DIE WELT
Die Welt ("The World") is a German daily founded in Hamburg in 1946, and currently owned by the Axel Springer AG company, Europe's largest publishing house. Now based in Berlin, Die Welt is sold in more than 130 countries. A Sunday edition called Welt am Sonntag has been published since 1948.
Geopolitics
Alfred Hackensberger, Sebastian Backhaus, Ricardo Vilanova

Ghosts Of Defeat Inside Deserted NATO Base In Afghanistan

The new Taliban commander shows reporters from Die Welt around the deserted Camp Marmal, the German army's former headquarters in Afghanistan.

Fries, beer and barbecued meat. That's what was on the menu every year when the German troops stationed at Camp Marmal celebrated German Unity Day. "That was always a special day," remembers Mohammed Sayed (names have been changed to protect identities), who worked as an interpreter for the German army.

"It was a big celebration," he says, with a wistful look. "Ambassadors from other countries came to visit, as well as governors from various provinces in Afghanistan." This year, at Camp Marmal near the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, there was no Oct. 3 holiday celebration in sight.

Taliban current appeasement with West

On June 29, the German army finally withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving their largest military base, at the foot of the Hindu Kush, deserted. It was only two weeks before the Taliban took it over.

"During this time, when the base wasn't guarded, all the machinery was looted," says Taliban commander Abdullah Sajjad. The 30-year-old is now responsible for security on the former German base. He has a long beard and wears loose white clothing, a black vest and a black turban, which denotes his leadership role.

"Today," he says, "the camp is absolutely secure."

Journalists from Die Welt were among the first foreign press allowed to visit Camp Marmal, which was a key outpost for NATO operations in Afghanistan since 2005. "Our leaders have told us to treat you well," explains Sajjad. "You are now our friends, our brothers, who will always be welcome."

The Taliban have adopted this policy of appeasement so as not to frighten off the U.S. and Europe, with Afghanistan in urgent need of financial help from the West. The radical Islamists are putting on a moderate front, but behind the scenes their stranglehold is growing. They are reintroducing the punishment of chopping off hands. Girls are not allowed to go to school, while women are only allowed to work in exceptional circumstances.

Yet among the Taliban fighters at Camp Marmal, we can also feel a certain resentment with their reluctance to shake hands with us, the infidels.

Camp Marmal in Mazar-i-Sharif

Gregor Fischer/ZUMA

Frozen in time

Driving through the long, wide streets, the former German military base feels like a ghost town. A strange quiet reigns, broken now and again by birdsong, dogs barking or one of the few planes taking off or landing at the neighboring Mazar-i-Sharif airport.

Inside the buildings, everything is as the German army left it. The slow cookers in the kitchen are spotless. The chairs in the canteen are neatly stacked on the tables. The dinner trays have been cleaned and wrapped in cling wrap.

Tidied up, with typical German thoroughness.

If it weren't for the thick layer of dust on everything, you could be forgiven for thinking the German soldiers were about to return as soon as the lights are turned on. It is incredible how precisely everything has been tidied up, with typical German thoroughness. It looks like they wanted to hand the base over to its next occupants as smoothly as possible.

In the administration building, the keys are laid out in envelopes, carefully numbered and labeled. In the mailroom, empty containers bearing the German post emblem wait for new letters and packages. Cupboards hold printer cartridges, still in their original packaging. On the conference room tables, water bottles are carefully arranged in threes, next to whiteboard pens organized by color.

"Please clean up your rubbish at the end of the meeting," says the notice on the board, in German and English. In one room in the administration building, a large box lies on its side, with stationery strewn across the floor. "That wasn't us," Commander Sajjad assures us. "We haven't touched anything here."

Aerial view of the Afghan city Mazar-i-Sharif

Marko Beljan via Unsplash

Billiard and roulette tables

On the base, there was plenty for the German soldiers to do in their free time. For security reasons, they weren't allowed to leave the base on personal trips, but they could play billiards, table tennis or foosball in the common rooms. If you draw back the curtains in the casino, you can see boxes of gambling chips for roulette.

Long-conserve food packaging lies on the floor — goulash with sour cream, tuna with lime and pepper. Above the bar is a drinks list written in chalk on the green board: there is everything from an espresso to a latte, Coke to Red Bull, Budweiser to König Ludwig Dunkel beer. The prices are very cheap. A coffee costs 60 or 70 cents, Fanta and Sprite are 40 cents. The most expensive beer costs 80 cents. Not exactly a stretch for soldiers who were paid a generous foreign service allowance, which made serving in Afghanistan attractive for many.

The gym at Camp Marmal is huge. Any soldier who found it too hot to exercise outside in summer could come here and enjoy the air conditioning. There are machines to work every muscle group: legs, biceps, chest, shoulders, stomach, glutes.

The Taliban members lift a few of the weights, just for fun. Throughout their 20-year guerrilla war against NATO and the Afghan government, they've never seen this kind of equipment.

