Aufs falsche Pferd gesetzt

Some insight into why left-leaning governments along the very densely populated Ruhr river, even under an S.P.D. + Green party state coalition government such as that of governor Hannelore Kraft (S.P.D.), might persist in doubling down on the “losing bet” on coal-fired power plants: financially-strapped town governments, such as the city of Essen where the huge utility RWE is headquartered, are heavily invested in private utilities’ stock. Essen bought almost 19 million shares of RWE stock in 2007 at ~75 euros and was still listing the stock in its books as worth 75 euros though they were trading at 27 euros when ZDF heute journal reported on this last month. Update on 01 Apr 2014: Essen adjusted its books to reflect its RWE stock’s current trading price, because new rules required the city to do so, and consequently lost 680 million euros on paper. Essen’s capital has now shrunk to ~15 million euros. The city estimates it will have debts of 18 million euros at the end of 2014 and >50 million at the end of 2015 and 2016 (2015 and 2016?). FAZ.net said other Ruhrgebiet cities invested in RWE stock as well.

The city utilities of the towns of Essen, Dortmund, Oberhausen, Bochum, Dinslaken and Duisburg along the Rhine and Ruhr rivers formed an entity called the Stadtwerke Konsortium Rhein-Ruhr which in 2011 bought 51% of STEAG (“the Anthracite Electricity Co.”), a company that operates coal-fired power plants, for a total of 1.2 billion euros in borrowed money.

Academics interviewed on ZDF heute journal said Germany’s energy future is in decentralized renewables, especially solar power and wind. They worried that the utilities stock the financially imperiled Ruhrgebiet cities have borrowed money to invest in wasn’t just tempting city and state governments to make questionable environmental policy but that they would acquire so much debt throwing good money after bad to subvention the old coal power plants that the towns might never recover financially.

Update on 21 Nov 2013: An expert opinion report found that ex-governor of Baden-Württemberg Stefan Mappus (C.D.U.) overpaid by ~780 million euros when he bought into private energy utility company EnBW in 2010, negotiating a shares purchase package for 4.7 billion euros. The report was commissioned by the Stuttgart prosecutors’ office. N.B.: Mr. Mappus was succeeded in office by Winfried Kretschmann, Germany’s first Green party governor, as a result of the fierce protests against the Stuttgart 21 train station expansion project (C.D.U.).

Update on 28 Feb 2014: RWE lost 2.8 billion euros in 2013. This is its first loss year in sixty years. The majority of the losses are from write-downs on gas and coal-fired power plants. It had calculated that its conventional large coal-burning power plants would be selling electricity at 50 euros/megawatt hour in 2014/2015 that it’s selling for 35 euros because of Germany’s investments in decentralized renewable energy sources. RWE’s stock price was almost 29 euros though because shareholders were expecting the news, a trader said.

Update on 04 Mar 2014: RWE’s C.E.O. Peter Terium said at a press conference that the utility “made mistakes too” and was late to invest in renewable energy sources, “perhaps too late.”

Perhaps one-third of their large coal-burning power plants is not earning enough from electricity sales to cover operating costs. The company is 30 billion euros in debt. They said they will have to make cuts, including cutting 10% of jobs by the end of 2016 which is a clear dog whistle to the S.P.D, and asked the German government to help them out of their dead end. The chair of the Mining, Chemistry, Energy union where the new general secretary of the S.P.D. used to work, who is also the new general secretary of the S.P.D.’s life partner, called for the government to support RWE’s request for more government support. Payment for maintaining offlined unprofitable coal-burning power plants would not be a subsidy, said RWE’s C.E.O.

Update on 12 Apr 2014: Spiegel.de reported that Wirtschaftswoche reported that Handelsblatt Online reported that the just top twenty municipal governments owning the most RWE stock lost 2.5 billion euros on paper in the recent write-down to the stock’s current trading price. Essen lost 680 million euros. Mülheim an der Ruhr lost 480 million. “The stock price adjustment is bringing some of them to the verge of bankruptcy.” Also, RWE’s C.E.O. Peter Terium recently confirmed that the utility might issue new stock to get fresh capital, further pushing down the price of its old stock. Wirtschaftswoche and/or Handelsblatt said the affected North Rhine-Westphalian “counties” [Kreis] include Hochsauerland, Rhein-Sieg and Rheinisch-Bergische and the affected North Rhine-Westphalian regional authorities [Landschaftsverband] include Westfalen-Lippe and Rheinland.

No one has explained yet how RWE could be so massively in debt yet 2013 was its first loss year since World War II, unless they’re saying the utility did it by hiding losses on paper while hoping for government support. A 03 Mar 2014 article headlined “Complaining as a Strategy,” in which Spiegel.de said C.E.O. Peter Terium still lacked a plan for bringing the utility giant forward into greatness, cited an RWE presentation dated February 2014 that said the company had debts of ~19 billion in 2008 which increased to ~30 billion euros in 2013. It said it appears the management has cut costs and already budgeted in government aid it expects to receive by explaining how poorly the company is doing, but it still lacks a plan for getting out of the “vale of tears.” Laudable investments in decentralized renewable energy sources such as “Blockheizkraftwerke [decentralized combined heat and power station units], Solarspeicher [storage units for solar energy] and smart home concepts” cannot offset the huge losses from investments in giant dirty power plants.

(Ow! fss   FALL shah   FEAHD   geh ZETTS t)

Bankendaten-Transfer ausgesetzt

Stopped the transfer of banking data.

On 23 Oct 2013 members of the European Parliament parties the Social Democrats, Greens, Leftists and (libertarianesque) Liberals voted 280 to 254 to stop providing bank transfer data to the U.S. under the S.W.I.F.T. agreement until more is done to fix the U.S.’s disrespect for data protection worldwide. Bank transfers have replaced checking in Europe, and the E.U. had originally, reluctantly, agreed to let the U.S. access bank transfer data in order to help fight terrorism.

Only four E.U. countries, including Five Eyes member Britain, and the German C.D.U./C.S.U. M.E.P.’s remained in favor of the status quo (this was before revelations that the U.S. had bugged the cell phone of Chancellor Merkel (C.D.U.)!). France was leading the protest, especially after articles in Le Monde that week about the vast extent of N.S.A. spying in France, slurfing tens of millions of French phone calls in just one 30-day period. The angry M.E.P.’s wanted the U.S. to, among other things, be honest and precise about what its organizations have been doing. An anonymous committee member was quoted in Spiegel.de as saying they know now that the U.S. does not change anything until after you stand up and say no to them.

The European Parliament decision to stop providing S.W.I.F.T. transfers data still must be approved by 2/3 of the 28 member states. The coalition of proponents doesn’t quite have those numbers yet, but lately U.S. intelligence agencies tend to help their opponents by delivering new outrages rather than, say, providing honest and precise information about what they, the myriad private contractor intelligence companies the U.S. hires, and their public and private partners around the world, have been doing.

