Sunday’s Vote in Austria and Italy : The Next Banking Crisis and What the EU must do Monday Morning

December 3, 2016

It’s about to get lonely on the EU Bridge for Angela Merkel 

The „No“ camp will succeed in the Italian referendum on Sunday, which will mean the end or near end of Matteo Renzi and new political pressures from his leftist nemesis Beppe Grillo to restructure Rome’s debt deal. Grillo’s looking long-term. If you go to his blog, he’s has an entry on the need to prepare now for civilization’s collapse. I wouldn’t go quite that far. Not quite yet anyway.

As many as eight Italian banks will though be teetering Monday morning and thousands of worried citizens could start pulling out their cash and wondering if their private pensions and savings accounts are safe as well. What kind of banks are we talking about ?

The world’s oldest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, along with Popolare di Vicenza, Veneto Banca, Carige, Banca Etruria, CariChieti, Banca delle Marche, and CariFerrara could all end up without enough capital funding if customers and shareholders sense weakness.

Italy’s banks could require an infusion of € 40 Billion after the „No“ Vote. That’s not exactly a new boost of confidence in the Euro zone for German tax payers. Formerly  unassailable Deutsche Bank  will be hit by the referendum. It has a web of Italian exposure and has already lost half its value this year.  The threat of contagion to German banks will further undermine faith in the Euro zone and further European integration among German voters. And that means more pressure for the beleaguered Ms.Merkel. Her ally Francois Hollande is on the way out, the nationalist Francois Villon could be on his way in.

Enter Norbert Höfer and “Austria First”

Across the border in Austria, voters are also going to the polls and my political instincts tell me there will be a victory for the far-right’s FPÖ under  Norbert Höfer by a small margin. Any larger margin will mean the forces of deglobalisation are gathering strength  much faster than thought. He’s been described in the British press as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and his election would be the first time a far-right  politician has risen to power in Austria  – since – well ahem – you know when. Höfer bristles at being called an “extremist” with his views on de-Islamization,  deportations, border walls, and “Austria First”. Ironically, it’s Austria’s Serbian minority that looks set to tip the  vote’s balance in Höfer’s favour. Another “global aspect of deglobalisation.”

A “No” to  Renzi, a “Yes” to Höfer and a Yawn in Berlin 

Ms.Merkel will understandably play down the results. She’ll give  Höfer the Trump Reception and call him at the netherworld ends of diplomatic acceptability. She just lost the loathed  Monsieur Holland in Paris,  she’s not communicating well  with Theresa May, ex-pal Vladimir’s not feeling the love and Donald is cutting bait in a new way.

The  Charles  De Gaulle  sails into the Sunset 

It was just August when the New Big Three announced a New Europe. On a sunny day in the Mediterranean , Matteo and Hollande who stood shoulder to should with Angela Merkel on  France’s only air craft carrier the Charles De Gaulle, pledging to be the New Trio that would lead Europe into a brighter post-Brexit  future. They laid a wreath at the tomb of  Altiero Spinelli, communist who was an early backer of the European Project.  It wasn’t a reassuring spectacle at the time for the small and medium business owners in the three countries. They will be among those thrilled that Hollande is gone, and  the Renzit  will be a reality or close to it.  Where does that leave Germany?  The Charles De Gaulle has just sailed away.

Battleship Austria has sailed in to take its place.

Even if Höfer fails to win (which I doubt) the Right is ascendant across Europe. And it wants to gut the EU.  The Post-Maastricht EU is in real danger of falling apart not only from the Brexit and votes like the one today, but there is massive pressure for a Nexit and a Frexit as well. This will be accelerated by the next banking crisis which is waiting in the wings. To “reduce the shrinkage” –  Brussels and Berlin must act now, and decisively to shore up the gains of the last fifty years.

