Tag Archives: Germany

New Hamburg: Life of the Veddel

Veddel 4

Ever since I decided to go abroad, I have been often reminded by how little everyone knows about the world, myself included. We are bound by an obnoxious bubble of self-proclaimed self-righteousness and assumption of knowledge of worldly events; however, this bubble gets popped upon collision with communities we might know very little about.

Yesterday marked my initial contact with Veddel: a fascinating blend of people from 67 different nations, all of whom had left their homelands in pursuit of better life standards. For many immigrants, Germany has been a rather popular destination, despite the fact that the conditions of arrival and integration are not exactly ideal. Nevertheless, between racial discrimination in their home nations, along with religious segregation and prosecution for political activism, Hamburg in particular seemed a safe place to be.

Veddel: A harmonious entanglement

Veddel is a snapshot of a truly multicultural city within a city. Though it is commonly misrepresented in traditional media as being dangerous and high on crime rates, as immigrant communities often perfectly fit the illustrative material for that particular purpose, the island has taken the definition of “parallel societies” to a whole new level. Its residents, with the variety of their backgrounds, spiritual beliefs, education levels, ages and experiences, live together in a harmony most big cities with all the proper infrastructure have been unable to achieve.

Veddel 2

A live example of this polyphony is the Immanuel Church [Deutsche: Immanuelkirche], formerly an Evangelical center of Veddel’s mostly Christian society. Today, the church is a melting point of cultural dialogue, music, film, sports and other activities for the multitude of spiritual beliefs that inhabit Veddel, creating a network of diversity where parents, teachers, members of different religious communities, artists and activists had the space to develop New Hamburg, an initiative that celebrates the cultural richness and diversity of the island.

Along with the fascinating theatre shows, the music and the inspiring performances, New Hamburg Festival, held from the 3rd to the 25th of October, offered a platform for the residents of Veddel to tell their stories.

A larger portion of the population stems from Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, and other Southern-Eastern European countries, but were born there as part of the Romani communities [also known as Gypsy, despite my distaste for the term] in those nations. Prior to coming to Europe, I had only heard of the word “Gypsy”, yet had never associated it with any specific connotation. Coming from Egypt, the only time I’d ever heard the word was in Disney’s the Hunchback of Notre-Dame, referring to Esmeralda’s character. Whatever I came across yesterday is how I’ll always perceive the Romani community, for as long as I have a memory.

Mapping life across Europe

One of the most intriguing events that took place was a series of presentations given by a few members of the Veddel community, where each one stood in front of a large-scaled map of Europe to illustrate their life stories by placing a pin in each country they lived in, even briefly, then tying a thread, each person with his preferable colour, that connects the dots in a way that ends with them settling in Hamburg. The map ended up being a canvas of intertwined tangles of threads, each thread representing a tale.

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Among the stories was a Romani man who was born and raised in Serbia. Being a journalist and a political activist, he was among the founders of the first political party that represented the Roma community in Serbia, for which he was prosecuted, chased by the police forces in former Yugoslavia in the 1970s, and forced to flee.

“I had to leave; I couldn’t risk taking my family along to face the hardships I knew were about to come.” Waving his hand across different countries in former Yugoslavia, he said, “I had no passport, and I travelled through Hungary and other countries on foot.”

Briefly narrating the story of his continuous abscond and suffering, he told his audience how he ended up in Germany with severe health complications, for which the authorities decided to give him a disability card to legalize his status in Germany.

Centuries-long discrimination

“With no mother nation to stand up for our cause, we are denied citizenship almost everywhere. Veddel has been good to us, but there is such a high unemployment rate, and we are increasingly misunderstood and maligned due to our ethnicity as a minority group.”

Originally migrating from India, to Mid-West Asia, and finally arriving in Europe around 1,000 years ago, the Roma have suffered economic, cultural and political discrimination at the hands of both communist and capitalist, and both democratic and totalitarian societies.20141019_202815

Upon doing more research on their history, some of what I stumbled upon was inhumane, illogical, and rather shocking. Not only are they culturally excluded from their prospective communities, but more-so politically. For example, in 1993, Jozsef Pacai, the mayor of the Slovak village of Medzev said, “I’m no racist, but some Gypsies you would have to shoot.”

