Geopolitics

Germany Stays On Fence On Mario Draghi's ECB Presidency Candidacy

Germany Stays On Fence On Mario Draghi's ECB Presidency Candidacy

Bank of Italy governor Mario Draghi is in pole position to replace Jean-Claude Trichet as president of the European Central Bank. But Germany, which was widely expected to provide the next ECB head, remains ambiguous on Draghi's chances.

Mario Draghi (INSM)


By Gianluca Paolucci

Bank of Italy Governor Mario Draghi would be a "first-rate candidate" for the presidency of the European Central Bank (ECB), according to Werner Hoyer, German Minister of State at the Foreign Office, who oversees European affairs. He underlines, however, that "the German government does not have a position" on who should take over from outgoing ECB head Jean-Claude Trichet.

Like many members of the Free Democratic Party (Fdp), the liberal party to which he belongs, Hoyer also liked the idea of "Axel Weber president of the German Central Bank for his vision of monetary policy based on stability." Unfortunately, Hoyer notes, "Weber is no longer a candidate."

Draghi's nationality is not an issue, insists Hoyer. The governor of Bank of Italy is "one of the first-rate candidates," partly because he too has "a vision of monetary policy based on stability," as well as "impeccable" credentials. According to other German government sources, a lot will depend on how the Italian government seeks to support Draghi in the contest for the top seat at the ECB Eurotower headquarters.

One certainty is that as the deadline for a decision draws closer, there are no other candidates in view with the Italian's prestigious profile. That reputation was built in part on the work he did internationally as the chairman of the Financial Stability Board during the most difficult periods of the global financial crisis, which also won him the recognition of the German government.

Many of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's economic advisors, who have had dealings with Draghi at G20 meetings, sing the banker's praises. Still, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble's public declarations on Draghi's candidacy seemed platitudinous more than anything.

Time is on Draghi's side. Trichet's term expires on October 31, but a decision on his successor needs to be taken a lot sooner. Less than a month ago, a few weeks after Weber's "withdrawal", Schäuble said that Germany might put forward someone else as its national candidate. But none of the names suggested, ranging from Jurgen Stark, member of the executive board of the European Central Bank, to Klaus Regling, chief of the European Financial Stability Facility, appear to have garnered support amongst the various parties in Merkel's coalition.

At this point, the German decision now rests in the hands of Merkel, who recently clashed with the Italian government over its proposal to introduce shared euro bonds to restore confidence in the euro. Thus when asked about Draghi's chances of becoming the next president of the ECB, Hoyer ends the conversation by saying with a smile: "Go ask Tremonti", referring to Italian Minister of Economy and Finance Giulio Tremonti.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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