A very lonely Chancellor to ‘green’ energy: how we’ll remember 2017

It has been such a busy and strange year that we haven’t even had time to mention the Hamburg G20 riots in this roundup. We hope you enjoy our take on the year’s events anyway.

A very lonely Chancellor to ‘green’ energy: how we’ll remember 2017
Photo: DPA

Dinner for One

A fly on the wall of Angela Merkel’s apartment in central Berlin would not have to switch on the television to watch the classic New Year comedy Dinner for One this year – the same scene would be playing out before its eyes.

Just as in the black and white comedy sketch, the fly would see a lonely woman seated at a long table, not realizing that she is eating alone. Instead of the fictional Miss Sophie, it will be Merkel tucking into her Silvester dinner. And in the place of the Butler James, Merkel’s husband Joachim Sauer will stumble round the table impersonating old accomplices in the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Free Democrats (FDP) to reassure the Chancellor that she isn't alone.

The truth is that nobody wants to be seen eating with Ms. Merkel this New Year. After 12 years in power, her incredible ability to cripple anyone who joins in coalition with her has left her with few friends. First the FDP fell out of parliament altogether after their union with Merkel ended in 2013. Then, this September, the SPD fell to their worst result in the history of modern Germany.

Even her own party, which used to cling to her as its golden ticket to power, has begun to lose faith. The Christian Democrats (CDU) once never dared doubt their leader out loud. But over the past 24 months mutterings of discontent have grown ever louder.

The faithful had already forgiven one act of heresy when Merkel announced from one day to the next that Germany would close down its nuclear reactors. But the trust vanished for good when Merkel chose to deal with the refugee crisis in Syria by welcoming refugees at the German land border to Austria.

The ensuing rush to reach Deutschland, with hundreds of thousands of people making the dangerous journey across a sea and a continent, led to administrative chaos. Many carried no form of identification and authorities were often unsure who exactly had entered the country.

Large sections of the German public laid the blame for a string of terrorist attacks that hit Germany in the following year at Merkel’s feet, even if most of these assaults were actually committed by people who had arrived in the country earlier. Merkel’s lack of empathy for these concerns is underscored most severely by one headline: it took her a year to meet the victims of the Berlin Christmas market terror attack – a controversy completely of her own making.

By the middle of January we will see whether the SPD have reluctantly agreed to sit down for one last meal with the still-hungry Chancellor. One thing is for sure – they’ll need about as much schnapps as Miss Sophie’s butler James to pluck up the courage to see it through.

Fake terrorists

Over the past 12 months Germany was spared a major terror attack, thanks in part to the work done by police and intelligence agencies.

In place of serious terrorism though, were two bizarre – and potentially fatal – fake terrorist plots.

In April it seemed for several hours that extremists had exploded a bomb outside the team bus of BVB Dortmund as they made their way to a Champions League match. One of the players was seriously injured in the blast and investigators soon found a letter of responsibility, which claimed to be written by Islamists.

In fact, the prime suspect turned out to be a man motivated by greed. An electrical technician is now on trial on 28 counts of attempted murder, with prosecutors arguing that he wanted to kill some of the players to make the clubs share price fall. Through his own purchase of cheap shares he hoped to make half a million euros in profit.

A month later, an even more surreal plot was uncovered. This time, a German soldier was arrested on suspicion of planning an act of terror. He had managed to convince immigration authorities he was a Syrian refugee, despite the fact he didn’t speak any Arabic. The soldier was allegedly part of a far-right cell within the army which was targeting high-profile Germans for assassination and then blame the crimes on refugees. He has been charged by prosecutors with preparing a violent attack.

Green energy

2017 will be remembered among pot smokers as the year in which Germany accepted that there are other uses for cannabis than improving the quality of afternoon television.

As of March cannabis is legal for use on medical grounds. Users and medical companies have complained though that the law has done little to actually increase the supply of cannabis to people seeking it as treatment.

That wasn’t the only way it was put to new use though. Earlier this month customs officials in Munich confiscated half a tonne of the drug and decided to get rid of it by burning it at a power plant, thus providing energy to the local community.

While the German commitment to green energy that this story suggests is admirable, readers have been less than impressed by how German authorities have coped with a challenging environment over the past 12 months.

For Berliners at least, 2017 felt like one long rain cloud. There were biblical downpours in July and October, bringing transport in and around the capital to its knees. In such an international city, the transport companies might at least want to start giving out more information in English – we have certainly never felt so loved as when we provided live updates on the latest U-Bahn cancellations during those soggy days.

Here’s to a sunnier New Year – perhaps even one in which Germany has a new government! Guten Rutsch!


Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.