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How the E.U. Allowed Hungary to Become an Illiberal Model

BRUSSELS — After long indulging him, leaders in the European Union now widely consider one of their own, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, an existential threat to a bloc that holds itself up as a model of human rights and the rule of law.

Mr. Orban has spent the past decade steadily building his “illiberal state,” as he proudly calls Hungary, with the help of lavish E.U. funding. Even as his project widened fissures in the bloc, his fellow national leaders mostly looked the other way, committed to staying out of one another’s affairs.

But now Mr. Orban’s defiance and intransigence has had an important, if unintended, effect: serving as a catalyst for an often-sluggish European Union system to act to safeguard the democratic principles that are the foundation of the bloc.

Early this year, the European Court of Justice will issue a landmark decision on whether the union has the authority to make its funds to member states conditional on meeting the bloc’s core values. Doing so would allow Brussels to deny billions of euros to countries that violate those values.

a new media law that curbed press freedom. It overhauled the country’s justice system, removed the head of its Supreme Court and created an office to oversee the courts led by the wife of a prominent member of the governing party, Fidesz. Election laws were changed to favor the party.

External factors strengthened Mr. Orban as well, including in 2015 when a record number of migrants made their way to Europe and when the right-wing Law and Justice party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski came to power in Poland. He suddenly had an ally there, and his tough stance against migrants won him support elsewhere, too.

Mr. Orban quit the conservative alliance when it became clear that it was going to oust his party.

Mr. Weber still regrets the loss of Fidesz. “On one level, it is a relief,” he said. “But Orban leaving is not a victory, but a defeat” in the effort to hold the center-right together as “a broad people’s party.”

It has helped Mr. Orban that the European Union has few and ineffective instruments for punishing a backsliding nation. Even the Lisbon Treaty, which gave enhanced powers to the European Parliament, has essentially one unusable tool: Article 7, which can remove a country’s voting rights, but only if passed by unanimity.

according to studies by R. Daniel Kelemen of Rutgers University and Tommaso Pavone of the University of Oslo, the commission sharply reduced infringement cases after the addition of new member states in 2004. José Manuel Barroso, a former commission president, “bought into this to work more cooperatively with governments and not just sue them,” Mr. Kelemen said. Mr. Barroso declined to comment.

Attitudes have shifted. With taxpayer money at stake, the next seven-year budget in the balance and the disregard for shared values shown by Mr. Orban and Mr. Kaczynski on leaders’ minds, Brussels may have finally found a useful tool to affect domestic politics, with a mix of lawsuits charging infringement of European treaties combined with severe financial consequences.

A marker has finally been laid down, Mr. Reynders said.

The big moment comes this month, when the European Court of Justice issues its ruling.

If Hungary and Poland lose the case, as expected, it is unclear what will happen if both countries simply refuse to comply. The European Union will be thrust deeper into unknown territory.

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Germany Live Updates: Scholz Is Sworn In as Chancellor, Ending Merkel Era

For the photographer Herlinde Koelbl, the end of Angela Merkel’s tenure as Germany’s chancellor isn’t just the end of a political era — it’s also the end of one of the longest-running art projects in world politics.

Since 1991, Ms. Koelbl has visited Ms. Merkel almost every year to take two portraits for a project, “Traces of Power,” that aimed to understand how politics changes people’s appearance and character.

“She was shy when I first photographed her, and a bit awkward,” Ms. Koelbl, 82, recalled in a recent telephone interview. “She told me, ‘I’m not used to being photographed all the time. I don’t know what to do with my arms and hands.’”

The photographer initially chose 15 politicians for the project, including established names like Gerhard Schröder, who went on to become Germany’s chancellor in 1998. Ms. Merkel, a former scientist, immediately stood out, not least for her lack of vanity.

For their early photos, Ms. Merkel wore no makeup and “didn’t seem to pay any attention to what she was wearing” unlike some of Ms. Koelbl’s other sitters. Fashion “just wasn’t important to her,” Ms. Koelbl said. “For her, what was important was what she was doing: the work.”

As Ms. Merkel gained confidence as a politician, she started to relax in front of the camera, Ms. Koelbl said. In 1998, she posed with her hands in a diamond shape for the first time — something that would become a trademark gesture.

Credit…Herlinde Koelbl

Ms. Koelbl said she thought there was a simple reason behind her use of the diamond: Pushing her thumbs together forced her shoulders up, making her look engaged. “If you have to stand and listen for hours to speeches, you look very attentive, even when you’re not,” Ms. Koelbl said.

During the first eight years of the project, Ms. Koelbl also interviewed Ms. Merkel at length, asking probing questions about her political ambitions, as well as others that seemed more suited to therapy sessions.

