Germany's CDU Party votes for Chancellor Merkel's leadership successor
Christian Democratic Union (CDU) members will meet for a national party convention on December 7 and 8 in Hamburg, Germany where one thousand delegates will vote for leader Angela Merkel’s replacement. In October, Chancellor Merkel announced she would be stepping down as party leader but continue as Chancellor for the remainder of her term, to 2021. It is doubtful she will actually complete her term once a new leader is elected since this would cause friction between competing leaders of the governing party and government.
Chancellor Merkel has led the CDU for eighteen years, since 2000, and been Chancellor since 2005. She is considered the European Union’s (E.U.) most powerful leader as Germany is the most powerful country in the organization. She moved the CDU politically to the center by dropping military conscription, accelerating Germany's exit from nuclear energy, introducing benefits encouraging fathers to look after their young children, and allowing the introduction of gay marriage. Controversially, however, was her unilateral decision to accept more than one million asylum seekers since 2014, which has increasingly been publicly unpopular over time.
CDU is Germany’s largest political party and at its peak in 2013 had over 40 percent of the country’s support. Now, the party hovers around 28 percent popularity after two state elections where the CDU lost seats in their regional stronghold. In the September 2017 general election, the center-right CDU was forced to create a coalition government with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who fare even worse in the polls. Many within the CDU cite the migrant crisis among Chancellor Merkel’s decisions that have turned the public away from the party and believe a return to some more conservative elements will reverse their electoral losses.
The three frontrunners to replace Ms. Merkel as leader:
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56
As the CDU's General Secretary since February, Kramp-Karrenbauer is a centrist and considered to be a Merkel loyalist who will replicate much of the Chancellor's style and policy. Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer was previously interior minister and governor of the western Saarland state. She uses more conservative rhetoric than Ms. Merkel and vocally opposed gay marriage. She has talked tough on immigration issues and proposed a lifelong entry ban to Europe for asylum-seekers convicted of serious crimes. Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer has an unpretentious style and a reputation for calm analysis as well as political acumen. While she is popular in Saarland and Berlin, the CDU’s strength has always been in the southwest region of Bavaria.
Friedrich Merz, 63
Mr. Merz is a successful businessman and corporate lawyer who was leader of the CDU prior to Ms. Merkel and a former Member of the European Parliament and Member of the German Bundestag. He left politics in 2009 when Ms. Merkel pushed her potential rival out. Mr. Merz appeals to the more conservative and business-minded wing of the party and has the official backing of ex-finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. In the private sector, he was recently head of the supervisory board in the German branch of investment manager BlackRock. Mr. Merz is well-connected in the party and has presented his time away from politics as a virtue, saying that he has "had the opportunity ... to look from outside at politics and its decisions." He has previously advocated for tax reform and argued that foreigners should learn German ‘Leitkultur,’ translated as "majority culture". He has criticized the "unregulated influx" of migrants and blamed the CDU for accepting the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany, which entered the national parliament last year, "with a shrug of the shoulders."
Jens Spahn, 38
Health Minister Mr. Spahn is a former banker and a Merkel critic, who was formerly Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Finance under Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. He is Catholic, gay, and popular in the party. Mr. Spahn has focused on migration, calling it the "elephant in the room”. He said security is a key issue, arguing that "not everything is good again" despite the slowing influx of migrants. Mr. Spahn said the CDU doesn't need to "shift to the right," but it does need to start "a real change of generations."
Venezuela signs oil and gold investment deals with Russia amid OPEC production cut
As OPEC tentatively agreed to an oil output cut, waiting for a commitment from non-OPEC Russia before determining exact volumes for a production reduction, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro flew to Moscow this week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where the two signed deals securing investment from Russia in the South American country’s oil and gold sectors. Venezuela’s oil output has collapsed with a fifth year of economic contraction and hyperinflation.
“We have signed contracts to guarantee investments of more than $5 billion with our Russian partners in joint ventures to raise oil production,” Maduro said in a video posted on his Twitter account, “We are also guaranteeing an investment of $1 billion for mining, mostly in gold.”
The United States (U.S.) has sought to restrict Venezuela’s gold trade through sanctions. Russia has become a key lender of last resort for cash-strapped Venezuela in recent years, as President Maduro’s government struggles to pay its debts. President Maduro has sought to boost the country’s gold output as an alternative source of hard currency as revenue from oil, which makes up over 90 percent of exports, dries up.
The U.S. is not part of any output-limiting initiative due to its anti-trust legislation and fragmented oil industry. Hopefully OPEC will be keeping oil flows as is, not restricted. The world does not want to see, or need, higher oil prices!” U.S. President Donald Trump wrote in a tweet on Wednesday. OPEC delegates have said the group and its allies could cut production by 1 million bpd if Russia contributed 150,000 bpd of that reduction. If Russia contributed around 250,000 bpd, the overall cut could exceed 1.3 million bpd. However, Russia will find it harder to cut oil output in winter than other producers due to their cold weather.
