of Europe, plus countries in the Middle East minus Israel and Saudi Arabia and with China. He has declared to pull America out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which his predecessor Barack Obama had signed prior to leaving office in January. And to the dismay of even his fellow Americans both at home as well as abroad, he has stressed the importance of jobs over wasting money to help other poor countries fight a phenomenon, which he claims does not exist.

 

All of this for one sole purpose: clean coal!

 

While several actors, even within his own country, have declared that they will buck the trend of the president and follow the Paris protocol- with Hawaii having become the first state to sign the agreement, other states like Minnesota, New York, California and Washington set to follow even as an alliance, and even oil companies are going green with their approach to sustainable development, all directions are pointing towards an isolationist politician whose title is the President of the United States, but he is acting in the best interest of just the coal miners and those of the oil companies who are against Paris.

 

But why resort to coal, when so many arguments point towards phasing the energy source out in favor of renewable energies, such as fuel cells, wind, solar and hydroelectric? The energy is cheap, but residents and coal workers have to pay the price in terms of health. Generations of coal miners have been in the business and would like to remain there for the long term. However, the numbers are dwindling as mines close, miners get older and the job is not attractive at all.  Mining claims to be safe, but there are enough accidents to question that statement.

 

And the last claim that Trump has pointed out is that there are enough social and health benefits that will make the job an everlasting one. People can enter the field and stay there for life. And this song, entitled Allentown by Billy Joel, has several arguments debuking that claim.  Produced in 1982, the setting for the song is in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the heart of the coal and steel industry. There, the decline of the industry was taking shape after World War II, with mines and steel factories closing down, and workers suffering from the plight of unemployment and other social pathologies. By the early 1980s, over half of the factories and mines in Pennsylvania had been shut down and regions were forced to reinvent themselves. The trend would later be felt in Germany at the time of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, especially in the east, where the mining of brown coal, the dirtiest of coal devastated areas in Saxony including the Black Triangle region.

The lyrics behind this song has to do with the aftereffects of the closing down of the steel mills and mines. Listen to the song and ask yourself the following questions:

 

  1. Compare the war generation with the younger one. Which one had it better and why?

 

  1. Describe the life of a coal miner from the singer’s point of view. What is typical of them and the working conditions?

 

  1. When the people in Allentown are waiting for the Pennsylvania they never found, what was meant by that?

 

  1. Why is it hard for them to stay?

 

  1. In your opinion, despite Trump’s quest for reenergizing the coal industry, will it be successful in the end? Why or why not?

 

Supplemental question: Does your reason have to do with the decline in the industry and if so, why?

 

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William Martin Joel was born in 1949 and has had a singing career that has spanned over five decades. Billy Joel’s breakthrough came with Piano Man, produced in 1973. Since then, he has released 12 albums featuring both pop and classical music. Songs credited to his name include We didn’t start the fire, And so it goes, My life, Manhattan 2017, An innocent man, Leningrad, and Baby Grand (together with favorite idol, the late Ray Charles).  Allentown was one of several songs Billy Joel wrote which focuses on real themes affecting America, Russia and other parts of the world. That song received praise from the mayor of Allentown, and Joel therefore received royalities and other recognition.

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Showdown at Fehmarn

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The Beltretter Petition Drive at the Burg Market Square. Photo taken in August 2016

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Petition Drive to Stop the Construction of the Tunnel at Puttgarden in Full Gear; Discussion about the Fehmarn Bridge’s Future is on.

BURG/ FEHMARN- For the second time in three years, I had a chance to take a trip to the German Island of Fehmarn, located between Denmark and the state of Schleswig-Holstein, connected by the Migratory Route Highway connecting Copenhagen and Hamburg. Astonished by its beauty and the hospitality the people there gave us our last time, for my family and me, which also includes a friend of ours and her daughter, Fehmarn appears to be the place to go to relax, swim, run along the coast with the wind in our faces and bike to our favorite places for fish with fried potatoes Holstein style.