In 1993, she asked Ms. Merkel how she coped when feeling rejected, and whether there were any childhood situations in which she had felt powerless. (Ms. Merkel replied by mentioning the day her parents had learned about the construction of the Berlin Wall and her mother broke down in tears. “I wanted to help them, to make them happy again, but I couldn’t,” she said).

Ms. Koelbl stopped “Traces of Power” in 1999, but after Ms. Merkel became chancellor in 2005 decided to return to photographing her. Ms. Merkel no longer had time for interviews, but agreed to sit for photos once a year until she left office, and the pictures were all published in a book this year.

Credit…Roderick Aichinger for The New York Times

The recent photos show Ms. Merkel as the politician so well-known today: wearing pants and blazers, staring calmly into the lens. But Ms. Koelbl insists that the leader’s appearance has kept changing over the years.

“In the beginning, she had very lively eyes,” Ms. Koelbl said, “and now she looks at you, but the liveliness is gone. The glow disappeared in her eyes.”

Ms. Koelbl insisted that the change didn’t mean that becoming chancellor was a bad thing. “I think that’s just part of the tribute you have to pay if you get this job,” she said.

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Can Olaf Scholz, Germany’s New Chancellor, Revive the Left in Europe?

BERLIN — Last December, as he was plotting what most considered to be a hopeless bid to become Germany’s next chancellor, Olaf Scholz interrupted his campaign preparations for a video call with an American philosopher.

Mr. Scholz, a Social Democrat, wanted to talk to the philosopher, Prof. Michael J. Sandel of Harvard, about why center-left parties like his had been losing working-class voters to populists, and the two men spent an hour discussing a seemingly simple theme that would become the centerpiece of the Scholz campaign: “Respect.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Scholz will be sworn in as Germany’s ninth postwar chancellor — and the first Social Democrat in 16 years — succeeding Angela Merkel and heading a three-party coalition government. Defying polls and pundits, he led his 158-year-old party from the precipice of irrelevance to an unlikely victory — and now wants to show that the center-left can again become a political force in Europe.

Mr. Scholz won for many reasons, not least because he persuaded voters that he was the closest thing to Ms. Merkel, but his message of respect resonated, too. For the first time since 2005, the Social Democrats became the strongest party among the working class. Just over 800,000 voters who had abandoned the party for the far left and far right returned in the last election.

President Biden’s political agenda in the United States.

For the center-left in Europe, Mr. Scholz’s victory comes at a critical moment. Over the past decade, many of the parties that once dominated European politics have become almost obsolete, seemingly bereft of ideas and largely abandoned by their working-class base.

The political energy has been on the right, especially the populist far right, with many American conservatives flocking to countries like Hungary to study the “illiberal democracy” of Viktor Orban, that nation’s far-right prime minister.

the lone defender of liberal democracy in an age of global strongmen, whether President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia or President Donald J. Trump. Yet Germany was not immune to populist fury, and the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, won seats in Parliament and became a political force in the country’s east.

“The biggest concern in politics for me is that our liberal democracies are coming increasingly under pressure,” Mr. Scholz says about himself on the Social Democrats’ website. “We have to solve the problems so that the cheap slogans of the populists don’t catch.”

a Trump victory. Then he spent months analyzing why the Democrats lost and reading a raft of books by authors from working-class backgrounds in the United States, France and Germany.

“He studied very carefully what happened in the United States,” said Cem Özdemir, a prominent member of the Greens who is a minister in Mr. Scholz’s incoming government. “He studied the losses of the Democrats in the U.S. Why didn’t Hillary win?”

When Mr. Scholz’s own party collapsed in the 2017 election, losing for the fourth time in a row, he wrote an unsparing paper concluding that one reason the Social Democrats had lost their core voters was that they had failed to offer them “recognition.”

cut benefits and undertook a painful overhaul of the labor market from 2003 to 2005 in a bid to bring down a jobless toll that had surpassed five million. Mr. Scholz, then the party’s general secretary, became the public face of the changes.

Unemployment did gradually fall, but the program also helped create a sprawling low-wage sector and prompted many working-class voters to defect from the Social Democrats.

Professor Sandel argues that it was around this time that center-left parties, including the Democrats of President Bill Clinton, embraced the market triumphalism of the right, became more closely identified with the values and interests of the well-educated and began losing touch with working-class voters.

