Daily briefing

As fur flies in the Bundestag, is Merkel's end nigh?

Germany Parliament
Keep walking. Source: AP

Germans are talking about yesterday’s Bundestag rumble after eyebrow-raising insults were exchanged during an open debate. The fighting spanned the Chemnitz violence, immigration, and the budget. The populist AfD opened up by attacking Chancellor Merkel for criticizing the violence in Chemnitz as right-wing extremism, drawing an impassioned riposte from former chancellor candidate Martin Schulz. He said Alexander Gauland, co-head of the AfD, should be consigned to the “dung heap of history” for spreading anti-immigrant sentiment. And that wasn’t even the worst insult – the populists eventually flounced out in a huff. Is lowering our language to that of the AfD a sign that they have won?

Questions continue over the future of the domestic intelligence boss who questioned whether a video of people of color being attacked in Chemnitz was real. The Social Democrats say if Hans-Georg Maassen stays, the coalition should break up. The intelligence boss is a keeper for now, the interior minister says, though reports say he passed information to the AfD from a report that wasn’t yet published, which might have been illegal.

If you’re wondering where’s Merkel in all this, you aren’t alone. Yesterday she condemned the violence but what will it take for her to actually show up in Chemnitz? Or put her foot down and take concrete steps to end the far-right rhetoric? Germans long for her to speak up.

Right-thinking, VW-diesel-owning Germans are gearing up for a scrap. Angered like every other owner of a car containing an illegal cheat device, they now want recompense. Until now, that hasn’t been possible under German law, unlike in the US and Canada where Volkswagen paid billions to settle class actions. The drama playing out in Braunschweig is only for investors, who are likewise fuming but at least have legal recourse. But there’s hope at last for regular folk in Germany. A new law will allow consumers to sue in groups. The 2 million owners of dodgy vehicles are ready and waiting. No resolution is likely in the next few years but eventually, when it comes, this could well rocket VW’s liabilities into a new dimension. The carmaker is busy sacking inconvenient engineers who knew too much, and shielding senior managers who cash in their paychecks and keep shtum. As we walk around in an environment that’s dirtier and more polluted than we wished for, here’s hoping car owners get some belated satisfaction.

Another mighty fight is brewing in Hambach forest, an ancient woodland west of Cologne. This cold gray morning, cops entered the 12,000-year-old forest, bringing water cannons and tanks to up the ante. Germany might be proudly straining to be green, but RWE wants to raze the land to expand its open-pit mine for brown coal. The utility powerhouse says that’s necessary to meet short-term energy goals. Activists built treehouses and have been living there for years trying to protect the woods in what’s become a symbol of environmentalists’ fight against coal. They’re supported by churches and local groups, but these activists are no glampers. They’re huddled in candle-lit shacks high in the trees, wondering if it’s their last breakfast at 65 feet, making herbal tea and porridge while they play the waiting game.

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