Yet on this trip it was totally different. Different in a way that the inhabitants of the island are divided over a mega-project that is coming to cross the island- the noise that is comparable to the noise one see along the Migratory Route, which seemed to have increased since our last visit. When visiting the state of Schleswig-Holstein, especially in the eastern part, one will see a blue X every second house along with its slogan, a Christmas light set depicting the Fehmarn Bridge at every fourth house, and this van with the Belt Retter slogan on there, lined up with hundreds of people talking to representatives of the group fighting to stop the project from happening, and signing petitions in the process.  The scene is getting brighter and bluer as the weeks come along….

…..and for a good reason!

Since my visit in 2014, I’ve been covering the events on Fehmarn, which involved not only the island’s future, but also that of the Fehmarn Bridge. To recap on the situation, the Danish Government have been cooperating with the German authorities regarding the construction of the multi-track/lane tunnel connecting Puttgarden (GER) and Rodby (DK), thus eliminating the need for ferry service. The tunnel would feature two tracks accomodating long-distance trains as well as six lanes of motorway traffic, creating a total width of one kilometer including the property acquisitions. At 20 km, it would be touted as the longest tunnel in the world that would serve automobile traffic. At the same time, German government authorities in Berlin and Kiel as well as the German Railways are working together for a new bridge on the south end, spanning the Fehmarn Sound- replacing the island’s iconic span which is the first of its kind ever built.  At the moment, transportation authorities have deemed the 1963 bridge to be functionally obsolete and at the end of its useful life. According to the latest reports from LN-News in Luebeck, planning is in the works to have a new iconic span resembling the Golden Gate Bridge to be discussed and possibly voted on. If approved, construction could start in 2018 and be finished in 10 years.

 

The current situation during the visit:

The Belt Retter movement has been gaining steam in the past weeks, with organizers and supporters collecting signatures and letters of petitions in much of Schleswig-Holstein- in particular, the eastern half and of course, Fehmarn Island itself. Tens of thousands of signatures have been collected online, as well as in person at the markets and other events. I was lucky to stop at the Belt Retter site at the market square in Burg during our visit to talk to the representatives there, and get some information on the latest with the Puttgarden-Rodby Tunnel (aka Belt Tunnel). The Danish government, which has been keen on moving forward with the project, had previously rejected an earlier proposal for the tunnel last year because of approximately 249 errors in the design and concept, according to officials of the organisation I talked to at the market. After reworking the project, a new proposal was submitted back in June by the coordinators of the project, LBV Luebeck and Femmern A/S, and now the clock is ticking on the part of the locals, the Belt Retter organisation and all other parties opposed to the plan, who had previously petitioned to stop the first draft and succeeded last year. Between now and August 26th, you have an opportunity to submit your petition online or through contact with the representatives of Belt Retter, who will then forward that onto a committee that will feature representatives of the tunnel project, environmental and legal experts, local, regional and state representatives and others involved with the project, who will review it and take further measures. Possible legal measures, such as lawsuits and court order injunctions are on the table should it become a necessity.

Attempts are also being made regarding ways to preserve the Fehmarn Bridge. Rehabilitating the bridge for continual use has been ruled out because of the cost intensitity, but also because it is predicted that the bridge’s lifespan would be prolonged by only 30 years. However, such rehabilitation techniques have been tried on several bridges made of steel, including the steel wiring that is also found on the Fehmarn Bridge. The findings: such rehabilitation can prolong the life of a bridge by up to a century, counting maintenance and other essentials. Already done was the Bay Bridge and (also) the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, this is also being conducted on the George Washington Bridge in New York City, built in 1938 under Swiss Engineer Othmar H. Ammann. Crying wolf over the potential failure of the bridge, as was stated by authorities of the government in Berlin and the German railways, the issues of rust, especially seen by the author while revisiting the bridge this year is only minor. Bridge rehabilitation experts would also agree that rehabilitation would be cost effective, saving taxpayer money by up to half the cost for a new bridge. In other words, and as I signed my petition against the project, I even noted, the movement to stop this mega-project with the tunnel should also include rehabilitating the Fehmarn Bridge.