Mr. Scholz, once a fiery young socialist who joined his party as a teenager, defended workers as a labor lawyer in the 1970s before gradually mellowing into a post-ideological centrist. Today he is considered to be to the right of much of the party’s base, not unlike Mr. Biden, with whom he is sometimes compared, even though, like Mr. Biden, he has demonstrated some liberal reflexes.

a three-party government with the progressive Greens and the libertarian Free Democrats. Their governing treaty calls for raising the minimum wage to 12 euros, or about $13.50, an hour, from €9.60 today — an instant pay rise for about 10 million people. Mr. Scholz has also promised to build 400,000 homes a year, 100,000 more than was previously planned, and to guarantee stable pension levels.

More abstract, but equally important, is his promise of another “industrial revolution” that will aim to make Germany a manufacturing power for the carbon-neutral age and provide the economic bedrock for the welfare state of the future.

“We need to tell people two things,” Mr. Scholz said during the campaign. “First, that we need respect, we need good pay and proper recognition for work. And second, we have to ensure that there are good jobs in the future.”

the Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who recently announced her own long-shot presidential bid, has evoked the “respect” theme.

But slogans go only so far. The Social Democrats came in first in the splintered September vote in Germany but mustered only 26 percent of the total, a far cry from the 40 percent they recorded at the start of Mr. Schröder’s first term. Mr. Kühnert, the party’s general secretary, said that Mr. Scholz’s challenge was to show that the Social Democratic model is the right approach for the country and beyond.

“We hope that our election victory in Germany will send a signal for the revival of social democracy internationally,” Mr. Kühnert said. “We’re looking above all to the rest of Europe, because we need to strengthen the E.U. in the next years if we want to have anything to say in the world in coming years.”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.

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World Omicron Fight Hindered by Fragmented Response

ROME — In a wrenchingly familiar cycle of tracking first cases, pointing fingers and banning travel, nations worldwide reacted Monday to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the piecemeal fashion that has defined — and hobbled — the pandemic response all along.

As here-we-go-again fear and resignation gripped much of the world, the World Health Organization warned that the risk posed by the heavily mutated variant was “very high.” But operating once again in a vacuum of evidence, governments chose approaches that differed between continents, between neighboring countries, and even between cities within those countries.

Little is known about Omicron beyond its large number of mutations; it will be weeks, at least, before scientists can say with confidence whether it is more contagious — early evidence suggests it is — whether it causes more serious illness, and how it responds to vaccines.

In China, which had been increasingly alone in sealing itself off as it sought to eradicate the virus, a newspaper controlled by the Communist Party gloated about democracies that are now following suit as Japan, Australia and other countries gave up flirting with a return to normalcy and slammed their borders shut to the world. The West, it said, had hoarded vaccines at the expense of poorer regions, and was now paying a price for its selfishness.

announced that government employees, health care workers and staff and students at most schools must be vaccinated by Jan. 22.

tied to a single soccer team — and Scotland reported six, while the numbers in South Africa continued to soar.

Experts warned that the variant will reach every part of the world, if it hasn’t already.

The leaders of the world’s top powers insisted that they understood this, but their assurances also had a strong whiff of geopolitics.

President Xi Jinping of China offered one billion doses of Covid vaccine to Africa, on top of nearly 200 million that Beijing has already shipped to the continent, during an address to a conference in Senegal by video link.

The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid controlled by the Communist Party, boasted of China’s success in thwarting virus transmission, and said the West was now paying the price for its selfish policies. “Western countries control most of the resources needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic,” it wrote. “But they have failed to curb the spread of the virus and have exposed more and more developing countries to the virus.”

told France Inter radio on Monday that variants would continue to emerge unless richer countries shared more vaccines. “We need a much more systemic approach,” she said.

“zero Covid” strategy.

China has steadfastly kept a high wall against visitors from the rest of the world. Foreign residents and visa holders are allowed in only under limited circumstances, leading to concerns by some within the business world that Covid restrictions were leaving the country increasingly isolated.

Visitors must submit to two-week quarantines upon arrival and face potential limits on their movement after that. Movements are tracked via monitoring smartphone apps, which display color codes that can signal whether a person has traveled from or through an area with recent infections, triggering instructions to remain in one place.

In other parts of Asia, people are less focused on eradicating the virus than just surviving it.

“This news is terrifying,” said Gurinder Singh, 57, in New Delhi, who worried about his shop going under. “If this virus spreads in India, the government will shut the country again, and we will be forced to beg.”

Reporting was contributed by Declan Walsh from Nairobi, Patrick Kingsley from Jerusalem, Carlos Tejada from Seoul, Sameer Yasir from Srinagar, India, Lynsey Chutel from South Africa, Aurelien Breeden from Paris, Elian Peltier and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, Megan Specia from London, Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin, Emma Bubola from Rome and Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva.