German Armed Forces in Afghanistan

Maurizio Gambarini/ZUMA

Betrayal and abandonment

Camp Marmal is a symbol of a reality that still feels ungraspable, although it's already been consigned to history. The West has lost its fight against fundamentalist Islam and turned its back on Afghanistan and its people. But their forces have left behind so many traces that it looks like they could return tomorrow.

Mohammed, the interpreter for the German army, is torn. He still can't accept that they have left. He feels let down by people he saw as comrades and friends. They abandoned him to the Taliban, who've started hunting down locals who worked with NATO troops. He is only one of many hundreds who worked for the German army and have been left behind in Afghanistan.

"I get threatening phone calls in the middle of the night. I'm scared," says Mohammed. He feels that the German army has left him to fend for himself. "Betrayed, that's the word," he says,.

Geopolitics
Stefan Schocher

Sebastian Kurz: Victim Of Pandemic, And His Own Ego

The rise and fall of 35-year-old Sebastian Kurz was breathtaking in any context. Yet the resignation of the Austrian chancellor offers unique insights into a political scenario that was very much of our COVID times.

VIENNA — Sebastian Kurz is used to being popular. When he was re-elected as Federal Chairman of his party's youth organization in 2012, he received 100% of the votes. And that was exactly the bar against which he, along with all those who basked in his glow, have measured success in the decade since.

Kurz won 99.4% of the votes at the conservative ÖVP party congress this past August. Such a phenomenon might be common in authoritarian regimes, but is rare in a European democracy.

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Geopolitics
Klaus Geiger

Germany Weighs Coalition Of Conservatives And Greens

Austria's conservative-green coalition, though currently facing a crisis linked to corruption allegations, has been cited as a possible model for Germany's current post-election talks to form a new government. Could there be a logic to pairing the center-right CDU and the Greens in Berlin?

-Analysis-

BERLIN — It was late September, 2019. Austria's elections had just taken place and the political parties, which had attacked each other throughout their campaigns, suddenly started talking, sounding each other out about joining forces. Three months later, on New Year's Day, a coalition government was formed, an alliance between the Austrian People's Party and the Greens.

Before the elections, the Greens' left-wing base was adamant they would never sell their soul to the devil by forming a coalition with their arch-enemy Sebastian Kurz, the man who had previously governed alongside the right-wing nationalist Freedom Party of Austria.

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Economy
Martina Meister

Post-Merkel, Macron And Draghi Will Try To Ease Europe's Debt Rules

Coalition negotiations in Berlin will make for a period of political uncertainty that French President Emmanuel Macron is keen to exploit. He already has a new Italian partner, with whom he wants to steer the EU in a new direction.

-Analysis-

BERLIN — In the coming weeks — perhaps even months — a power vacuum will reign in Berlin. But just like their colleagues in the world of science, political observers know that nature abhors a vacuum. It's just a matter of time, in other words, until the void is filled.

Does Germany's recent election mark the end of the country's leadership role in the European Union? Current coalition negotiations — which seem likely to drag on for some time — will force Berlin and Brussels to press pause. Others, in the meantime, won't be inclined to just sit quietly by and wait.

French President Emmanuel Macron sees himself as the natural leader of an EU that has lost the center of gravity that Merkel long provided. Even while her chancellorship was nearing its end, Macron was already preparing to take over the EU Council presidency, which begins in January and coincides with France's own elections.

Italy won't replace Germany

The Elysée Palace is already drawing up Macron's European report card. They recently pointed out that more than half of the 60 proposals the French president put forward in his speech at the Sorbonne in September 2017 have come to fruition.

"That speech formed the backbone of our European policy," says one of Macron's advisers.

Macron will not be alone when he takes on this new leadership role. He has found an ally in Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, so much so that, when Draghi was elected earlier this year, the Financial Times speculated about "the EU's new power couple." They spoke of a new power axis between Rome and Paris, to replace the current driving forces of Germany and France. After "Mercron," can we now expect a "Dracron" axis?

Photo of Angela Merkel with flags behind her

July 2, 2019 - Bruxelles, Belgium - Angela Merkel

Panoramic/ZUMA

Draghi will play a key role

Former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has also spoken of a "key role" for Rome and Paris. "At this stage of the power vacuum, the leadership role within the EU will fall to Macron and Mario Draghi," he said in an interview this past Sunday.

Dominique Moïsi, a French political scientist from the think tank Institut Montaigne, sees things a little differently. "Draghi is a kind of star and he will play a key role, but Italy won't replace Germany," he says.

Another politician who sees this as an "opportune moment" to be seized is Sandro Gozi. In his former role as the Italian government's under-secretary for European affairs, Gozi was tasked with negotiating the Quirinal Treaty, a bilateral agreement between Italy and France, modeled on the 1963 Elysée Treaty between France and West Germany and named after the Quirinal Palace in Rome, one of the three official residences of the Italian President.

That was at a difficult time in Franco-Italian relations, as Luigi Di Maio, Italy's then deputy prime minister, visited France to show support for the yellow vest protesters. The Quirinal Treaty was put on ice and Gozi switched sides, becoming a European advisor at the Elysée Palace. Now he is a member of the European Parliament, representing France.

