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Germany Blocks EU-US Bank Data Agreement

An agreement negotiated between the US and the EU on sharing bank data in the context of antiterrorism has just been blocked by Germany, France, Finland and Austria. This shift in German policy signals general political changes that will continue to impact transatlantic relations.

  • Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, German Minister of Justice, has a strong socially liberal profile. She had the same post in a CDU/CSU-FDP coalition in the '90s and resigned when her party agreed to far-reaching surveillance measures, eventually turning to bring a case before Germany's constitutional court that overturned much of the legislation.
  • This move has happened in the EU at the ambassador level of the Council, in anticipation of a decision that would have been taken on November 30th. That is, one day ahead of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which will give the European Parliament the power to vote on this matter. The European Parliament, which wants to add significant protections or indefinitely shelve this agreement, was outraged by these plans. This procedural concern was also noted by Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.

Changes in Germany's coalition following the victory of the CDU/CSU and FDP have resulted in a more liberal profile on internal security matters.
Continue reading "Germany Blocks EU-US Bank Data Agreement"

Georgia’s Bid: Western Values for Western Security

Georgia’s president published a plea for continued western support in the Washington Post titled, “Answering Russian Aggression”.   In it, President Mikheil Saakashvili promises an increase in Georgian transparency in exchange for continued support from and integration into the West.

Perhaps most significant to the West will be Saakashvili’s promise to increase transparency and openness of the Georgian state itself, to include reforms aimed at strengthening the opposition and liberalizing the media. Of course all good things come with a price, and for Georgia to continue its Western embrace, Saakashvili is asking for some help in return:
But the West also must respond to Russia with conviction. We cannot allow Russia's annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to stand. Nor can Moscow be permitted to continuously flout the cease-fire to which it has repeatedly agreed.

My government welcomed the European Union's decision to accelerate Georgia's integration into European institutions. Last week, we were heartened by the first official visit to Georgia by the North Atlantic Council, and we hope that NATO will move forward with our membership application.

Continue reading "Georgia’s Bid: Western Values for Western Security"

California: Today Gay Marriage, Tomorrow Meteors and Volcanoes

The California Supreme Court made a 4-3 decision this week that will legalize gay marriage in California, most likely effective within 30 days.  As reported by the New York Times:
This decision will give Americans the lived experience that ending exclusion from marriage helps families and harms no one,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, who noted that same-sex marriages were legal in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa and Spain.
The timing of this action, coming only months before the US presidential elections in November, have led to speculation on whether or not it will hurt the Democratic nominee.  Alex Altman wrote an article in Time Magazine asking, “Will Gay Marriage Help the GOP?”:
California Republicans are hoping that history will prove instructive. After Massachusetts became the first state to codify marriage equality in 2003, the G.O.P. spent the ensuing general election wielding the issue as a potent weapon. Thirteen states passed ballot initiatives to ban same-sex marriage — including Ohio, the battleground that tipped the 2004 election in George W. Bush's favor. Opponents of gay marriage in California have generated more than 1 million signatures to place on November ballots an initiative amending the state's constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage.
Kai Stinchcombe, a PhD candidate in political science at Stanford University, and a very good friend of mine, created the popular Facebook group Gay Marriage Killed the Dinosaurs.  In his thoughtful analysis, Kai identifies 17 reasons gay marriage should remain illegal: Continue reading "California: Today Gay Marriage, Tomorrow Meteors and Volcanoes"

EU Closer to Adopting Biometric Security Measures, and Drones Too!

From Deutsche Welle:
The European Commission agreed to a plan to collect fingerprints and photographs from foreigners entering the EU, part of an effort to fortify the bloc's borders.  The plan, which was presented on Wednesday, Feb. 13, could see EU funds used to develop surveillance equipment like cameras, sensors and pilot-less drones. Civil libertarians argue that the controversial measures infringe on people's privacy and won't fight crime.  But proponents of the plan called the proposals "further building blocks in the often stated aim of the European Union to build a space of free and secure travel through collective responsibility and solidarity."
Yesterday’s Washington Post also had an interesting article on the topic:

If approved by the European Parliament, the measure would mean that precisely identifying information on tens of millions of citizens will be added in coming years to databases that could be shared by friendly governments around the world.

The United States already requires that foreigners be fingerprinted and photographed before they enter the country. So does Japan...
The plan is part of a vast and growing trend on both sides of the Atlantic to collect and share data electronically to identify and track people in the name of national security and immigration control.

