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POLITICS

Naser steps down over BayernLB fiasco

The president of Bavaria’s Savings Bank Association, Siegfried Naser, bowed to public pressure over the €3.75 billion BayernLB bank debacle and resigned on Wednesday.

Naser steps down over BayernLB fiasco
Photo: DPA

Naser, who heads the Bavarian network of banks known as Sparkassen, was chairman of the board of directors of BayernLB in 2007 when it bought the ailing real estate financier Hypo Group Alpe Adria (HGAA).

BayernLB, which is owned by the Bavarian government, was force to sell its majority share in HGAA earlier this month to the Austrian government for a nominal price of €1, costing the state an estimated €3.75 billion.

Austria had insisted on nationalising the financier to safeguard the stability of its banking sector.

In his resignation statement, Naser, who is a former politician with the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), took no responsibility for the HGAA purchase.

But observers widely applauded his decision to fall on his sword.

Bavarian Economy Minister Martin Zeil said: “I welcome it, if those who took the decisions at the time stand by their responsibility and take the necessary personal consequences.”

The opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens described Naser’s resignation as long overdue.

“It was high time that the man who stuck to his presidential perks like glue resigned,” said Eike Hallitzky, the Greens’ parliamentary spokesman for finance.

The vice chairman of the Bavarian parliamentary committee that oversees BayernLB, Inge Aures, said that, because Naser had shaped the direction of BayernLB for many years, he was also responsible for another debacle, the loss of billions through asset-backed securities on the US mortgage market.

“Nasser wanted to spin the whole great wheel and he’s catastrophically come to grief.”

Aures, an SPD member of the state parliament, called for the resignations of other former BayernLB directors.

“I’m also waiting for the CSU parliamentary leader in Bavaria, Georg Schmid; the chairman of the business committee in the Bavarian parliament and former CSU chairman Erwin Huber; the former Premier Günther Beckstein and also the Dachau district administrator Hansjörg Christmann to finally accept the consequences.”

They had all approved the 2007 purchase, he said.

Economy Minister Zeil also said: “The exposure of the BayernLB to the Hypo Group Alpe Adria was in hindsight a fatally flawed decision. It has cost the Bavarian taxpayer €3.75 billion. This disaster must be fully explained.”

The Greens’ Hallitzky also criticised the role played by the former Premier Edmund Stoiber, accusing him of “megalomania”.

Stoiber had loved the idea of BayernLB as a global player and had pushed actively for its expansion, he said.

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POLITICS

Germany’s Scholz weathers shocks in turbulent first year

A war in his backyard, galloping economic crisis, and unhappy partners at home and abroad -- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has weathered unprecedented shocks in his first year, while struggling to make a mark on the global stage.

Germany's Scholz weathers shocks in turbulent first year

The ex-finance minister took office promising continuity with the era of Angela Merkel, who ended her 16 years as chancellor a widely respected figure.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced him to rip up Germany’s post-war axioms and chart out new economic, defence and geopolitical directions for the country that prizes — and is valued for — its stability and predictability.

“We never before had a government faced with such a dramatically worsening situation, when it came to foreign and security policy, but also of course energy policy,” political scientist Ursula Muench told AFP.

Scholz’s coalition of his Social Democrats and partners Greens and liberals FDP had taken office planning ambitious climate policies and budget restraint.

The designated German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (C), co-leader of the Greens and then designated German Minister for Economy and Climate Robert Habeck (L) and the leader of the Free Democratic FDP party and then designated German Finance Minister Christian Lindner (R) pictured in December 2021 in Berlin after leading members of Germany’s social democratic SPD party, the Greens and the FDP sealed their coalition deal to form a new government. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

But as Moscow dwindled its energy supplies in the wake of the war, Germany has had to halt its planned nuclear exit, restart mothballed coal power stations while burning through a budgetary hole in a scrum for oil and gas to replace Russian supplies.

And in a turning point for a country whose role on the world stage was still affected by memories of World War II, Scholz announced a historic shift on defence, vowing to re-arm Germany with a massive boost in military spending.

“Going by the dramatic events this year, he did pretty well,” said Nils Diederich, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University.

Turning point

But Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at US think tank the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center, warned that losing momentum was a danger, even if the initial response was “impressive”.

In this file photo taken on June 16, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz shake hands after a press conference following their meeting in Mariinsky Palace, in Kyiv. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)

“I think not being able to follow through with defence and security commitments is a concern,” she told AFP.

Not only is Germany trying to replenish its own military stocks, it is facing intense pressure from Ukraine to deliver what it has to help in the fightback against Russia.

The defence spending is high at a time when the treasury is also being pressed to help cushion a price shock fuelled by the energy crisis.

Huge investments are also required for the export giant to manage an economic transformation of reliance on cheap Russian energy or Chinese components to a diversified approach.

And governing in a three-way coalition means resolving each challenge inevitably involves squabbles that could unravel the fragile partnership.

Scholz’s government has managed to implement part of its programme, including raising the minimum wage and reforming unemployment benefits.

But with myriad crises not going away, the chancellor’s popularity ratings have suffered.

A survey by the Insa institute published Sunday in tabloid Bild showed 58 percent of Germans are dissatisfied with Scholz — compared with just 22 percent a year ago — and 64 percent are dissatisfied with his government, up from 36 percent.

emmanuel macron and olaf scholz

In this file photo taken on May 9, 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron make their way inside after inspecting an honour guard during a welcome ceremony at the Chancellery in Berlin. (Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP) 

‘Going it alone’

As well as disagreements at home, there have been tensions with partners abroad.

European Union allies were upset that Scholz announced a massive 200-billion-euro ($207-billion) energy fund without first consulting them, complaining he should have focused on coming up with EU-wide measures.

Tensions have also arisen in the key relationship between Berlin and Paris over issues ranging from the energy fund to German plans for defence procurement.

Unlike Merkel, who, in her time, was widely respected as the voice to reckon with in Europe, Scholz has so far failed to step into the role on the international stage.

Merkel’s departure “has left a void”, said Eric Maurice, from the Brussels office of the Robert Schuman Foundation.

Scholz is “struggling to make his mark at the European level… He is still trying to find his bearings, he does not have Merkel’s experience.”

In this file photo taken on November 10, 2021 then outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then German Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz attend a press conference to present the annual report of the German Council of Economic Experts (Wirtschaftsweise) in Berlin. (Photo by Kay Nietfeld / POOL / AFP)

The view Scholz was seeking to “go it alone” was reinforced when he made the first visit to China by a G7 leader since the start of the pandemic in November, accompanied by a delegation of German business leaders.

The chancellor faced accusations he was pursuing the same mercantilist, trade-focused foreign policy of previous German governments, which led to economic ties flourishing with authoritarian Russia, but ultimately left Berlin vulnerable.

As Scholz heads into his second year in the job, many of the open challenges will continue to entangle him.

High energy prices will remain a major problem, particularly for electricity-hungry German manufacturers, said Sudha David-Wilp, Berlin office director of US think tank the German Marshall Fund.

“Ensuring German competitiveness because of the increase in energy costs, particularly for industries like chemicals and steel manufacturing, is the big challenge for Scholz,” she said.

The energy fund “is just a short-term fix. No one knows when energy prices are going to come down to pre-war levels”.

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