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Migrant Crisis in Belarus Tests Putin’s Uneasy Alliance With Lukashenko

MOSCOW — As European governments threatened Belarus with deeper sanctions this week for fomenting the migration crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border, its bombastic leader countered with what sounded like a trump card: he could stop the flow of gas to the West.

There was just one problem: It wasn’t his gas to stop.

So on Friday, Russia — which sends much of its gas to Europe via Belarus — had to set the record straight for the Belarusian president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko.

“Russia was, is and will remain a country that fulfills all of its obligations in supplying European customers with gas,” the spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin told reporters.

With thousands of migrants still stranded in the frigid cold on the edge of the European Union — encouraged by Belarus to go there but barred by Poland, an E.U. member, from crossing its border — the complex relationship between two allied autocrats looms large over the crisis. The mixed messaging over Russia’s natural gas exports was the latest sign that even as Mr. Putin continues to back Mr. Lukashenko, it is the Belarusian leader — a strongman who once ran a Soviet collective farm — who keeps raising the stakes.

the forced landing of a European passenger jet with a Belarusian dissident on board, Mr. Lukashenko seemed to have no choice but to bow to his Kremlin benefactors and to assent to deeper integration with them.

suggested they were ready to “start a conflict.”

several airlines on Friday said they were limiting flights to Belarus from the Middle East, where most of the migrants have traveled from. They include Turkish Airlines, one of the largest carriers to offer flights to Minsk, the Belarusian capital.

At the same time, aid groups described dire conditions for migrants huddled at the border, struggling against the cold and threats of violence. One Iraqi couple and a Syrian man were beaten and robbed, according to the activist coalition Grupa Granica.

The migration crisis comes amid the backdrop of rising tensions between Russia and Belarus’s southern neighbor, Ukraine — a onetime Russian ally that broke away in its pro-Western revolution in 2014. Ukraine’s turn looms large for Moscow, a cautionary tale that the Kremlin is determined not to repeat.

“Putin took Crimea, which is very good, but Putin lost Ukraine,” Mr. Markov, the pro-Kremlin analyst, said. “If he also loses Belarus, he will never be forgiven for it.”

Mr. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, and for years profited from the competition between Russia and the West for influence in his country, provoking deep frustration in Moscow. That game ended last year, when he declared a landslide re-election victory in a vote widely seen as fraudulent, leading the E.U. to impose sanctions that continue to rankle him.

With Mr. Lukashenko’s opponents seen as too pro-Western, the Kremlin backed him despite its reservations — saving Mr. Lukashenko’s regime but saddling Mr. Putin with an ever-more-erratic ally.

In Moscow, many expected the Kremlin’s backing to translate into tighter integration into a “union state” between Russia and Belarus that would have magnified Mr. Putin’s geopolitical sway. But those talks ended earlier this fall without an agreement on a common currency or legislature — signaling that Mr. Lukashenko was able to retain his independence.

Mr. Putin and Mr. Lukashenko, both in their late 60s, share a worldview focused on a two-faced, decadent West. Both have overseen harsh crackdowns on dissent in the last year. The 2020 uprising against Mr. Lukashenko in a neighboring, Russian-speaking country spooked the Kremlin, Russian analysts say, and helped prompt Mr. Putin’s decision to dismantle the movement of the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny.

Mr. Lukashenko’s approach toward migration shows how he has sought to maneuver between Russia and the West. In 2018, he boasted that his country’s border guards were significantly reducing the trafficking of migrants and drugs into the European Union. In recent months, he has swerved the other way, with Western officials saying he has orchestrated a wave of migration through the Minsk airport toward his country’s borders, hoping to embarrass the E.U. into legitimizing him.

On the ground in Minsk, the human toll of that strategy is evident.

When large numbers of asylum seekers began arriving over the summer, a rights activist in Minsk said, they came as part of organized tour groups with reservations at the Yubileyny — a hotel complex operated by the presidential administration of the Republic of Belarus.

Now, they are starting to run out of money, Alena Chekhovich, the activist in Minsk, said in a telephone interview, with some forced to sleep on the street. Others relocated to hostels in the city center, even with expired visas — another sign, Ms. Chekhovich claimed, that the Belarusian government, which typically watches closely for migration violations, was exacerbating the crisis.

Ms. Chekhovich said many migrants who make it from Minsk to the border are basically marooned in makeshift camps there, monitored by Belarusian border guards who prevent them from returning.

“It’s sad that people are ending up in this situation simply because of the actions of the state,” she said.

Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting from Moscow, and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.

