Daily briefing America goes after the German-Russian pipeline in the Baltic

Nord Stream 2 in trouble; hackers leak celebrity data; and the AfD wants Dexit; our Daily Briefing for Jan. 7, 2019.
Quelle: dpa
A pipelayer's dream.

If you’re a regular reader of this Daily Briefing, you know that we’ve been quite clear what we think of Germany’s support for Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline being built under the Baltic sea from Russia to Germany. It’s insane, insensitive, moronic. Germany is alienating its EU partners in the Baltics and Poland, who fear once again having big decisions made over their heads between their two giant neighbors (“Molotov-Ribbentrop 2.0”). It is alienating Ukraine, which dreads losing income from the existing Russian pipeline now shipping gas through it, whenever Vladimir Putin decides to throttle it. And it is alienating America and other NATO partners, who want Europe to become less, not more, dependent on Russian gas.

But the way the Trump administration is now trying to stop the pipeline is not kosher. As Handelsblatt has learned, the Americans are planning to target, with sanctions, the specialist firms that lay the pipeline on the sea bed. The idea is that the firms, seeing the writing on the wall, would then pull out voluntarily. And, being so specialized, they might be impossible to replace. One of them is the Allseas Group, headquartered in Switzerland.

Companies working on the pipeline “are always in danger, because sanctions are always possible,” Richard Grenell, the feisty American ambassador to Germany, told Handelsblatt. I also want Germany to pull out of Nord Stream 2. But I’d prefer that Germany did so after democratic reflection, not under American browbeating.

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Data disaster

Some naughty, naughty people have hacked into the online data of hundreds of German politicians and celebrities and made them public. Phone numbers, credit-card details and so forth. One of the main victims was Robert Habeck, a rising star of the Green Party, whose private photos and chat histories with his wife and kids were leaked. Oddly, the only politicians spared were those from the Alternative for Germany (AfD). That’s the right-wing populist party in Germany.

Is that proof that the hackers were themselves right-wingers? Or would this have been too obvious, so that the whole thing must be a plot to frame the AfD? Who knows? Prosecutors are now on the case, which is good. Also on the case is Horst Seehofer, the interior minister and bête noire in Angela Merkel’s cabinet. So get ready for a lot of press conferences this week, as he flaunts how busy he is, and as the press feigns outrage that somebody should have done something sooner. The truth is: This sort of thing is just business as usual nowadays. A crime, like many. Get used to it.

Dexit?

In general, the AfD, has been making fewer headlines of late than it used to. Part of the reason is that the migration crisis, after peaking in 2015-16, appears firmly under control. People are even speculating whether right-wing populism across Europe has already peaked, having shown itself to have no good answers to actual problems, and having simply been a way for people to vent frustration. So the AfD is counting on three regional elections later this year in Eastern Germany, its base, to prove that it is still strong and relevant.

To show up in these contests with more than one topic (besides migrants), the AfD is now talking about pushing Dexit. That’s right, not Brexit, but Dexit. At their party conference at the end of this week, the delegates will vote on making this a point in their platform: to get Germany out of the EU after 2024. I say: beware, AfD. This ain’t Britain, and you ain’t UKIP. Dexit might just be your ticket to oblivion.

Gold-covered steak?

Germany’s top soccer club, FC Bayern Munich, is training in Doha right now. But everybody’s talking about what one of its stars, Franck Ribéry – French but estranged from his mother country – got up to on the way there. He stopped in Dubai and went to a restaurant whose chef specializes in serving soccer celebrities. They brought him a steak that was plated with 24-karat gold. Apparently it cost more than €1000, which Ribéry didn’t have to pay. So what, you might ask.

Well, Ribery got what the Germans (insensitive to the word’s English cadence) inevitably called a “shitstorm." The trolls and haters came out and let Ribéry have it; then, as trolls do, they overshot and also hurled abuse at his wife, Wahiba. Ribéry – tattooed, scar-faced from an old car accident, and generally relishing his ruffian image – wouldn’t be Ribéry if he didn’t give as good as he gets. Out gushed a stream of profanity, which is now on the internet. But Ribéry, in his creative use of metaphors, overshot the mark of propriety. So now FC Bayern has fined him. Ribéry, of course, may consider it all well worth the dosh. But I keep wondering: Did he actually eat that gold? And what does that do to you?

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