Draghi's election victory was a stroke of luck for Macron.

"No one in Rome or Paris wants to replace the Franco-German axis, but within the EU we need to strengthen other relationships that complement it and establish new synergies," said Gozi in an interview with Die Welt. He is convinced that "the transformation of the EU will be based on three powers: Germany, France and Italy."

Draghi and Macron looking beyond Maastricht

One thing is certain: Draghi's election victory was a stroke of luck for Macron. In early September, the two had dinner together at a three-star restaurant in Marseille to celebrate Draghi's birthday. They have a lot in common: Both are staunchly pro-Europe, ex-bankers, skilled negotiators and convinced that relaxing the EU's strict national debt policies is unavoidable.

Both were among the signatories, furthermore, of a letter published in the early days of the pandemic in which nine European countries called for a "common debt instrument," which soon became central to discussions around the stability pact.

But Draghi and Macron want to go beyond Next Generation EU, the post-covid economic recovery fund. They think the Maastricht Treaty is no longer fit for purpose and believe that economic and political progress within the EU will only be made possible by relaxing rules around national debt. As the former head of the European Central Bank, which reformed the EU's monetary policy, Draghi seems almost predestined for this role.

With Italy holding the G20's rotating presidency this year, both Draghi and Macron are — or soon will be — in positions of power on the world stage. Rome and Paris hope to finally sign the ambitious Quirinal Treaty before the end of this year.

Gozi believes that close cooperation between France and Italy will ensure these issues will be at the top of the EU's agenda. "It's a response to difficult geopolitical demands," he says.

Economy
Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

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Geopolitics
Matthias Kamann

German Election: How Far-Right AfD Hit Its Ceiling

Germany's anti-immigrant far-right party has so far been unable to benefit from the decline of the Merkel's CDU party and find new voters.

BERLIN — When the results of the German federal election arrive Sunday, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party should have something to celebrate: the party, which has made nationalist, anti-immigration rhetoric a staple of its electoral program, could become the leading political party in the states of Thuringia and Saxony. In addition, the party is likely to elect several members of Parliament in the two states.

Security is also a major concern.

And yet, increasingly, we say that every AfD gain is relative. While the AfD may be making small gains in some German states, its share of the vote is poised to decrease compared to the last federal election in 2017. In nationwide polling surveys, the party has been stuck between 10-12% for months: While the ruling CDU hemorrhages voters as it seeks to build its future after the departure of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the far-right doesn't seem to have been able to exploit the opportunity. Its modest advances are largely happening in places that were already party strongholds, like Saxony and Thuringia.

There are a few bright spots for the party, and some individual politicians stand to benefit from the situation. Among the issues exploited is the fear of rules targeting those who haven't been vaccinated against COVID-19, and the perception that any criticism of policy to address climate change is immediately is discredited as "climate denial." Security is also a major concern.

But such opinions are not very widespread in most German states, where the AfD has remained weak and struggles to attract disenchanted CDU voters. This federal election could have been a chance for the far-right party to extend beyond their core voters and make a difference nationwide, but it appears that leaders Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla are heading for failure.

Completely removed from the rest of the party spectrum, the AfD is not benefiting from the decline of Merkel's CDU. In surveys, the party that seems to be taking advantage of the shift is the center-left SPD, not the AfD, not even in its traditional strongholds in East Germany.

Bundestag candidate Georg Pazderski — Photo: Sandro Halank

Georg Pazderski, a former AfD group leader in the Berlin House of Representatives and currently running for the Bundestag in the German capital, agrees that the party's needle is not budging this election. Pazderski says his party is too dependent on pre-existing opinions. The fact that AfD is significantly stronger in East Germany than in West Germany is "not because our West German politicians are offering worse policies or addressing citizens less well," he told Die Welt. "But we have to take note of the fact that in East Germany the basic willingness to vote for the AfD is higher than in West Germany."

The AfD can only advance in Germany if it makes sure it is perceived as a constructive political force.

This is also the experience in Berlin, where the party fares much better in the eastern part of the city than in the west, "although we are making the same bourgeois conservative politics throughout the city."

According to Pazderski, the AfD can only advance in Germany if it makes sure it is perceived as a constructive political force. In other words, people should understand "that it will be able to form a government coalition in the next few years, making conservative majorities a possibility against the shift to the left."

Lenk, who was born in 1982 and is not part of the more extremist currents in the Saxon AfD, considers the party's benefit from the downfall of the CDU to be dependent on it "not appearing rowdy or populist, but rather as a solid alternative with objective arguments."

Some candidates did try this in this election campaign. There were nationwide attempts in May when Bundestag member Joana Cotar and former Bundeswehr Lieutenant General Joachim Wundrak applied for their party's top candidacy. "Elections are won shifting to the center," Wundrak said at the time in an interview with Welt. "There, we want to tap into groups of voters who have not yet voted AfD."