The EU’S  Reform Summit : Now Before it’s too Late

Angela Merkel should announce a major EU Reform Summit while she still has the currency to do so. To restore public trust and gain good will, she should announce this is being done in  response to shifting public attitudes towards deeper integration, which has  already called into question by the German President. The summit can take place in the Spring and have two goals  1.) a return to pre-Maastricht Europe 2.) securing external borders and restoring Schengen.   Europe has overreached.  She does not have the resources, will nor cohesion to successfully manage the challenges we’re confronting from the rise of Russia and China to collapsing economies in the MENA region and the threat of radical Islam. We can find new strength in decentralisation and secure borders. This is not a step back. It is a way to protect past gains and future





Does Germany Need a 1st Amendment ? Censorship’s Nose is under the Tent

November 26, 2016

It looks like Germany – and the EU – needs a First Amendment.

And by the pace of developments – it can’t come quickly enough.

Following the Trumpquake and the Brexnami, the political establishment wants to contain other political upheavals. They want to hold on to power. Upstart parties and movements have been articulating the unhappiness of large segments of the electorate. The anger began with the bank bailouts two legislative cycles ago in 2008. It’s been simmering since then.

Many politicians and their adherents in the media are going down the wrong path.

They’re supporting the most desperate and fear driven response possible : the censorship of ideas they deem threatening and the technologies that deliver them. By doing so they will discredit themselves and undermine our democracies.

And they will fail for all their ardor.

Fake News – Schamke News – Who cares ?

With a weather eye towards upcoming elections, and with a chill in her back from the US vote, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced to the Bundestag this week it’s time to debate government regulations for the New Media. Many of us hoped she would be the „torch bearer“ for the „European values“. It looks like her torch is dimming.

More than two centuries ago – America had a massive debate on free speech. It built on another much older debate in Europe that included Martin Luther.  It’s fruit was the US Constitution. The oldest and best guarantor of freedom of its kind on the planet.

A quick reminder: The fundamental values are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Liberty is enshrined in the 1st Amendment. It’s the first for a reason. Here it is:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

„No laws“ means no laws.

I’m Not Feeling the Freedom

Without a completely free press there can be no other freedoms. That in a nutshell, powered the American, the French, and the German Revolution(s). It is still powering them today from Hong Kong to Turkey.

The threat to free speech in Europe today does not come from an Erdogan type of edict following mass arrests of opponents. It’s coming in the form of administrative directives from Brussels and government law suits at the local and state levels.

It has already started.

Brussels Overreacts – A Sign of Weakness, not Strength

Two disturbing events have taken place in Brussels in the last weeks. One of them is the October recommendation by the European Council to the British press which especially upbraids popular mass market tabloids in the UK for „excessively“ associating terror attacks with Muslims. You can agree or not agree with that. What’s alarming is the power and animus of the administrative organs churning out recommendations on „hate speech“. No one, of course, likes hate. We all want love. But associating „hate“ with speech is a mistake. You can outlaw hate as much as you can outlaw love. It is Orwellian. And look at the practical side. Who decides what constitutes „hate speech“? And the penalties for its use ? Whoever is doing it right now in Brussels remains anonymous for most of us. Can you name the individuals responsible for determining what you can say without possible state sanctions?

I can’t. And I work in the „word and ideas“ sector.

These positions are too important not to be elected on a local level. And that’s the problem. Without a 1st Amendment, politicians will create a distant and huge administrative unit to „protect“ speech, which quickly becomes subject to a definition in terms of acceptability. It’s an old game and must be ended lest we destroy what made „The West“ an envied success.

It’s time for Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights to be replaced by the First Amendment.

Failed Templates

The Council of Europe is putting itself in the company of other abysmal failed Councils.

For starters : the Sharia Council will see you stoned to death for blasphemy in a number of Islamic jurisdictions. All for a good cause, of course, heaven. It’s a lot more lofty than the „public safety“ the EU is pushing for.

In China, criticizing the political elite or exposing their business, plans will activate the „People’s Council“. “Equality” is the good cause in Beijing. I like heaven better. „Speech violations“ there will make you eligible for slave labor in a smart phone factory where  „suicide nets“ are part of the fashion landscape.

Just ask Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia or Ai Weiwei in China about free speech and Councils. I’ll wager they’d prefer a vigorously defended 1st Amendment.

Why do we rally to their defense and not jealously guard our own freedoms? We need to do both. Or we’re hypocrites.

The second disappointing and hypocritical case from Brussels is from the EU parliament. It has voted for a non-binding resolution to clamp down on Russian English news outlets like RT.

