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This is how Germany is reacting to Joe Biden’s win

Leaders around Germany on Monday followed Chancellor Angela Merkel in offering their congratulations - and projections on what the next four years could hold.

This is how Germany is reacting to Joe Biden's win
Several Americans in Berlin gathered near the Brandenburg Gate and American Embassy on Saturday evening to celebrate Biden's win. Photo: DPA

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday warmly offered to cooperate closely with Joe Biden after his election as America's next president, a sharp contrast to her stern warning to Donald
Trump four years ago.

Underlining the President-elect's “decades of experience in foreign policy” and recalling “good encounters and talks with him”, Merkel vowed to “stand together” with Washington to overcome international challenges from the coronavirus pandemic to global warming.

The marked change in tone to Trump's 2016 victory, which Merkel had greeted with an extraordinary warning over democratic values, came as Germany heaved a sigh of relief at Biden taking the White House even if differences with Washington are expected to persist under the Democrat.

READ ALSO: Merkel pledges to 'stand together' with US after election

Merkel notably left the US billionaire leader and his administration completely out of her message on the US election.

Be it over military spending or Germany's strong exports, Trump, who is still contesting the US polls result, has made no effort to hide his ire towards Europe's biggest economy.

But it was his contempt of international treaties and multilateralism as he championed “America First” that deeply shocked Germans.

Trump ripped up the Iran nuclear treaty early in his term, slapped tariffs on EU steel and aluminium, and as Americans went to the polls last week, the US formally left the Paris Climate Agreement.

Hailing Biden's victory, German leaders have rushed to urge him to make good on his pre-election promise to reinstate the US on the climate treaty again.

“The return of the US to these common ideals offers the opportunity to stop the erosion of the international order,” wrote German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in an editorial for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

READ ALSO: What could Joe Biden as US president mean for Germany?

“With a return to the Paris climate agreement, renewed cooperation in the World Trade Organization, in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and also in curbing Iran's nuclear programme, the USA can once again counter the threat of international anarchy in which only 'maximum pressure' counts, with a more
optimistic vision of our common future,” he added.

At the same time, Steinmeier underlined that four years of Trump have also taught Germany the lesson that Europe needed to stand on its own feet rather than wait for its transatlantic partner to take the lead.

A point echoed by Merkel who said Europeans would do more to pull their own weight.

Merkel speaking on Monday in Berlin about the results of the US elections. Photo: DPA

More responsibility

“Germans and Europeans know that we must take on more responsibility in this partnership in the 21st century,” said Merkel, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU.

“America is and remains our most important ally but it expects us, and rightly so, to boost our efforts and to ensure our own security and to stand up for our own convictions in the world,” added the German leader, who will step down next year.

The pragmatism came as analysts noted that not all of Europe's interests may dovetail with those of the US.

Areas of friction will likely remain on military spending, the controversial Russia-to-Europe gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, and Washington's campaign against Chinese tech giant Huawei.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who promised a new start in transatlantic relationships, a “new deal”, said Berlin will make “concrete proposals on how we can close ranks — in dealings with players like China” for instance.

READ ALSO: Germany-US friendship is 'irreplaceable': Merkel sends congratulations to Joe Biden

But faced with a Covid-19 battered economy, Biden may well eschew Trump's protectionist tendencies while allowing some sort of “America First” vision for sensitive industries to live on.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier himself warned that “specific sectors in the US have increased their competitiveness through tariffs… and Joe Biden will not take this lightly either”.

Foreign policy veteran Wolfgang Ischinger, who chairs the Munich Security Conference, also noted that things won't “simply be all good” again between Europe and the US under Biden.

Washington is expected to keep a critical eye on Germany's softer approach with China and Berlin's reluctance to let go of Nord Stream 2 which critics believe would give Russia too much control.

Nevertheless, a key difference lies in attitudes.

“We would be able to tackle these problems together on the basis of a more trustworthy relationship between leaders,” said Ischinger.

