East German state in crisis after accusations of ‘neo-Nazi’ sympathies


  • Karla Juničić


If the SPD and Greens leave the coalition, the CDU could continue as a minority government, but then would be dependent on cooperation from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). [Shutterstock]

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fore you start reading today’s edition of the Capitals, we invite you to read Georgi Gotev’s story “31 December 2019: Will gas stop flowing?”.

Read also Dave Keating’s article “Coke and nickel keeping EU steel industry up at night“.


BERLIN. The Christian Democrats (CDU), Social Democrats (SPD), and Greens have ruled the former East German state of Saxony-Anhalt in a coalition since 2016. However, the coalition’s future came into question over the weekend, after the CDU came to the defence of Robert Möritz, a local CDU politician accused of having neo-Nazi sympathies.

The revelations began last week on Twitter. Igor Matviyets, an SPD politician from Halle, asked the CDU why their state party strategy paper explicitly claims that Islam does not belong to Germany, a phrase frequently used by the radical right. Möritz responded, tweeting “Islam is incompatible with the Christian values on which Germany is built.”

However, it was Möritz’ Twitter profile photo that kicked off the investigation into his past. In the bottom right corner there was a small sword stuck in a cross, a symbol of the association Uniter, which is suspected of having far-right connections. Later, he admitted being a member of the organisation.

Afterwards, pictures of Möritz at a 2011 neo-Nazi demonstration, which he helped organise, circulated on social media, as well as the revelation that he has a tattoo of a so-called ‘Black Sun,’ a combination of several swastikas, on his arm.

Möritz told a special session of his chapter of the CDU on Friday (13 December) that his work on that demonstration was a youthful mistake. After the meeting, the local CDU announced that they would not be removing Möritz from his leadership position or the party, kicking off a wave of criticism from their coalition partners.

Tensions have continued to escalate. On Saturday (14 December), the heads of the Saxony-Anhalt Greens demanded that the CDU take a clear stance against right-wing extremism in a press release with the headline “how many swastikas have a place in the CDU?” The General Secretary of the Saxony-Anhalt CDU demanded an apology, warning that “Without an apology…a continuation of the coalition is hardly conceivable.”

If the SPD and Greens leave the coalition, the CDU could continue as a minority government, but then would be dependent on cooperation from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

(Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)



The Finns do not warm to NATO. A new poll shows continued Finnish reluctance to NATO membership with 56% against joining the alliance. Support remains at 20% while a quarter are undecided. Most in favour of membership are the two parties currently in opposition, National Coalition Party and the True Finns.

The polls have not changed despite deepened NATO co-operation. Finland has been a partner country since 2014 and involved in Afghanistan and in the Balkans. Military exercises with NATO and Sweden are common. Trust in non-aligned defence is high. If Sweden joined NATO, 35% say Finland should follow suit. (Pekka Vanttinen, reporting from Finland)



Runs and riders. The field of contenders for the Labour party leadership is already gathering following the party’s worst general election performance since the 1930s. Leader Jeremy Corbyn announced his plans to step down early in 2020 following a ‘period of reflection’ into Thursday’s poll which gave Prime Minister Boris Johnson a decisive 80 seat majority.  Corbyn allies have blamed Brexit for the party’s defeat, and are set to back Rebecca Long-Bailey, while others blame his divisiveness and lack of popular appeal for the party’s dismal performance in the north of England. Meanwhile, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Angela Rayner, Yvette Cooper and Emily Thornberry are also possible contenders in what is set to be a women-dominated field. (Benjamin Fox, EURACTIV.com)

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Election next year? Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has written to Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in a bid to agree on a possible election date next year, according to a letter seen by the Sunday Independent.

