Chapeau! Friedrich Merz is the man of the moment. German journalists are welcoming him as the rescuer of the CDU and the economy, should he win the race to chair the party. They loved every word he said, starting with him clarifying the spelling of his name, gushing what a refreshing change that is to Merkel. Looking defensive, and keeping pretty general on a possible program, Merz simply promised to play nice with the chancellor, played down his professional connection with asset manager BlackRock, and distanced himself from the term “neoliberal.”
We haven’t seen much yet from his two main contenders, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Jens Spahn, though yesterday the health minister pressed ahead with a new law on organ donations. Oh, and he outlined his views on migration, young leadership and progress in a FAZ op ed.
Meanwhile the fourth man, Armin Laschet, dropped out of the running as the CDU promised an orderly race is to come. That means one less candidate from North Rhine-Westphalia since both Spahn and Merz are also from Germany’s most populous state. AKK at least is from the French border and has spent the last seven years as premier of the state of Saarland, the second least-populous state. She’s believed to be more sympathetic to Europe than Mr. Merz, whose photo shows the US flag in the first result of a Google search, thanks to his recent chairmanship of the Atlantik-Brücke, a non-profit to promote German-American understanding. (Check him out also as a cosignatory to a letter in support of more Europe). The bookies for now are putting the odds on AKK, who is certainly well-networked from within the CDU and is anointed by Merkel, with whom she is famously close.
Traditional logic says that whoever wins the party leadership is in line to replace Merkel whenever she decides to reach for her coat.
Business marches on. Today, Volkswagen and Ford discuss a wide-ranging partnership to move into electric vehicles and autonomous driving. That news is a handy distraction on the same day thousands of German VW owners, represented by consumer advocates, will head to court under the country’s new class action law and sue for damages from Dieselgate. The new law takes effect today, and it’s been championed as the consumer protectors’ boxing glove. But compared to the US, it’s a class-action with the brakes on; courts can now determine that widespread damage was done, but no actual damage figures – that’s up to individual courts. Drivers may wind up disappointed. Again.
Hopes are higher around Siemens. The conglomerate plans to open a €600 million startup campus in Siemensstadt, a century-old housing and industrial estate created for the company’s factories and its workers. Designed by architects from Walter Gropius to Hans Scharoun, the modernist mosaic is now a UNESCO protected neighborhood northwest of Berlin. It’s packed with stories from the people who lived, worked and played there; its secrets span a Cold War air raid bunker to tunnels between facilities. Expect more stories to come of the starty variety as innovators dream up the future of work. We’re excited. Contrast that to the response to Google, which last week called off plans of its own in the Kreuzberg district after fierce anti-gentrification protests. Pro-business Berliners haven’t given up, though: politicians in the eastern Berlin neighborhood of Lichtenberg are trying to convince the tech company to open a campus, possibly in a former Stasi headquarters, the former secret service from East Germany. Germans dug the irony.
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