Daily Briefing

When Turkey catches a cold, Germany sneezes

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Source: Picture Alliance

Even if it sometimes seems that way to expats, Germany is not a “developing country” according to official definitions (which exclude digital sophistication as a criterion). Even so, Germany is really quite worried about this new crisis spreading through developing countries. It threatens the German economy, Handelsblatt was told by Isabel Schnabel, who is one of the “Five Sages” – i.e., a member of the German Council of Economic Experts that advises the government.

The currencies of Argentina and Turkey are both down by between 40 and 50 percent since March. Stock and bond markets are diving too. The currencies of Brazil, India and Indonesia are also tanking. The markets, which are remembering the Asian crisis of 1998, are fretting especially about those countries where firms or banks have borrowed a lot in dollars or euros that they may not be able to pay back.

Clemens Fuest, president of the Ifo Institute in Munich, says that Turkey is the biggest danger to Germany. The direct threat is to German investments and exports. The indirect one is to Spanish and Italian banks, which have bundles of loans to Turkey on their books that may now go bad. Italy’s banks are already wobbly, and its populist government is on a collision course with Brussels over debt. So this crisis in Turkey could become a crisis in Italy, and thus the euro zone. And then everybody would again come running to Germany for a bailout.

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Then there is Qatar. The United Nations lists it, too, as a “developing” country, which just proves how arbitrary these definitions are. Because Qatar is rich. So rich that it is about to announce that it will be making huge investments in the German economy. That’s what Qatar’s finance minister told Handelsblatt ahead of a conference in Berlin on Friday where the Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, will be signing deals with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

That this Emir is sitting so comfortably on his throne is itself in some small way thanks to Ms. Merkel. In 2017, Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations suddenly blockaded the small peninsular state of Qatar, alleging that it supported terrorism and hoping to throttle Al Jazeera, an uncomfortably free TV news network based in Doha. Mostly, they just wanted to force out the Emir.

Germany was one of the countries that supported Qatar. More than a year on, the Emir is still around. Qatar is swimming in money from its liquified natural gas and preparing to host the soccer World Cup. So why not spend some money in Germany?

For its own sake, Qatar must be hoping that it will invest more wisely than it has done in the past. Its stakes so far include market dogs such as Deutsche Bank and VW. But this time Qatar apparently wants to buy into Germany’s so-called Mittelstand of medium-sized, family-owned firms. The primary Qatari vehicle will be the Qatar Investment Authority, a sovereign-wealth fund, which has some $340 billion under management. But private Qatari firms will also be shopping around.

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There’s a big concert in Chemnitz today, featuring bands such as Die Toten Hosen, Kraftklub, Feine Sahne Fischfilet, and Marteria & Casper. To most non-Germans, those are acquired tastes. But the real draw is, of course, a different one: This is meant to be a show of force by Saxony’s tolerant, un-silent majority, reacting against the marching right-wingers and neo-Nazis which again took to the streets of Chemnitz on Saturday.

For over a week now, Chemnitz and Saxony have been in the news, since a gruesome stabbing by a refugee gave xenophobes the excuse they wanted to riot and spread hate. Nobody should tar all Saxons with the same brush, of course. But it would be disingenuous to pretend that Saxony, and eastern Germany generally, doesn’t have a special problem with racism. Foreign investors have certainly taken note. They’re not exactly keen to set up shop in Saxony anymore.

Also suspicious, once again, is the way the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a populist right-wing party represented in the Bundestag, has been availing itself of the turmoil in Chemnitz. On Saturday, it marched through the city, ostensibly to mourn the victim in the stabbing, but really to show solidarity with the anti-migrant rioters. One of the marchers, in a black tie, was Björn Höcke, an AfD politician who likes to use vocabulary from the Third Reich in his dog-whistle rhetoric.

Germany, because of its experience during the Weimar Republic and the Nazi era, has legal ways of placing political parties under observation if they appear hostile to the constitution. Now all of Berlin is debating whether the AfD deserves that kind of special attention.

The AfD, however, must be pleased. In Saxony, which holds a regional election next year, it is polling at 25 percent. It could even pass Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats to become the strongest party in the state. Almost one in two Saxons (43 percent) would vote for either the AfD on the far right or The Left, the ex-communist party on the far left. One generation after reunification, that is not a picture of democratic health.

When they need lighter conversation (and even Germans sometimes do), folks in Berlin are getting into heated arguments over the bi-annual changing of the clocks. Germans really do have strong opinions about that, as they recently told a pollster. They want to get rid of winter time, lest the switch unsettle the delicate biorhythms of cows and bees and Germans, or something along those lines.

That, in turn, has prompted Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission in Brussels, to reach for some badly needed popularity by promising to let member states get rid of the time change. How or whether this subject was ever in his remit is unclear. But he’s won the news cycle. In any event, I have a better idea: Let’s get back in tune with nature by returning to sundials. And I don’t mean the app: it emits blue light. And if you know anything about sleep, you know that this is the true enemy.

Andreas Kluth is Handelsblatt Global’s Editor-in-Chief.

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