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Germany’s Floods Provide Test for Merkel’s Potential Successors

Rivals may have a chance to catch up in polls after Merkel’s apparent heir, Armin Laschet, committed a widely panned gaffe.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A couple hugs after German floods.
A couple hugs in a muddy street full of debris and destroyed furniture and household goods in the city of Dernau, western Germany, on July 18 after devastating floods. CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Death toll in European flooding rises to 188 deaths, Jordan’s King Abdullah II visits the White House, and the world this week.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Death toll in European flooding rises to 188 deaths, Jordan’s King Abdullah II visits the White House, and the world this week.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Germany Reels from Flood Devastation

Extreme weather in Western Europe continued on Sunday as the district of Berchtesgadener Land in southern Germany suffered flash flooding that killed at least one person.

It brings the floodsdeath toll to 188 deaths, although authorities expect that figure to increase in the coming days as receding flood waters allow a more thorough assessment of the damage; 27 of those deaths were recorded in Belgium while the remainder were in Germany.

Merkel responds. Visiting the village of Schuld on Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the devastation “terrifying” and stressed the need for the world to “be faster in the battle against climate change.” She also vowed federal assistance in repairing the damage, with $354 million in emergency aid already agreed on ahead of further aid discussions this week.

Roger Lewentz, the interior minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, the worst-hit German state, sought to defend authorities from accusations that the area was unprepared, citing the freak nature of the floods. Authorities “tried very quickly to react,” Lewentz said. “But this was an explosion of the water in moments. … You can have the very best preparations and warning situations, [but] if warning equipment is destroyed and carried away with buildings, then that is a very difficult situation.”

Catastrophe and campaigning. With just 10 weeks to go until Germany’s election, the flood sites have doubled as campaign stops. Annalena Baerbock, the Greens party’s co-chair, cut short her summer vacation to visit flooded areas last Friday while Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic Party’s likely candidate for chancellor, was quick to act as crisis manager, announcing federal relief funds in his role as finance minister.

Armin Laschet, the presumed favorite for chancellor as the new leader of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union bloc, had a less successful audition for the top job. Video cameras captured Laschet giggling and chatting with others while German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivered a solemn address. Laschet’s rivals have tried to paint the gaffe as disqualifying, and he was forced to apologize later on Twitter.

Antediluvian polling. It’s not yet clear whether Laschet’s behavior will cost his party votes; recent opinion polling before the floods gave the CDU/CSU coalition a double digit lead over its Green and Social Democratic challengers.

The World This Week

On Tuesday, July 20, the World Trade Organizations council on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights holds a formal meeting. The council has been considering a South African- and Indian-led proposal to waive patents on COVID-19 vaccines for the past year.

Colombia’s Congress returns for discussions on tax reform as activists plan mass protests.

On Thursday, July 22, G-20 environment and energy ministers gather in Naples, Italy, for two days of discussions.

On Friday, July 23, the opening ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games takes place in Tokyo.

On Saturday, July 24, mass protests are planned in Brazil in opposition to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

On Sunday, July 25, Representatives from Somalias state assemblies will elect members of the parliaments Upper House ahead of Lower House elections in August.

What We’re Following Today 

Indonesia’s COVID-19 surge. Indonesia may soon face a shortage of physicians during the country’s COVID-19 surge after a record number of doctors died in the first half of July, according to a local professional association. The deaths of 114 physicians in the first two weeks of July have raised fears about the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine against the now-rampant delta variant, prompting the government to begin administering booster shots of the Moderna vaccine.

As the number of new deaths in Indonesia now reaches more than 1,000 deaths per day, pressure is growing on Indonesian President Joko Widodo. A new poll, taken in late June, found 43 percent of respondents trusted Widodo to handle the pandemic—a drop of more than 13.5 percentage points since February.

King Abdullah II at the White House. Jordanian King Abdullah II becomes the first Arab leader to visit U.S. President Joe Biden’s White House today for discussions to “showcase Jordan’s leadership role in promoting peace and stability” in the Middle East, according to a White House statement. King Abdullah II’s visit comes as his kingdom is still dealing with the fallout of an alleged coup plot involving former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein. It also comes as Jerusalems al-Aqsa mosque compound—which Jordan administers as a custodian—has again become a site of conflict as Israeli security forces cleared Muslim worshippers from the area to allow for Jewish visitors to tour the site on Sunday.

Americans sentenced in Ghosn case. Two Americans charged with helping former Nissan chairperson Carlos Ghosn flee to Lebanon from Japan were handed prison sentences by a Japanese court on Monday. Michael and Peter Taylor, a father-son duo who reportedly helped Ghosn escape Tokyo by hiding him in a box used for audio equipment, pleaded guilty in June. Peter Taylor was given an 18-month prison sentence while his father, Michael, was given a two-year sentence.

Freedom Day in isolation. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak will both be spending Englands much-hyped “Freedom Day” in self-isolation after the fully vaccinated British Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive for COVID-19. Johnson and Sunak, who had recently met with Javid, initially announced they would get tested daily rather than self-isolate but backpedaled after furious backlash accused them of double standards at a time when around 500,000 people had their phones pinged and were ordered to self-isolate last week by the governments test-and-trace app, in what has been labeled a “pingdemic.”

The United Kingdom has reported roughly 50,000 new cases per day recently—close to the peak of the second wave in January—but Johnson is going ahead with reopening nightclubs and removing nearly all COVID-19 restrictions in England despite a public opinion poll showing 55 percent of respondents oppose lifting restrictions while only 31 percent support the move.

Keep an Eye On

Pegasus hack. Several journalists, business executives, and human rights activists have had their phones secretly put under surveillance by a number of national governments using spyware software licensed by Israeli company NSO, according to an investigation by an international journalism consortium. The software, called Pegasus, is marketed as a counterterrorism tool but appears to have been abused by some governments—such as those in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Afghan-Pakistani tensions. The Afghan government has withdrawn its Pakistan-based diplomats following the kidnapping of Silsila Alikhil, the daughter of Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan. Alikhil was abducted by unknown assailants on Friday and has been recovering in a hospital since her release. Afghanistan’s foreign minister said it would not return its diplomats until “the complete elimination of the security threats, including the arrest and punishment of the perpetrators.” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said the incident is being investigated “at the highest level.”

Odds and Ends

While Tokyo’s Olympic organizers are already battling lackluster public support, nature has intervened to cause another setback. Officials have had to make $1.28 million worth of emergency repairs to the waterway that hosts canoeing and rowing events after oysters began clustering on wave-dampening floats, causing them to sink. According to the newspaper Asahi Shimbun, teams of divers helped to remove 14 metric tons (or 30,864 pounds) of the mollusks ahead of the games.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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