Angela Merkel's Twenty Days To Change The World

From the G8 summit later this month in Mexico to her own domestic political fortunes, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will have all the world asking if she can lead the charge to save the euro, and help reverse a sinking world economy.

The world is watching (Bundesregierung/Denzel)
The world is watching (Bundesregierung/Denzel)
Torsten Krauel and Robin Alexander

BERLIN – On June 20, the 2012 summer holiday season begins in Berlin. And as residents of the German capital flock to the airport, some may see a government Airbus landing. On board: Chancellor Angela Merkel back from the Mexican luxury beach resort, San José del Cabo, located at the southern tip of Baja California. Merkel will be driven straight to her office.

But she will not be returning from some holiday in Mexico: the G-20 summit of the world's major economies will be held there.

It's the meeting where the preliminary decision about the fate of the euro will be taken. Returning to Berlin on June 20, Merkel will have completed one of her toughest tasks so far as Chancellor, only to face what may be an even tougher one with the EU summit at the end of the month.

"Ten Days That Shook The World," is the title of a famous book about the October Revolution in Russia. If it were up to Merkel, the 20 days between now and the end of the month would be dubbed "the 20 days that calmed the world down."

The tension-fraught countdown begins on Tuesday, June 12. That's when Merkel attends her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party's "Economy Day", during which she hopes to win over skeptical German business leaders on minimum wage, childcare subsidies, progressive tax reform, quotas for women, transitionning from nuclear energy, and saving the euro.

However confident she is on these issues, she comes empty-handed. She will only be able to deliver on the following afternoon when she meets with party and coalition heads in federal parliament – and saves the euro. Merkel hopes to come to an agreement with the opposition on the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the Fiscal Compact, as the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union is more informally known.

Finding a consensus at home

The ESM comes into effect on July 1, and the Chancellor wants to be able to tell her G-20 colleagues that Germany will be implementing it. But to do so, she needs approval from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens to obtain a two-thirds majority. The chances of consensus look good.

The SPD and the Greens support the ESM and Fiscal Compact, but they want to append a growth package. Merkel will be presenting one, the details of which her staff has been working on behind the scenes for months.

On the same day, a mediation committee will determine the fate of Merkel's tax relief plans, blocked by the upper house of parliament in May. It's going to be a very long day for the Chancellor.

And no less so on Thursday when the lower house votes on her childcare subsidy plans and Merkel meets with the Minister Presidents of the German states to talk about the transition from nuclear energy. Both issues are top priority for Merkel, but require a consensus, particularly on the nuclear issue.

Merkel also needs to present a united front on energy at the G-20 summit: stability on the energy issue is a cornerstone of Germany's economic power, and the rating agencies are watching closely.

If Merkel makes a breakthrough on Wednesday, both the ESM and the Fiscal Compact could be approved by the lower house on Friday -- if... Otherwise there's still time for another meeting. Saturday? Twelve hours to prepare for the Mexico summit.

And on Sunday? There are elections in two EU countries on that day: both the French and the Greeks are holding parliamentary elections. Just how much political freedom Hollande has to get things done will be decided on the day – and in Greece, whether or not the leftist Syriza party wins will (de facto) decide whether the country stays in the euro or not. Meanwhile, Sunday morning Angela Merkel boards a German Air Force jet to Mexico.

Europe's Prime Minister

Waiting for her there are Barack Obama, François Hollande, China's Hu Jintao, Saudi princes and India's Prime Minister, all eager to get her take on the elections and see what she's bringing, from Europe, to the table.

Satellite connections on the German jet are being given an extra once-over before the flight: the Chancellor lands shortly after midnight European time, and she has to be in the know on everything ranging from the elections to the European soccer championships.

In Merkel's dramatic month of June every step she takes, every word she utters, is going to be weighed. Angela Merkel is nothing short of a "lottery angel" for the world economy. It's up to her if the world's largest economic zone – the EU – crashes, dragging everybody else down with it, or if there's a soft landing.

Obama, Hollande and many others are putting pressure on Merkel to open up the coffers, say yes to Eurobonds – and wave goodbye to her "no quick money" stance. Adding to the enormous pressure: the cover of this week's "Economist" depicting a sinking tanker pleading: "Please can we start the engines now, Mrs Merkel?"

Merkel knows Portugal's banking system, Italy's labor laws, and Greek political parties as proficiently as she knows what's happening in her own country. She thinks and acts like Europe's Prime Minister.

Time is nevertheless starting to close in on her. Al Qaeda is in Syria, prowling around depots of biological and chemical weapons – at Israel's door, as it were. Washington is pressing the alarm button: will the Europeans please get their house in order!

Psychologically, it's all connected: the transition from nuclear, the euro, world politics. Syriza, the Greek leftist party, and Syria are the two unknowns in Merkel's agenda. Holidays for the Chancellor? She's going to have to wait a while.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Bundesregierung/Denzel

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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