Some goals, from the press release for the nonbinding solution:

“Parliament stresses that any data-sharing agreement with the US must be based on a consistent legal data protection framework, offering legally-binding standards on purpose limitation, data minimisation, information, access, correction, erasure and redress.”

Update on 27 Nov 2013: E.U. interior commissioner Cecilia Malmström (Swedish Liberal People’s Party, conservative-liberal, liberal with the non-U.S.A meaning of libertarianesque) announced that the commission was negating the E.U. parliament’s decisions to stop sharing E.U. air passenger data and S.W.I.F.T. bank transfer data with the U.S.A. “to fight terrorism” because, she said they said, there was no evidence the U.S. had violated the agreements. And, the E.U. Commission was also not going to change the toothless self-policing “Safe Harbor” data protection agreement: justice commissioner Viviane Reding has given the U.S. a 13-point data protection homework assignment to implement by summer 2014, after which the E.U. will re-examine torpedoing “Safe Harbor.”

(BONK en dot en   TRONZ fair   OW! z’gez ets t.)

Minderheitenrechte im Bundestag

Bundestag minority rights, minority meaning the multiple parties that aren’t part of the multiple-parties ruling coalition.

Update on 09 Oct 2013: If the two biggest parties, Chancellor Merkel’s C.D.U./C.S.U. and the S.P.D., form another huge coalition, the Green party + Leftists opposition would be so tiny they wouldn’t have the votes e.g. to create investigative committees [an Untersuchungsausschuss], call a special session [Sondersitzung] or ask the supreme court in Karlsruhe to check a law’s constitutionality [Normenkontrollklage]. Because of this, the Green party announced on 09 Oct 2013, they will consider asking the supreme court in Karlsruhe to review the situation and verify that minority rights are still appropriately guaranteed in the Bundestag should a grosse Koalition result from the 22 Sep 2013 election.

Update on 19 Oct 2013: C.D.U., C.S.U. and S.P.D. gave assurances that the ~9% + ~10% opposition consisting of two small parties would be allowed the same rights and control/inspection capabilities that require 25% in a normal Bundestag. Meanwhile, S.P.D. party members voted yes to proceed with negotiations with the C.D.U. for a new grosse Koalition government, that could start ruling in early December.

Interesting update on 16 Jan 2014: The “bonsai” Bundestag opposition really means it about wanting to change the rules so they don’t have to wait for members of the two big parties to magnanimously provide formal support enabling their initiatives. Bundestag president Norbert Lammert (C.D.U.) is considering a Bundestag law that would lower the minimum from 25%, but this pathway is unsatisfactory to the opposition because such a change could be undone just as easily. A change to the German constitution would be more permanent.

Amusing characterizations were swapped in this ZDF heute journal report. A Green party rep said the Leftists were intending to go “full opposition” this time while the Greens wanted to be a “constructive opposition.” A Leftists rep said the Greens were behaving like a “government-in-waiting.”

Update on 11 Feb 2014: The ruling grosse Koalition is still talking about making the changes to give the <25% opposition some tools besides speechifying. Though they are about to propose and pass a 10% raise for themselves within one week.

The grosse Koalition is saying yes, the Bundestag’s rules of procedure really ought to be changed to allow oppositions <25% to create investigative committees. But no, now they refuse to agree to allow <25% oppositions to ask the supreme court in Karlsruhe to check constitutionality of laws [Normenkontrollklage].

Update on 03 Apr 2014: The two parties in the grosse Koalition, C.D.U./C.S.U. + S.P.D., and the oppositional Green party voted to change the Bundestag’s rules of procedure to allow this 19% opposition to create investigative committees and call special sessions. The oppositional Leftists abstained because the compromise agreement did not go far enough. The new rules will apply until the next Bundestag election.

Update on 28 Jun 2014: The bonsai opposition was unable to file complaints against the Bundestag’s creating automatic raises for itself and against the reform to Germany’s switch to renewable power sources. The Greens weren’t able to call a certain type of hearing to review last minute substantial changes to the Energiewende reform because they lacked the numbers.

(MINNED eah height en RECT eh   im   BOON dess tochh.)

“Bekannte Gefangenschaft”

Known captivity” of forming a “grosse Koalition,” a large coalition consisting of Germany’s two biggest political parties and practically no opposition. After the 22 Sep 2013 Bundestag election, Chancellor Merkel‘s C.D.U. was more powerful than ever yet needed another seat or two for a Bundestag majority. Its trusty traditional libertarianesque coalition partner, the F.D.P., didn’t manage the 5% hurdle created to prevent future Hitlers and so is now out of the Bundestag. Whoever partners with the C.D.U./C.S.U. to form the next government will probably lose their political soul and end up with their core voters [Stammwähler] fleeing in droves after the bigger partner forces them to agree to break faith with their supporters and their political identity again and again. Yet, as an old S.P.D. politician is said to have said, opposition is crap [“Opposition ist Mist”].

The S.P.D. promised, swore, during the campaign that they would not form a grosse Koalition.

Update on 25 Sep 2013: The Greens are proposing their pals the S.P.D. as the C.D.U.’s coalition partner and the S.P.D. is proposing the Greens. A cartoon was published showing Angela Merkel saying, “Yoo hoo!” and the Greens and S.P.D. chairs scrambling up a tree to hide in the leaves. But the German constitution requires a coalition be formed by Oct. 22. And the S.P.D. has reason to fear its ~25% result would drop even lower if a new election were called.

Update on 26 Sep 2013: The S.P.D. is supposedly pushing to make the C.D.U. break a campaign promise before the S.P.D. breaks its campaign promise by forming a grosse Koalition with them. Before the election, the S.P.D. promised to raise taxes for the richest Germans, anathema for the C.D.U./C.S.U. (& F.D.P.). Now the S.P.D. is indicating they could and would make the C.D.U. raise some taxes on some rich people as a coalition precondition.

The Leftists party (Die Linken) was originally created by former East German politicians twenty years ago and now houses some apostate S.P.D. pols who felt the Social Democrats were trending too far to the right—especially after joining grosse-Koalition C.D.U. governments. If the socialistical S.P.D. would partner with the Leftists plus their traditional partner the Green party, they might form their own majorities and take over state and federal governments. But the S.P.D. oath never to work with the Leftists seems to be the one campaign promise they’ll keep.

None of the options available can be taken. The most logical solution, S.P.D. + Leftists + Greens, has been ruled out. The most harmful for German voters, a grosse Koalition with no opposition, looks the most likely. Democratic elimination of the most dishonest-seeming party brought about this impasse, which cannot be resolved without further vile treachery. The ensuing wriggling and oath-breaking will occur very publicly, under a high degree of light and attention by U.S. standards.