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Poland Gets Support From Europe on Tough Borders

BRUSSELS — The migration crisis of 2015, when millions of migrants and asylum seekers surged over Europe’s borders, nearly tore apart the European Union. Many members offered asylum to the refugees; others, like Poland and Hungary, wanted no part of it.

Six years later, the current standoff at the border of Poland and Belarus has echoes of that crisis, but this time, European officials insist that member states are united when it comes to defending Europe’s borders and that uncontrolled immigration is over.

What is different, the Europeans say, is that this crisis is entirely manufactured by the dictator of Belarus, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, as a response to sanctions that the Europeans imposed on his country in the face of a stolen election and a vicious repression of domestic dissent.

“This area between the Poland and Belarus borders is not a migration issue, but part of the aggression of Lukashenko toward Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, with the aim to destabilize the E.U.,” Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs, said in an interview over the summer.

is withholding from Warsaw billions of dollars in funds intended to help economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet in an indication of how seriously Brussels takes the current standoff with Belarus, Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, visited Warsaw on Wednesday to meet with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland to offer solidarity — and even, perhaps, some border funds.

“Poland, which is facing a serious crisis, should enjoy solidarity and unity of the whole European Union,” Mr. Michel said. “It is a hybrid attack, a brutal attack, a violent attack and a shameful attack,” he added. “And in the wake of such measures, the only response is to act in a decisive manner, with unity, in line with our core values.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany called President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, urging him to push Belarus to stop its “inhuman and unacceptable” actions at the Polish border, her spokesman said.

Moscow supports Mr. Lukashenko with money and personnel. Unsurprisingly, the Kremlin said, Mr. Putin told Ms. Merkel that there was nothing he could do and that the European Union should deal directly with Mr. Lukashenko. Which is exactly what Brussels refuses to do.

But the position of Brussels is delicate, presenting the European Union with a three-pronged problem. It must show solidarity about protecting the borders of the bloc, sympathy about the humanitarian crisis unfolding there and firmness about defending the supremacy of European law.

The Europeans can hardly ignore the sight of innocent children, women and men, however manipulated they may have been, in freezing conditions, stuck between Polish border guards and troops and barbed wire, and Belarusian troops. The soldiers will not only prohibit them from returning to Minsk, the Belarusian capital where many are arriving before moving to the border, but are also actively helping them breach the Polish border.

At least 10 people have already died; other estimates are higher, but Poland has barred journalists and nongovernmental organizations from the border area.

In response, Brussels is contemplating a fifth round of sanctions, perhaps as early as Monday, aimed at Belarusian officials and at airlines that are flying migrants from the Middle East to Minsk. But few believe that new sanctions will move Mr. Lukashenko any more than previous ones have done, especially since his efforts are a response to the sanctions already in place.

“This is a very serious crisis for the European Union, not just for Poland,” said Piotr Buras, a Warsaw-based fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s a crisis of security, which could get much worse if Polish and Belarusian guards start shooting, and it’s a very serious humanitarian crisis, because Europe can’t accept people starving and freezing on the border.”

Given the nature of the crisis, Mr. Buras said, Brussels should separate it from the confrontation over the rule of law: “Whatever we may think about the Polish rule of law crisis, the E.U. must act in its own interest.”

But the Polish government, which no longer has a clear majority in Parliament, is itself politically stuck, Mr. Buras said. “The problem is not that the E.U. doesn’t want to help Poland because of the rule of law,” he added. “It’s the other way around — it’s very difficult for this Polish government to accept help from E.U. institutions that they are fighting on another front. And the government wants to present itself as the sole savior and defender of the Polish people.”

The European Union has offered Poland help with its own border guards, known as Frontex, significantly expanded since the 2015 crisis and based in Warsaw, said Camino Mortera-Martinez, a Brussels-based fellow of the Center for European Reform. And Brussels also has asylum support staff members who can help screen migrants to judge their qualifications for asylum.

But Poland has rejected both offers and insists on keeping the border area sealed. One reason is its fight with Brussels and its unwillingness to accept help. Warsaw also does not want the oversight of its actions that Frontex might provide, said Luigi Scazzieri, a research fellow in London who is also at the Center for European Reform.

Nor do Warsaw or Brussels want a screening procedure that will act as a “pull factor” to give Mr. Lukashenko and more migrants the hope that they can get into Europe this way.

“The concern on the government side, and this is why they’re so firm, is that if there is even a process to let people in, this will create a narrative that this is a place where people from Iraq and Syria can be processed into Europe, and the numbers won’t be 4,000, as now, but 30,000,” said Michal Baranowski, the director of the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund.