But the centrist push was defeated by the party's current leaders Weidel and Chrupalla, and their attempt to find new voters has been a failure so far. Chrupalla has doubled down on the party's radical anti-immigration stance with posters saying "Zero Asylum in Germany!" in his constituency of Görlitz, the Eastern Saxon town where he is likely to defend his seat. Weidel, too, has repeatedly reinforced her adversarial resolve against and fundamental distance from majority voters: just this August, she called Germany a "hippie state" for not introducing new limits on the right of refugees to claim asylum. "This society is so crazy," she said.

Economy
Daniel Eckert

Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

Geopolitics
Klaus Geiger and Christoph B. Schiltz

Afghan Refugee Crisis: Why Merkel Closed Her Open Border

The Syrian refugee crisis in 2015 ignited a bitter rivalry between Germany's Angela Merkel and Austria's Sebastian Kurz. Merkel was in favor of a "culture of welcome," while Kurz argued for border protection. But with the current Afghan refugee crisis, the German leader is shifting course.

-OpEd-

BERLIN — Six years ago, the now outgoing German Chancellor,Angela Merkel argued that borders cannot be divided by walls. That was on Oct. 26, 2015. Her future Austrian counterpart, Sebastian Kurz, disagreed. "It's simply not true to claim that it doesn't work," he said in an Austrian radio interview. "The question is whether we want to do it or not."

It was the first time the Austrian chancellor, at that time foreign minister, had openly contradicted Merkel. Kurz went on to say that it was "hypocritical" to give Turkey money for border protection and "at the same time make grand statements about humanity." He said Merkel should "be honest" about her stance.

Here was a 29-year-old politician openly accusing the most powerful national leader in Europe of hypocrisy and dishonesty. It was the start of a long-running battle that centered on different views about what the values of a conservative party should be. A battle that is suddenly heating up again.

In the past it was Syria. Now it's Afghanistan.

Last week, Sebastian Kurz made what will probably be his last visit to the departing German chancellor. The subject of their discussions was once again how to deal with refugees. In the past it was Syria. Now it's Afghanistan.

"Austria has taken on more than its fair share of Afghan refugees," said Kurz as he stood next to Merkel in Berlin. "Relative to our population, we have the fourth largest Afghan community in the world."

A quiet convergence

Kurz is not playing politics with the German chancellor. His view on accepting refugees from Afghanistan is well known. For weeks now, every time Kurz has stood before a microphone, he has said the same thing: no Afghan refugees in Austria, or in Europe, whether they arrive there themselves or are taken as part of a quota. He has argued for helping refugees within Afghanistan or its neighboring countries, and sending any refugees who arrive in Europe back to the region.

In his interview in October 2015, he was already arguing for a system "where asylum seekers can make their applications in their country of origin or countries they are passing through, outside of the European Union."

His stance has been unwavering. Instead, it's Angela Merkel who has been edging gradually closer to Kurz's position. While in 2015 and 2016 she consistently argued for "solidarity" in accepting quotas of refugees in Europe. Now Merkel is speaking about deportation and protecting the EU's borders.

The two politicians, who also clashed during the Syrian refugee crisis, now seem to be aligned. Merkel is not contradicting Kurz at all. Like him, she says that the EU should provide funds to help people stay in Afghanistan — that they need to look after the 550,000 or so internally displaced people within Afghanistan and protect them from a possible famine. Meanwhile, conversations with neighboring countries about accepting refugees are ongoing.


People evacuated from Afghanistan waiting in a hangar at Ramstein Air Base in Germany — Photo: Uwe Anspach/dpa/ZUMA Press

Merkel is employing two strategies: First, she is narrowing down the question. For the moment she has said that she is focusing on the "10,000 to 40,000" local staff, although UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has said that the internally displaced persons in Afghanistan are the biggest problem.

Second, Merkel is playing for time when it comes to the refugees who want to travel to Europe. "We have not yet reached a decision" about quotas for the resettlement of those entitled to protection in Europe, she says. "We will only be able to answer that question when we see how many people leave Afghanistan." That will depend on conditions under the Taliban.

The EU is struggling to establish a joint asylum policy — resettlement will be decided at national level.

The resettlement question has already sparked conflict within the EU. The European Commission has asked member states to declare by mid-September how many refugees they can accept — not only Afghans, but generally. In total, all member countries only promised 30,000 places for 2020 and 2021. Luxembourg's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, was the first European politician to name a special figure for Afghans, saying the EU should accept 40,000 to 50,000 people.

German Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer (CSU) was quick to reject Asselborn's proposal. "Luxembourg takes on very few refugees, and it should consider the interests of those countries that accept the bulk of refugees a little more closely," he said. The EU is currently struggling to establish a joint asylum policy — resettlement numbers will be decided at national level.

Mum's the word

Since Kurz first came to power in 2017, Austria has no longer taken part in resettlement programs. Greece and Slovenia have announced that they will not accept any Afghans. Countries such as the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Portugal and Spain, however, have said they will take a quota, although as yet no one has named a concrete figure.