Update on 27 Sep 2013: Germany’s post-parliamentary election process, within which many people are discussing how to accomplish what seems obviously impossible. After 1) post-election party meetings behind closed doors [geschlossene Gespräche; Konvent], the Green party and the S.P.D. announced they are prepared to talk with the C.D.U. about forming a coalition in the 2) “sounding out” pre-coalition pre-negotiations phase [Sondierungsgespräche]. The S.P.D. chair said he wanted to compensate core voters for the party’s obvious willingness to break the no-grosse-Koalition promise, less than one week after the election, by involving the voters in the grosse Koalition decision in special ways. This almost sounds like hinting the S.P.D. might adopt Pirate Partystyle new technologies in addition to new communications and decision-making systems—if democratic software innovations can be trusted before resolution of the N.S.A./G.C.H.Q. spying that’s been revealed but not yet regulated. In fact, S.P.D. voter participation here would be limited to an up-or-down vote on any grosse Koalition agreement that’s negotiated, giving the S.P.D. comrades minimum input while placing maximum emphasis on the temptations of exiting the opposition, apparently also hoping to force S.P.D. voters to break the campaign promise too.

Update on 28 Sep 2013: “The Greens will make it with everyone,” complained one voter. The Green party is trying to bust out of its traditional coalition role of only partnering with the S.P.D. They want to re-emphasize their environmentalism and “critical accompaniment” of the Energiewende. Then, having strengthened their own political identity thus, they want to seriously consider partnering with everyone including the Leftists (Die Linken). The Greens say they’ll let the S.P.D. go first in negotiating about a coalition with the C.D.U. because, they said, if they negotiated in parallel the C.D.U. would play the two parties off against each other.

Somehow, the Greens also want to start sounding like they’re not telling people what to do, even though that’s how environmentalists work. They’re right however that a vacuum or opportunity has presented itself in Germany for politicians who figure out how to champion personal liberty, now that the <5% F.D.P. who claimed that was them is out of the picture, and the <5% Pirate Party is mostly out too. The German Pirate Party arose in part because the Green party was crewed by 1980’s types who distrusted technology, which is where serious individual liberty and privacy wars are being fought these days.

(Beh CON teh   geh FONG en shoft.)

 

“Gewährung von Befreiungen und Vergünstigungen an Unternehmen, die mit Dienstleistungen auf dem Gebiet analytischer Tätigkeiten für die in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland stationierten Truppen der Vereinigten Staaten beauftragt sind”

Frontal 21 investigative reporters discovered that Germany’s governments issued permits to private-sector U.S. firms to spy on German soil at least as far back as August 2003, when the Foreign Office under Joschka Fischer (Green party) happened to create the earliest documentation found for this so far by publishing in the German Federal Gazette [Bundesgesetzblatt, BGB] some proposed amendments to what looks like a 2001 permit issued to the U.S.A.:

“Granting of exemptions and advantages to companies commissioned with services in the field of analytical activities for United States troops stationed in the Federal Republic of Germany” [Translation of the German BGB version.]

This English text from another news program might be a less-translated version closer to the original:

“Granting of exemptions and benefits to enterprises charged with providing services in the field of analytical activities to the United States Forces stationed in the Federal Republic of Germany”

The show’s reporters said they found a 2011 document saying the German government had issued spying licenses to 207 intelligence private-contractor companies that apparently have included, to name just a few, Booz Allen Hamilton, L3 Services Inc., Military Professional Resources Inc. (M.P.R.I.), Galaxy Scientific, The Analytic Sciences Corp. (T.A.S.C.), Science Applications International Corporation (S.A.I.C.), R4, Pluribus International, Bevilacqua Research Corp., Silverback, Information and Infrastructure Technologies (I.I.T.), Electronic Warfare Associates (?? E.W.A.), D.S.R. (?), General Dynamics, D.P.R.A. (?), Computer Sciences Corporation, CACI, GeoEye Analytics, Lockheed Martin. The 2011 document was mentioned because Germans were incensed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s C.D.U./C.S.U. + F.D.P. coalition government’s claim that it only found out about Prism via the newspapers.

The Frontal 21 report opens with a local mayor’s delightful driving tour around an area called the Dagger Complex in the Hessian town of Griesheim, only 30 km from Frankfurt/Main. Frankfurt apparently has the world’s largest node for internet traffic, operated by a German company called De-Cix. A representative from De-Cix reminded the reporters that any U.S. companies involved with manufacture or operation of the Frankfurt node’s cables or computers could have been forced by U.S. law to violate German law and grant access to the data flowing through them, and ditto for Chinese companies and Chinese law, et cetera. The U.S. firm Level 3 Communications, apparently the world’s biggest data network operator, runs an important computer center for the Frankfurt node. (It said it runs five Germany data centers actually, in Berlin, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt/Main and Munich.) Frontal21 narrator: “Like all U.S. network operators, [Level 3] had to agree to let its data be saved off to America and to give American intelligence agencies access to it.” Commentary from pundit historian Josef Foschepoth concluded the report by saying post-W.W.II German law still provides some outdated protections to allied countries spying on German citizens in violation of German law. He said they used to call it the Alliertes Vorbehaltsrecht and now they’re calling it “legal obligations of the German government.”

(Geh VARE oong   fon   beh FRYE oong en   oont   ferg IN stig oong en   on   oon ta NAME en,   dee   mitt   DEENST lye stoong en   ow! f   dame   geh BEET   on oll it ish ah   TATE ichh kite en   foor   dee   in   dare   BOOND ess ray poob leek   DEUTSCHLAND   shtah tee own EAR ten   TROOP en   dare   fare EYE nichh ten   SHTOT en   beh OW! f trog t   zint.)

Der lange langsame Marsch durch die Institutionen

“The long slow march through institutions.”

In an Australian radio discussion about democracy, Francis Fukuyama said that is how Antonio Gramsci might have described the history of the “1968” generation of German students who did things like created the Green party in 1980 and then gradually got elected into local, state and federal office, cogoverning the country from 1998 to 2005.

The 1968 students also insisted on discussing previously taboo topics that shouldn’t have been taboo, especially aspects of World War II and its aftermath which some of their parents had demonstrated by their behavior they would have preferred to continue hiding and abetting.

(Dare   LONG eh   LONG zom eh   mahsh   doer chh   dee   in stee toot Y’OWN en.)

Gemeinsames Terrorabwehrzentrum, G.T.A.Z.

“Joint Terrorism Defense Center.” Apparently the German police and secret services have been working together at this institution since its founding in 2004 under poor Otto Schily. Many Germans are terrified by the idea of police and spies working together.

If the reasonable, brave, intelligent, energetic and left-leaning defense attorney Otto Schily, cofounder of the German Green party in 1980, could as interior minister in an S.P.D. + Green party coalition federal government help set up the “antiterrorism” cooperations that Otto Schily apparently did, then institutions in governments around the world could use a good hard review by politicians who don’t want to see themselves forced into similar stances in the very near future.

A recent review of Germany’s antiterror laws by the interior ministry and the justice ministry, examining in particular who has what authorities and who checks their work, has concluded and published its nonbinding report. Interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (C.S.U.) was satisfied with the current laws but justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Scharrenberger (F.D.P.) is not: she is calling for a new law providing uniform and limiting rules for antiterror centers where police and intelligence services exchange information.

