The German economy, like the world’s, no longer looks so strong, as people who control money worry about Brexit, the Sino-American trade fight, and more. After a surprise contraction in the third quarter (which even had something to do with the low Rhine), there were fears that Germany is in a “technical recession”, defined as two consecutive quarterly dips. So a lot of people paid close attention to Germany’s statistics agency, which just released its preliminary numbers for 2018 as a whole.
The good news: No recession. Germany’s GDP last year still grew, for the ninth year in a row. The bad news: No “momentum” either. That’s the pompous word economists use when they don’t know what to call a trend. In this case, GDP grew by “only” 1.5 percent, after two years of annual growth at 2.2 percent. And that’s not good enough, I’m told.
In that context, it’s not exactly helpful that Germany’s second-largest trade union, called Verdi, keeps calling strikes. Today, the union is taking eight German airports out of commission, including Frankfurt, a hub for Germany and Europe. Hundreds of flights are cancelled, and more than 200,000 travellers are grounded. Keep enough vendors away from their customers this way, and pretty soon we’ll have that technical recession after all.
Sad tidings from Gdansk, Poland. Its mayor, Paweł Adamowicz, is now dead. On Sunday, as I wrote yesterday, a young man who had done time in jail for a bank robbery had stabbed Adamowicz into the chest, while the mayor was on a stage in front of a huge audience to promote a big charity fundraiser.
The attack appears not to have been politically motivated in the technical sense. But many people in Poland do believe that the increasing polarisation and the rougher tone in Polish politics of late have stoked this kind of hate. Adamowicz used to belong to the Civic Platform, the main center-right party that is now bitterly opposed to the governing Law and Justice party on the hard right. He defended the rights of gays and refugees. He was liberal. Not populist, but popular. Apparently that drives some people crazy nowadays. Much to ponder here for all Europeans.
What about Angie?
In London today, prime minister Theresa May is heading for a disaster that, in normal times (which these are not), would get her kicked out of office. Her Brexit deal will lose in the House of Commons this evening, and the only question is by what margin: large, or huge? Meanwhile in France, Emmanuel Macron is down from his early “Jupiterian” highs: unpopular and embarrassed every weekend by rioting “yellow vests”. So how is Chancellor Angela Merkel doing these days?
If you’ve been following German news over the past year, on Handelsblatt Today or elsewhere, you might have got the impression that Merkel is constantly on the verge of losing power. And indeed, there were some iffy moments -- the coalition fights last summer, her party’s bad showing in regional elections, her abrupt decision to stand down as party boss, then the uncertainty over who would replace her as leader of the CDU. But Germans are apparently less excitable than their pundits, and have looked past all that.
According to Forsa, a polling outfit, 55 percent of them profess “high” or “very high” trust in the chancellor. That’s 5 points more than a year earlier. That doesn’t necessarily mean Merkel can safely serve out her final term in office until 2021 -- the most decisive factor in that is whether her three-party coalition holds. But relative to other world leaders and their travails, Merkel once again looks pretty strong. It must be said: She’s good at this stuff.
And then there’s the snow. In most recent years, the main worry around this time in Bavaria and the neighboring Austrian regions of Tyrol and Salzburg is that there’s too little of it. You can blame that on climate change. My daughter is even writing a report on how ski resorts in the Alps, including the one that we like, have to plan for a radically different future, when tourists mountain-bike rather than ski on Christmas or -- worse -- stop coming at all.
But climate change is less about predictable warming than it is about unpredictable extremes. When it rains, it pours; and when it snows, it dumps. That’s what’s been happening since Christmas in the Alps. Suddenly, the runs are closed because of avalanches. A couple of days ago, in Lech, several expert skiers went only slightly off piste and died. Many roads are closed, and entire towns are cut off. They’ll eventually dig out of this, of course. But then it’s on to the next problem, when all that stuff melts.
Handelsblatt Today Editor-in-Chief
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