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November 21, 2017

A short note on the impact of German political chaos on Brexit

UK commentators were quick to wonder what impact the German political chaos would have on Brexit. We can answer the question conclusively - no direct impact. Should there be more political upheaval in Germany next year, for example another impasse after elections in the spring, the impact would be undoubtedly positive, if only because the EU cannot afford two political crises at the same time. German instability will be bad for the EU economy. A hard Brexit shock, while worse for the UK than for the EU, will end the economic recovery in the eurozone, which is so important for its stability.

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November 21, 2017

A scandal, overshadowed

If it hadn't been for the bust-up in German politics, this is the story we would all be talking about. Angela Merkel's most important foreign policy adviser, Christopher Heusgen, who has recently become Germany's ambassador at the UN, used his influence to get his wife a job at the United Nations. The story was revealed by Spiegel over the weekend. But there is a nasty twist to the story. As Bild reported on Monday, the news was leaked by a Russian hacker group, by the name of Fancy Bear. Normally, we dismiss attempts to deflect from stories by focusing on those who leaked the stories but, in this case, the source of the leak is hugely important because this is the clearest example yet of Russia trying to destabilise German politics at the highest level. This scandal goes to the heart of the German government. 

But the story of Heusgen's influence peddling is breathtaking in its own right. What makes it worse is that he used Germany's net contribution to the UN to support his case. This is what Heusgen wrote in an email to Maria Luiza Riberio Viotti, the head of cabinet of UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres. This is quite a shocking email, even by the standards of influence-peddling we are used to. You couldn't make this up:

"If you consider which contribution Germany renders to the UN, it could be attractive for you to have someone in your staff (at the salary level P5, which as I understand is appropriate for Ina [Heusgen's wife]), which has both: a direct connection to the chancellor's office and to the office of the foreign minister (and to Germany's future UN ambassador [referring to himself], who has the ambition to sit in the security council in 2019/2020."

Ina Heusgen did not get the job her husband had earmarked for her, but she did a get a job at the UN, paid for by the German government on the grounds that her employment is in the "foreign policy interest of the Federal Republic". A question to ask is whether Merkel personally intervened in this matter.

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