Moscow-Berlin hotline up again
On the first day of his state visit Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a "fresh start" after the near freeze in German-Russian relations due to the war in Chechnya. In Berlin, he explicitly called Germany Russia's "main partner in Europe and the world," and said he aimed to create a new "strategic partnership" between the two countries.
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, in the same tune, underlined that Germany wanted to "play a leading role in the modernisation of Russia."
As much as both politicians have said they disliked the "too personal" approach that marked relations between former Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, Putin's predecessors, the two leaders are reported to have established an "instant link" that led an invitation from Putin to have Schröder visit Moscow at Christmas.
Putin warned against American plans for a National Missile Defence (NMD) system, for which the US is presently seeking revisions of the 1972 ABM Treaty, and said Russia could not be expected to stand idly by if this scheme was indeed executed. The Russian president knows that, with regard to this issue, he can count on the support of many like-minded persons in Europe, particularly in Germany and France.
At the same time, Putin renewed offers for a "non-strategic" continental security system in which the United States and Russia would be equal partners, yet also expressed his dislike for the idea of further NATO enlargement into Central and Eastern Europe. In more general terms, the president said he had the impression that Germany was "not always following her true national interest."
Still, Putin's public appearances were marked by both rather polite criticism from German politicians and less polite comments from civic organisations concerning the conduct of the ongoing war in Chechnya. The Russian president repeated his well-known view that the Chechen war is being waged against "terrorists" and that Russia was indeed in a "morally safe position."
Owing considerably to Putin's "pragmatic" approach, concrete developments were numerous. In a meeting with representatives of German industry, probably the single most important meeting for Putin, German officials helped broker an agreement to clear the path for new German investments in Russia, to be covered by the so-called Hermes debt guarantees granted by Germany.
An old debt burden of DEM 600 million (EUR 300 million) will be effectively written off, and new guarantees will be issued to corporations. Putin and business representatives have already signed a framework agreement on future investment projects with value of DEM four billion (EUR two billion).
Moreover, Germany will make a corresponding move to absolve Russia of significant chunks of its foreign debt owed to the "Paris Club," the gathering of Russia's Western creditors. German grants account for roughly half of the DEM 43 billion (EUR 21.5 billion) that Russia owes these countries, a fact that lends some weight to Berlin's move.
In turn, or so it seems, the Russian president made an encouraging though insubstantial statement on his country's readiness to negotiate, "under the auspices of international law," on the sensitive topic of "looted art" taken from Germany after 1945 by the Soviet Army.
The Russian Duma had enraged the German side when it adopted a law unilaterally declaring the loot national property, which it justified by referring to "victory" and losses incurred by German occupation of Soviet territory as the source of "law" on the question.
In addition to a meeting with former Chancellor Kohl, the German-speaking Putin met with Federal President Johannes Rau and Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse (both, like Chancellor Schröder, Social Democrats), as well as Angela Merkel and Bavaria's Edmund Stoiber, chairs of the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) respectively.
A constitution for all Europeans?
On the occasion of former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari's award of the Hessian Peace Prize (Hessischer Friedenspreis) in Wiesbaden Thursday, Federal President Johannes Rau called for a genuine European constitution giving every European citizen "weight and a voice."
Rau said such a new constitutional order would require two crucial elements, noting first the requirement that each member nation could express itself through "equality" within European institutions and, second, the need for each state to enjoy a security space based on economic and political integration, thereby making military or "hard" security preparations less necessary.
Ahtisaari was awarded the Hessian prize largely for the role he played, together with former Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Chernomyrdin, in ending the Kosovo war in June 1999. The two engaged in intensive diplomatic shuttle missions between Belgrade and the West.
Ahtisaari had already been active as a negotiator in earlier stages of what can be called the "great post-Yugoslav war."
In his laudatio, Rau credited Ahtisaari with an essential role in "opening" the European Union to the Baltic Region, including Russia, and Southeast Europe. Ahtisaari's Finland, as the "northern fringe state," worked before and after its entry to the EU to overcome "narrow" definitions of what constitutes Central Europe, expanding the definition to include the Baltics and the Balkans.
Germany a nuclear-free zone?
After protracted negotiations, the federal government and the nuclear power industry agreed in Berlin this week to outlaw nuclear energy and end its production on German soil 32 years from now.
Under the terms of the compromise, no new nuclear power plants will be constructed and on-site storage facilities for spent fuel rods must be constructed at each nuclear site so as to prevent their transportation over open territory. The reuse of spent fuel rods will be made illegal beginning in 2005.