“When we’re talking about intervention authorizations that go deep, precisely the ones that penetrate into the privacy and personality spheres of individual people, then there have to be definitive rule-of-law procedures, mandatory notifications, inspection and controls, transparency.”

(Geh MINE zom ess   TARE or OB vare tsent room.)

Kollisionsschutz

“Collision protection.” In a surprise move ~14 May 2013 the German Defense Ministry [Bundesverteidigungsministerium] cancelled its Euro Hawk drone development cooperation with the USA because the drone was not going to receive permission from civilian authorities to fly in European airspace. When the cancellation was announced, GDefense said they’d spent 550 million euros on the project, but now they’re saying 660 million. The F.A.Z. Sonntag reported GDefense knew about the “Euro Hawk” civil-airspace permission problems in 2004, three years before they signed the procurement contracts to purchase the drones. Airspace permission was denied to the unmanned surveillance drone because it lacked an adequate “collision protection” system [“fehlende Kollisionsschutz“]. Air safety authorities, business people in the aerospace industry and the German Defense Department’s own licensing office warned the Defense Ministry about the paperwork problems in 2004. Furthermore, the opposition SPD and Green Party accuse, GDefense subsequently “massively interfered” in the German Federal Court of Auditors [Bundesrechnungshof]’s attempt to do their job by investigating what the hell was going on there. On 18 May 2013 the Bundesrechnungshof auditors said they’d still not received all the documents they’d requested and some of the status reports they did receive were blacked out by censors.

Half the project’s money was spent on developing the drone vehicle in the USA and half on developing the drone’s special electronic surveillance system in Germany. The surveillance system is supposedly too large to go in other drones but could be carried by a normal plane. One Euro Hawk prototype was delivered and four more drones were going to be ordered.

The F.A.Z. Sonntag reported that serious problems occurred during the drone prototype’s delivery flight from California to Bavaria in 2011, when contact with the controlling satellite was lost twice for about ten minutes at a time and the drone deviated from its course. But the Defense Ministry did not report these problems to the Bundestag. US air safety authorities also had refused to issue airspace permission to the drone, before its 2011 transfer flight. Anti-drone activist Medea Benjamin, author of “Drone warfare: Killing by remote control,” said in a 24 Sep 2012 interview that the US air force admits about one-third of these drones have been crashing. She said apparently it’s OK for them to crash on some countries but not other countries.

The German Defense Ministry’s reason for refusing to share the information requested by the controlling authorities, the Bundesrechnungshof auditors, was agreements made with “industry partners” not to share information with third parties. A spokesman for the federal auditing authority said not receiving all the information they needed to do their jobs was “unusual. We don’t experience something like that very often.” And: “The Bundesrechnungshof has an unlimited right of inspection which the Defense Ministry cannot nullify via agreements with third parties. We can and will not accept the Defense Ministry’s limitations of our access to the files.”

On 22 May 2013, Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) said he will let the federal auditors see all documents now, even despite putative contractual conditions agreed with the USA.

Germany has also contributed ~483 million euros to NATO’s Hawk drone (“Global Hawk”?) which is based on the same US drone and thus might also have civil airspace licensing issues.

(Coe LEE zee OWNS shootz.)

Cum-Ex-Geschäfte

“Cum/ex transactions.” A lucrative tax loophole that major German banks have been using. Spiegel reported the story on 28 Apr 2013, saying it had been broken by the Berlin Sunday version of Die Welt (Die Welt am Sonntag, WamS) but so far search results for it online are only turning up in Der Spiegel. The loophole, estimated to have cost the German government 12 billion euros so far, was created by corporate tax reform legislation of the SPD + Green Party coalition in 2002. Though discovered by officials shortly thereafter in 2002, and reported all the way up the chain of command, the loophole was not fixed by Hans Eichel (SPD) or his successor Peer Steinbrück (SPD, currently running against Angela Merkel for chancellor of Germany). Amendments to the law in 2007 made the situation worse, Spiegel reports that WamS reports. Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) appears to have waited several years to fix the problem as well, though now the order appears to have gone out.

The problem was this: under certain circumstances capital gains tax could be reimbursed multiple times. After e.g. stocks or bonds were sold short but before they were bought back to conclude the transaction, German bureaucracy sometimes obscured to whom the stocks or bonds belonged: the person loaning the stock, the short seller or the end customer. The question would be trivial, say financial reporters, were it not for the fact that sometimes if the sale occurred right before a dividend the German IRS would erroneously issue more than one get-your-tax-back certificate for capital gains on the stock. Honest people would ignore the unearned get-your-tax-back certificate, but others would deliberately game the system to get the treasury to reimburse them these taxes even conceivably more than five times, said professor Heribert Anzinger of the University of Ulm.

This looks like the dividend stripping loophole HypoVereinsBank and others were reported in 2012 to have used to extract money from the German fiscus. Etymologically, Wikipedia contributors explain, when a company’s general assembly of shareholders decides to issue a dividend, the dividend is usually issued the day after the assembly meeting, called the “ex day” (“Ex-Dividende”). The day before the ex day is called the cum day, for arcane reasons.

(COOM   ECKS   geh SHEFF teh.)

Selbstanzeige

“Self reporting,” voluntary submission of an amended German tax return reporting money hidden in e.g. Switzerland. You can still report yourself to the German IRS, pay a low tax rate on the unreported funds, get immunity from prosecution and legally repatriate the money to Germany. The reason we know there are still Germans with Schwarzgeld, under-the-table or “black” capital, in Swiss bank accounts who have not taken advantage of the Selbstanzeige is because the German state governments, acting independently, buy CD’s of data about these accounts and use them to pursue tax sinners for fun and profits. The state of Rhineland-Palatinate recently bought another one, for the 500 million euros they expect to collect with its help and because no capital crimes were committed in the seller’s acquisition of it. ~200 apparently-related tax razzias took place on 16 Apr 2013. The RP finance minister is asking the other German states to show solidarity by contributing toward the purchase price because they too will be benefiting from the content. Lower Saxony has already announced they will contribute. Both states are ruled by SPD and Green Party coalitions.

The Selbstanzeige will soon be irrelevant because international negotiations are moving toward closing the loopholes, especially since publication of the “offshore leaks” financial data trove. Meanwhile, the Süddeutsche Zeitung writes in a wonderful history of bank account data sales to Germany, RP tax officials are “electrified” and say they’ve never had foreign bank account data this good before. “First class.” It sounds like enough years of transfers and other information are included that, after the tax authorities are done with it, the CD could form the basis of some interesting doctoral theses.

The top Rhineland-Palatinate tax agent now says he sees the recently failed tax agreement with Switzerland as disadvantageous, because it provides a partial amnesty and would destroy tax payment morale were it to be ratified now.

(ZELBST on ts eye geh.)

 

Das Crowdsourcing von Umweltanalysen

“Crowdsourcing environmental testing,” including sharing of software platforms used and the data resulting from the tests, for the efficiencies associated with wider availability and to prevent knowledge losses that can occur e.g. when you underfund and then destroy E.P.A. libraries. Many experiments with crowdsourcing chemistry and biology testing are ongoing right now. For example, for the past five years high school kids in Lower Saxony, ~10,000 students so far, have been learning to test food products for GMO’s in high school lab classes, often finding modified products in foods labeled GMO-free. The curriculum includes pro and con discussions that must be pretty interesting.