"Terrorists on Honeymoon" in Lower Saxony

tazGermany's Die Tageszeitung newspaper has a frontpage story today about fellow blogger Omar Abo-Namous and his wife, who got a late night visit from the police during their honeymoon in a village in Lower Saxony. Omar is Ph.D student in Hannover and has hosted the German version of the fifth Carnival of German-American Relations. (GM Roper hosted the English version.)

Apparently eight policeman were ordered to put their kevlars on and check out the newlyweds, because a "concerned citizen" got suspicious to see a "middle-eastern" looking couple arrive in the village "without an automobile" at night. Yeah, right, Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth convinced Al Qaeda to go "green" and use public transport. (Please, excuse the pun.)  And since the oil price is so low, Saudi Arabians cannot afford to donate any money to charities with Al Qaeda ties. So the poor terrorists have to go by bus and train.

When should a concerned citizen get really concerned? In her New Year's address, Chancellor Merkel calls upon everybody: "We need a culture of closer inspection, not looking away." She was referring to many shocking cases of child murder, abuse and/or neglect, but the dilemma is similar. Omar's honeymoon, however, was not ground for a police visit, but that happens, when fear of terrorism is too big.

Omar explains in his blog Too Much Cookies what happened in October: Terroristen auf Flitterwochen ("Terrorists on Honeymoon"). He also writes about today's Die Tagezeitung article taz: Terror im Liebesnest, which covers the investigation and what some locals say. Unfortunately, it is all in German so far.

The struggle between counterterrorism and civil liberties increased on January 1, 2008, when a new law for the mass retention of internet and telephone connection data (Vorratsdatenspeicherung) went into effect. DW World reports that "more than 30,000 Germans have filed a mass lawsuit, marked by protests, against a controversial law that allows the storing of telephone and Internet data for up to six months as part of efforts to combat terrorism."

Some related articles: Dialog International writes about "Muslims in Germany."

The AFP News Agency reports that "Belgium was on 'maximum' alert for possible New Year's Eve attacks." And Reuters reports that the Dutch police arrested three men on New Year's Eve suspected of planning an imminent attack. Welcome to 2008!

NYT: "The 'Good Germans' Among Us"

The NY Times' 2nd most emailed article is currently Frank Rich's new column "The 'Good Germans' Among Us." He comments on yet another set of newly unearthed "secret Department of Justice memos countenancing torture."

Rich agrees with Andrew Sullivan, who observed that America's "enhanced interrogation" is "the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the 'third degree.' It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation."

Rich concludes at the end of his op-ed, which also shows the newspaper reader with a halo:

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those "good Germans" who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo.

Well, the Wikipedia entry on Godwin's law points out: "There is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a [Nazi] comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically "lost" whatever debate was in progress."

ENDNOTE: Why are Germans so critical of US policies in the war on terror, especially re the limits on civil liberties and these interrogation techniques? Why does the German media run so many editorials on US policies that are considered "Anti-American" by some observers?

Here's one reason: Because Germans have learned from history that they should be very critical of powerful governments rather than being "good Germans." The NYT reminds us of our historical reputation once again and provides a new motivation for Germans to criticize the Bush administration in order to proof that we have learned from our Nazi past and are now critical citizens rather than "good Germans."

Hopefully, one day Americans will use the phrase "a good German" as a reference to eating Vollkornbrot (wholewheat bread), recycling a lot, insulating your house, driving a small car or using your bicycle for grocery shopping.

Friedman: "9/11 Is Over"

The most linked article in the blogosphere is currently Thomas Friedman's New York Times column "9/11 Is Over," which can be accessed for free now.

9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 mine included has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.
Many arguments are similar to those Friedman made more than two years ago, see Atlantic Review post Europeans want "their" America back.

War on Terror: Germany Debates Computer Spying

The German equivalent to the Department of Homeland Security has designed a Trojan to help spy on the computers of terror suspects. Spiegel International writes about the debate:

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble insists that such cyber spying would only be carried out in a handful of exceptional cases and would only target those suspected of planning terror attacks. Nevertheless, a debate has erupted in the press as to whether Schäuble -- known for his provocative, America-esque anti-terror tactics -- may have once again overstepped his bounds.
In July, the minister ruffled feathers with suggestions that Germany should consider targeted assassinations of suspected terrorists.

Reuters reports that according to one German paper the proposed law even allows temporary computer spying without a court order.

Once again, similar challenges, suggestions, criticism and debates on both sites of the Atlantic, right?