Then there are those who make their own way by land to Europe. During the Syrian refugee crisis, Germany accepted more than a million people who arrived this way. But although these people were at the heart of Angela Merkel's culture of welcome six years ago, she is now remaining silent about them.

Turkey is building a wall along its border with Iran, in order to keep Afghans out. Greece is building a wall on its land border with Turkey and returning migrants it picks up on the water to Turkey, although that is against EU law. And so far, Angela Merkel is saying nothing.

Geopolitics
Christian Putsch

Ethiopia's Civil War: Ethnic Atrocities Recall Balkans

Reports of torture, murder and gang rape are emerging from the civil war in northern Ethiopia. The conflict has spread across the country and an imminent collapse seems likely, spreading across the region. Now Turkey is also getting involved.

The news reaching the international community from the civil war in Ethiopia is deeply shocking. According to Amnesty International, many women in the Tigray region, where fighting is ongoing, say they have been imprisoned for weeks and gang-raped multiple times, sometimes in the presence of family members. They say some of the perpetrators assaulted them with nails and rocks.

These accusations are overwhelmingly directed at Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers who are fighting the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) for power in Ethiopia's northernmost state. At first, the Ethiopian government dismissed the accusations as "propaganda," but now the Ministry of Women's Affairs admits there is "no doubt" that rapes have taken place.

On the other side, militias close to self-declared liberators the TPLF are also believed to have committed atrocities. They have been repeatedly accused of murdering hundreds of members of the Amhara ethnic group, who have been fighting supporters of the militia for centuries for control of relatively fertile farming regions.

The conflict has spread across the country like wildfire. Ethiopia's central government has not succeeded in removing the TPLF from power for any length of time. Government troops have been driven out of the most important cities in Tigray. The militia is distributing video footage of thousands of soldiers being humiliated and degraded, to make sure everyone in the country gets the message.

The war threatens its very existence.

In terms of population, Ethiopia is the second largest country in Africa. Now it is caught up in a war on multiple fronts, a war that threatens its very existence. Thousands of people have been killed and almost two million citizens have been driven out of their homes. The TPLF has made gains in the eastern region of Afar, through which the main routes to neighboring Djibouti pass, a vital lifeline for a landlocked country such as Ethiopia.

Refugees draw water from a well in the Somalia region, Ethiopia — Photo: Kay Nietfeld/DPA/ZUMA Press

Beyond the northern regions of Tigray and Amhara, fighting has increasingly spread to the state of Oromia – the most populous in Ethiopia – where the rebel group Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) is making advances. It is threatening to block trade routes to Kenya and has announced a military alliance with the TPLF.

One consequence is that the country has been vulnerable to famine for decades. Not least because, according to credible reports from aid organizations, Ethiopia is blocking food supplies to contested regions – although the government officially denies this. The weakened government and the rebel groups are both calling on civilians to arm themselves. Longstanding tensions between ethnic and tribal groups in Ethiopia are escalating.

The TPLF's main aim is to remove Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed from power. Ethiopia, often seen as a shining light of stability in the Horn of Africa, seems at risk of collapse. Observers are already comparing the situation to the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the Balkan Wars in the 1990s.

Ethiopia's constitution explicitly allows the secession of individual states. While Abiy is seeking to expand the central government's influence, there are growing calls for regional self-determination. Once again the model of ethnic federalism seems likely to collapse, as it did in South Sudan.

People waiting in line to gather water during the Siege of Sarajevo, 1992 — Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev

This seems especially likely because the Ethiopian system has been based on pure power calculation from the start. Only 6% of the Ethiopian population are Tigrayan. However, as early as the 1980s, the influential TPLF militia fought the communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam (known as the Black Stalin), and after he was removed from power in 1991 the ethnic minority gained political dominance.

In order to gain support among much larger ethnic groups such as the Oromo (which represents around 34% of the population) they set up a federal system with nine states. In theory, at least, the main people groups of Ethiopia were supposed to be fairly represented.

However, in practice, the TPLF was overrepresented in leadership positions nationwide. Three years ago, ethnic tensions and dissatisfaction about infrastructure projects that didn't take the interests of local people groups into account boiled over, and they could no longer keep them under control through their ever more authoritarian government.

Ethnic tensions have boiled over.

At first the current Prime Minister Abiy seemed like an ideal candidate who would be able to calm unrest without significant losses for the ruling elite: a young, dynamic representative of the large, dissatisfied Oromo people group.

But the Tigrayans miscalculated. Their influence waned as the new Prime Minister introduced rapid pan-Ethiopian reforms. While Abiy received the Nobel Peace Prize for the apparent easing of tensions with Eritrea, the TPLF felt it had been cheated, as the longstanding border conflict, which had seen thousands of deaths, was concentrated on the Tigray region.

The reaction from Turkey shows how important the ramifications of the current conflict will be on the world stage. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised military support to Ethiopia. That may be badly received in Egypt and puts the recently reopened discourse between Cairo and Ankara at risk.

There is a long-running dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the latter's decision to fill up a reservoir behind a dam on the Nile, which could significantly reduce water supply to Egypt. Due to the Tigray crisis, this potential military conflict over water seems almost forgotten. But its effects will be no less devastating.