Silicon Valley companies and other communities are experimenting with creating open source software and hardware kits for crowdsourced environmental testing and pharmaceutical testing, according to an interesting new book by Institute for the Future director Marina Gorbis.

(Doss   CRRROWD sauce ing   fun   OOM veldt on ah LOO zen.)

Mumiensturm

“Storm of mummies.” Joschka Fischer was in the German Green Party the first time it managed to join a ruling federal coalition. He became foreign minister (Secretary of State). Years later it turned out the Foreign Office (State Department) had a cadre of elderly and/or retired diplomats who objected to the new government’s decision to stop publishing obituaries of colleagues who had been former nazis, egregious former nazis in the case they chose to start a ruckus over, in the foreign ministry’s small in-house magazine.

Joschka convened an international “Historians Commission” that spent five years researching the history of ex-nazis in the post-WWII German foreign service. They brought sunlight to a problem that had been made possible by, among other things, the fact that FO was the only cabinet ministry allowed to manage its own document archive and thus control and rewrite its own history; all the other cabinet ministries had had to submit their documents to a central federal government archive. Joschka was particularly irked by the following issue as well: there had been a few brave German diplomats during the 1930’s and 40’s who tried to resist the nazis; most were killed for their troubles; and they tended to be communists. After the war, many of the diplomats with a nazi past or who supported post-nazi colleagues pretended to have been in the resistance. Right wingers hiding behind the communists, Joschka called them. He also called their obituary-based revolution a “mummies storm” like in the Brendan Fraser movies.

(MOOM ee en SHTOORM.)

Kapitalverschleierung über Steueroasen

“Using tax oases to veil capital.” Methods for doing this were disclosed by financial data about 130,000 people, in 170 countries, >120,000 “mailbox companies,” >260 GB in >2 million documents from a time range of ~30 years sent anonymously to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists over a year ago. The story hit the world press on 04 Apr 2013. Greek and Filipino tax authorities announced that they will be investigating. The vice president of Mongolia‘s parliament will probably have to resign. Some of the still-legal methods to create tax opacity to be gleaned from the data were shown to have been used by the Deutsche Bank in Singapore, which had an intermediary agent (Trustverwaltungsfirma, “trust administrator company”) create >300 companies in so-called tax paradises (Steuerparadise).

In response: Gerhard Schick (Green Party) suggested Germany follow France’s example of levying an additional tax on all transactions with low-tax countries, disincentivizing tax flight (Steuerflucht) by neutralizing the advantages. Joachim Poß (SPD) proposed “an international anonymous NGO and a comprehensive information exchange, starting here in Europe.” The Leftists party proposed following the USA’s example of linking tax obligations to citizenship, so that every German residing abroad would be obligated to report “their total income every year, how much property they owned in total and what taxes they had had to pay for that in the Seychelles that year. And the difference between that and their German tax obligation” would then have to be paid in Germany, said Gregor Gysi (Die Linken).

The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that they and NDR were the two German media outlets given access to the data (of “the biggest leak in world history”), and furthermore that a representative of Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble requested access to the data on Thursday, 04 Apr 2013, but the SZ would not grant that request. The data were protected under freedom of the press (Pressefreiheit), which includes protecting one’s sources, the Süddeutsche wrote. Sharing the data with government authorities might endanger those sources and obstruct the SZ’s ongoing research. NDR also refused the request to share the data. Now Focus magazine seems to have acquired the data somehow.

Update on 06 Apr 2013: “I have a certain degree of pleasure from the fact that this public scandalization in all countries has very much increased the pressure,” said German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble with quiet satisfaction on 05 Apr 2013. “And now we have better chances to make progress faster than was possible in the past.”

Critics say the German finance minister has to be kidding because everyone’s known about this for years. If Schäuble were serious, they say, his office would be drafting new legislation. Income tax is regulated state-by-state in Germany, for example, and some people are calling for it to be centralized, made into a uniform federal-level taxation system with fewer “tax bait” niches. The OECD seems to be the locus for international negotiations in response to the new information; that group wants to issue a list of proposed actions in response to the “Offshore Leaks” data trove by July 2013.

(Cop ee TALL fer SHLY er oong   üüüberrr   SHTOY er oh OZ en.)

Bärbeissig

“Bear bitey.” A very important force behind the amazing success of the German Green party over the last three decades was Joschka Fischer, a high-school dropout and one of the world’s most amazing politicians. The director of a documentary about Joschka described his relationship with the media as “bärbeissig” but also said, “It wasn’t always easy, but it was always open.” When the Greens were governing Germany in a coalition with the SPD, and Joschka Fischer was foreign minister, I remember my surprise at how he would answer the questions journalists asked—not providing an answer to a different question entirely, as I had gotten used to since Reagan—and yet not make the situation worse. While speaking openly and well, he makes situations better.

There’s a new book by Joschka Fischer that came out in 2011 about the war in Iraq, which occurred while the Greens and SPD were in charge. Its title is taken from something he told Donald Rumsfeld: “Excuse me, I’m not convinced.”

16-second video on YouTube:

“You have to make the case. And to make the case in the democracy you must convince by yourself. Excuse me, I am not convinced. This is my problem. And I cannot go to the public and say, well, let’s go to war because there are reasons and so on, and I don’t believe in them!”

(Bear BICE ichh.)

Transall

The type of the two transport planes Germany originally sent in January 2013 to support France’s intervention in northern Mali. France then asked for more military support from Germany, such as planes that could refuel French fighter jets in the air. Germany’s Green Party was among those questioning the wisdom of this; Bundestag member Katja Keul said for example that it is crucial that any military aid should transition to a political process, “because the military can never bring the solution to the problem.” However, Germany then agreed to send 40 soldiers for training purposes. On 18 Feb 2013 Spiegel-Online reported that Angela Merkel’s government was planning to ask the Bundestag to increase that to “up to 330” soldiers, i.e. 180 for training and 150 for logistics. The 18 Feb Spiegel article also mentioned that Germany was now providing three Transall and one in-flight refueling Airbus planes to the multinational effort in Mali.

(Tronz ollll.)

Fischereireform

“Fisheries reform”; the EU passed a reformatory Common Fisheries Policy this week with a very solid majority. The Greens celebrated. Details still need to be worked out with individual countries’ governments, but the policy is intended to help combat overfishing and will, e.g., make it illegal for vessels to dump part of their catch back into the ocean in order to meet fishing quotas or because the caught fish have low market value. It is also supposed to stop overfishing in developing countries.

(Fisher EYE rrreform.)