Here’s their assessment and the EU’s remedy:

Propaganda pressure on the EU from Russia and Islamist terrorist groups is growing, MEPs warn in a resolution voted on Wednesday. It seeks to distort the truth, incite fear, provoke doubt and divide the EU. To counteract anti-EU campaigns, MEPs suggest reinforcing the EU’s tiny “strategic communication” task force and investing more in awareness raising, education, online and local media, investigative journalism and information literacy.

(More on that here :

The main goal here is shut down RT – the popular Russian news site, pure and simple. I’m not here to break a lance for RT. I am here to protect my and your right to listen to what they have to say. Or what anybody has to say about anything.

Here’s a „values“ quote we need to pass around again. Forgetting it is of too great a consequence:

„I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.“ A little Voltaire with your coffee.

By the way, no human, no „body“ gives me that right. I was born with it. That’s what’s meant by „inalienable“. It’s the fruit of the Enlightenment and puts all your holy „Councils“ in the shadows.

Today we take Ankara – tomorrow Berlin

The Chancellor’ s call for a debate on regulating speech is wrong on its face and its timing is catastrophic.  With the war against free speech intensifying from Turkey and the Islamic world to China and beyond – it’s time to for Europe and its political leadership, NGO’s and civil society to stand up for free speech. Germany and Europe need a First Amendment.  Compare it to what the European Council has to offer. It’s too long to quote (surprised?) so I’ve posted below.

The Path to freedom

The camel has stuck ist nose under the tent. It’s time to deal with the beast. We need a swift and rigorous debate about introducing a 1st Amendment in Europe at the EU and national levels.

Without one, we risk sinking back into the darkness Europe has known all too often. Oppression thrives in the fine print and in lofty goals. The 1st Amendment is overdue in Europe. I challenge anyone to convince me otherwise.


In my next post, I explore how Mark Zuckerberg’s trip to China is bad for freedom, 1st Amendment rights and the small and medium size businesses that depend on free speech to thrive.

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Article 10 :

The Great German Disconnect : 1906 – 2016 and the Ghost of Algeciras

November 22, 2016

Outgoing U-S President Barack Obama has left Berlin. He was here post-Trumping with the leaders of France, Italy, Spain, Britain and Germany in the Chancellory, hosted by the new “Torchbearer” or the “Lonely Lady in the Tower” depending on how you look at it. She’s been feeling a chill lately, and not just because it’s Autumn in Prussia. There’s „a new wind“ as British Prime Minister Theresa May said before flying in – and it’s not blowing her way. And Merkel’s not alone.

Others on the Continent – especially Matteo Renzi and Francois Hollande – and yes maybe even Angela Merkel herself, could be out looking for a new job next year.

Angry electorates across the West are rejecting globalization and handing power to political outsiders. First Brexit with its „incorrigibles“, now Trump and his „deplorables“. And in just a few days in Italy , a December 4th referendum on the constitution could well see the Five Star Movement’s Beppo Grillo showing Matteo Renzi the door –the Renzit. Renzi launched the power grab and my feeling is he’s overplayed his hand. History’s headwinds are against him.

Europe’s wobbling left and right of center parties – long used to sharing places on the carousel of power – are aghast. Their top leaders don’t seem to grasp it’s not about Donald Trump or Nigel Farage. It’s far bigger. It’s about wanting something better than being told there’s no alternatives to bank bailouts and open borders, as if they’re acts of God and not acts of man.

The insurrections are coming in short order: in Holland and France elections are set for the Spring, in Germany in September. Their size is all that’s up for debate.

As Europe gets ready to bid the ancien’ regime of Obama adieu, I’ve been reviewing the comments made by Germany’s governing elite about his successor, Donald Trump. They’re shocking. Here’s a sampling:

Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier said before the vote „Politicians like Donald Trump play with people’s fear … he’s a hate preacher whose politics are those of fear .“ Hate preacher ? Move over Abu Hamsa al Masri, the failed Islamist bomber now, finally, behind bars.

Those words will prove to be a mistake. Especially as Steinmeier is slated for the (mainly ceremonial)post of German president.