So policymakers are in a real conundrum for now, Mr. Scazzieri said. In the longer run, he suggested that sanctions against the airlines would reduce the numbers of migrants, and if the borders remained closed and were reinforced further, fewer would risk the journey.

And at some point, he said, Mr. Lukashenko “will understand that too many migrants in Belarus will create domestic problems.”

Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting from Brussels, and Anton Troianovski from Moscow.

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China’s Popular Electric Vehicles Have Put Europe’s Automakers on Notice

FRANKFURT — The name MG used to be synonymous with spirited but finicky sports cars from Britain. Nowadays the iconic octagonal badge serves a different kind of motoring ambition: China’s push to become a big player in the global auto market.

SAIC Motor, one of China’s Big Four automakers, bought the MG brand in 2007 and is stamping it on a line of electric sport utility vehicles on sale in Germany and other European markets. MG is an example of how Chinese carmakers are exploiting the shift to electric cars to challenge the American, European and Japanese carmakers that have long dominated the industry.

The Chinese automakers are arriving as electric cars surge in popularity, accounting for almost 10 percent of new car sales in Western Europe, and consumers are in a mood to buy, with savings built up during the pandemic. At the same time, car manufacturers are cutting back production because of shortages of microprocessors.

MG already has 350 dealers in 16 European countries and is still expanding. Two other Chinese automakers, Nio and BYD, are moving into Europe by way of Norway, the world’s most electrified large car market.

Nio, based in Shanghai, opened a dealership in Oslo at the end of September, the company’s first outlet outside China. BYD, based in Shenzhen, delivered an electric S.U.V. called the Tang, to the first Norwegian customer in August.

Polestar, which is based in Sweden but belongs to Geely Holding of China, has been selling a Chinese-made battery-powered model in Europe and the United States since 2020. And many of the Teslas on European roads were imported from the company’s factory in Shanghai. (That will change once the company finishes building a factory near Berlin.)

Foreign automakers like Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz or General Motors sell millions of cars in China, so they can hardly complain when Chinese automakers encroach on their turf. Even though China is the world’s largest car market, its brands have only a sliver of the international market. Even buyers in China prefer foreign brands, although local carmakers are growing quickly and have captured more than 40 percent of the domestic market.

global semiconductor shortage. The wait time for an MG hybrid is only four weeks, and three months for an all-electric model, “which is pretty much OK compared to other brands right now,” Mr. Stark said.

Waits for many European brands can be much longer, especially for lower-priced models. Carmakers like Renault are allocating scarce chips to higher-end vehicles, which generate more profit.

While the market may be ripe for Chinese electric cars, the political timing may not be so ideal. Many European leaders share their American counterparts’ concern about Chinese trade practices, accusing Beijing of subsidizing companies to give them an unfair advantage in international competition.

are negotiating to form a government that is likely to include the Green Party, which favors a harder line against China than Angela Merkel, the departing chancellor. MG may be particularly vulnerable to concerns about the mingling of government and corporate interests because its parent company, SAIC, is majority owned by the state.

international car show in Munich in September. “Car brands, wherever they are located, have export business.”

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Axel Springer Removes Julian Reichelt After Times Report

Germany’s most powerful newspaper removed its top editor Monday after months of defending his sexual relationships with women in the workplace as the scandal began to envelop the paper’s globally ambitious parent company, Axel Springer.

Bild, a center-right tabloid that has fed popular anger at Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Covid-19 restrictions, dismissed the editor in chief, Julian Reichelt, after The New York Times reported on details of Mr. Reichelt’s relationship with a trainee, who testified during an independent legal investigation that in 2018 he had summoned her to a hotel near the office for sex and asked her to keep a payment secret. Hours after Mr. Reichelt was ousted, the newsmagazine Der Spiegel published allegations that Mr. Reichelt had abused his position to pursue relationships with several women on his staff.

The dismissal marked the belated arrival of the global #MeToo movement at Axel Springer — and it came as the German company is making significant investments in the American market, including its acquisition this summer of Politico for $1 billion. Axel Springer faced pressure in the United States and Germany to explain two recent revelations: What the investigation into Mr. Reichelt’s conduct found, and how the chief executive, Mathias Döpfner, responded to the investigation. In a text message to a friend obtained by The Times, Mr. Döpfner seemed to link the scrutiny of Mr. Reichelt’s behavior to the editor’s divisive politics, casting him as a bulwark against a return of Communist-style oppression in the guise of Covid rules.

