Morning Briefing

Summer of Discontent

The search for a scapegoat in the Social Democratic Party’s election debacle in North Rhine-Westphalia has officially come to an end. Professor Karl Lauterbach, the SPD’s bow tie-loving health wonk, has found the culprit: the voter! According to Lauterbach, the impression that the state’s previous SPD-led administration hadn’t achieved much was “a misjudgment of the citizens.” Call it an acquittal for SPD head Martin Schulz and the state’s former premier Hannelore Kraft. And an indictment of the voter.

Lauterbach’s attitude brings to mind Austrian novelist Peter Handke, who, in his autobiography “A Sorrow Beyond Dreams”, offers an astute analysis of out-of-touch statesmen: “Politicians live in a different world. If you address them, they won’t respond directly, but will instead provide an official statement. If they were to give a straight answer, one would likely recoil.”

Everyone is talking about SPD chancellor candidate Martin Schulz rather than Stephan Weil. That is unacceptable – to Stephan Weil. Which is the SPD premier of Lower Saxony yesterday seized the bully pulpit to present his very own tax plan, which neither Schulz nor any party committee knew about. The details aren’t important. Weil’s solo is about power politics, not tax policy. His action shows that the party’s previously unanimous backing of Martin Schulz’s candidacy is visibly eroding. Schulz is entering the Summer of Discontent.

In contrast, Sigmar Gabriel, former SPD head and current German foreign minister, is in top form. Gabriel is traveling today to Washington to meet with his US counterpart, Rex Tillerson. It will be Gabriel’s second US trip since January, when he stepped down as German vice chancellor and took on his new appointment. Gabriel’s choice to hand over the reins of the SPD to Martin Schulz is probably the most cunning political decision he has made. While Schulz is getting battered on the campaign trail, Gabriel is collecting frequent flyer miles and waltzing across red carpets.

Once again, Greek labor unions have called for a general strike to protest against austerity measures imposed by the country’s creditors. Today, dozens of flights have been canceled, ferries will remain tied up in ports and trains and public transportation will come to a halt. There are lots of ways to impoverish Greece, but striking at the beginning of the tourist season is the surest bet.

Also today, a special defense committee in Germany’s parliament will be discussing right-wing tendencies within the German army. First and foremost, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen of the Christian Democrats will be presenting the results of a comprehensive report on memorabilia commemorating the Wehrmacht – the former army of Nazi Germany – found in military barracks. One hopes there isn’t much to report. But we already know the past is still alive.

Austria’s ruling grand coalition between the center-left Social Democrats and conservative Austrian People’s Party has collapsed. As a result, the country will hold new elections in October. Chancellor Christian Kern will go head-to-head with 30-year-old upstart Sebastian Kurz of the People’s Party, who has shown no lack of chutzpa in his climb to the top. Perhaps Kurz, currently Austrian foreign minister, feels encouraged by the success of political outsiders such as Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump. Game on. Who’s next?

Picture of the Day

GayLights
After London and Vienna, Brussels is now the latest city to introduce a handful of same sex pedestrian lights ahead of its gay pride parade, which will take place on Saturday. Source: dpa