By Hui Min Neo

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ELECTIONS

Germany’s far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance

Best known as an anti-migrant party, Germany's far-right AfD has seized on the coronavirus pandemic to court a new type of voter ahead of regional elections in the state of Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday: anti-shutdown activists.

Germany's far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance
Björn Höcke, party chairman in Thuringia, at an election event in Merseburg, Saxony-Anhalt on May 29th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow

“Sending so many people into poverty with so few infections is problematic for us,” is how Oliver Kirchner, the AfD’s top candidate in Saxony-Anhalt, views the measures ordered by the government to halt Covid-19 transmission.

The anti-shutdown stance seems to be paying off in the former East German state. The party is riding high in the polls and even stands a chance of winning a regional election for the first time.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD chooses hardline team ahead of national elections

Surveys have the AfD neck-and-neck with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, with the Bild daily even predicting victory for the far-right party on 26 percent, ahead of the CDU on 25 percent.

In Saxony-Anhalt’s last election in 2016, the CDU was the biggest party, scoring 30 percent and forming a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.

But the CDU has taken a hammering in the opinion polls in recent months, with voters unhappy with the government’s pandemic management and a corruption scandal involving shady coronavirus mask contracts.

Social deprivation

A victory for the AfD would spell a huge upset for the conservatives just four months ahead of a general election in Germany — the first in 16 years not to feature Merkel.

They started out campaigning against the euro currency in 2013. Then in 2015 they capitalised on public anger over Merkel’s 2015 decision to let in a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The party caused a sensation in Germany’s last general election in 2017 when it secured almost 13 percent of the vote, entering parliament for the first time as the largest opposition party.

Troubled by internal divisions and accusations of ties to neo-Nazi fringe groups, the party has more recently seen its support at the national level stagnate at between 10 and 12 percent.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD investigated over election ties

The party is also controversial in Saxony-Anhalt itself. In state capital Magdeburg, posters showing local candidate Hagen Kohl have been defaced with Hitler moustaches and the words “Never again”.

For wine merchant Jan Buhmann, 57, victory for the far-right party would be a “disaster”.

“The pandemic has shown that we need new ideas. We need young people, we need dynamism in the state. For me, the AfD does not stand for that,” he said.

Yet the AfD’s core supporters have largely remained unwavering in the former East German states.

For pensioner Hans-Joachim Peters, 73, the AfD is “the only party that actually tells it like it is”.

Politicians should “think less about Europe and more about Germany”, he told AFP in Magdeburg. AfD campaigners there were handing out flyers calling for “resistance” and “an end to all anti-constitutional restrictions on our liberties”.

Political scientist Hajo Funke of Berlin’s Free University puts the AfD’s core strength in eastern Germany down to “social deprivation and frustration” resulting from problems with reunification.

The party’s latest anti-corona restrictions stance has also helped it play up its anti-establishment credentials, adding some voters to its core base, he said.

Other east German states in which the AfD has a stronghold, such as Saxony and Thuringia, continue to have the highest 7-day incidences per 100,000 residents in the country. Saxony-Anhalt’s 7-day incidence, however, currently is below the national average (31.3) as of Wednesday June 3rd.

READ ALSO: Why are coronavirus figures so high in German regions with far-right leanings?

Hijab snub

Funke predicted the AfD would attract broadly the same voters in
Saxony-Anhalt as it did in 2016, when it won 24 percent of the vote.

“Some have dropped off because the party is too radical, some radicals who didn’t vote are now voting and some of those who are anti-corona are also voting for the AfD,” he said.

The Sachsen-Anhalt-Monitor 2020 report, commissioned by the local government, found that the main concern for voters in the region was the economic fallout from the pandemic. But the AfD’s core selling point — immigration and refugees — was number two on their list.

According to AfD candidate Kirchner, many people in Saxony-Anhalt still view the influx of refugees to Germany “very critically”.

“And I think they are right,” he said at a campaign stand in Magdeburg decked in the AfD’s signature blue. “Who is going to rebuild Syria? Who is going to do that if everyone comes here?”

When a young woman wearing a hijab walked past the stand, no one attempted to hand her a flyer.

By Femke Colborne

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