German police forces securing the Munich shopping mall during the July 22 attack
Torsten Krauel

BERLIN â€" Four attacks in 11 days have us worried that Germany is at the beginning of a campaign of attacks by individuals that will not be easy to stop.

Like the July 14 attack in Nice, France, the perpetrators in recent days in the German cities of Würzburg and Ansbach most likely did not act alone. There are, it can be presumed, accomplices, accessories, mentors.

In the case of the axe attack on the train in Würzburg last week that injured three seriously, investigations have revealed that the culprit had been extremely active online. Investigators, meanwhile, say the suicide bomber who injured 15 near a musical festival Sunday in Ansbach had repeatedly used his cell phone, shortly before the attack.

It looks as if Europe is witnessing the awakening of a series of sleeper networks. The attackers themselves are often, just like in the Middle East, either hardened criminals or mentally ill, or both. They are being piloted by religious fanatics, but have so few detectable links with them that they can fly under the radar.

Leaving traces

Neither in Nice, nor in Würzburg or Ansbach, were there any warnings from foreign services â€" be it from the Middle East or from Western alliance partners. This was not the case with the Sauerland group that wanted to attack the Ramstein military base in 2007, or the Bataclan attackers in Paris last November, or those that struck in Brussels in March: All attacks were carried out by groups of people familiar to law enforcement.

Individual perpetrators can count on the efficiency of keeping cover, forcing authorities to constantly search for the proverbial needle in the haystack. Still, even these individuals leave traces.

What’s particularly worrying in the case of Würzburg is that the culprit’s Facebook activity would have been open to surveillance.

Same thing for the person who carried out the mass shooting in Munich on Friday, who had no connection to Islamic terror groups, but whose procurement of weapons and planning activity may have raised red flags online. But it’s a lot to ask of the security authorities to make the right connections between clues that may have occurred weeks or months away from each other, also often separated geographically. After the attack, such connections look rather obvious.

Still, it is not impossible to detect signs of potentially dangerous people. It’s a tricky topic that may involve issues of medical confidentiality and the like. But after the last 11 days, we unfortunately have to be prepared for further such attacks â€" and they may be on a much bigger scale.

New questions concerning domestic security in Germany, which until now have been largely avoided, are bound to be put on the table. The value of evidence gathered from petty criminals will take on a whole new relevance in light of the background of the recent attackers.

And of course, the elephant in the room: Germany's refugee policy must be put to the test. Prohibition of deportations to countries facing civil war must continue to be the policy, but only for law-abiding refugees. If more attacks like these are coming, all asylum seekers will inevitably be forced to face broader supervision. This was indeed what the British did during World War II, and is thus not necessarily a violation of common democratic habits and customs.

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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.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


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.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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