Sunday, 27 August 2017

Who will be Merkel's dance partner?

Germany’s upcoming election is eliciting a collective yawn in Europe, with a Merkel win almost certain. But surprises may be in store in who voters choose to be with her in government.

Compared to some of its neighbors, Germany isn’t known for having elections with edge-of-your-seat excitement. Particularly in the past decade, as Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU bloc has dominated politics, federal elections haven’t had much in the way of surprises.

But this year was supposed to be different. People expected a real contest between two credible candidates on September 24. That didn’t pan out.

Merkel has now been in power for twelve years, and she is running for a historic fourth term that could make her, along with Helmut Kohl, the longest-serving chancellor in modern German history. But many of her decisions have proved unpopular, particularly her controversial move to welcome Syrian refugees fleeing that country’s civil war in August 2015. It was thought that voters were ready for change.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Estonian issues: Charlottesville, collective memory and technology

As Estonia takes over the EU presidency, we talk on this week's podcast about two issues central to the Baltic country - technology and historical memory. 

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

My prediction: Britain will join the EEA

Like in Norway and Switzerland, British elites will have to accept an arrangement they know is bad in order to indulge the illusions of a slight majority of voters. 

The political class was stunned. After a nationwide in/out referendum on EU membership, expected to yield an 'in' result because the entirety of the political and business establishment supported it, people awoke to the news that people had voted out, by 52%. A yearning for national sovereignty had won the day.

This wasn't 24 June 2016. It was 29 November 1994, the day after Norway's referendum on whether to join the European Union. 52% voted for Norway to be outside the EU, while 47% voted to be in it - an almost exact mirror of the UK result 22 years later. The result was a political shock that sent reverberations through the government and business establishment. 

What happened in Norway in the ensuing years was a lesson in how politicians must sometimes pull their citizens along begrudgingly, or even unwittingly. Because even though EU membership had been rejected, Norway effectively ended up becoming an EU pseudo-member - under terms much worse than if it had become a member state. The same fate awaited Iceland and Switzerland. 

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Eurovision imperialism?

Eurovision Asia is coming. Get ready for the battle of the song contests, as the European Broadcasting Union tries to head off global upstarts.

The Eurovision Song Contest has come a long way since it was established as a small project between Western European countries in 1956. 

Since the contest was extended to post-Communist countries in the 1990s, it has grown to become the most-watched non-sporting live television event in the world. Last year it attracted 204 million viewers, achieving an audience share of 36.3% across the markets in which it aired. That means that 1/3 of the people watching television on that night were watching Eurovision. That's more people than watch the Oscars or the Superbowl. In fact, it's only beaten by the World Cup.

Compare this to the 1990s, when the struggling song contest was weighed down by a French-imposed rule that countries could only sing in their national language and with a live orchestra. Viewing figures averaged around 50 million.

All of this has opened the question of what the contest should do with the increasing global success of its brand. This week, the European Broadcasting Union, the association of broadcasters that organizes the conference, announced the launch of Eurovision Asia. It will use the Eurovision format but for Asia Pacific countries. The official website was launched on Friday -

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Air Berlin's 'poor but sexy' collapse

The airline is suffering from the same fate as the city for which it was named – exuberant over-expansion flying in the face of economic reality.

On the outskirts of Berlin, hidden among closed motorways and unused train tracks, lies Germany's national embarrassment.

Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, originally scheduled to open as the German capital's first real properly sized airport in 2010, has been beset by delays and still sits unused today. As I discovered when I visited the site for a radio piece on Deutsche Welle two years ago, construction has actually finished and the airport is ready to go. But a fatal engineering flaw involving exhaust fans means it cannot open, and there is no solution in sight.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Will Germans really deliver Merkel a historic fourth term?

On this week's Brussels2Berlin podcast, Tyson Barker and Dave Keating talk to Deutsche Welle reporter Sumi Somaskanda about the upcoming German election.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Auto chiefs win again in Berlin. But beware Hendricks revenge

Germany's powerful carmakers got what they wanted from yesterday's diesel summit. But everything may change after the election.

At the press conference following yesterday's crisis summit in Berlin to deal with the unfolding Dieselgate scandal, you would have been forgiven for losing track of who was who.

With only five lecterns and around 20 participants, they had to play a round-robin of auto executives, each taking the stand to say how very, very sorry he was over revelations of cheating and collusion that have come out. Each middle-aged white German man was more indistinguishable than the next. 

But all the while there was one woman standing to their left, looking very out of place. It was the summit's co-host, the center-left German environment minister Barbara Hendricks. And as the German auto chiefs detailed the agreement reached inside, an agreement in which she had been politically defeated, you would see on her face that she was already plotting her revenge. 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Is Berlin overthinking dieselgate and Russia sanctions?

On this week's Brussels2Berlin podcast, Tyson Barker and Dave Keating talk about the two issues engulfing Berlin at the moment. Both may be a bit overblown.