Geopolitics
Daniel-Dylan Böhmer

"We Can't Rule Alone" - New Taliban Leaders Speak

Reporter Daniel-Dylan Böhmer of Die Welt gained exclusive access to key Taliban officials in Kabul, and visited the heavily armed security forces at the airport, to get a sense of what Afghanistan's future may hold.

KABUL — At the gates of Kabul Airport, piles of clothing lie in the dusty wind. People fleeing the Taliban were forced to leave them behind. On the runway stands Qari Farhad Fateh, 30. He has the beard and long hair of a Taliban fighter, and is wearing a pillaged American uniform.

The heavy military jeeps lined up on the asphalt are also from U.S. stock. When asked how important this equipment is for his unit, the commander says not what they will be used for, but what they have cost: "Yes, the Humvees are important for our operations. They were won with the blood of our brothers."

The commander took his third name from that of his unit — Fateh, the conqueror. In the decades-long war against the Afghan government and NATO troops, the Fateh unit carried out suicide attacks. What about the innocent civilians who were killed in such attacks?

"I am not authorized to speak about that," he says. In welcoming 70 new recruits to secure the airport, he is pushing a different message: "The fighting is over. Now the important thing is to secure peace."

No one knows what will become of Afghanistan. The radical Islamist Taliban have driven out the most powerful nations in the world and for the second time in three decades they have the opportunity to establish a new state. But what kind of state will that be?

In the former Ministry of Interior Affairs, now renamed the Ministry for Peace, Ahmadullah Ahmadzai, 38, directs a somewhat embarrassed smile at the calendar on his table. It's from the now defeated republic, and the photo for this week shows, among others, former vice president of the Afghan National Assembly Fawzia Koofi, one of the most prominent women's rights campaigners in the country.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid announcing Afghanistan's new government — Photo: Saifurahman Safi/Xinhua via ZUMA Press

"When we moved in here, we were given instructions not to destroy anything or move anything," says Ahmadzai. "We stuck by that."

A legacy of brutality

The Ministry's declared aim is reconciliation within Afghan society. Ahmadzai says they are contacting ministers and generals from the former regime and calling on them to make peace with the Taliban emirate. A few have accepted their overtures of friendship.

"We tell them very openly that we can't rule Afghanistan alone," he says. "We want all sectors of society to be involved — except for politicians who were corrupt or have blood on their hands."

Ahmadzai insists that the call for reconciliation is sincere. There is no other way to solve the country's problems: unemployment, supply issues, lack of money. Afghanistan needs some success stories now.

But are the Taliban capable of reconciliation? In the 90s, their regime was infamous for its draconian punishments — cutting off hands and heads, public executions in football stadiums; for excluding women and children from the workplace, the public sphere and education; and for their ruthless suppression of critics.

But the Taliban have also suffered. If you talk to their members, you hear stories of families who have lost six, seven, eight sons in the fighting, and of mothers, sisters and children who were killed by American drone strikes. Is it possible to issue a decree calling for peace after decades of brutality on both sides?

The Taliban's greatest enemy is distrust — that of the international community and the Afghan population.

"That is a good question," says Ahmadzai. "When we fighters talk amongst ourselves, those who are religious scholars often cite an example from the life of the prophet. Mohammed was driven out of Mecca and pursued by troops from the city for a long time. When he eventually returned to the city victorious, he treated his former enemies as brothers."

Ahmadzai says the Taliban has no plans to reintroduce hudud, the Koranic punishments that include mutilation and execution.

So far none of the nightmare scenarios that some feared when the Taliban regained power have come to pass. There have been a few scattered reports of arbitrary attacks on the population, forced marriages and abductions. But the militia's advance was not accompanied by mass shootings, at least according to independent Afghan investigators who have looked into these isolated reports.

There are also no signs that hudud is being reintroduced. Shortly after taking Kabul, the Taliban announced that women and children would be allowed to continue to work and attend school in the future, within the context of Islamic sharia law. But there are many possible interpretations of what this will mean.

'The people's choice'

Even staunchly secular Afghan experts recognize in the Taliban's current leadership a younger generation that is more modern in its thinking and behavior, a generation that wants to give the movement a new image. Perhaps the most important representative of this generation is Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.

Before the interview begins, Mujahid says his evening prayer in one of the hotel's rooms. "According to sharia, men and women have equal rights," says Mujahid. "But women also have the right to be protected from harassment and psychological or physical pressure in the workplace. And that means that men's and women's spheres should be separated. It means that we should create a context in which women can work without being put at risk."

He says that under the previous government there were many complaints of harassment in the workplace. But if women have equal rights, shouldn't they be allowed to decide for themselves how they would like to be protected?

"It is the government's responsibility to protect women," he answers. Mujahid claims it was the people's choice to introduce sharia law, and that Afghans support the Taliban. "How else would we have managed to take back the country in 10 days?"

