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Migrants on board a ship which disembarked in Salerno, Italy.


Olaf Scholz gets tough on asylum-seekers

The German government on Wednesday announced that authorities will start conducting “flexible spot checks” on border crossings from Poland and the Czech Republic to address an influx of asylum-seekers who have sought to enter the country in recent months.

This comes after Berlin recently joined Italy’s right-wing government in declaring that both countries had reached the “limits of [their] capacity” to take in migrants.

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Friedrich Merz attends the closed meeting of the CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag at Andechs Monastery, Germany.

Sven Hoppe/dpa via Reuters Connect

Germany’s Merz steps into controversy

Friedrich Merz has reminded Germany and the world that his center-right establishment party, the Christian Democratic Union, is now in a tight spot. The party leader suggested in an interview televised on Sunday that the CDU would be open to partnering with the hard-right Alternative für Deutschland party, at least at the local level.

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AfD holds "Future for Germany" rally in Erfurt.

IMAGO/Karina Hessland via Reuters Connect

Why is Germany’s far right surging?

For extremely obvious reasons, it’s always a little unsettling when the far-right is having a good moment in German politics.

That’s exactly what’s happening now as the avowedly anti-immigrant and Euroskeptic Alternative for Deutschland Party, known as AfD, is now neck-and-neck with the Social Democrats, the party of Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The AfD, which is polling at 19% (to the SPD’s 20%), is closing in on becoming the country’s second most popular political faction. The Christian Democratic Union Party still holds the top spot at 27%.

What explains AfD’s recent upward trajectory, and what does it tell us about the state of German politics 18 months after former Chancellor Angela Merkel left the stage, ending 16 years at the helm?

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Bundweswehr logo on German soldiers' uniforms.

Imago images/Gerhard Leber via Reuters Connect

In a historic shift, Germany decides to bolster armed forces

The shockwaves from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have hit Germany hard. For much of the post-World War II era, change in German politics, when it occurred, tended to be gradual. But the horror of war in nearby Ukraine has triggered an abrupt and momentous change of German foreign and defense policies. After years of starving its armed forces of resources and of acquiescence to aggressive behavior by Russia, Europe’s economic powerhouse has announced accelerated plans to beef up its military and backed crippling sanctions against Russia. We spoke to Eurasia Group expert Naz Masraff to get more insight into this dramatic shift and its implications.

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Biden & Putin will continue Ukraine talks; Germany’s new chancellor
Ukraine Tension Point Between Biden & Putin | Germany's New Government | Europe In :60 | GZERO Media

Biden & Putin will continue Ukraine talks; Germany’s new chancellor

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What came out of the video conference between Presidents Biden and Putin?

Well, that's a very good question. We don't know, but they agreed to continue talking about the issues that Mr. Putin backed up by the threat of an invasion of Ukraine has put on the table. There is somewhat of a disquiet in Europe over that, but Biden has said that there's not going to be any talks about Ukraine without Ukraine at the table. This is a story that will continue for quite some time.

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attends a news conference in the Federal Chancellery following the video conference with the country's 16 state leaders on the surge in the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, in Berlin, Germany, December 9, 2021.

Michael Kappeler/Pool via REUTERS

Enter Olaf — can he keep Germany’s traffic light blinking?

As of this week, for the first time since Gwen Stefani was topping the charts with Hollaback Girl, Germany is not run by a person named Angela.

Olaf Scholz — the pragmatic, robotic, determined leader of the center-left SPD party — now holds the reins of Europe’s largest economy.

But he also leads a three-party coalition, the first in Germany’s modern history, with the progressively, climate conscious Greens and the business-friendly fiscal hawks of the Free Democrats party. The coalition is known as the “traffic light” owing to the colors of its three members.

Here are a few immediate and longer-term challenges for Scholz.

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What We’re Watching: Biden and Putin chat, Scholz takes the reins in Germany, Remain in Mexico returns, Pécresse enters the French fray, Suu Kyi learns her fate

World War III or nah? US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are set to speak by phone on Tuesday, as the crisis surrounding Ukraine gets dicier by the day. Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops along its border with the country, and the US is warning that Putin is gearing up to invade soon, though the underlying intel isn’t public. No one is quite sure what Putin’s up to with this stunt. Is he trying to pressure Kyiv into moving ahead with the lopsided (but probably best possible) Minsk peace accords of 2015? Or is the Kremlin seeking a broader NATO commitment not to expand further? Or does Putin actually want to invade Ukraine? Either way, Biden has his work cut out for him. Putin is clearly more comfortable risking lives and money to preserve a sphere of influence in Ukraine than the West is, so the US president has to be careful: don’t set out any red lines that NATO isn’t willing to back, but also don’t push the situation into a broader war that no one (ideally) wants.

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What We're Watching: Angela out, omicron in

Exit Angela, enter omicron. Social Democrat Olaf Scholz will officially take over this week as German Chancellor, leading a coalition with the Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats. His government has already laid out plans to accelerate Germany's transition to carbon neutrality, to bolster European sovereignty in the face of rising challenges from Russia and China, and to rein in fiscal spending – not only in Germany but across Europe – as the pandemic recedes. But one immediate challenge is that the pandemic isn't actually receding yet. Scholz will take office just as cases are surging. The current 7-day average of new cases in Germany is more than twice as high as the previous peak which was a year ago, before vaccines were rolled out. With the evidently more transmissible omicron variant already spreading, Scholz has said he favors making vaccines obligatory, even as blowback against mandates has been rising in Europe.

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