The paper states Martin as having said in the letter that the “responsible thing to do at this point is to end the speculation and agree a date for the dissolution of the Dáil, a date for the holding of an election.” “Nothing positive can be achieved if we allow growing escalation of speculation,” he adds. (Samuel Stolton, EURACTIV.com) 



Crucial week. The race against the clock to break the political stalemate in Spain will reach a turning point this week when acting socialist PM Pedro Sánchez is expected to receive a decision from the Catalan separatist Republican Left of Catalonia on whether they will support the investiture of his government, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.

Sánchez has ruled out the option of trying to forge a coalition with the PP and with liberal centre-right Ciudadanos, insisting that he wants to form a government with a “clearly progressive” orientation, as per his agreement with the UP.

Fernando Heller has the story: Crucial week in Madrid to form a ‘progressive’ government.



All the French want for Christmas is…trains. But the strikers do not seem to care much about Santa Claus. According to Philippe Martinez, head of General Confederation of Labour (CGT union), a break in the nationwide strike would only be possible if the government withdraws its pension reforms. The CFDT union has said that it would be in favour of stopping the strike for two weeks. Gérald Darmanin, the budget minister, said the government would not be blackmailed. 

All unions have announced a massive strike for Tuesday, hoping to see more than one million people in the streets, though it won’t be easy for demonstrators to join with barely any public transport. Half of French citizens are still supportive of the strike. (EURACTIV.fr)



Too much noise. The two largest parties in Belgium, Socialist PS and Flemish nationalist N-VA, met over the weekend at the request of the two coalition informateurs Joachim Coens (CD&V) and Georges-Louis Bouchez (MR). “We must note that the gap is immense, especially since the N-VA does not compromise. We try to discuss but we run into a wall,” PS leader Paul Magnette said. “We have the feeling that the N-VA does not want to take responsibility, they are afraid to take it. Nationalists don’t want to try to be open,” he added.

Coens and Bouchez, meanwhile, condemned all parties for giving too many statements on TV rather than talking to each other: “We recall that it is necessary to privilege the search for a strong result for our country rather than to make a spectacle of communication”, they told Belga news agency.

(Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)



Sardines ‘packed’ in Rome. On Saturday, tens of thousands of ‘sardines’ gathered in Rome’s Piazza San Giovanni for their biggest rally since the birth of the grassroots movement against right wing’s Lega leader Matteo Salvini. “Your brains worth more than a million likes [on social media],” said from the stage Mattia Santori, 32, the leader of the group.

Draghi, Salvini’s trump card. Meanwhile, Salvini has proposed a “committee for national salvation” from right-wing to leftist parties to replace the current government. Salvini says the national unity government should focus on five priorities: employment, taxes, health, infrastructures and justice. In an interview with daily La Stampa, Lega’s number two Giancarlo Giorgetti said that former ECB president Mario Draghi could be a possible candidate to replace Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

Read also: Conte buys Italy’s government more time over eurozone bailout fund



Greece won’t back down in Turkish dispute. In an interview with Bild newspaper, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis made it clear that Athens would not accept any violation of its sovereign rights amid an escalating crisis with Turkey. “It’s Turkey who is violating the Law of the Sea, not Greece,” he said. Read more on EURACTIV’s partner Athens-Macedonian News Agency.

Farmers up in arms. Greek farmers are readying massive demonstrations and road blocks at of the end of January to protest against rising overhead costs especially in gas prices.



New Left. The social-democrat Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) party has merged with progressive Robert Biedroń’s Wiosna. The two, together with far-left Razem, formed an alliance in recent parliamentary elections, but have now formally established one party, called New Left. Razem opted to stay out of the new initiative, however.

