Daily briefing

Mixed feelings on a mixed midterm election

You wouldn't have thought that there was really a choice. Source: AFP

One great thing about the midterms is that voter turnout was up, even despite long lines, power cuts and broken voting machines; German media pointed out the often-legal ways some groups are prevented from voting and called it a “hangover” for Trump. Regardless, Congress is now more diverse, which is fantastic. There is a German connection in the election in the form of donations by German companies to Political Action Committees. Bayer, Siemens, Deutsche Telekom and others donated $2.63 million ahead of the midterms, mostly to Republicans. Are they getting what they pay for? Who knows.

What’s dismaying about the vote is the deep rifts that don’t seem to go away, and our inability to hear one another as we stick to our bubbles. Thankfully, here those divisions aren’t as stark as in the US and the UK, where friends, family members and neighbors edge around the political questions of the day. The only way to heal the divisions in our societies is to listen and talk, so put the kettle on and get talking.

There’s plenty of talk in Germany about a raid on asset manager BlackRock, where Friedrich Merz heads the German supervisory board. Merz is the leading candidate in the race to succeed Merkel and he’s a known figure in politics, familiar from his time as a leading light in the CDU. But after squabbling with Merkel in 2009 he fled to the private sector, eventually landing at BlackRock. US funds trigger the German left since they are often seen as “locusts” that swoop in on companies, suck out all their cash and then fill the holes by firing workers. Even worse, the BlackRock raid was coupled with a complex tax scam that has defrauded European governments out of billions. Although the alleged scamming at BlackRock preceded Merz’s tenure, it’ll be interesting to see if the general Teutonic distaste for financial funds and these specific BlackRock accusations prove to be Merz’ Achilles heel.

As the US debates where Amazon’s second HQ (HQs?) should be located, there’s concern in Germany that Amazon is using its muscle to elbow independent retailers out of the market. Amazon is gaining a stranglehold on large sectors of the German retail market and in the process is making independent retailers dependent on its e-commerce platform. The company is becoming so entrenched in shoppers’ habits that other suppliers barely have a chance. If you’re lucky enough to have one, celebrate your local bookseller. After all, Amazon won’t help you practice your Welsh, as booksellers do near Cardiff where my family lives. Nor is Amazon likely to host a reading and serve a peculiar-looking homemade chili that other attendees will warn you away from, as happened to me in Berlin.

There’s also angst about defense here but not so much that Paris and Berlin are able to move past squabbling to build a new fighter jet. The two governments are working on a joint project as part of an air combat system spanning new-generation fighter jets, satellites, guided missiles, drones, surveillance planes, tanker aircraft and ships. Even before it gets off the ground, so to speak, there’s a political and commercial spat, meaning the system won’t be ready before 2040 at the earliest. Peace, people, let’s be friends for now at least; don’t attack us till our system’s ready.

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