Grossspenden

“Large donations,” in this case business donations to political parties exceeding 50,000 euros. Private donations to Germany’s political parties are low by U.S. standards and have been decreasing since 2002, though they still spike in election years. Of the reported large donations of this type from 2002 until 2012, 45.2% went to Angela Merkel’s CDU, 21.4% interestingly went to the CDU’s Bavarian sister party the CSU (a state party that manages to hold power at the national level), 17.0% to the FDP and 10.8% to the SPD. The Greens and Leftists are calling for reforms mandating that private political donations go to individuals and not parties, and capping them at 100,000 euros.

Update on 10 Aug 2013: The Bundestag published a list of Q1 + Q2 2013 “large donations” >50,000 euros by political party:
CDU 600,000 euros, SPD 290,000 euros; FDP 130,000 euros, and no large donations were listed for the Green party or Leftists (Die Linken).

The Bundestag website enables easy comparison to their large donation lists from previous years.
Q1 + Q2 2012: CDU 267,000 euros, CSU 141,000 euros, SPD 259,000; FDP 59,000 euros.

Update on 16 Oct 2013: Three major Bavarian Motor Werks [BMW] shareholders each made a large donation of ~200,000 euros to the C.D.U. party on 09 Oct 2013. The political donations were properly reported. However, at about the same time the German government (C.D.U./C.S.U. + a new coalition partner t.b.d.) made the unusual move of blocking stricter carbon dioxide standards for car exhaust under discussion in Brussels. The C.D.U. denied the two events were connected.

Update on 17 Oct 2013: The C.D.U.’s Bavarian state sister party the C.S.U. also received a relatively large large donation after the recent Bundestag campaign: half a million euros from the Bavarian Metal and Electronics Industry Association [Verband der Bayerischen Metall- und Elektroindustrie]. Süddeutsche.de reported that the C.S.U. received the donation on Tuesday, 15 Oct 2013, and reported it on Thursday, 17 Oct.

(GROSS shpen den.)

EEG-Umlage

The “Renewable Energy Act Contribution” or sharing of the investment costs of Germany’s “biggest infrastructure project of this age,” the Energiewende conversion to renewable energy sources. Shortly before Christmas, on 19 Dec 2012, Angela Merkel’s government announced that a record ~1550 companies had received permission to not pay the increased EEG-Umlage contribution for 2013. About 2000 firms had applied for the 2013 rebate; about 500 of these applications were “questionable” and still under review, though not yet rejected. Only 778 companies received the 2012 rebate. The costs resulting from the ~1550 companies’ nonpayment in 2013, estimated by the Green party to be “up to” four billion euros, will be divided up among and paid by private consumers.

Update on 7 Mar 2013: The Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court voided businesses’ exemption from sharing the costs of building the new power lines required to connect the new alternative energy sources to the electricity grid. Chancellor Merkel’s government said in response that it will quickly eliminate this exemption (the Netzentgeltbefreiung). The opposition parties welcome the decision.

Update on 09 Oct 2013: The EEG-Umlage paid by private households will go up again in 2014 to 6.3 eurocents per kilowatt hour. Tagesschau.de’s graph showed it rising from 1.2 eurocents in 2008 to 5.3 eurocents in 2013. Household consumers’ EEG-Umlage is used to subsidize not only a steadily increasing number of businesses receiving electricity rebates from Chancellor Merkel’s government but also to pay the higher kilowatt-hour price guaranteed for twenty years at the subvention in force when the photovoltaic system is installed to people who put solar panels on and around their buildings to feed electricity into the grid. As announced long ago to incentivize folks to install decentralized home solar feeds faster, the guaranteed twenty-year price+ solar subventions are currently being tapered down, steadily reduced in what looks like annual amendments to Germany’s EEG law. The rising Umlage fee compensates in part for falling electricity prices on the exchanges, because of the conversion to decentralized renewables and despite the closure of all of Germany’s nuclear power plants and now, possibly, several coal-fired plants as well. And perhaps also closure of a giant “surface mine” that produces the more-polluting “brown coal” or lignite to run an adjacent coal-fired power plant; the Garzweiler pit is so big it has swallowed 14 villages so far and was scheduled to eat several more.

(Eh eh geh   OOM log ah.)

Lavieren

Tacking, in sailing. Nautical metaphor used by the SPD candidate running against Angela Merkel in the upcoming German parliamentary election—his background is in ocean-oriented northern Germany. When pressured about unlikely coalition partners such as the libertarianesque FDP or Merkel’s CDU/CSU, Peer Steinbrück insisted he “would not tack” and said the SPD would only form a coalition with the Greens.

(Love EAR en.)

Steuerabkommen

“Tax agreement.” Germany’s ruling CDU/CSU + FDP coalition negotiated an agreement with Switzerland that untaxed German money in Swiss bank accounts could be subjected to a one-time tax (21% to 41%) and repatriated to Germany with no prosecution for tax evasion. This agreement had to be ratified by German parliament but was not because the SPD and Green Party objected to the low rates, saying tax avoiders would be granted immunity yet pay a lower overall tax rate than people who had obeyed the laws. The matter will now undergo arbitration.

Update on 06 Dec 2012: A tax agreement between Greece and Switzerland is under discussion that it is hoped would return 9 billion euros to Greece. Again, the tax evaders would pay between 21% and 41% and remain anonymous. Negotiations have been ongoing for two years. Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that over 20 billion euros were moved from Greece to Swiss banks between 2009 and 2011.

Gerhard Schick, finance speaker for the Green Party in the Bundestag, said in a position paper quoted in this Süddeutsche Zeitung article about the constitutionally anchored tax-free status of Greek shipping families that the EU should be negotiating these tax agreements with Switzerland, that the Swiss tendency to negotiate separately with each EU country gives Switzerland disproportionately too much power. “Divide et impera.”

Update on 12 Dec 2012: Arbitration was unsuccessful.

(SHTOY err OBB come en.)

Geklonte Identität

Cloned identity.” After receiving a surprisingly low percentage of the vote in October 2012’s direct election—the first direct election, in which all party members were eligible to vote, of chancelor-level candidates in a German political party—Green chair Claudia Roth was reconfirmed as party leader at the Green political convention on 17 Nov 2012. In her speech before the convention vote she said, “You must decide whether I’m the right one, as I am, with corners and edges. Because I don’t want to change that. And I don’t like cloned identity.” An agreeable surprise to hear words like that from a politician under duress.

The Greens want to improve their social issues platform. Spiegel-Online listed some of the other decisions reached and ongoing discussions at their recent convention (status as of 18 Nov 2012, when the convention wasn’t yet over): 100% renewable energy by 2030, no armed drones in the military, stronger rights for asylum seekers, labeling for vegetarian food, torture to be criminalized per se in the penal code (?), a motion approved against discrimination of Sinti and Roma; discussion about religious circumcision, debate of European policy.

(Geh CLONE teh   eeee DENT ee TATE.)

Flughafen-Untersuchungsausschuss

“Committee Investigating the Airport.” Berlin’s state parliament has created a committee to look into the billions of unbudgeted euros and months if not years of delays incurred in the construction of its new airport. The committee chair is Martin Delius (German Pirate Party), the first Pirate Party member ever to chair a parliamentary committee in Germany.