Opposition has a candidate. Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, has been selected by Civic Platform (PO/EPP) to be its candidate in next year’s presidential elections. Earlier, Donald Tusk promised to support her candidacy. Meanwhile, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz (PSL/EPP) also officially launched his campaign. Along with PiS-backed Andrzej Duda, Kidawa-Błońska and Szymon Hołownia (independent), he is the most serious contender for the presidency. (Łukasz Gadzała |EURACTIV.pl)



Commission ‘like a small child’, MEP says. “I value the European Commission, but in this case [climate policy] it acts like a small child, who pressures his parents, the member states, to buy him something, and they have to make the decision and pay the price,” Czech MEP Ondřej Knotek (ANO, RE) told EURACTIV.cz in an interview. According to him, the ambitious policy requires large investments in coal and industrial regions, but other regions need funding too.

tThere are not enough funds to pay for all of this, and the current climate plan will therefore absorb money from other sectors, if states do not decide to boost their contributions, he added. (Ondřej Plevák |EURACTIV.cz)

Read also: No EU funds for Poland if climate goals aren’t agreed, Macron warns



Orbán wants to build a new Central Europe. Hungary stands ready to build, together with its neighbours, including Romania, a new central Europe, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in Timisoara (Temesvár), in western Romania, marking the 30th anniversary of the Romanian revolution that started in the city. The aim is to turn central Europe into one of the most successful and most competitive regions in the world, Orbán said.

Regarding the developments 30 years ago, Orbán said: “Had we decided to wait for the western powers to help us, we would still be living under Soviet occupation, would be a member of the Warsaw Pact and would have a communist party congress in place to decide about our future.”

€173 million to Rosatom Hungary made payments worth €173 million for the upgrade of the Paks nuclear power plant in December, János Süli, the minister in charge of the project, said at a conference organised by business daily Világgazdaság, MTI reports.

The payments were made for six invoices related to general contractor Rosatomʼs delivery of technical plans for two new blocks at the plant in October, Süli said. Russia is financing 80% of the cost of the two new blocks. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)



Water crisis. Two Bulgarian ministers will be investigated by prosecutors for the water supply crisis for the city of Pernik. The dam, from which the city receives its water, turned out to be empty after having been reconstructed earlier this year. A prosecutor from Pernik, which has a population of 80,000, issued a ruling that the ministers of regional development and ecology are to blame for the water crisis and have to be investigated.

The prosecutor alleges that they have committed criminal misconduct. The case will be transferred for investigation by a specialised prosecutor responsible for fighting against high-level corruption. (Krassen Nikolov, EURACTIV.bg)



China has high expectations from German EU Presidency. Chinese FM Wang Yi said China expects major shifts in EU relations during the German Presidency in the second half of 2020. “We need to take concrete steps to reject unilateralism, repel politics of power and defend the international system with the UN at the centre, the international order backed by international law, and the multilateral trade system with the World Trade Organization as its foundation,” Wang said.

He said China and 17 central and eastern European countries are moving into a new phase especially in new fields such as the digital economy, artificial intelligence, financial technology, life sciences and environment.

Slovenian FM Miro Cerar commented that EU member states have different positions or standards than China concerning certain issues (Xinjiang and Hong Kong). But he added, that they should all seek “constructive relations” and mutual respect. (Željko Trkanjec |EURACTIV.hr)



Five more days of presidential campaign. On 22 December, the first round of the presidential elections will be held in Croatia. Three candidates are almost neck to neck: incumbent president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (HDZ-EPP), Zoran Milanović (SDP-S&D) and Miroslav Škoro, a pop singer who runs independently.

However, during the campaign, Škoro revealed that he wanted “to bring HDZ back to his voters” and move away from Andrej Plenković, its president and Croatia’s Prime Minister.

If his candidate, Grabar-Kitarović, loses, it will be his second defeat as an HDZ president. In 30 years of HDZ, none of its presidents has managed to survive from two election defeats. (Željko Trkanjec|EURACTIV.hr)



S&P raises Serbia’s credit rating. Standard and Poor’s has raised Serbia’s credit rating to BB+ from BB, a step away from investment grade. The outlook remains positive, which is a strong signal that further rating upgrades are possible in the short run. S&P expects that despite global slowdown, Serbia’s GDP will expand by 3.6% this year, exceeding the initial projections. For 2020, they expect GDP growth close to 4%. (EURACTIV.rs)


[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Benjamin Fox]