Calls for Snowden to testify in Germany met with skepticism

(By Deutsche Welle) Members of Chancellor Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats have expressed openness to receiving testimony from Edward Snowden. But they are skeptical that the US whistle-blower can travel to Germany.

The suggestion by Greens parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele that Snowden could testify before the German Bundestag has received a mixed response in Berlin, with members of the governing Christian Democrats (CDU) saying that a US application for the whistle-blower’s extradition would preclude him from leaving Russia.

CDU spokesman for domestic affairs Hans-Peter Uhl told the daily Berliner Zeitung on Saturday that a German delegation could possibly travel to Moscow to question Snowden about the surveillance operations of the US National Security Agency (NSA).

“A trip by Snowden to Germany would be problematic because it is questionable whether or not he would receive asylum here,” Uhl said. “If he didn’t receive asylum, then there’s the extradition application from the Americans.”

Ströbele’s Moscow trip criticized

On Thursday, Ströbele traveled to Moscow, where he met with Snowden. The former NSA contractor said that he was prepared to testify before the German parliament on the condition that his security could be guaranteed. Ströbele returned to Germany with a letter from Snowden, in which the whistle-blower said he hoped “to cooperate in the responsible finding of fact” as it regards US surveillance programs.

Meanwhile, senior CDU parliamentarian Michael Grosse-Brömer criticized Ströbele’s trip, saying that the Green had done little more than act as a mailman. Grosse-Brömer went on to say that there “was currently no reason to make a decision about possible stay by Snowden in Germany,” adding that he doubted the whistle-blower would make the trip because of the US extradition application.

Call for Merkel to confront Obama

Revelations about NSA surveillance operations have strained US-German relations in recent weeks. In October, the boulevard publication Bild and leading newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that the NSA had hacked Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, sparking widespread shock and outrage. Over the summer, there were reports – based on Snowden’s leaks – that the NSA had also collected the metadata of millions of German citizens.

German representatives are currently negotiating a “no-spy agreement” to end the NSA surveillance operations in the country. However, Greens chief Simone Peter called on Merkel to confront US President Barack Obama in person over the issue.

“A no-spy agreement isn’t enough,” Peter told a German regional newspaper on Saturday. “Angela Merkel needs to immediately meet with President Obama in Washington, and put US snooping in its place.”

slk/mkg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Merkel’s strength at the polls leaves her searching for a coalition partner

In the wake of arguably Europe’s most important election since the outbreak of the eurozone debt crisis in 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decisive showing may ironically prove to be her Achilles heel. Although Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) managed to secure a whopping 41 percent of the vote on Sunday, their victory is in certain respects a hollow one.

The chancellor’s governing partners in the last coalition, the both fiscally conservative and socially liberal Free Democrats, have failed to surpass the all-important five percent hurdle. That means they will not have representation in the upcoming parliament. And Merkel’s Christian Democrats just barely missed securing an absolute majority on their own. Their nearly 8 percent gain compared to the 2009 election result came partially at the expense of the FDP.  So although the Christian Democrats are indisputably the strongest force in German politics, they apparently aren’t strong enough. Germans overwhelmingly confirmed Merkel as chancellor, but effectively voted against her now defunct center-right coalition.

As a consequence, the chancellor will have to seek a coalition partner among one of the opposition center-left parties, with the most likely candidate being the Social Democrats. The CDU and the SPD governed together in a grand coalition from 2005-2009. Other political combinations seem unrealistic. Although Merkel moved to trade nuclear for renewable energy in the wake of Fukushima, she still remains far apart from the Greens on economic and social issues. Likewise when it comes to the socialist Left party, still the pariah of the German political system.

A grand coalition would alter the political landscape in Berlin. The Social Democrats won a respectable 25 percent of the vote and are firmly anchored in a broad base of support. Merkel will not be able to simply twist the SPD’s arm and pull them in her direction, as was the case with the much smaller FDP.

The bottom line: Europe’s political landscape continues its slight tilt leftward. When Greece first asked for a bailout in 2010, Merkel was governing in a secure center-right coalition. She had a conservative ally in neighboring France, Nicolas Sarkozy. Today, Merkel faces the prospect of a coalition with Social Democrats, while a socialist president already resides in the Elysee in Paris. In light of this, the eurozone’s debt-stricken member states may be hoping for a reprieve from biting austerity and more focus on economic stimulus. But they shouldn’t expect drastic change in short order. After all, the SPD – despite its rhetoric – has voted for Merkel’s eurozone policies.

Germany acknowledges ‘warlike situation’ in Afghanistan

(By Deutsche Welle) Burdened by its Nazi legacy, Germany swore never again to wage war. In the last of a three-part series, DW examines the country’s decision to deploy its military in Afghanistan, and the ‘warlike conditions’ there.

A political shockwave reverberated across the Atlantic Ocean after Islamic terrorists razed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. In keeping with Germany’s responsibility as a NATO member, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder declared unlimited solidarity with a wounded America.

Schroeder’s declaration carried sweeping military consequences for Germany. Only three years after his left-of-center coalition had participated in NATO’s air war against Serbia, he deployed soldiers for an ambitious stabilization mission in war-torn Afghanistan.

Germany’s stabilization mission looked increasingly like a counterinsurgency as its soldiers faced a resurgent Taliban. And in September 2009, tensions came to a head when a German colonel ordered an airstrike against two Taliban-hijacked fuel tankers. The strike killed 142 people, laying bare the realities of the Afghan conflict for the German public.

After years of whitewashing the conflict in Afghanistan, Berlin has been forced to acknowledge that its soldiers are fighting and dying under “warlike conditions.” Germany can never again claim that it will never wage war.

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Germany’s struggle with military power in a changing world

(By Deutsche Welle) Burdened by the genocidal legacy of National Socialism, Germany swore never again to wage war. In part one of a three-part series, DW examines how Germans overcame historic taboos about deploying their military abroad.

In memory of the atrocities committed under the Third Reich, democratic West Germany foreswore war as an instrument of its foreign policy. Its military served a single purpose: To help defend the NATO allies in Western Europe and North America from a Soviet attack.

But when the Berlin Wall fell, the world changed, as did Germany’s role within it. The government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl had just finalized German reunification when a series of conflicts erupted in the Persian Gulf, Yugoslavia and Somalia.

As the international community intervened to contain these conflicts, Germans faced a historically uncomfortable question: Should a reunited and fully sovereign Germany become a military power capable of using force on the world stage?

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