Bayer’s shares dragged down the DAX yesterday after a judge in the United States let a verdict stand that glyphosate causes cancer. The German pharma company’s shares dropped 9.5% in Frankfurt. The judge upheld an earlier verdict that weedkillers sold by Monsanto caused a Californian man’s sickness. As the court also slashed the damages the man was awarded by more than $200 million to $78.5 million, at first glance, this didn’t seem like big news. But it didn’t change the verdict that glyphosate is poison. Bayer denies this but another 8,000 lawsuits have been filed about the product, opening the door for damages rising potentially to billions. Somehow, those dangers didn’t dampen the Bayer boss’ enthusiasm to take over Monsanto, and his pooh-poohing of the risks. And Roundup isn’t Bayer’s only problem; the conglomerate has issues in its two other main sectors, pharma and consumer health too.
After an explosive device was found at the New York home of billionaire investor George Soros, Berlin is welcoming his foundation. The Open Society Foundations moved for the safety of its staff from Hungary, where it faces classic anti-Semitism, from suggestions that Soros is behind the refugees who came to Europe in 2015, to the idea that European politicians are his “puppets.” Budapest imposed laws constraining its activities while employees attending parent-teacher evenings at school were too scared to say where they worked in case their kids suffered consequences. Goran Buldioski, the head of the office, was one of 200 activists, professors and journalists whose names were printed in a list of “mercenaries” by a newspaper close to the Hungarian government. Speaking in Berlin, he reflected, who would have thought, ten years ago, that a classically liberal institute would face such opposition from an EU member state?
But Europe is under fire and today, I’m following the growing spat between Brussels and Italy over Rome’s budget. There’s now a three-week period for Rome to revise its draft, and three possible scenarios: Rome maintains its confrontational stance; Italy adjusts its budget; or, most likely, Italy negotiates a compromise. That’s not the only clash, either: Rome opposes further sanctions on Russia and today, Giuseppe Conte meets Vladimir Putin in Moscow. I can only shake my head.
At the same time, I’m coughing demonstratively at the giveaway ahead of the Hesse state election on Sunday. Sure, the chancellor needs support but there’s a chorus of disgust from the German public at her flagrant bid for diesel drivers’ votes by saying diesel bans won’t be necessary if pollution is only slightly above the legal limits. Merkel also talked tough on the car industry, saying German automakers risk losing the public’s trust with the diesel scandal just as banks did with the financial crisis. Ja. But in a nation of supposed environmentalists, it seems green credentials can go jump in a lake when it comes to politics and power.
But don’t lose hope, here’s good news too, out of Berlin: Solidarity is not dead. En masse, German teachers have reported themselves to a platform launched by the AfD. The party of the populist far right created a denunciation forum to encourage students to report on teachers who speak against it. Teachers flooded the tool, after a union coordinated the campaign. We’re watching to see whether this will eventually make it to court, to weigh free speech against political neutrality, to say nothing of social divisiveness. Teachers, we’re with you in spirit.
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