The Taliban spokesman says the most important thing for Afghanistan now is reconciliation and wellbeing, and that the government wants to boost the economy and create more jobs. To achieve this it will need help from the international community, including Germany.

"We want to have strong, official diplomatic relations with Germany," says Mujahid. "The Germans have always been welcome in Afghanistan. They did a lot of good in the country, in the time of the Shah. Unfortunately they then joined the Americans, but that's forgiven now."

Qari Fasihuddin, Chief of Army Staff of Taliban government — Photo: Salampix/Abaca via ZUMA Press

He says the new Taliban government will look to Germany and other countries for financial support, humanitarian aid and cooperation in health, agriculture and training.

Mujahid knows that the international community will make respecting human rights a condition of any aid. That is why many onlookers suspect the Taliban is merely pretending to have changed its ways. Experts say that alongside the more moderate members, there are still of course hardliners in the movement, whose influence is particularly strong on young, less educated fighters in the provinces.

The moderate approach, if it's sincere, will be judged by the changes on the ground. The Taliban's greatest enemy is distrust — that of the international community and the Afghan population. Many women we spoke to in Afghanistan fear renewed discrimination, and despite the Taliban's assurances that freedom of speech will be protected, none of the Afghan women's rights activists we contacted were prepared to go on record.

Afghans who are critical of the Taliban are reluctant to speak to foreign media. At the same time, many others welcome the Taliban's promise to restore order and stability. On Saturday, a demonstration of around a dozen women near the presidential palace was quickly shut down by Taliban security forces.

Evening in Kabul. The shops are open. In the city center there are women out and about, most wearing headscarves rather than the full burka. A group of Taliban members walk down one of the main streets, leading two men whose hands are tied together. They keep their heads down, ashamed. One is accused of stealing a car, the other of selling drugs.

"They will now be tried in an Islamic court!" calls out the young Taliban member walking behind them. Passers-by film the scene on their phones. We could ask them what they make of it, but would we really get an honest answer with Taliban members holding Kalashnikovs hovering nearby?

The Taliban have promised true security, but that doesn't exist without basic freedoms. Whether the Taliban will accept that remains to be seen.

Coronavirus
Melanie Loos, with contributions from Tobias Kaiser and Maximilian Kalkhof

Vaccine Hoarding: The False Promise Of Global Herd Immunity

Developed countries have promised to supply poorer countries with vaccines, but so far Europe is lagging behind in donations. With pure politics determining which countries receive vaccines, the broken vow is a threat to everyone.

BERLIN — In Germany, like in other Western countries, politicians and scientists are debating the merits of vaccines for children and booster jabs. Yet elsewhere, authorities are facing far more fundamental problems in tackling coronavirus. In many countries, especially across Africa, older people and other at-risk groups haven't even had their first vaccine, as there aren't enough doses available.

Although more than 4 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide, not every country has had an equal share: in more developed countries, around half of the population is fully vaccinated, while in the poorest it's less than 2%.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has established the COVAX initiative with the aim of sharing out vaccines more evenly and donating at least 2 billion doses to developing countries by the end of the year, in order to vaccinate around a third of the local population. But that target is still a long way off. Despite ambitious promises, Europe – and especially Germany – is lagging behind in terms of donated vaccines, while China is using its generosity to expand its geopolitical influence. So far, the aim of achieving global herd immunity against COVID is still a pipe dream. And that means that in the long term, the pandemic is far from under control.

According to WHO, we would need 11 billion doses in order to vaccinate 70% of the global population. Scientists from the Duke Global Health Innovation Center in the United States estimate that this year more than 12 billion vaccines will be produced – if suppliers keep up with their projected rates of production.

However, it's unclear whether all of these vaccines will be distributed. New variants could mean we need to develop new vaccines, and we don't yet know if or when booster jabs may be needed, or whether children under 12 should be vaccinated.

Many wealthy countries – especially in Europe – are holding on to their excess vaccines rather than donating them to developing countries. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's Regional Director for Africa, recently criticized the behavior: "Richer countries hoarding vaccines are making a mockery of the idea of vaccine justice."

These countries will soon have huge amounts of excess vaccines. Germany alone will receive 300 million doses this year. The EU has ordered around 3.6 billion by 2023, although it only needs 1 billion to fully vaccinate its entire population of around 450 million people, including children.

A few months ago, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen insisted that Europe was taking very seriously "its responsibility to combat the virus across the world," and promised to donate 200 million vaccines to COVAX by the end of the year.

Germany has not donated a single dose.

However, the figures show that the EU is nowhere near that target. According to an internal document, so far only around 7.9 million doses have been donated.

The US, on the other hand, has already donated 60 million vaccines to developing countries and has promised a total of 500 million for the COVAX initiative alone. This generosity may have something to do with the fact that the vaccination program has been rolled out far more quickly in the US than in Europe and therefore they reached a stage where they were able to donate vaccines earlier.

In Europe, so far only France and Spain have donated excess vaccines; Germany has not donated a single dose. The German government plans to send the first half million doses this month, but it promised 30 million by the end of the year. France is the most generous country in the EU, having promised 60 million doses. Without Paris, there is no way the European Commission would reach its target of 200 million doses for COVAX.

