Angela Merkel’s impassioned speech in defense of multilateralism moved world leaders at the Munich Security Conference last week. Rather than solely pursuing short-sighted national policies without looking at the bigger picture, national leaders should cooperate and find “win-win solutions together,” the German chancellor said. “Multilateralism may be complicated, but it’s better than simply staying at home alone.” Cue thunderous applause.
Yet, as is often the case with German politicians, there’s a gap between Merkel’s lofty words and her actions. The latest example is arms sales to Saudi Arabia. After the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and a vocal critic of Riyadh, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year, Berlin decided to stop exporting arms to the Wahhabi kingdom. But there’s a catch: Germany’s embargo directly affects other countries’ arms sales as well, as it blocks weapons exports even if Germany only delivers parts for a finished product. This is now straining relations with both Britain and France because Germany didn’t consult them and yet Berlin’s stance affects joint projects from jet fighters to armored police cars. Britain, for example, has a multi-billion-euro contract to deliver 48 Eurofighters to Saudi Arabia, but a third of the plane’s components come from Germany.
While Merkel’s decision not to supply a murderous dictatorship with more weapons is commendable, it clearly infringes on British and French sovereignty. The frustration coming from Paris and London is palpable, and European partners are beginning to question Germany’s reliability if Berlin can pull out of international projects on a whim.
There’s hope that the penny might be dropping in Berlin, however, as some politicians acknowledge Germany cannot impose its foreign policy choices upon other countries and tell them what they may or may not export. “If we want to have partners, that works only on the basis of mutual recognition of sovereign choices,” a senior Social Democrat said. German politicians should practice the multilateralism they preach.
Speaking of Germany’s awkward knack for unilateral moves, another decision by the chancellor with far-reaching consequences is under scrutiny again. A famous – if controversial – French philosopher told German media that Merkel single-handedly caused Brexit because of an ill-advised decision she made a year before the British referendum. “If Angela Merkel hadn’t said ‘We can do this’ and let one million migrants into Germany in 2015, there would have been no Brexit,” Alain Finkielkraut told Die Welt, a rightwing daily. “This sent a shockwave across Europe. The Europeans weren’t consulted.” He’s suggesting that one year later, horrified Brits voted for Brexit thanks to Merkel’s selfies with refugees. Which is odd because if you follow British politics, you’ll know that Leavers have spent years insisting Brexit is not at all xenophobic. But the very least we can say about Finkielkraut is that he’s polarizing, notorious in France for his contentious, anti-immigration statements. The son of Polish Holocaust survivors, he was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse in Paris last week. In that same interview, he also told Die Welt: “Modern anti-Semitism is not a form of racism; it is a form of anti-racism. All anti-Semites today are anti-racists.” Wait – what?
You can’t always blame Merkel for other people’s problems. Take Daimler, for instance. The maker of Mercedes-Benz cars is in a tight spot, and the German chancellor has nothing to do with that. The Stuttgart state prosecutor’s office has opened a case against the carmaker over alleged neglect by executives in the diesel scandal. Last year, Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority ordered Daimler to recall 700,000 Mercedes cars across Europe, including 280,000 in Germany, for software alterations to remove alleged defeat devices. Daimler denies any wrongdoing. But the luxury automaker should brace for a hefty fine. Its competitor, Audi, agreed to pay €800 million to end a probe into emissions manipulation. Audi’s parent company, Volkswagen, was fined €1 billion. So Daimler said it has set aside a nine-figure sum to cover legal risks from diesel-related litigation. That’s an awful lot of money for not having done anything illegal.
And to think that all those years, it has been easier for carmakers to tamper with diesel emissions and get away with it than for German women to know where they can get an abortion. This may end soon. Lawmakers in the Bundestag are voting on a revision of a Nazi-era law which currently bans medical professionals and clinics from even mentioning that they offer abortions. Earlier this month, Merkel’s cabinet agreed on updating the controversial paragraph 219a of Germany’s penal code, which bans “advertising” for abortions. If the Bundestag approves the reform, practitioners will be able to at least tell patients whether or not they provide abortions. It took a lot of hand-wringing to get there, but it seems that Germany is ready to enter the 21st century at last.
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