Then there’s the Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel who said this after Trump was elected :

„It’s all about a real rollback of things to the bad old days, when women were either at the stove or on the bed, gays were in prison and the unions sat out in back with the help.“

Those words drip with contempt not only for Trump, but for the millions of women, gays and working class Americans who put him in office.

Gabriel has also said : “Trump is the pioneer of a new authoritarian and chauvinist international movement. He is also a warning for us. Our country and Europe must change if we want to counter the authoritarian international movement.”

I thought that was the role for Vladimir Putin? Will we see Berlin adopting the same tone towards the world’s most powerful democracy as the one it employs against the Kremlin?

I could cite plenty more, but you get the idea.

I have never seen this level of animosity from Germany’s governing elite directed at the elected leader about to sit in the Oval Office,. Not in thirty years of reporting from and on Germany. That’s quite a statement.

I’ve searched my mind for a parallel. Forget the Pershing Two’s, Reagan and Schmidt, the Iraq War, Schroeder and Bush, Fisher and Rumsfeld, forget the NSA Affair. I had to dig deep.

I had to go back, way before my time, to 1906 – when things were tense between Kaiser Wilhelm and Teddy Roosevelt during the Morocco Crisis. Back then, world leaders spoke to each other with gunboats.

The Conference in Algeciras, Spain defused the tensions. But at the price of getting America on side with Britain (and behind France) against Germany.

That was the last time Germany’s leaders were, in peace time, so disconnected from their American counterparts. And from everything that makes up America and what still is the American Spirit. That everything includes Lexington and Concord as much as it does Neil Armstrong and Miles Davis.

The contempt in the tone and diction from Berlin over the last weeks saddens all of us who see the trans-Atlantic relationship as something valuable and worth protecting. They’re comments that undermine a friendship tested by the Cold War, 9-11 and the rise of an Islamist enemy who’s proving a bloody and implacable foe.

What Germany and America have achieved together over the last seventy years has meant peace for Europe. No matter what Germany’s leaders think of Donald Trump, the American people have spoken. Today’s German leaders should not, with ill chosen words and a lack of generosity, create an atmosphere that could summon the Ghost of Algeciras and an era when Berlin and Washington were neither friends nor allies.

The timing would be catastrophic as well: Germany can ill afford soured relations with the US and ist new President as it continues with sanctions against Russia, is at odds with Turkey over its post-coup crackdown, is facing a showdown with Britain over Brexit and has lost the good will it once enjoyed with Austria and with the Visegrad nations of Poland, Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics over the migration crisis. And let’s not forget the simmering resentment in Greece.

At least Belgium and Luxembourg have Berlin’s back. What can go wrong ?

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The Eternal Chancellor: Merkel’s Five Faulty Premises

November 22, 2016

The newly crowned „Torchbearer“ finds the idolizing term not at all apt, even „grotesque.“ That’s a sound call ; it’s a good idea to be playing down expectations. As we head towards 2017 with a slew of European elections, Europe is set for deep changes. The center cannot hold.

It’s The People, not mainstream politicians, who are proving to be the torch bearers. And they’re saying „Heave Ho!“ to many a global integrationist.

(Exit: Clinton,Sarkozy, Juppe, Cameron. Who’s next ? My bet is Matteo Renzi in Italy as a casualty of the December 4th constitutional referendum. And Alexander van der Bellen in voting in Austria on the same day. I’m off to the bookie this afternoon. )

Overlooked on Sunday – France’s Fillon Factor

Germany was riveted by the non-event of Merkel’s candidacy announcement on Sunday, but it was across the border that the real action was taking place. A batch of conservative veterans was vying for France’s Republican Party presidential nomination. The centrist Alan Juppe, indistinguishable from a conservative Social Democrat, was tipped by the polls (those faulty tea leaves yet again) to prevail. Yet another „unexpected“ upset. Francois Fillon is a social conservative with a huge appeal among Catholics who are finding their feet in the new culture wars, and their secular sympathizers. He opposes adoption by gay couples and “Islamic totalitarianism.” It’s this type of politician that is clearly gaining with voters from Poznan to Poitiers.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls says the Republicans, though, could well go down in defeat in May to the surging National Front and Marine LePen.

Fillon will certainly give her a run for her money. He wants a rapprochement with Moscow and cooperation with Putin on Syria, not confrontation.