ZDF said Martin Delius (28) has meticulously prepared for this job, even swotting up on police interrogation techniques. He also created Wikileaks-type websites for airport workers to submit information to anonymously. ZDF briefly flashed an image of a book in Delius’s office by Oliver Wenzlaff called Piratenkommunikation: Was die Eliten in Politik und Wirtschaft von den Piraten lernen können [“Pirate communication: What the political and economic elites can learn from pirates”]. Berlin’s ruling SPD party said it wants to follow this GPP example of good transparency. The Greens said they want to do better than the stated Pirate goal of finding out what happened, by finding out what happened and then firing people and bringing lawsuits. The investigation is to last approximately one year, so results will be published in October 2013, presumably.

(FLEW g hoff en   OON ter ZOO kungs ow! ss SHOOSS.)

Causa Strepp, Causa Horst Seehofer

“The Strepp Affair,” “The Case of Horst Seehofer.” The Bavarian state branch of Angela Merkel’s CDU party insists on remaining separate from the general CDU and calls itself the CSU. Horst Seehofer is in charge. The CSU has been posturing in national politics for an upcoming state election. Last Sunday, CSU spokesperson Hans Michael Strepp called the public broadcasting ZDF television station and said he’d heard they were going to broadcast a news report about the rival Bavarian SPD’s recent festive nomination of their top candidate, Christian Ude. Strepp told ZDF that neither the public broadcasting ARD nor the public broadcasting news and documentaries channel Phoenix was planning to report on the Bavarian SPD’s state convention and far be it from Strepp to want to tell them their business but he wanted to give them food for thought that there could be discussions afterward if ZDF went it alone. ZDF interpreted this as exerting influence and broadcast the report anyway. Then they broadcast a report about Strepp’s phone call.

At first, the CSU said nothing bad had happened. At noon on Thurs. 25 Oct 2012, Horst Seehofer announced that Spokesperson Strepp had resigned because Strepp had said he hadn’t exerted any influence on ZDF and the ZDF disagreed with that statement and Seehofer could not clarify this situation. The CSU’s position is now that Strepp acted entirely alone. In a lively parliamentary discussion after Seehofer’s announcement of Strepp’s resignation, Bavarian M.P.’s cast a lot of aspersions. CSU General Secretary Alexander Dobrindt has now been dragged into it because he obfuscated rather than clarified and because people find it credible that he might have given Strepp the incredible order to make the call. The Bavarian SPD demanded that Seehofer and Dobrindt resign their seats on ZDF management boards (!).

German Green party member Jürgen Trittin has demanded that all politicians holding government office resign from public broadcasting channels’ supervisory boards. Trittin said the Greens have been demanding this for years, and that a gray zone forms where government and media entangle. Trittin also said this is what you get when people have been in power longer than Fidel Castro.

(COW zah   SHTREP,   COW zah   Horst   ZAY hoaf er.)

Das bürgerliche Lager

The “burghers camp,” the “middle class position,” was being invoked in Stuttgart’s recent politics much as the “center” is in the USA. After Stuttgart’s mayoral election on 21 Oct 2012, the Green candidate had 52.9% of the vote and the “nonparty” (CDU, Merkel-supported) candidate 45.3%. The Green party is now in charge of Stuttgart for the first time, with an absolute majority (!), after 40 years of CDU mayors in various coalitions. Part of the voters’ general anger was in response to last year’s “Stuttgart 21” controversy in which the CDU insisted on going through with expansion of the main train station at the cost of parts of its historic building, trees in the castle park, public access to the castle park for ten years of construction, public land sold for development and cost overruns exceeding the originally promised price of EUR 200 million to the current estimate of EUR 4 billion and possibly even EUR 18 billion because a 2003 report found the area too unstable for an underground train station. I also wonder about the archeological losses incurred by digging next to a castle site that’s over a thousand years old.

New Oberbürgermeister Fritz Kuhn (Green Party) said, “This assumption that the burghers camp is the CDU and FDP is ~[as dead wrong as it’s possible to be wrong in a very wrong way]. We too are in the burghers camp, but with a progressed understanding of the middle classes. And today’s success is actually the success of a long-term strategy that’s been ongoing for years.”

Update on 12 Dec 2012: Stuttgart 21 is now estimated to cost 6.8 billion euros (but only if it  finishes in 2021 as planned, &c.). The head of Deutsche Bahn, the German Rail operator, has now alleged that canceling the project will cost 2 billion euros. But, says Spiegel-Online, he has also said for some time that Stuttgart 21 would only be worth carrying out if its costs did not exceed 4.7 billion euros.

Update on 21 Nov 2013: An expert opinion report found that ex-governor of Baden-Württemberg Stefan Mappus (C.D.U.) overpaid by ~780 million euros when he bought into private energy utility company EnBW in 2010, negotiating a shares purchase package for 4.7 billion euros. The report was commissioned by the Stuttgart prosecutors’ office.

Update on 07 Mar 2014: Stuttgart prosecutors are now investigating ex-governor Stefan Mappus for his role in the police beatdown of the Stuttgart 21 protests. They are examining whether Mr. Mappus lied, while not under oath, when he told the state parliament’s investigating committee that he’d never exerted any influence on the government’s counterprotest measures, that he merely gave police moral support during visits and meetings. Top police officials and their documents have now indicated that the governor made “rigid instructions” during the protests, including telling police to use water cannons. ~130 demonstrators and ~30 police officers were injured during the events that ensued on 30 Sep 2010. Mr. Mappus’s hands-off claim was supported by the head of police at the time, Siegfried Stumpf, who said he alone bore responsibility for the decisions and their consequences. Now other top officials have said Mr. Mappus told police, “Bring the bulldozers in. If you won’t do it, I’ll get police from another state.” Mr. Mappus denies this and has filed a lawsuit for defamation [üble Nachrede].

Update on 05 Aug 2014: The castle park is gone. Digging started on the huge Stuttgart 21 underground train station even though experts say a canal running through the site will cause problems. Deutsche Bahn will have to pump out groundwater but only has a partial permit to do so. Also, Deutsche Bahn still doesn’t have an approved fire protection concept. The latter issue ended up costing the Berlin-Brandenburg airport years and billions of euros, with still no solution in sight.

ZDF heute journal reported that a new fire safety concept had to be developed for the underground train station after requirements were set higher in 2010 and after a stress test showed more passengers would be using the facility than the planners had calculated. Now what looks like fire escape stairs will be built, three on each platform. One problem there is that there will be only 2.05 meters of space on either side of these sets of stairs, bottlenecking masses of rail passengers. The founder of a “Wikireal” fact-checking portal told ZDF that Deutsche Bahn has said two meters isn’t enough space even in small train stations. Deutsche Bahn’s Stuttgart 21 spokesman said there were no bottlenecks in the planned train station.

The new fire safety concept was supposed to be approved in June 2014 but the authorities had questions, said Deutsche Bahn’s Stuttgart 21 spokesperson.

