Social Democrat dreams / Dieselgate erodes trust
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August 18, 2019
Good morning,
dear reader,
+  Europe’s next top EMP  +  Social Democrat dreams  +  Dieselgate erodes trust
It’s a big day for Manfred Weber, a leading member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative alliance. Over three-quarters – 79 percent - of the party he belongs to in the European parliament, the European People’s Party, voted for him as their top candidate for the next elections. He could become the next president of the European Commission, the job that Jean-Claude Juncker currently holds. The result is noteworthy but it certainly doesn’t guarantee Weber the top job. First of all, Weber has to do really well in the European parliamentary elections, and secondly, he needs the different national leaders to cooperate and name him Commission president. The top job is most certainly not his yet. READ MORE  
German leader Angela Merkel was unusually emotional in her support for Weber. “My heart is set on Manfred Weber,” the head of the Christian Democratic Union said after the vote for Weber in Helsinki. That’s very nice of her but against the backdrop of Merkel’s leadership style, which is often all about backroom deals, negotiations and compromise, it doesn’t mean that much either. Usually the top jobs in the European Parliament are given out as a kind of package deal; it’s a bit like a bazaar in the Middle Ages.
Meanwhile Germany’s Social Democrat leaders are engaging in some wishful thinking. Party leader Andrea Nahles and her comrades want to pay German employees to take a year off, with basic income provided by the government, after they have worked for 12 years. And they want to get rid of the deeply unpopular unemployment benefit known as Hartz IV; it’s basically a minimum benefit for the long-term unemployed and was proposed by their own party, to much resistance, back in 2005. “We are working on a new concept,” said the party’s general secretary, Lars Klingbeil. But they could also be working on a new motto: Back in the good old days, everything was better.  
The Social Democrats are simply ignoring the fact that the Hartz IV reforms helped decrease unemployment in Germany. You could call that politics and playing to your audience, or you could call it being out of touch with reality. The most successful Social Democratic leaders, Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schröder, knew that to win elections, you need to hold the center. Then again, maybe the modern Social Democrats don’t actually want to win any elections.
More German cities suffering smog are being forced to impose bans on older diesel vehicles. In Cologne a ban in an inner-city zone takes effect in April 2019, and in Bonn, diesels won’t be allowed down two particularly polluted streets. The government’s promise to do everything it could to prevent these kinds of bans seems to have vanished into thin air - and if politicians are wondering why voters have lost trust in the centrist parties currently ruling Germany, here’s one fine reason. Both German politics and German industry have been tarnished by their refusal to take responsibility for this problem.
Profit warnings, growth slowdowns and price slumps are coming thick and fast right now. So how bad is it all really? US economist Robert Shiller, a Nobel Prize winner, is worried: The collapse is coming, he has warned. We should take him seriously as he has often been right in the past.
Still money isn’t everything. At least that’s what my colleague, editor Thomas Jahn, concluded after meeting Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently. Jahn met the US multi-billionaire in Nigeria and they talked about everything from how Gates believes artificial intelligence is at least as big a threat as climate change, the problem with Donald Trump, why he likes working with Angela Merkel and the Gates’ social engagement. In the end, Gates said he is “still an optimist.” And Jahn believes that Gates would be that way with or without all his cash. That’s inspiring.  
Wishing you a motivated weekend,
Sven Afhüppe
Handelsblatt Editor-in-Chief
Top Story:
Merkel ally Manfred Weber leads center-right in EU vote to replace Juncker
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