Both are popular positions with the French electorate. The stand is also gaining with the Germans as well.

Merkel will have a hard time continuing her tough line with the Kremlin should Paris and Washington want to get cozy with Russia. (S-400’s in Kaliningrad though will help her make her point.)

As for Fillon, he has none of LePen’s Frexit dreams.

What to do with the Angry German Voter ?

Will The People as „torchbearers“ use their flames to light the way to a more prosperous future or to burn down the entire post-War political infrastructure ?

Foreign Affairs Magazine sums it up this way: „The age of neoliberalism has ended. The age of neonationalism has just begun.“

That much has been clear since the Scottish referendum and the Brexit campaign. What needs analysis is what, if anything, from the old order can and should be salvaged ? NATO certainly. A pre-Maastricht EU? Is that even possible given the current animus against Brussels?

No one knows at this point. Many in the media characterize right-wing voters as „angry“ and „left behind.“ Certainly, that is the case for many of them, but it misses the main point : large segments of the voting public reject the current extent of globalization, ongoing migration and are unhappy with the „social engineering“ that’s led to a shifting of social norms regarding marriage and the family. The populist Alternative for Germany is pulling voters and members from the political mainstream. They beat the CDU in Merkel’s own backyard in state elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Voters concerned about high migration levels cannot be dismissed as „fringe“ if we are to retain democracy as we know it in the West.

The New Right as the New Mainstream?

Politicians jeopardize the health of our institutions when they ignore or repudiate radical changes in public opinion. The popular (liberal) black US entertainer Kayne West has coined the new verb „Clintoned“ to describe what happens to politicians who hold on to losing formulas and bromides.

The waves of change, like it or not, have reached Europe. They are now lapping at German shores.

There’s a lag time with German media and politicians completely realizing this. They have yet to calmly evaluate the public mood. The institutional tendency here is to condemn non-conformism first and a analyze it later. The reasons are clear: it represents a set of new imperatives that often rejects the consensus policies crafted over years from TTIP to Gender Mainstreaming. It’s not, by the way, limited to the Right.

The Left (both the party and the segment) shares a number of positions with it. And that has created its own set of ironies.

Left Party Co-Leader Sara Wagenknecht was „caked“ by an Antifa activist for vigorously questioning the social costs of open door migration and for proposing limits on migrant numbers.

Another signpost on the road veering Right here : The country is seeing regular and large mass demonstrations against mandatory sex education for grade school children that equate gay marriage with the traditional family. (I’ll have more on this and on the government’s excessively heavy hand with social media and free speech in my next post.)

„Remain Chancellor and Carry On“

With these tectonic shifts underway, Germany was treated to the surreal show of a vague and disinterested Chancellor announcing her candidacy in boilerplate language.

The Chancellor didn’t really go into up any of the huge challenges facing Germany: an assertive Russia, a looming transatlantic rupture, the mad king in Ankara, the Chinese century, digitalization, migration 2.0, the incredible shrinking EU, Instead Merkel promised to her main focus on avoiding polarization and populism. „Maß und Mitte“ was her battle cry – „Restraint and the Middleground.“ It’s a message from yesterday’s playbook. Angela in Obamaland. Where is the middle ground ? What constitutes restraint ? Regarding whom ? And what ?

It echoes the „Wir schaffen das“ the „We’ll manage it“ mantra of the migrant crisis’s peak. We’re still trying to figure out who is “we” and what is “it”.

The „carry on and let things work themselves out“ approach that was accepted by many voters with clenched teeth in the past will not be acceptable to them in the new political climate. They’re still waiting for the state to put an economic, cultural and social price tag on migration. Herr Waigel has been vague as to the actual numbers and the financing.

The „Steady as she goes“ „Maß und Mitte” is a recipe for failure in 2017 and will mean a crushing defeat for Merkel and the CDU at the polls in September.

Here’s why :

Merkel’s Faulty Premises

Merkel is counting on the following premises to win the election; they are very shaky:

1.) the German voter prefers continuity to change

2.) the disarray in the populist right AFD will continue

3.) there will be no major terror attacks from homegrown/migration based jihadists over the next ten months.