(Doss   BERR gur lichh eh   LOG er.)

Nebeneinkünfte

“Side incomes,” translated by dict.leo.org as ancillary or auxiliary income; casual, incidental earnings or discretionary earnings; emoluments and perquisites. On 16 Oct. 2012 the Bundestag debated the SPD’s proposal to have Bundestag members disclose all incomes in addition to their M.P. compensation. Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU party was opposed, as was their coalition partner the FDP, who said their primary concern was that working lawyers would have to disclose their clients. Greens and Leftists said they were ready for full transparency.

The debate was triggered by attacks on a vulnerability of the SPD’s challenger to Angela Merkel in the upcoming election. Peer Steinbrück, who was called the Bankenschreck (terror of the banks, banks’ bane) when he was Finance Minister under an SPD government, has since then been receiving high speaking fees from banks and e.g. hedge funds. Calls from rival party members for Steinbrück to disclose these fees have turned up opportunities to improve the laws regulating extra-parliamentary compensation. The SPD’s proposal suggested disclosing the type of work, amount paid and payer’s name, because apparently that’s not required now. Violations would be punished by a reduction in the M.P.’s salary.

Tagesschau.de reports that Peer Steinbrück (SPD) is the top earner in the Bundestag, followed by mostly members of the ruling conservative CDU/CSU and FDP parties (nine of the top ten, yet because of the nature of the old system these are minimum incomes and not accurate numbers).

Update on 25 Oct 2012: The ruling coalition CDU/CSU + FDP finds themselves in a bind because while they wanted to attack Steinbrück, they never wanted transparency for supplementary M.P. incomes, reports Spiegel-Online. The ruling coalition has now agreed to a reform plan that changes the disclosure system from three steps to ten steps. The three-step scale was up to EUR 3500, 3500 to 7000, and >7000, monthly. The ten-step scale will be, either monthly or annually (hasn’t been decided yet), EUR 1000 to 3500, to 7000, 15000, 30000, 50000, 75000, 100000, 150000, 250000 and >250000. With the old scale an M.P. who earned e.g. EUR 150,000 for a speaking engagement only had to disclose EUR 7001. The SPD is concerned that under the new system an M.P. could take ten EUR-900 fees without having to disclose, so they have proposed disclosure of fees exceeding EUR 10000 in one year. The SPD and Leftists (Die Linken) parties remain committed to full transparency. The Greens have proposed two models: full disclosure or a thirteen-step scale. The frequency of mandatory reporting is also still under debate; AbgeordnetenWatch.de points out that with modern technology this useful information can be made available very rapidly to voters.

Update on 22 Feb 2013: Today the Bundestag agreed on a new 10-step plan to disclose M.P.’s supplementary incomes.

(NAY ben eye n coon fteh.)

Ökostromumlage

“Environmentally-friendly electricity contribution” or “share in the costs”; this is a subvention to build more solar and wind power-generating capacity in Germany. Paid by electricity consumers, this contribution will probably increase in 2013 from ~3.6 to ~5.3 eurocents/kWh, or by an additional ~60 euros per average German household.

On 07 Oct. 2012 the president of the German Federal Cartell Authority asked for this contribution to be modified because he said it will soon be as high as the price of electricity on the Exchange.

Angela Merkel’s coalition partner, the libertarianesque FDP, advertises itself as a party that lowers taxes and deregulates in the interest of simplification (though it appears to me they have trouble finding projects that do this while actually simplifying and while actually benefiting average voters and not e.g. rich people). The FDP has now called to reduce value-added tax on electricity as compensation for the Ökostromumlage. Angela Merkel’s environmental minister (CDU) disagreed, saying he first wanted to find out how their partner party would compensate for the lost budgeted funds. The Green Party said it refuses to lower subventions for alternative power sources.

Update on 10 Oct 2012: Angela Merkel’s environmental minister (CDU) is now calling for a new Ökostromumlage law.

Update on 21 Oct 2012: Tagesschau.de reports that an internal SPD paper is also calling for a value-added tax rebate on electricity. The paper also calls for student allowances (BAFÖG), the base welfare income for people seeking work (Grundsicherung für Arbeitssuchenden, EUR ~690/month) and housing allowances (Wohngeld) to be “adjusted” for the electricity contribution increase.

(ÖÖÖ koh strome oom log eh.)

Hochgeschwindigkeitshandel

“High-speed trading.” On 25 Sept. 2012 the German social democrat party SPD (the opposition to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU + FDP coalition) announced their new proposed financial platform of increasing banking regulation, splitting “universal” banks into a business bank and an investment bank, creating an FDIC-type emergency fund with the banks’ own money to save troubled banks, capping mortgage debt at 80% of the unit’s value and limiting high-speed stock trading. One day later, on 26 Sept., Germany’s financial minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) announced that the German government wants to limit high-speed stock trading.

ZDF heute journal said the government was now calling for the following: registration of high-speed traders, disclosure of computer code if a problem occurs and higher fees after too many “fake attacks” in which high-speed traders pretend to buy a stock in order to drive up the price, then rapidly cancel the larger purchase and sell what they were actually holding at the new higher price.

Respect for Wolfgang Schäuble’s quietly reasoned-sounding explanations. Simple, straightforward, highly credible-sounding. He does a great job with them. He’s also quite clever, distracting me from banking reregulation by seizing on this high-speed trading point.

According to tagesschau.de, Schäuble is calling for “mandatory licensing for high-speed traders. Transparency that enables the supervisory authority to identify abuses faster. And the ability for the stock market supervisory authority to, when bad developments are identified in the market, to immediately halt trading.” On 26 Sept. his political opponent in the SPD responded that this doesn’t go far enough and called not only for licensing of trading firms but also of trading algorithms. Germany’s Green Party said the simplest way to handle this would be to forbid high-speed trades, and furthermore that the government is limiting itself to too much of an observing, witness, role, rather than regulating. And the techie German Pirate Party said…?

(HOKE geh SHVIN dig kites hon dell.)

Leipziger Strombörse

The European Electricity Exchange runs platforms for trading in many power-related markets. It is located in Leipzig and was created by a fusion of Leipzig’s LPX and Frankfurt/Main’s EEX in 2002.

A study commissioned by Germany’s Green Party has announced that while for years now electricity prices have been steadily falling on the EEX, electricity prices have been steadily rising for Germany’s small private consumers. Cost reductions have not been passed along to private consumers and cost increases have. German consumers are paying an estimated EUR 0.02/kilowatt hour too much, totalling three billion euros this year. High-volume customers, such as industrial clients, have meanwhile negotiated lower electricity prices with the utilities and lower environmental contributions with the government. The Bundesnetzagentur has now calculated e.g. that Germany’s biggest electricity customers consume 18% of its electricity but pay only 0.3% of the alternative energy law costs.

Responding to the report, the power companies blamed the flawed system, which they say is politicians’ fault. Also, they say, high prices are caused by taxes and environmental contributions.

ZDF heute journal reports that small private consumers aren’t switching electricity providers enough to create a sense of market competition.

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