The company said in a statement that Mr. Reichelt had “not clearly separated private and professional matters,” and had misled the board. Mr. Döpfner, in a statement, also praised Mr. Reichelt for his journalistic leadership and for launching Bild-Tv, a new television station in the combative style of American cable news. He said Mr. Reichelt’s replacement, Johannes Boie, would combine “journalistic excellence with modern leadership.” Mr. Reichelt has denied abusing his authority, and didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

surge in right-wing European media while capturing a new global online generation. Its acquisition of publications like Politico and Business Insider, which it bought for $442 million in 2015, is a major part of that strategy.

The move to dismiss Mr. Reichelt was a significant reversal for a company that prides itself on standing up to Germany’s more liberal media establishment. Axel Springer had been bracing for reaction from its new American employees to the reports of Mr. Reichelt’s conduct, but two people familiar with the company’s decision Monday said that a furious storm in German media added pressure on Mr. Döpfner to act. German critics blasted the company, in particular, for its role in killing a story by a rival publisher, Ippen, whose journalists said in a letter that they were set to reveal details of Mr. Reichelt’s alleged abuse of power.

“That made the whole story bigger than it was before,” said Moritz Tschermak, the co-author of a recent book about Bild. “Somehow it became not a story about Reichelt and Springer but a story about freedom of the press.”

In an inquiry this spring, the company said it had cleared Mr. Reichelt, who apologized at the time for unspecified “mistakes” and remained in his role. Axel Springer appeared to blame the opaque German legal process in part for its reversal, releasing a statement noting that it learned some details of its own lawyers’ inquiry from the media. The company also said it had learned unspecified new information about Mr. Reichelt’s conduct, and that the editor had misled the company’s board.

Axel Springer also said in its statement that it would take legal action against third parties who it claimed tried to illegally influence the company’s compliance investigation, “apparently with the aim of removing Julian Reichelt from office and damaging Bild and Axel Springer.”

Mr. Döpfner, the chief executive, said in a statement in March. “However, having assessed everything that was revealed as part of the investigation process, we consider a parting of the ways to be inappropriate.”

Mr. Reichelt was reinstated with a co-editor in chief, Alexandra Würzbach, the editor of Bild’s Sunday edition, who had taken over his duties in his absence.

In explaining its decision on Monday to remove Mr. Reichelt as editor, the publisher cited “revelations” about his behavior that had “come to light in recent days, following media reports.”

Pressure built in Germany after Ippen Media, which publishes a group of websites as well as a print competitor to Bild in Munich, decided on Friday to pull its own in-depth investigation into Mr. Reichelt. That revelation, in The Times and then in a letter from Ippen’s own investigative team, outraged reporters in Berlin, leading one to ask Chancellor Merkel’s spokesman at a news conference on Monday whether that decision had raised concerns in the German government that freedom of the press could be in danger. Ms. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, declined to comment.

article published Monday in the magazine Der Spiegel, which first broke the news this spring of the investigation into Mr. Reichelt. The article described Mr. Reichelt as a man “obsessed with power” who had a “pattern” of both promoting and seducing young women at Bild.

His sexual relationships with women on his staff were known in Bild’s office, Der Spiegel reported.

The magazine also raised further questions about Axel Springer’s internal investigation, which had promised anonymity to women who testified. Nonetheless, one of the women received a message from a “confidant” of Mr. Reichelt, urging her not to speak to investigators, Der Spiegel reported.

Germany’s publishing world is dominated by large companies, largely run by men, where reluctance to be seen as criticizing one another runs deep. Ippen cited such a motivation behind its last-minute decision to withhold the report.

The Frankfurter Rundschau, based in Frankfurt am Main, one of the regional newspapers owned by the Ippen Media company that had planned to publish the investigation, ran an editorial on Monday calling the decision damaging to their relationship of trust with their readers.

The German Journalists’ Association criticized Ippen’s decision not to publish the investigation. But journalists discussing the reporting also raised questions about why the world of German publishing had struggled to have its own MeToo reckoning, and why it took attention from American media to prompt this action.

As the German media world focused on the turmoil at Axel Springer, the staff of Politico, whose acquisition by Springer is expected to close as soon as this week, was largely focused elsewhere. Journalists there are considering forming a union, and organizers have set a deadline of this month to gather support.

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A Journey Through Merkel’s Germany: Affluent, Anxious and Almost Normal

As Germany heads into an election that will see Angela Merkel step down after 16 years as chancellor, she leaves behind a country profoundly changed — and anxious about changing more.


STUTTGART, Germany — The small silver star at the tip of Aleksandar Djordjevic’s Mercedes shines bright. He polishes it every week.

Mr. Djordjevic makes combustion engines for Daimler, one of Germany’s flagship carmakers. He has a salary of around 60,000 euros (about $70,000), eight weeks of vacation and a guarantee negotiated by the union that he cannot be fired until 2030. He owns a two-story house and that E-class 250 model Mercedes in his driveway.

