Daily Briefing

Job search at Audi...

Audi – Bram Schot und Rupert Stadler
You in or out? Schot (left), Stadler (right). Source: DPA.

Here’s a job you might want to apply for: Boss of Audi, based in Ingolstadt, Bavaria; includes good salary, benefits and acceptable company car. Technically, the job is not open yet, but that could change, and here is why. Audi’s current boss, Rupert Stadler, has been in jail for three months, pending an investigation into whether he suborned witnesses in the Dieselgate saga. Next week, on September 28, the supervisory board intends to formally terminate Stadler, Handelsblatt has learned.

The board already has a successor in mind. It’s not Bram Schot, the interim boss, who is considered competent but lightweight. Instead, Audi’s owner, VW, wants to poach Markus Duesmann from BMW, where he has been a top manager. Duesmann already handed in his notice in July. But the chairman of BMW’s supervisory board, Norbert Reithofer, is understandably miffed, and not playing along.

So Reithofer read the fine print in Duesmann’s contract. It was apparently supposed to run until mid-2019. On top of that, it contains a non-compete clause that would bar Duesmann from working for a rival for another year. That takes us into 2020. Germany’s car tycoons are a clubby bunch, of course, so they could still haggle something out. Or not. As I said, get your CV ready and run another spell check.

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Americans may be all agog about what Christine Blasey Ford may or may not reveal about Brett Kavanaugh. But Germans have Hans-Georg Maassen, and whether and by whom he will be fired later today. Maassen is head of the domestic espionage agency and thus a behind-the-scenes bureaucrat whom I should never have been forced to bore you with. But I repeatedly had to, most recently in yesterday’s Daily Briefing, because his case is the latest stressor on the blatantly dysfunctional “grand coalition” that keeps Angela Merkel in the chancellery.

His fate is now slated to be decided later today, when the three party bosses in the coalition meet. That’s the CDU’s Angela Merkel, the CSU’s Horst Seehofer, and the SPD’s Andrea Nahles. Rumors have been flying all over Berlin for days. In one version, Merkel has already decided to fire Maassen. That would be a victory for the SPD, which has been calling for Maassen’s head.

It would also be a defeat for Seehofer, who has been supporting Maassen. In fact, it would be Seehofer, as interior minister, who would have to fire Maassen. Since Seehofer already came close to stepping down this summer, he might take this occasion and finally quit. That would secretly delight Merkel, because Seehofer has been her most annoying gadfly. But it might cleave the CSU, a purely Bavarian party, from its notional “sister party”, the CDU. Then again (so goes another rumor), Seehofer could also stubbornly stay in his ministry, and give Maassen some other job there. In that case, the intrigue would become almost Shakespearean.

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You’re thinking: Doesn’t Merkel have anything else to do, besides wrangling about second-tier technocrats? She does. And to her credit (and in contrast to Horst Seehofer) she mostly keeps her focus on those more important things, even if they don’t get as much attention. For instance, she was just in Algeria. This trip followed her bigger African tour last month and is part of her determination to stem migration not at the German border but in the countries of origin or transit.

That’s why Algeria matters. Almost all Algerian asylum seekers in Germany have their applications denied (they tend to be economic migrants, not political refugees). But they still can’t be deported because of paperwork hassles. Last year, Germany sent only about 500 Algerians back to their homeland; another 3,700 or so should in theory follow.

Ahmed Ouyahia, Algeria’s prime minister, has now pledged his support in that effort. Not only will Algeria make it easier to repatriate its own migrants, it will also turn back more sub-Saharan Africans who try to cross Algeria on the way to Europe. At least that’s what they said at the press conference. If this happens, it counts as a small victory for Merkel.

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Now we know what Germans mean by “fintech”. They’re delighted by the European Central Bank’s new €100 and €200 bills, unveiled yesterday and slated to go into circulation from May. That’s because the notes are so techy, you see. They have a “satellite hologram” in one corner. Tilt them and you see Europa, the eponymous Cretan queen, in a little window. Tilt it another way and some colors change, from green to blue. Whoa.

At one level, updating our paper money makes sense, of course. We want to make it harder for crooks to forge these things. That’s also why €500 bills, beloved by drug dealers and eastern oligarchs, are gradually being phased out. Smaller denominations mean heavier suitcases for them and thus increase the “friction” (as economists would say) of their trade.

At another level, we must yet again point out that many other Europeans, especially young ones, are unlikely ever to notice the new bills in circulation. They no longer pay with notes and coins, preferring to swipe cards or wave phones. That’s what the Swedes, Balts, Chinese and Americans increasingly do. In fact, most civilized people are concluding that digital payments beat the analog kind. Not so the Germans, who will always love cash, because it’s so much fun to wait in line at Edeka as the lady counts out the little coins. Always remember: When it comes to money, Germans are different. (And in lots of other ways too.)

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