Oil prices have crashed as Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates raised output since June after Trump called for higher production to offset lower exports from Iran, OPEC’s third-largest producer. Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. have been vying for the position of top crude producer in recent years. Iranian oil exports plummeted after the United States imposed fresh sanctions on Tehran in November., however, Washington gave sanctions waivers to some buyers of Iranian crude, further raising fears of an oil glut next year.
Netflix will increase productions in Europe by a third in 2019
Netflix, which currently has 130 million subscribers worldwide, announced plans to significantly increase the number of films, series, and documentaries produced across Europe. Having made 141 projects in Europe this year – 81 originals and 60 co-productions or programmes licensed from other producers – Netflix will make 221 projects, including 153 originals, in 2019.
Netflix will spend close to USD $1 billion on original European productions for its increased content investment. Naturally, this has alarmed publicly funded European broadcasters, which are struggling to remain competitive and adapt to the loss of audiences as they migrate to on-demand subscriptions such as Netflix.
Vice President of International Originals Erik Barmack announced at the C21 conference in London that, "We are delighted to continue our investment in great European creators and talent, bringing fresh perspectives and untold stories to Netflix members across the world." He added, “We’re seeing a need in our biggest European markets for more local series and regional programming,” and these shows are crossing borders and attracting large international audiences among Netflix subscribers.
Together, Netflix and Amazon spent £150 million last year on British-made television shows, such as The Crown. Netflix continues to invest in licensing British programmes for international markets, including Peaky Blinders and Shetland. This offers British-made content a much wider audience but the broadcasters who initially acquired or created the projects lose the global earnings. For example, Netflix was a co-partner and funder for the BBC series Bodyguard, featuring Game of Thrones star Richard Madden, in exchange for global distribution rights. Bodyguard became the BBC’s most viewed drama since 2008, with audiences now around the world watching it repackaged as a Netflix Original. Netflix is increasingly attracting A-list talent for their productions, of big-name directors and actors.
Australia passes an anti-terrorism law forcing tech firms to hand over encrypted data
Australia's Parliament passed a controversial bill that will force technology firms to give police access to the encrypted communications of suspected terrorists and criminals. The bill caused heated debate over national security and privacy at a time when governments across the globe are grappling with how to access encrypted information to monitor illegal activities. The law is opposed by tech giants, where Australian security services are given authority under the law to obtain a warrant for international communications companies including Google, Facebook, and WhatsApp to remove encryption, help conceal government snooping, and hand over data linked to suspected illegal activities.
Critics say the law may unleash unintended consequences, with global implications for encrypted communications. Global communications firms have warned the law would force them to create vulnerabilities in their products that could then be used by other bad actors to gain a back door to users' data. They are also concerned about how the law's secrecy provisions will impact their business models and consumer privacy.
The law has raised questions about policy laundering through Australia, a member of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing group that also includes the United States, Britain, Canada, and New Zealand. "There is an extraterritorial dimension to it, where for example the U.S. would be able to make ... a request directly to Australia to get information from Facebook or a tech company," said Queensland University of Technology's technology regulation researcher Monique Mann.
Michelin awards the first American female chef with three stars
French-born chef Dominique Crenn is the first woman in the United States (U.S.) to receive Michelin’s highest distinction of three stars in its annual ranking of top restaurants in the San Francisco area for her restaurant, Atelier Crenn, which opened in 2011. The elevation tops her award of two-star status last year amd was unanimous among Michelin reviewers for its “consistently top-quality experience,” said Michelin Guide’s international director Gwendal Poullennec.
The Michelin Guide are a series of books published by tire company Michelin, originally published for French motorists and tourists. In 1931, the hierarchy of zero, one, two, and three stars was introduced and in 1936 the criteria for the starred rankings were published: 1 star, "A very good restaurant in its category"; 2 stars, "Excellent cooking, worth a detour"; and 3 stars, "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey". Michelin stars are exceedingly coveted by chefs around the world and can make or break their careers.
Mr. Poullennec said Ms. Crenn’s cuisine “displays a wonderful balance of grace, artistry, technical ability and taste,” at her eight-table restaurant, which offers a tasting menu for USD $335. Ms. Crenn is the fifth female chef currently in the world with a Michelin three-star establishment. Bar Crenn, a wine bar that serves classic French dishes next door to Atelier Crenn, also earned one star. Ms. Crenn is featured in Season 2 of Netflix's Chef's Table.