Morning Briefing A Question of Tact  

Germany's defense minister goes on the defensive after criticizing her own troops. VW's first quarter numbers show the company back on track.

Cabinet members typically cancel trips abroad only when a potential coup is brewing on the home front. That makes the decision by German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to drop her US trip all the more remarkable. She recently spoke of problems “with attitudes and leadership” in the German Bundeswehr following the arrest of a former soldier alleged to have planned a neo-Nazi terror attack. The military doesn’t like being graded (or degraded) in public, and even fellow members of her Christian Democratic Union have fired warning shots across the bow. This incident certainly won’t help von der Leyen achieve her big goal of succeeding Angela Merkel someday.

For the first time in two years, Merkel visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. While the two leaders didn’t resolve all their problems, they did reduce them. That counts for something in a world that increasingly resembles a powder keg. Or as famed German novelist Günther Grass once said: As long as there’s discussion, no shots are being fired.

Former German Chancellor Willy Brandt traveled to the Kremlin back when it was considered the heart of the “Evil Empire.” During the same period, then-US President Richard Nixon visited Mao Zedong at the height of the Chinese leader’s vilification. Both western leaders opened closed political systems, which eventually led to the downfall of communism. When viewed in this light, President Donald Trump’s vague offer to chat with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, seems like an opportunity. Just because Trump does it, doesn’t mean it has to be wrong.

E.ON has teamed up with Google to turn up the heat on the energy giant’s solar offerings. The internet company’s software platform Sunroof analyzes the amount of annual sunlight a roof receives using satellite imagery. E.ON will soon host this information on its website, allowing home and building owners to estimate their property’s solar potential – and then order solar panels. Capitalism? Certainly. But green, not pure.

Optimism is returning to Volkswagen. Since the beginning of the year, business has been better than expected for the world’s largest carmaker, particularly in Europe. First-quarter figures released today  show operating profit up 27 percent to €4.4 billion and a 10.3-percent increase in group sales to €56.2 billion. Dieselgate might dominate the headlines, but not the balance sheet.

Allianz CEO Oliver Bäte will be the bearer of good news for company shareholders at today’s annual general meeting. Despite low interest rates, profits in 2016 grew by 4 percent to €6.5 billion, and shareholders should receive higher dividends. This won’t completely silence criticism of Bäte’s supremely confident management style but will help ease it significantly.

Picture of the Day

President Vladimir Putin met yesterday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi, Russia. While the conversation was an attempt to mend the strained relationship between the two countries, the body language appeared awkward.