Merkel II lays out her plans

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer © Getty images
AKK: delivering a straight “nein” to Macron

Germany’s heir apparent is at odds with Macron’s vision. Matthew Partridge reports.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK), leader of Germany’s CDU and frontrunner to become the next chancellor, has rejected some of French president Emmanuel Macron’s central proposals for reforming the European Union, reports Oliver Moody in The Times.

Her intervention highlights the “growing ideological divide” between Germany and France over the EU’s future. It gave a “lukewarm” reception to Macron’s plans to create new EU agencies to tackle climate change, immigration and social policy, for example, and stressed that “national sovereignty must take priority over centralisation in Brussels”.

AKK’s response reflects the preferences of other northern and eastern European states, says Constanze Stelzenmüller in the FT: she prefers free markets to Macron’s dirigisme (he wants to combat aggressive Chinese and American competition with a new European state interventionism and protectionism); is wary of transferring power to the EU; and resists pitting “good” pro-Europeans against “bad” populists. And her answer to Macron’s appeal to pool debt and make social-security systems and the minimum wage pan-European was a straight “nein”.

But for all her rhetoric, AKK’s approach doesn’t actually differ that much from current chancellor Angela Merkel’s, says Matthew Karnitschnig on Politico. If you look at the detail of her 2,000-word article, it “was perfectly Merkelian, full of vague pronouncements that raised more questions than answers”. And instead of pointing out the tough choices Europe faces, she reassures German voters that “they can have their cake and eat it too”.

She wants Europe to remain transatlantic and at the same time become more European-focused. She wants Europe to become stronger, but without agreeing on any of the details. She had nothing to say about the urgent need to reform the euro, nor about geopolitical challenges from the US, China and Russia. AKK has no answers beyond wanting to maintain the status quo.

The anointed successor

It’s not just what AKK said that’s significant, but the fact that she’s saying it at all, says Jorg Luyken in The Daily Telegraph. Until recently Germans would have expected Merkel to respond to Macron’s vision with a German one for the future of Europe. But Merkel has taken a notably lower profile in public debate since AKK took over as CDU leader in December. Since “setting out a policy vision on something as key as the EU” is “unlikely to have happened without being agreed… with the Chancellery first”, this latest intervention underlines her status as Merkel’s favoured “protégé”.

AKK is “offering a continuation of the cautious incrementalism that Merkel has lent to European policymaking for the past decade” and is doing so “as party leader rather than as Germany’s leader”, says the Financial Times. Indeed, her manifesto is a “party formulation” that “captures the mood of Christian Democrat ambivalence: committed to the EU, sceptical about further integration”.

Still, she has “done Europe a service” by articulating “a legitimate, conservative vision for Europe’s future”. More importantly, she has offered an alternative to Macron’s “more radical thinking”. It is a debate that needs to continue.

A new Iron Curtain descends

Thousands of Russians have protested against plans to create an “internet Iron Curtain”, says Laurence Dodds in The Daily Telegraph. The Kremlin is considering laws that would give the authorities power to block online communications and cut off access to websites. The Kremlin says that the “digital sovereignty bill”, which “requires all internet traffic in Russia to be directed through state-controlled routing points”, would “reduce Russia’s dependence on the US”.

Putin may dream of replicating China’s “great firewall”, but it’s going to prove “difficult” to do this in practice, says The Economist. Russia is more integrated into the internet’s global architecture; its biggest firms, such as Yandex, have servers abroad; global giants such as Google have servers in Russia. More importantly, Russians have grown used to having free access to the internet. But even if it were “technically possible”, online censorship could prove “politically explosive”.

Last year’s bid to block a messaging service “sparked some of the largest street protests in years”. Ironically, these attempts to return to Soviet-style censorship in the online world come at a time when Russia, with its ”highly developed” IT industry, is considered “one of the most advanced countries in the digital sector worldwide”, says Juri Rescheto for dw.com. Russia “has one of the cheapest mobile internet infrastructure systems worldwide” and “the country’s start-ups are successfully competing with the international market”. Yet now the Russian internet “risks losing its most essential function: the free exchange of information”.

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