Beyond COVAX, many countries are donating vaccines directly to poorer states, especially those with which they have strong links. The aims here are not purely humanitarian. Spain is sending a third of its donated vaccines to Latin America, while France and the Netherlands are also prioritizing their former colonies. Other EU countries are donating vaccines to their neighbors in eastern and southeastern Europe, to reduce the potential risk of infections coming across their borders.

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine in Banten, Indonesia — Photo: Donal Husni/ZUMA

Playing favorites with neighbours and drawing on old colonial ties – for some critics that looks a lot like geopolitical nepotism. There is still no clear strategic vision for the global fight against coronavirus, as the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell recently noted.

Meanwhile, China is forging alliances in developing regions of the world through widespread vaccine diplomacy, with Beijing hoping to expand its influence and improve its image. There is even talk of a "Health Silk Road", in the style of China's wider "New Silk Road" economic development Initiative.

The complex system of COVAX and bilateral donations is clearly a patchwork of favors and political machinations. But even if there were a cohesive global strategy, the number of vaccines donated by developed countries would be far from sufficient. According to UNICEF, which is coordinating the delivery of COVAX vaccines, so far only around 190 million vaccines have arrived in 138 developing countries.

A spokesperson from UNICEF Germany pointed out another problem: the lack of health infrastructure in developing countries makes it difficult to administer vaccines efficiently. There is also widespread vaccine hesitancy. In many African countries, not even all health workers are fully vaccinated.

It will be at least 2025 or 2026 before we reach global herd immunity.

This has created a very dangerous situation: for weeks now the COVID infection rate and death rate in Africa have been rising steeply, and the number of unreported cases is likely to be very high due to limited testing capacity. WHO says that to meet the target of vaccinating 30% of the population by the end of the year, we would need more than 700 million additional doses. But even if we achieved this, there would still be too many unvaccinated people in poorer parts of the world for it to be possible to contain the pandemic.

In terms of numbers, it's theoretically possible to vaccinate the global population next year, if the suppliers step up production as planned. But realistically it will be at least 2025 or 2026 before we reach global herd immunity, says Clemens Schwanhold from the NGO One. "If," then.

Rich countries like Germany need to donate far more vaccines than they are currently doing. "Europe should look to the U.S. as a model, as they intend to donate 500 million doses by the end of the year," says Schwanhold.

It's clear that as long as vaccines are not fairly distributed, global herd immunity will remain elusive. It's a race against time, partly because the vaccines are perishable but also because of the danger of new variants, against which the available vaccines may not be effective.

Geopolitics
Jacques Schuster

Will Afghanistan Tarnish The End Of Angela Merkel's Tenure?

The German leader's aloofness on the collapse of Afghanistan has surprised many. For the past few months, her government has taken the issue too lightly and failed to debate it properly. This could prove a big mistake in her last weeks as German chancellor.

Anyone who summarizes Angela Merkel's government statement on the situation in Afghanistan comes up with the same words: "somewhat stupid." The coolness with which the chancellor and her government are approaching the collapse of the Afghan state has been breathtaking. It almost seems as if Merkel and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz have agreed to talk about abstract mistakes, in an effort to consign the Afghan failure to history's rubbish heap as quickly as possible.

Merkel is helped by the fact that she's about to leave: Her 16-year tenure as chancellor will end in less than a month. And four weeks before the election, hardly anyone seems to want to ask hard questions and uncover the breadth of the Afghanistan debacle. But this is what is urgently needed to draw the necessary conclusions for future operations. The Bundestag federal parliament could have used its meeting on Wednesday to set up a committee of inquiry, but it wasted this opportunity.

One of the results could have been the realization that the rapid collapse of Afghanistan was entirely foreseeable. France, for instance, flew its citizens and all forces it deemed worthy of protection out of the country a while ago — long before the outbreak of the current fiasco. Why did Paris succeed where Berlin failed?

Afghan refugees transfer to the United States after evacuation from Kabul at an Air Base in Germany — Photo: Airman Edgar Grimaldo/U.S. Air/ZUMA

The federal government will not answer that question. We only hope that until the end of her chancellorship, Merkel will at least stay away from the airy, fragrant phrases that have been music to her listeners' ears in recent months, but sounded like she did not really mean them. If she did, it would have translated into a much needed show of strength in the fight against the Taliban — from 2001 onwards.

Defense Minister Peter Struck erroneously stated at the time that Germany was preserving its security by intervening in the Hindu Kush mountain range, in the country's northeast region. All foreign and defense politicians later repeated this line. If it really were so, the army should return to the Hindu Kush as quickly as possible. Today the Taliban rule over more parts of Afghanistan than before the invasion of the Americans, British and Germans, some 20 years ago.

So where, indeed, is Germany's security? The question could be soon answered by the new German government, provided it is able to drain the swamp of empty phrases in foreign and defense policy. It doesn't even need the army to do that.