Opinions are split down the middle among those who are vehemently against the project because of the negative environmental and economic impact as well as those involving tourism and culture and those who are in favor because of the need to modernize the infrastructure and bring in more tourism. It can even be found with the two different stickers at a souvenir shop at Suedstrand in Burgtiefe with the blue X and green check marks, the latter being for the project. Protests from different factors, including the Scandlines (which operates the ferry between Puttgarden and Rodby) have increased loudly in numbers, opposing the entire project. While those supporting the project say that it is a necessity and will come anyway, the Danes are becoming more and more sceptical of the tunnel concept because of the exploding costs for surveys, legal issues and the redesigning of the system. Many have joined the movement on the German side, which has increased tremendously since my last visit.  While it is expected that the construction of the tunnel is to begin in 2020 and last 10 years, should the petition become a success for the second time, it might derail the entire project, putting it on ice indefinitely.

And with that, hopefully in the eyes of locals and people attached to Fehmarn, a return to normalcy which includes accessing the island by two-lane traffic or ferry, coaxing passers-by into stopping on the island for a visit and vacation. This is something you cannot do with a mega-project that would cut the island into two if proponents have their way.

Do you want to stop the project, click here to read the information and sign the petition. Contact details are available if you need further information. The information is in German, but you can talk to someone with English or Danish knowledge if you have any questions. It takes 2-4 minutes to do and consists of multiple choice questions that are user friendly.  If you’re still not convinced that the project cannot be stopped, go to the wordpress version of the Flensburg Files. There, you can click on the gallery with pics of the places visited this year with some comments on my part.

Checkout the articles written about the Fehmarn Bridge Situation including the bridge, by clicking here, here and here.

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Germans and Demonstrations: What We Want is Color; What We Don’t Want is a Union

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Protest, the right to express our opinion, our objection, our own dismay to something that does not fit. Derived from the Latin word meaning to testify for something, protests are designed to deliver a message, whether it was objecting to a decision of a local mayor to demolish a historic landmark in favor of a shopping mall, demanding a change in government because of a corrupt leader, putting pressure on companies to increase wages and improve working conditions or as seen in the pics here, rejecting certain people because of their threat to their societal infrastructure.

Germany leads the way in the number of protests and their variety of themes. No matter when the politicians speak, no matter if it is spontaneous or planned, no matter how many policemen are involved, and no matter how extreme, when a demonstration takes place, the entire city is shut down and isolated from the rest of the world. The demonstrations take place in many forms. We have the May Day demonstrations and with that, also demonstrations by workers’ unions, demanding better pay and working conditions. This form occurs most frequently, no matter where. Then we have the most popular, which are the environmental demonstrations, featuring sit-ins, blocking and chanting for no nuclear storage facilities, international trade deals harming the environment and no pollution, period.

Then we have the most current, which are the demonstrations involving refugees and right-wing extremism.

For more on that and to see pictures of a typical protest, click here to continue……

 

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In School in Germany: Teaching Environmental Sciences

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It’s a day like no other: a simple walk in the woods on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the spring time. The leaves on the trees are budding, the moss and the pine needles are getting greener, and the skies are blue with a few clouds in the air. Mushrooms are growing on the trees and the lake is as blue as the reflections in the sky. One used to go swimmimg there in the past, but not anymore. Why? Too much run-off has produced algae that is occupying most of the lake, suffocating the life out of the fish and marine life that once thrived there.

