Daily Briefing

Tesla comes to Autoland

Tesla Model S Elektro-Auto
The future. Source: DPA Picture Alliance.

Remember what Richard Grenell, the new US ambassador to Germany, told the right-wing medium Breitbart a few weeks ago? “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe,” he said. That landed him in hot water, because diplomatic envoys (especially if they’re from notionally allied countries) aren’t supposed to meddle in the domestic politics of their host nations. Now comes the latest reminder that this was no slip of the tongue. Grenell and other minions of The Donald are assiduously executing the will of their leader.

Witness how warmly the American president greeted “my new friend” Giuseppe Conte in the White House yesterday. Conte became prime minister of Italy last month, in an all-populist government whose most prominent member is the Mussolini-esque interior minister Matteo Salvini, who has been turning back boats of refugees and floating anti-migrant trial balloons since taking office.

“I agree very much with what you are doing with respect to migration, and illegal immigration, and even legal immigration,” Trump cooed to Conte during their press briefing, praising Italy’s “very firm stance on the border, a stance that few countries have taken. And frankly he is doing the right thing in my opinion.”

A “stance that few countries have taken”? No prizes for guessing which country and leader that was aimed at. Segue back to Richard Grenell, who’ll keep spreading that message. In Germany.

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German carmakers are generally afraid of two things: the past and the future. The past keeps threatening to throw up more incriminating details about their old cheating on emissions tests. And the future threatens their irrelevance, as others forge ahead into the age of battery-powered and self-driving cars, leaving the Germans in the slow lane. The Germans’ main bogeyman in those nightmares is Elon Musk, the serial adventure-entrepreneur behind Tesla.

What a surprise, therefore, that Musk is now mulling building a huge new Tesla factory in… Germany. Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, two regions neighboring France and near Europe’s largest markets, are the candidates. (Kudos to the colleagues at the Wall Street Journal, who had the original scoop.)

So does this mean that maybe the future will be Made in Germany after all? Or that Tesla treats Germany the way Apple treats China: as a land of skilled labor and a good location to assemble what Americans have already invented in Silicon Valley.

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I’ve been living with my family in Germany for six years now. For the first five of those, I was Berlin Bureau Chief of The Economist, and was thus covered under its international health-insurance benefit, provided by the British subsidiary of a French insurance giant — all properly situated in the European Union, in other words. Then, when I left The Economist to join the Handelsblatt Media Group, I was in for a nasty shock. The German system did not recognize my family’s health plan as health insurance.

This surprise sent me scurrying to find a good health-insurance broker, who informed me with a knowing smirk that my family and I are “gap people” (Lückenmenschen). That was a word he had coined for people like us, who are also the target audience of Handelsblatt Global: international and cosmopolitan folks who move around a lot, who have assets and owe taxes in several countries, who are (in the words of author David Goodhart) “anywheres” rather than “somewheres”. People like us, my broker was saying, tend to fall into the gaps between systems.

After running a bureaucratic gauntlet, my broker finally got us into the German system — but only after a whopping fine that made my jaw drop. Ever since, my head has been buzzing with the bewildering word-concoctions of Germanic bureaucracy. But I never got my mind around the German health-care system systematically.

As a public service to me and to you — meaning to other gap people in Germany — Grace Dobush, an American writer who is one of our editors and herself trending gappy, now explains this German health-care system, how it came about, and how international folks first entering should approach it. It won’t make you healthy, but it might keep you from going insane.

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