Several far-right political groups in Eastern Europe consistently used the idea of ridding of “gypsies” as propaganda for their campaigns. In 2009, the Czech National Party ran advertisements for the European Parliament election calling for a “final solution to the Gypsy problem”. Another far-right party in Slovakia, in 2010, has used the term “Gypsy criminality” in reference to the danger they allegedly form towards the nation state.

Even in Germany, since they are not German nationals, they do not get the right to vote, which makes Veddel untouched by the hands of the authorities, and lacking in infrastructure in many ways.

“It’s a vicious cycle. Europe complains about us; they dislike that we are nomads, but what makes us nomadic is that we are never accepted into our host countries. We don’t know where to go”, a Montenegrin told me.

Celebrating diversity

Despite their rather traumatic stories, the Veddel community was rather welcoming. Some of the women grilled food in the church’s backyard, offering food at minimal prices for the festival’s guests. Some of them also joined to attend the consequent events of the evening. Children huddled around the fire for warmth, and by the evening, many people, mostly Germans and Veddel locals, gathered inside the church’s café for a welcome from the organizers of New Hamburg, ending with a warm “Our house is your house” [Deutsche: Unser Haus ist dein Haus].

Veddel 3 Veddel 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

The crowd slowly moved into the second part of the evening celebrations: a tour around a big hallway where several people told the stories of people who had immigrated to Veddel many decades ago, in German. I was lucky enough to h
ave a German-speaking friend, translating the stories word by word. Some of them would make us chuckle, others would give us goosebumps, and others would leave the ending open, bringing about some hope for a better future for the people.

A beautiful interruption of the stories tour were a short couple of performances by Rosemary Hardy, an English lady who had volunteered for the New Hamburg initiative as part of the theatre group. Dressed in a colourful Hungarian dress and seated in a chair while knitting, the spotlights would bring the audience’s attention to her strong Soprano voice, as she sang two songs, one of which was Hungarian, and the other was German, titled “Waldeinsamkeit“, which translates to “the feeling of loneliness you get while being in the woods”, reminding me of how many surprises the German language can carry.

Veddel 5What ended the night was an inspiring performance of a girl in her mid-twenties who sang in Albanian to the earthly tunes of her Eastern instrument, leaving her audience astounded after singing around 5 melodies that ranged from melancholic notes to upbeat tunes.

For our readers in Hamburg, I highly encourage you to visit Veddel on Saturday the 25th of the current month to enjoy more performances, especially a Turkish music concert. For more information on the New Hamburg initiave, please visit http://new-hamburg.de.

 

 

Written by Shorouk El Hariry, an Egyptian journalist who studies and lives in Hamburg, Germany. She could be found on Twitter at @shoroukelhariry

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It’s not easy being green

 

Green Party 2

AS ANTI-EUROPE parties try to convince the Dutch that they are better off alone and they should abandon the sinking ship that is the Euro, the country’s Green party GreenLeft is trying to do the exact opposite: portraying the EU as an inadmissible part of daily life not only today, but for generations to come. On national television, the GreenLeft Member of Parliament Jesse Klaver used examples from a nineties children show around an acrobat and a clown to stress the importance of the EU. Less visible, but with similar ambitions for The Netherlands and Europe, Hannah Odenthal (26) is taking to the streets convincing the Dutch not just to vote, but to vote for the Greens. In an interview with Pandeia, she explains why and how she’s spreading this message.

“To answer your question of why I do what I do, I believe that all of us are Europe, as we enjoy its benefits every day. Europe stands for peace, progress, and renewal. Europe means freedom: we can live, travel, study, and vote, anywhere in the European Union. However, not everyone can benefit from the possibilities given by Europe to millions of people every day. Therefore, we have to work together to create a Europe in which no one gets left behind.”

Green Party 1What is your role/function in the Green Party’s campaign?

“I am indirectly involved in the campaign, as my job is to support the Secretary General of the European Green Party. In addition to supporting her work and making sure she is in the right place at the right time to speak to political actors and stake holders, my work varies from day to day. For example, last weekend our team travelled to Berlin for the kick-off of the ‘hot phase’ of the Common Green European campaign, where I was asked to do voice-overs for videos to introduce our speakers. While this is not usually part of my role, it reflects the variety of tasks that makes the job and the entire campaign exciting.”