Then there is a walk along the beach in the US. Going barefoot, one person steps on a ripped tin can and cuts herself deep. The can was buried 3/4 of the way in the sand. Plus there were bags and other non-perishables nearby. Not far from there, we see a river that has not seen a drop of rain for months since its one-time torrential downpour with the consequences being as dire as in this picture below:

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One should also not forget the infestation of grasshoppers and locusts thanks to the drought that also resulted in nearby forest fires that destroyed a once-popular tourist attraction….envir2

These are just the classic examples of how unaware society has been with regards to the environment around us. With the recent events unfolding in front of our eyes: the illegal killing of the lion in Zimbabwe, governments signing leases to oil companies to explore for oil in very sensitive natural preserves, rain forests being decimated in square kilometers per day, to even the German and Danish governments pushing to have a megatron-style expressway and high speed rail line run through a small but vulnerable island, one has to ask himself: are we aware of what we are doing to our flora and fauna?  Some people think it is the work of God and even one person mentioned recently that we are already facing Armageddon. But even God is the one who is displeased with how His world, which He created in seven days, according to the book of Genesis. Yet do we want to face Armaggedon by continuing to be greedy and ignorant?

There is a saying that is worth noting: The best time to educate is when the baby is in his diapers. If there was one class in school that should be introduced at all costs, it is environmental sciences. And when? As soon as the kid enters school. And how long? If kept as a core requirement, like reading, writing and math, all the way through high school.

But how do we introduce this to the class? And what should we teach them that is relevant to this topic?

Children should be gradually introduced to this topic by showing them the importance of our environment: the trees, flora and fauna, water and especially, food. They should be taught the importance of reusing and recycling goods rendered useless, planting trees and taking care of the vegetation, eating healthy organic foods, not buying goods coming from sensitive environmental areas, like the rain forest, or derived from endangered animals and lastly, learning how important the Earth is to them and the next generation. As they later become an adolescent, themes, such as pollution, climate change and destruction of habitat, can be introduced so that they can implement their knowledge and talk about these topics- even more so when they are current events. Very important is taking a look at the measures already in place to help our environment, whether it is the use of renewable resources, like bio-gas, wind, water and sun, saving energy or even using alternative forms of transportation instead of the car, like the train.  Some factors, like anthropology, sociology and natural sciences could be mixed in there to ensure that when graduating from school, they would have a sufficient amount of knowledge and common sense to take action to stop the global warming process, which is progressing faster than expected.

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Example of a renewable energy source: converting compost and manuer into energy: bio-gas, as seen on a farm in central Thuringia

At the moment, no laws exist regarding the requirements of this class, let alone incorporating it into the core curriculum. Reasons are pretty standard: not enough funding and support, too much focus on the testing requirements, too much opposition from the lobbyists and even politicians, and lastly, falsified information from the media, claiming that global warming is a natural process. (and if you are one of those believers, you better quit reading this right now and start praying!)

Yet there are some factors that a recent article published (click here) that should provide enough incentive for lawmakers and educators to at least consider bringing this matter to the table:

2015 is the hottest year on record with record-setting forest fires and destructive flooding causing trillions of dollars in damages to property. Every year means a new record for temperatures and the like. The number of species has dwindled by up to 80% over the last 30 years. Migration has put a strain on social resources in developed countries. Germany alone expects to receive a record 800,000 immigrants by year’s end, and the country is already having problems finding homes for them, let alone people willing to accept them. And lastly, our natural resources are dwindling, despite claims of them being around forever. If we look at fracking in the United States and the poisoning, earthquakes and destruction of the flora and fauna for the sake of oil, none of the facts are in dispute.  Yet if one still believes that global warming is a natural process and a class on environmental sciences is needed, then perhaps watching Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and in particular, the destabilizing and eventual destruction of Genesis (esp. after the Enterprise is imploded through self-destruction) might convince you otherwise.

In either case, the facts remain clear in our society: mankind does not know what to do to stop global warming and we need to educate ourselves in order to find ways to stop the process and ensure that our planet is livable for generations to come. The best solution is to educate ourselves and our children to ensure that in the end, instead of having a planet that is dried up and not livable that we have a planet like this:

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or this:

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If you want that, then please, write to your politicians, lobby your teachers and principals (or headmasters), start a demonstration, and advocate the need to learn about Mother Nature as a full class and core requirement. Think about your future and that of the next generations. Only then, when we educate ourselves properly will we have a future like this and not what we’re seeing in the western two thirds of the US right now, which really resembles the destruction of Genesis in the Star Trek film.

Thank you for your support.

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