4.) Interest rates will remain low ; there will be no end to the easy money policy (Quantitative Easing) on hand since 2010.

5.) Greece does not default , end payment, or leave the Eurozone

6.) There are no black swans (in Syria,Ukraine,on the markets, etc., etc. …)

Here’s the weakness in those premises :

1.) About 73 percent of Germans voted in the 2013 federal elections. Expect the turnout in 2017 to be significantly higher. And they will be out voting for change. Left and Right will be mobilizing heavily and there will be a huge protest vote from the first timers and non-voters like we saw in recent German state elections and in the US. Many of these voters will not be interested in the „Middleground“ but in extremes of the Left and Right.

2.) If the Alternative for Germany overcomes its bitter infighting, neutralizes the neo-Nazis who’ve infiltrated the organization and puts together a coherent plan with convincing personalities it can launch a formidable challenge.

It’s already polling at 12-13 % making it the country’s 3rd strongest party ahead of the Greens which has 25 years , an entire generation, of a lead in organizing. It might even challenge the SPD for second place – but that would be in 2021, not in 2017.

3.) Cross your fingers.

4-6.) See above.

Berlin ist Überall

Germany could well see a national version of the Berlin city(also a federal state) government of Social Democrats – the Left (former communists) and the Greens known as the Red-Red-Green Coalition

Here’s how.

1.) A watered down CDU platform, with no vision and no will to face up to the problems it had a role in creating during the Grand Coalition, fails to convince the voters it can do the two things people addressed right now :

a.) stop illegal migration and deport economic refugees

b.) turn around a surge in property crime, especially break-ins, car theft and pickpocketing

2.) The AFD siphons off votes from the mainstream – especially from the CDU. The poor showing for the CDU leaves it without enough support to repeat the Grand Coalition with the Social Democrats. The Social Democrats with Sigmar Gabriel as Chancellor hammer out a coalition with the Left and the Greens. The AFD posts at 20 % but are rejected as possible coalition partners and enter the opposition benches.

America : The Indispensable Ally ?

The administration of Donald Trump will look aghast at the „communist takeover in Berlin“ should Red-Red-Green prevail in ’17. It will spark the worst crisis in the history of the trans-Atlantic relationship. In ’17 it could be the turn of the leftist government in Berlin to call for an end to the NATO alliance.

An estranged Washington will find common ground with its British cousins, and the mercantile Brexiting London. New friends in the Kremlin will join with the US in celebrating the fall of Islamic State in Aleppo, Raqaa, and Mosul.

Close ties will be established with the conservative or far right government in France and the Spirit of Lafayette will be honored again as Paris remembers Joan d’Arc.

A similar espirt d’corp will color US relations with the conservative governments in the Visegrad nations (Poland,Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics) plus Austria, which will see the right wing Norbert Hofer replacing Alexander Van der Bellin in elections on December 4th.

Germany will suddenly find itself ideologically out of step with the neonationalist states and will face the threat of disrupted trade ties as a consequence.

The Eight Week Window

This does not need to happen. The next eight weeks will be crucial for Germany – specifically for Angela Merkel – to correct course. The Chancellor must arrange a meeting with Donald Trump in New York immediately. The Trump transition team has already started the process of dismantling the Obama legacy in the US.

No institutions or alliances are out of bounds. One example:

General Michael Flynn, the new head of the National Security Agency (Henry Kissinger’s old job) is expected to oversee a complete dismantling and reassembly of America’s intelligence networks for starters.

Berlin must make sure that the close ties between the two nations are not themselves dismantled or damaged in the process. Obama’s closeness with Merkel was not registered with sympathy nor satisfaction by the incoming administration. It’s new key people and leaders will not remember kindly Obama’s visit here and his „passing of the torch“ to Angela Merkel.

Now is the time for realpolitik and not dreamy catchphrases about an imaginary middle ground and a fuzzy restraint. (It might as well as be a reference to middle earth in today’s political environment.) All is not yet lost for Germany’s conservatives. But when the next eight weeks are up, a big portion of good will with the Trump administration and conservative America might be lost. At least for the next four years. And that would have a profound effect on the success of the CDU with angry German voters who might well soon be the „new middle“ here as well.

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February 6, 2010

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