Past elections have not resulted in high turnouts. How do you ‘sell’ Europe in general and the Green Party in particular to the voters? What is the Green Party’s strategy?

“Despite the best intentions in creating a European-level political sphere, in the European elections, people vote on a national level and not on a European level. They vote for national parties, often from a national perspective. As the European Green Party only operates at a European level, the broad part of actual campaigning falls to the 33 Green parties across the EU. We have advocated for European-wide lists to move towards true European politics, and we have had common campaigns since 2004. We always make sure that there are transnational elements such as common visuals, that are part of our European campaigns.

“Part of showing voters what we stand for, is our common manifesto, which is drafted and adopted by EGP member parties from within the European Union. Our manifesto is a signal of their cooperation and unity, and it is a basis for pushing forward our common Green agenda on the European level. Our manifestos of the past ten years can be found here:

http://europeangreens.eu/content/egp-manifesto.”
What is the Green Party’s position in the European Parliament?

“The European Green Party does not have a position in the European Parliament itself. We are represented in the parliament by the Greens/European Free Alliance, of which the Greens are a part. With 58 members from both Green parties, independents and regionalist parties, Greens/EFA is the fourth largest political group in the European Parliament. We are a strong, cohesive group that have been very successful in pushing environmental issues, digital rights, food and fishing, LGBT rights, fair economic policies, the rights of migrants, and many other issues, to the front of the EU’s agenda.”

Green Party 3 The Green parties across Europe play very different roles in national politics. Can you elaborate on these  different backgrounds, and on how these are united into one mutual, pan-European party?

“The Greens are a diverse family across the EU. While each party shares strong green values (such as environmentalism,  democracy, and a commitment to social justice and fairness). However, across Europe each Green party is different, depending on  many different factors such as resources, the national context, the size of their membership, how developed the Green movement  in their areas are. In Germany and France for instance, there are strong, well known Green movements where their respective  parties are important actors on the political sphere. In Spain, the youngest Green party has a different background and impact and  is focused on both pushing their political agenda and building recognition across the country. Because of national politics, some  parties have a more cautious approach to Europe, while some are very eager advocates for closer EU ties. Some member states  have Green parties that work very effectively in an environmental-grassroots lobbying model. In other countries, the Greens are  in government and have a clear impact on national legislation. There is no set rule.”

What are the Green party’s plans for the future?

“Over the next five years, we have an ambitious agenda to show that Europe must and can do better.

With rising unemployment (especially for young people), huge strains on public finances, food scandals undermining consumer confidence, a dead-end energy policy that ignores the urgent issue of climate change, and democracy and rights under attack in some EU countries, Europe needs a change of direction.

“The multiple crises facing Europe – economic, social, environmental, democratic – require action in all European policy fields. In a globalised world, the challenges transcend borders; so do the solutions. Isolation and nationalism cannot be the answer, neither can old policies and austerity measures.

“The Greens are working towards a comprehensive transformation for Europe, that allows everyone to live a good life based on economic, social and environmental sustainability. We want to deliver millions of green jobs, ambitious climate protection, health and social justice. The Europe we want is a Europe of solidarity and well-being; a Europe that acts for equal opportunities and fundamental rights; a transparent Europe that people can trust; a Europe that promotes cultural diversity and gives hope to youth; a truly democratic Europe in which citizens have a say.”

Words: Lisanne Oldekamp

Pictures courtesy of European Green Party

Immigrants, Mafia and Putin: German Fast News

Ukraine

Riots in Eastern Ukraine spark concerns in Germany

The East Ukrainian city Donetsk: Pro-Russian demonstrators proclaim the “Sovereign People’s Republic”. According to the online magazine Spiegel the demonstrators intend to declare independence from the government of Kiev. They also demanded a referendum and called for Russian assistance.

Berlin is concerned by the recent actions of Moscow. The Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a pull-out away from the Ukrainian borders. The German government spokesman, Steffen Seibert says: “This has obviously not happened yet. One can be disappointed, one must be disappointed.” Meanwhile Chancellor Angela Merkel does not doubt the promise of Putin.

The Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for caution while talking about the riots in the Eastern part of Ukraine: “So far we cannot see a complete change of the situation. But I am not totally clear on what actually happens in the Eastern-Ukraine right now.”

The right-wing party NPD seeks to clean up after de-selection of candidate

NPDThe chief of the federal state Hamburg, Thomas Wulff, has been deselected by Germany’s right-wing party NPD (National Party of Germany) after he called himself a National Socialist on a Party Conference. The official justification is: Wulff has “repeatedly and fatally breached with the principles of the party.”

Wulff, acknowledged his mistake saying: “Yes, I named myself a National Socialist in an introduction speech. People must know where I come from and what I am.”  Due to the accusation of sedition Wulff is previously convicted.

Wulff’s statement is more than inconvenient for the NPD – in the following weeks the Federal Constitutional Law will decide, due to the abandonment motion of the Federal Council, if the NPD-ideology shows an affinity with the NSDAP party, which was the solely tolerated party during the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler in Germany. After the first motion in 2003 the current motion is considered much more detailed and based on facts.

Organised crime – The Italian mafia

German and Italian investigators analysed and released documents that show more than 1,200 alleged members, sympathisers and supporters of the Italian mafia live in Germany. According to Spiegel the so-called “Ndrangheta”, which mainly operates in South and West, is particularly powerful.

Mafia Despite of the fact that a large figure exists the documents show that members and supporters are spread all over Germany,  although there are less in the Northern and Eastern parts. The utilised data derives from documents obtained from the Federal  Criminal Agency, the Italian anti-mafia authorities and several prosecutions in Germany.

Immigrant language courses to be scrapped

Unemployed immigrants have struggled to improve their employment opportunities through the impact of language courses.  Despite the government’s announcement to extend the promotion, it seems the project has ended and a succession program is not  in sight.

On 1 April, the Federal Office for migration and refugees (BAMF) informed, amongst others, the regional employment agencies  that immigrants cannot expect an approval of further German courses in the near future.

Focul Online announced: The addressees of the letters hoped for an April Fool but the authorities are serious about the promotion stop. The reason: No more money. Therefore, new courses are only planned for 2015.

The programme was seen as successful despite it being scrapped. From 2007 to 2013 about 120,000 people with a migrant background have been supported. The Federal Employment Agency considers the programme as enormously important. After all it is not only about a pure language course but also about occupational abilities. According to a spokesman the agency now seeks for “compensation options”. By then the managers of job agencies must find alternative solutions to promote their customers with migrant background.

By Maria Wokurka

Pictures: Alan Denney (Ukraine protest), Olli (NPD protest), Chewstroke (Godfather)

Euro Energy, Merkel and Dual Citizenship: German Fast News

Heinrich Klaffs

Heinrich Klaffs

Maria Wokurka analyses the big issues in Germany this week.

Crimea crisis: Vice-chancellor sees no alternatives for Russian petroleum gas

Chancellor Angela Merkel is being encouraged to reassess the entire energy policy of Germany, the online magazine Spiegel has said. The Federal Minister of Economics and Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel is convinced there are no acceptable, alternative options in terms of supplies of petroleum gas from Russia.

According to Gabriel, Europe pretends there are plenty of options to obtain natural gasoline in case Russia cuts its exports. “That is not the case”, Gabriel criticised on Thursday. The entire discussion regarding Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and oil is being criticised for being overly-optimistic.

Franz Dejon

Franz Dejon

Only a few hours before: Chancellor Merkel demanded a reduction in Europe’s dependence on oil and gas resources. After speaking with the Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who signalled that Canada could supply oil and gas for Europe in the future, Merkel said: “There will be an entire and new reconsideration in terms of the energy policy.”

At the same time she advised against too much optimism. “An end of the dependence on Russian resources has not arrived yet.” The necessary infrastructure for alternatives supplies, for instance, is currently lacking.

 At present Russia supplies one third of Germany’s oil and gas. “No need to panic right now”, Gabriel stresses. According to him Moscow will not cut the supplies immediately since “even during the Cold War Russia has met its agreements in terms of contracts.”

Double-passport – A monster of bureaucracy?

According to the online edition of the newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau, Germany’s two largest parties the Social party SPD and the Christian Democratic party CDU, have agreed on a law about dual citizenship.

Due to this law young immigrants should be allowed to keep multiple citizenship if they have been born and grew up in Germany. Originally the CDU demanded that immigrants have to provide evidence through certificates or entries within the population register. Instead, as the SPD suggested, the authorities will assert the process of growing up themselves, on the basis of reporting dates.

This means that only a small minority of people concerned can be asked by the authorities to clarify him or herself in case of doubt. The Federal Minister of Justice declared on

boellstiftung

boellstiftung

Thursday in Berlin: “Unnecessary, bureaucratic barriers will be avoided.”

The Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said he was satisfied with the solution. According to the CDU politician, the draft law emphasises the special value that German citizenship has for living together, especially adolescents, who have either lived in Germany for eight years or went to a German school for six years in order to benefit from the law. After applicants 21st birthday the authorities will investigate the persons concerned and verify if the preconditions for dual citizenship exist. For single cases an additional article is alloted.

The greatest advantage of the new law is that most young adults are not obliged to decide between the German passport and the one from parent’s side. Mainly affected are German-Turks. EU-citizens, for instance, are already allowed to have two passports. Every year 4000 to 6000 adolescents reach the age which ‘forces’ them to decide.

Bayern, Fraud and Crimea: German Fast News

Themeplus

Themeplus

With news that the president of Bayern Munich has been jailed for tax fraud and Chancellor Angela Merkel warning Russia about its actions in Crimea, Maria Wokurka explains The Bottom Line in Germany this week.

Three years and six months in jail for the president of FC Bayern Munich

Uli Hoeness, the President of Bayern Munich, has been sent to prison for three and a half years arrest for after defrauding tax authorities.

Yet the judgment is without legal capacity. The plea of the FC Bayern Munich president immediately appealed on certain points of law. Nonetheless, Uli Hoeness lost his image as a role model. Even though the pleas of the 62 years old might be successful after appeal, it is improbable that Hoeness will be president of the German football club or a member of the board of directors any longer.

The court has claimed a tax debt of 28.5 million Euros and Uli Hoeness had pressed charges against himself.

Merkel warns Russia

Chancellor Angela Merkel has criticised Russia for putting the stability of the international community at risk.

European Council

European Council

In a government policy statement Merkel said: “We are facing a phase of insecurity and uncertainty. Russia does not show to be a partner for the neighbor country in terms of its cultural, economic and historical deep relations to the Ukraine. Despite this bond Russia is taking advantage of the weakened neighbour state.”

According to Merkel Russia believes its strength counts more than the right of the law. The chancellor emphasised the crisis does not call for a military solution. “In the 21st century we cannot solve a crisis like this with the solutions we might have used in the 19th and 20th century. It is important to find a political-diplomatic way.”

The government hangs behind

The coalition agreement says the state must support single parents in a better way. According to Sueddeutsche Zeitung the parties CDU and SPD have postponed fiscal credit. The coalition promised the credit is on its way but now it looks like the government is stalling – results might not emerge before 2016.

At the moment the Federal Minister for Family Affairs will supposedly agree on an adjustment in terms of the credit for single parents.

According to a family survey of the health insurance company AOK, 70 per cent of the couples with children see themselves in good or very good health conditions. However, only 48 percent of the single parents indicate good health conditions. 17 percent of them even describe the condition as very bad. Several single parents are either unsatisfied with the ever-day-life or overwhelmed.

Swiss Immigration Lockdowns: Behind the Scenes

laurabot

laurabot

February 2014: Switzerland votes in a highly controversial referendum. The issue at stake – quota’s on immigration – shook up the continent. The outcome – in which more than half of the people voted  in favor of such a quota – did so even more. Myrto Vogiatzi investigates the situation for Pandeia.

There was uproar two years ago in Basel, when Coop, the second largest retailer of Switzerland, ran an advertising campaign using the high German word for ‘to barbecue’, grillen, instead of the Swiss German grillieren. The aim was to widen its target market, since more than a quarter of Basel’s foreign residents are Germans and another 36,000 commute from Baden-Württemberg , Germany,  every day.  Quite clever, one would think. However, the ad was harshly criticized by the local media, forcing the retailer to retract the posters and issue new ones.

What the company underestimated is the country’s insecurity towards mounting immigration. About 80,000 migrants settle in Switzerland every year, making up roughly one quarter of the country’s population. This means Switzerland has one of the highest proportions of immigrants in the world. Nearly 70 per cent are EU/EEA/EFTA nationals, mostly from Germany, Italy and France. This, after all, is the result of the Free Movement of Persons Agreement signed with Brussels in 1999.

It’s an agreement 50.3 per cent of the Swiss were willing to endanger just a little over a month ago, when they approved a referendum proposal against mass migration. The initiative, led by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, requires the reintroduction of quotas as well as a national preference when filling job vacancies and restrictions of immigrants’ rights to social benefits.

The party believes the high proportion of foreigners put an undue strain on the country’s welfare system, housing and traffic infrastructure. “Now we want the power back. The government must represent the will of the Swiss people in Brussels – the sooner the better”, stated after the victory Christoph Bloecher, vice chair of the SVP. Other recent victories of the SVP include the initiative against the construction of minarets in 2009 and for the expulsion of foreign criminals in 2010.

Collective suicide
The policy itself is not an extreme one; it simply means Switzerland can exercise the traditional sovereign right to limit its immigration intake . After all, the initiative doesn’t specify where the limit should be and most countries put limits to immigration.

However, it’s still unclear how the country can conform to the proposal the people voted for without breaking with the union. There is a bilateral agreement between Switzerland and the EU that neither of both parties can renew or denounce without the agreement of the other. Changing immigration laws without the agreement of the EU would be a violation.

“The single market isn’t Swiss cheese”, European Commission vice-president Viviane Reding told the Financial Times. “You cannot have a single market with holes in it.  I doubt that member states will be ready to accept renegotiating the free movement of persons agreement alone and not touch the other bilateral agreements the EU has with Switzerland”.

Taking a more strident stance, France’s industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg, described the outcome of the vote as ‘collective suicide’, while Didier Bukhalter, Switzerland’s foreign minister, warned that the anti-immigration vote targets some of the biggest economic contributors. Trade with Germany, for example, was worth nearly 100 billion Swiss Francs in 2012, accounting for more than a quarter of the country’s total foreign trade.

As a result of the vote, the EU has already suspended Switzerland’s participation in its multi-billion-euro Horizon 2020 research program and its Erasmus student exchange scheme. It has also stopped talks on a cross-border electricity agreement. The block has also frozen the agreement to grant Croatian job seekers access to the country.

EU officials are, of course, not the only ones disturbed by the unexpected result of the referendum. The Swiss government and business lobby groups had urged a vote against the proposal, emphasizing that certain sectors – including banking, healthcare, construction and research- rely on foreign specialists: 60 per cent of employees at the pharmaceutical giant Roche are foreigners, while half of the doctors at Basel’s university hospital do not hold a Swiss passport.

Even the national football team would be left with only three players, as German television showed. In the long run, it could mean that companies invest and hire less in Switzerland, while fearing expansion. On the other hand, some Swiss firms see it as an opportunity to boost recruitment of people from outside the EU and become more competitive in Asia.

A clever strategy
The most intriguing question though remains to be asked: why did the Swiss feel the need to hold a referendum in the first place? Are they just too used to direct democracy? According to the website Travailler en Suisse (Working in Switzerland), there are currently no less than 110,000 vacant jobs in the country and more official languages than any other in Europe.

What’s more, the OECD shows that among arrivals from the EU between 2010 and 2012, 69 per cent were highly skilled. “People who come here have already been educated at the expense of other countries, and they are usually fairly young and healthy: they’re topping up Switzerland’s benefits system, but they’re not taking anything out,” George Sheldon, a New York-born academic at Basel University, told The Guardian a few weeks ago. In fact, as the National Bank SNBN said, newcomers helped output to exceed its pre-crisis level by 5 per cent, generating a gain of at least $5.44 billion annually.

Yet far-right or right-wing populist parties in Europe (including France’s National Front or UKIP’s Nigel Farage in Britain) suggest that the Swiss are fed up with immigration. What we should keep in mind is that the relationship between ‘objective’ economic factors and attitudes towards immigration is not always straightforward. The fact that many citizens used their vote to express their dissatisfaction with the government’s policy towards the EU should have been expected.

“A loss of trust in Switzerland’s business and political elite may be one of the reasons the alpine nations voted in favour of putting strict limits on immigration”, had stated Johann Schneider-Ammann, the Swiss Economy Minister, three days after the results. Indeed, this insecurity towards centre-right parties drove a considerable amount of voters to the SVP, which in turn adopted much more persuasive strategies.

Illustrating immigration as aggressive crows or a tree with monster-like roots crushing Switzerland on a campaign ad is definitely scary, and that’s the point. After all, “who could possibly be in  favor of mass anything?” said Sheldon, arguing that the most clever aspect of the SVP’s strategy was that they rarely specified what kind of immigration they were talking about.

Dilemma
Switzerland has three years in which to implement the amendment into legislation and renegotiate all the international treaties that contradict the new article. Reaching some kind of agreement could easily encourage other countries and euro skeptic politicians that the key principles of the EU are negotiable. But let’s not forget that Switzerland is one of the biggest importers of EU goods and its transport infrastructure provides a crucial link from northern to southern Europe. Refusing compromise is not in Europe’s interest.

Kiev, Syria and The Forgotten War: German Fast News

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

Following a week which has been dominated by East-West tensions, Maria Wokurka provides the central European view on an increasingly divisive situation in this week’s Bottom Line from Germany.

Kyiv – voices from Germany

The world’s community has been focusing on the Ukraine and Kyiv. The protests and riots have led to the “Crimea crisis”.
Now Kyiv is in the urgent need of financial aid – and the EU is willing to help. The President of the commission, José Manuel Barroso, announced help in the form of eleven billion Euros. Russian’s president Vladimir Putin spoke of economic collaboration, in spite of the crisis.

In France, the foreign ministers of different EU states, including John Kerry and Frank-Walter Steinmeier as well as Sergej Lawrow, have met to diplomatically negotiate the crisis: some have claimed Moscow must eventually face international sanctions if it doesn’t end its involvement in Ukraine.

Germany’s federal government wants to abandon sanctions against Russia if today’s negotiations spawn a possible contact group. Without this contact group the sanctions will be on the agenda at the EU summit. While the German armed forces puts collaboration with the Russian armed forces on the test, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the foreign minister have sought to find a political loophole out of the drastic situation in the Ukraine.

The East-Europe-expert Hans-Henning Schröder said in an Interview with tagesschau.de that he is convinced that the good relationship between Russia and Germany could lead to a de-escalation in terms of the Ukraine. “Indeed, there is a really good connection between Berlin and Moscow. Even though there has been lots of criticism the last years, a big chance lies in this relationship.” According to Schröder, Germany is capable of acting as a negotiator between the West and the East. The online magazine Die Welt speaks of “Merkel’s walk on a tightrope between Putin and Obama.
There will be no easy solution. The foreign minister Steinmeier calls the critical situation in the Ukraine “the most problematic crisis in Europe since the Fall of the Wall.”

Has Syria been forgotten?

Since January the death count in Syria has stopped being recorded by Uno. The situation is a war but has become less prominent in the global media. The violence in Syria is part of the every-day-life. Every second Syrian citizen was forced to leave their home. Germany’s magazine Spiegel Online fears that Syria is becoming one of the forgotten conflicts such as Somalia or Iraq.

a.anis

a.anis

The Uno commissioner Antonio Guterres says: “Five years ago Syria has been the second most important country to receive refugees.” Now there is a dramatic change. “So far Afghanistan counted as the biggest refugee population, Syria is close to displacing Afghanistan.”

What is the current situation? The peace negotiations have temporarily failed. Assad has tried to reconquer districts in Aleppo but 10,000 inhabitants of the city have fled during the last months. The German authorities have said that 300 Germans are currently in Syria. How many of them are involved in fighting however is not known.

Export vs import – does Germany export debt?

Germany is currently being described as the trade world champion. Indeed, this name is flattering for a country that bases its political self-confidence on its economic strength. Brussels is skeptical and critical towards Germany’s economic imbalance.
Germany’s government has always referred to the country as remarkably competitive and that has been the best argument so far. But during the last few years the government signed several summit declarations. According to these declarations the huge economic imbalances worldwide are a central cause for recent crises. If Chancellor Angela Merkel appeals to, for instance, Greece to improve the competitiveness in terms of export numbers, there is no other way that countries such as Germany have to reduce their exports and increase their imports instead.

More export than import or vice versa – in general that is not the biggest problem as long as the imbalances stay within the bounds of possibility. That means that higher import countries must be able to afford these higher imports. Higher export countries, however, are exporting debts together with their commodities.