All of that is why Mr. Djordjevic polishes the star on his car.

“The star is something stable and something strong: It stands for Made in Germany,” he said.

But by 2030 there will be no more combustion engines at Daimler — or people making combustion engines.

parental leave in Catholic Bavaria. The married gay couple raising two children outside Berlin. The woman in a hijab teaching math in a high school near Frankfurt, where most students have German passports but few have German parents.

successive crises and left others unattended, there was change that she led and change that she allowed.

phase out nuclear power in Germany. She ended compulsory military service. She was the first chancellor to assert that Islam “belongs” to Germany. When it came to breaking down her country’s and party’s conservative family values, she was more timid but ultimately did not stand in the way.

Konrad Adenauer anchored Germany in the West. Willy Brandt reached across the Iron Curtain. Helmut Kohl, her onetime mentor, became synonymous with German unity. Gerhard Schröder paved the way for the country’s economic success.

Ms. Merkel’s legacy is less tangible but equally transformative. She changed Germany into a modern society — and a country less defined by its history.

She may be remembered most for her decision to welcome over a million refugees in 2015-16 when most other Western nations rejected them. It was a brief redemptive moment for the country that had committed the Holocaust and turned her into an icon of liberal democracy.

“It was a sort of healing,” said Karin Marré-Harrak, the headmaster of a high school in the multicultural city of Offenbach. “In a way we’ve become a more normal country.”

lingering inequality between East and West three decades after reunification is still evident, even though taxpayers’ money has flowed east and things have gradually improved. With the government planning to phase out coal production by 2038, billions more in funding are promised to help compensate for the job losses.

But as Mike Balzke, a worker at the nearby coal plant in Jänschwalde, put it: “We don’t want money — we want a future.”

Mr. Balzke recalled his optimism when Ms. Merkel first became chancellor. Because she was an easterner and a scientist, he expected her to be an ambassador for the East — and for coal.

Instead, his village lost a quarter of its population during her chancellorship. A promised train line from Forst to Berlin was never built. The post office shut down.

Mr. Balzke, 41, worries that the region will turn into a wasteland.

That anxiety runs deep. And it deepened again with the arrival of refugees in 2015.

was up in arms, but only a decade later, it has become the new normal.

Ms. Merkel never backed same-sex marriage outright, but she allowed lawmakers to vote for it, knowing that it would go through.

Mr. Winkler left the party again in 2019 after Ms. Merkel’s successor as conservative leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, disparaged same-sex marriage. But he acknowledged his debt to the chancellor.

On June 30, 2017, the day of the vote, he wrote her a letter.

“It is a pity that you could not support opening marriage to same-sex couples,” he wrote. “Still, thank you that you ultimately made today’s decision possible.”

Then he invited her to visit his family, “to see for yourself.”

She never replied. But he and his family used to live just around the corner from Ms. Merkel, who never gave up her apartment in central Berlin. They would see her occasionally in the supermarket checkout line.

“There she was with toilet paper in her basket, going shopping like everyone else,” Mr. Winkler’s partner, Roland Mittermayer, recalled. Even after 16 years, they are still trying to figure the chancellor out.

“She is an enigma,” Mr. Winkler said. “She’s a bit like the queen — someone who has been around for a long time, but you never feel you really know her.”

Six hours northwest of Berlin, past endless green fields dotted with wind farms and a 40-minute ferry ride off the North Sea coast, lies Pellworm, a sleepy island where the Backsen family has been farming since 1703.

Two years ago, they took Ms. Merkel’s government to court for abandoning its carbon-dioxide emission targets under the Paris climate accord. They lost, but then tried again, filing a complaint at the constitutional court.

This time they won.

“It’s about freedom,” said Sophie Backsen, 23, who would like to take over her father’s farm one day.

Sophie’s younger brothers, Hannes, 19, and Paul, 21, will vote for the first time on Sunday. Like 42 percent of first-time voters, they will vote for the Greens.

“If you look at how our generation votes, it’s the opposite of what you see in the polls,” Paul said. “The Greens would be running the country.”

Pellworm is flush with the sea level and in parts even below it. Without a dike ringing the coastline, it would flood regularly.

“When you have permanent rain for three weeks, the island fills up like a bath tub inside the dikes,” Hannes said.

The prospect of rising sea levels is an existential threat here. “This is one of the most important elections,” Hannes said. “It’s the last chance really to get it right.”

“If not even a country like Germany can manage this,” he added, “what chance do we stand?”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.

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