Nation-wide reaction to the decision has varied considerably. Whilst the co-governing Greens are hardly able to enjoy what should be a major political success (see next item), the right-wing opposition has harshly criticised the government for an "irresponsible environmental and energy policy," saying that the move would increase pollution from traditional coal-fired power plants and condemning the government's lack of a long-term energy strategy.
Critics say that the closure of German nuclear plants, which lead the world in safety standards, would hardly avert nuclear disasters given the continued existence of unsafe Central and Eastern European stations. Furthermore, they added, the government would in fact add impetus to the already unsafe CEE nuclear energy sector by encouraging plants there to export nuclear energy to Germany.
Industry representatives are themselves keeping a low profile, apparently content with the long transition period they have been granted by the business-friendly Schröder. They very likely share the doubts held by the conservative opposition parties, their long-term "natural allies."
Industry officials are now hoping for a "de-ideologisation" of the energy debate, and believe the government has a road to follow before the ambitious goal can be achieved - a road along which much could still happen. In particular, parting ways with the energy policies of most of Germany's European partners could have repercussions within the EU.
It should thus not be surprising that France has reacted to the German move with a mixture of astonishment, Schadenfreude and joy over unexpected business opportunities. France, as the most "nuclearised" EU member, could find advantage in selling excess power to Germany in the event that the latter is not able to find sufficient alternative modes of production.
Nuke agreement strains federal Greens...
The Green Party, the junior coalition partner with the Social Democrats at both the federal level and in the important land of North-Rhine Westfalia, is faced with extreme and growing internal tension over recent government policies that may well split the party.
The agreement between the federal government and the nuclear power industry has outraged the more radical wing of the Greens, which has traditionally held a clear anti-nuclear stance to be the core of the party's political identity. The radical wing is afraid of losing its already damaged appeal to its traditional electorate and is threatening to torpedo the cabinet decision at the forthcoming party congress in Münster.
Notably, party spokeswoman Antje Radcke has stated that she would step down should the plan be endorsed by the congress, saying endorsement would cause the left wing to leave the party. The loss, which could amount to one third of the party's deputies, would likely prevent the Greens from returning to the Bundestag in 2002.
In turn, moderate Greens in the cabinet, often labelled "realists," defend the compromise by pointing out that Germany will become the first major industrial country to abandon nuclear power, halting dangerous over-land transports of spent fuel rods and limiting their absolute number. Moderates claim that the left wing is being unrealistic and is unable to appreciate the fundamental nature of the breakthrough.
...while local politics hamper North-Rhine Westfalia party
In Düsseldorf, the capital of North-Rhine Westfalia, a painful string of negotiations has led to another compromise paper in the renewed coalition agreement between Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.
After the regional elections of 14 May, which reduced the Greens' electoral share considerably, Minister President Wolfgang Clement was pressed by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and regional SPD party chairman Franz Müntefering to continue in the Red-Green coalition.
Clement had the option of going with the more business-friendly, liberal Free Democrats who, in relative terms, had won the elections. Clement's price for staying was a reduction in the Greens' environmentalist agenda, which had threatened his ambitious regional transport development programme. The resulting coalition agenda will be very difficult for any "self-respecting" Green to accept, as it is devoid of any traditional Green policy stances.
Here, too, the left wing of the party must decide whether to accept the agreement or leave the coalition. Any decision to leave will be a bad omen for the federal coalition, which must submit to the will of the electorate in two years.
A call for civil courage
The trial of two young right-wing extremists accused of the 11 June beating murder of a 39 year-old Mozambican man opened this week in Dessau, in the former East German land of Sachsen-Anhalt. The victim died of his injuries two days after the brutal assault.
As in similar cases, authority for the investigation was assumed by Federal Attorney Kay Nehm, a significant development because, under Germany's federal system, federal law enforcement authorities can only act directly in cases that concern national public order and security.
Racist motivations in this and other recent hate crimes invoked the political move as, according to a
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The Special Government Commissioner for Foreigners (Ausländerbeauftragte), Marie-Luise Beck, said that apart from giving the case a higher judicial profile, it would be necessary for the general public to act against recurring xenophobic incidents and discourage potential perpetrators by showing that they were not backed by their "ethnic kin."
Jens Boysen, 17 June 2000
ZDF (Public German TV) Online News
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung