German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was forced last week to cancel her one-week trip to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji after the plane had problems with one of its landing flaps.
After a stopover to refuel in Abu Dhabi on Monday, the flight was forced to dump fuel and turn around. After repairs, the crew thought the problem was fixed, but a second attempt to resume the trip on Tuesday ran into the same issue, and Baerbock returned to Berlin on an Emirates flight.
It was the latest in a series of plane problems for the declining industrial power. As Politico EU describes:
Cracked windows, faulty radios and cables chewed by rats — the German government’s track record of sending its top officials on diplomatic trips by plane is, at best, patchy.
The article describes several recent incidents, including:
- The state secretary at the defense ministry was unable to return home from Niger in June on a plane because of a windshield with cracks, likely due to heat. The delegation had to fly home on a commercial flight.
- The hydraulics of a plane breaking in 2019 in Mali. The German Air Force had to be dispatched to retrieve the former foreign minister.
- A wheel exploded prior to takeoff on a plane carrying Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in 2019.
- Now-chancellor Olaf Scholz was forced in 2018 to fly commercial back from Indonesia after rats chewed some of his plane’s cables.
- And more.
The European Conservative thought Baerbock’s plane issues were symbolic for her Green Party’s environmental policies:
Instead of ending up in Fiji to discuss environmentalism, the German foreign minister spent 50 hours getting from Berlin to Berlin, dumping 160 tons of jet fuel into the atmosphere in the meantime.
The European Conservative doesn’t mention the current government giving up Russian gas and shutting down its nuclear plants in order to burn more coal and import more LNG, but that’s certainly a contender too, and there are plenty of them. Here are a few.
The Recent U-turn on the Zeitenwende.
That would be German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s big plan to boost German military spending. From Politico:
The German government on Wednesday stepped back at the last minute from making a legal commitment to meeting NATO’s target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense on an annual basis, according to Reuters and German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
A government official told the news agency that a clause pledging to meet the target was deleted at short notice from Finance Minister Christian Lindner’s draft of a new budget financing law, just before the Cabinet passed it to the parliament.
Instead, the government pledges to meet the 2 percent target on average over a five-year period, as already set out in the recently published National Security Strategy.
That’s certainly no surprise considering the economy is taking on so much water due to the severing of energy links to cheap Russian gas. So the problem with Baerbock’s plane (and all the others) could also be representative of option number two.
Deindustrialization Due to Energy Policy
For some of the latest issues on that front, we can turn to OilPrice:
Winter is once again on the way, as far as it may seem in August. This means there’s a spike in demand for LNG on the horizon. And a spike in demand means a spike in prices, inevitably.
“The crisis is not over yet,” the chief executive of E.ON, one of Germany’s biggest utilities, said earlier this month. “We must continue to work on the issue of austerity. This is the best way to ensure affordability for customers and also to achieve competitiveness of our society and our economy.”
If the CEO of E.ON is talking about austerity—not exactly a popular idea among regular electricity consumers—then the situation must be serious. It suggests there is no great chance of abundant LNG supply and weak competition from Asia that would make the commodity cheaper. That leaves limiting demand as the only choice.
Indeed, austerity is already in place. The exorbitant prices last year made it a natural choice to curb consumption. Indeed, Reuters reported last month that since last year, Europe’s gas consumption has fallen by between 10% and 15% compared to the previous decade. The decline is particularly marked among industrial consumers.
Consumption remained lower even as gas prices calmed down. That’s no wonder since even calmer prices have been 35% higher this year than the average for 2018 to 2021. These higher prices have hit especially hard industries that make the backbone of the EU’s manufacturing sector, including steel and cement making, fertilizers, and petrochemicals.
Berlin also just had to pony up 10 billion euros in order to get Intel to commit to a chip-making facility in the country. That’s roughly a third of the total cost of the operation. Berlin followed that up with nearly seven billion euros for an 11-billion-euro TSMC plant. One reason cited by the companies on why they needed so much money in order to locate there is the high cost of construction and energy.
Even The Economist is baffled at the German decision making:
Every country has bumbling officialdom. But Germany’s has an exceptional fondness for sabotaging itself. The cost of the battle between autobahns and windmills, for example, is not just economic but strategic. Last year’s abrupt halting of Russian fuel imports sent the country scrambling for power, preferably local and renewable. Olaf Scholz, the chancellor, says Germany needs to build three or four new wind turbines daily to reach its emissions-reduction targets. The current rate is just over one per day.
Other examples of German own goals abound. The government’s decision, in the midst of the energy crisis, to mothball its last three nuclear power plants has benefited neither the country’s energy consumers nor its citizens’ health, as dirty coal plants had to be fired up temporarily to meet demand. Local governments, meanwhile, have often held up permits for solar and wind installations, or the building of transmission lines to distribute power between the country’s windier north and sunnier south.
Germany’s shutting down its last nuclear plants to burn more coal and import more LNG is becoming increasingly unpopular among the general population – except of course the Greens:
Two-thirds of Germans want a new government, says Germany’s largest newspaper Bild.
Surveys also show two-thirds of Germans want to keep using nuclear energy.
— Mark Nelson (@energybants) August 19, 2023
How about on the politics front?
Symbolism Option Three: The Nosediving Prospects of the Parties That Currently Make Up the Government’s Ruling Traffic Light Coalition
The Greens have sunk to 14 percent. The center-left Social Democrats and neoliberal Free Democrats – the other two parties in the traffic light coalition – have fallen to 18 percent and 7 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, the anti-EU Alternative for Germany (Afd) continues to rise in the polls – so much so that the idea to ban the party is again being floated. Afd is now up to 21 percent, which is second only to the centre-right Christian democratic political alliance at 26 percent.
Scrutiny of Afd continues to increase. According to Deutsche Welle, On Friday, a court in Munich convicted a politician from the party for comparing the Covid19 vaccination campaign to “Nazi-era anti-Jewish pogroms.” Last year, German courts ruled that the Afd could be surveilled by the country’s intelligence agency in order to “monitor extremism.” It’s safe to assume that the German Blob will only continue to turn up the heat on the party – largely because of positions like the following, as reported by Deutsche Welle:
The AfD has positioned itself in opposition to the German government’s critical policy toward China. Berlin’s China Strategy, published in mid-July, for example, was denounced by Bystron, the AfD’s foreign policy spokesperson, as the “attempt to implement green-woke ideology and US geopolitical interests under the guise of a strategy for German foreign policy.”
The description of China in the strategy as a rival — as well as a partner and competitor — was for Bystron “the consequence of the US’ confrontational course toward China. This confrontation and division are not in the interests of Germany as an export nation,” he said.
For political scientist Wolfgang Schroeder from the University of Kassel, the AfD’s foreign policy positions demonstrate an attempt to set itself apart from the other German political parties. Geopolitically, said Schroeder, the AfD sees the traditional Western ties with the United States, which it regards as hegemonic, as having past their use-by date.
“The AfD considers Washington to be more part of the problem than part of the solution to the challenges facing Germany,” he told DW. “That’s because the AfD considers the US an imperial actor whose vested interests cannot be reconciled with those of Germany.”
Germany acting in its own self interest? It would seem those days have passed, which brings us to another aspect of the plane-trouble symbolism.
The Government’s Foreign Policy Is in Disarray
Let’s take just the two examples of India and China. Beijing was originally treated as an afterthought in the Scholz government’s aforementioned Zeitenwende. Scholz’s party seemingly had no interest in shooting Germany in the foot a second time following the “de-risking” from Russia. But dragged along by the Greens, pressure from the US and other anti-China forces across Europe, Berlin has started down such a path with its largest trading partner.
This has been an abrupt detour or permanent change in course from the decades-long foreign policy based on peaceful Wandel durch Handel (“transformation through trade”). It relied on cheap Russian gas imports and exports to its largest trading partner, China.
As for relations with India, the two countries have long been trying to finalize a trade deal, but German politicians can’t seem to get out of their own way. German Vice-Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck went off on a three-day visit to India last month, and on the very first day he began criticizing New Delhi for neither condemning “Russia’s war in Ukraine” nor cutting ties with Moscow.
And there’s the fact that Berlin seems uninterested in getting to the bottom of just who blew up those Nord Stream pipelines. Flying around in damaged planes and getting stranded seems awfully symbolic of continuing to march lockstep with “allies” that sabotage your economy.