November 07, 2019
Merkel's Huawei decision now questioned by SPD
There is a leadership election going on in the SPD right now, probably the most important in a generation. This explains a lot of the policy hyperactivity of recent days. Olaf Scholz' European deposit insurance and the minimum pension have become campaign themes for the SPD's ministers. Huawei's 5G bid is another one.
Heiko Maas, the foreign minister, yesterday re-opened the Huawei case. He said that Huawei can only be considered as a contractor if Germany has legal assurance that Huawei is not forced to share data with the Chinese state. That is not the case now. He said that a test of trustworthiness needs to be added to the process, according to a report from Reuters. Maas made it clear that Huawei does not pass the test.
We assume that Angela Merkel had made some private undertakings to President Xi when she intervened in a recent administrative procedure to insist that Huawei should be able to bid in the 5G auctions. Her argument was that China would otherwise react in kind. As we have been arguing before, economic strategies that rely on export surpluses, like Germany's, make a country vulnerable to political blackmail. We are not sure that Maas thought through the industrial implications of a Huawei ban as much as Merkel and Peter Altmaier had. Maas has a law-and-order background.
Will the Maas/Scholz strategy work? Quite possibly. We would be surprised if the SPD's ageing membership were to rebel against the party's centrist establishment. But it's a tough battle. Scholz' main opponent, Norbert Walter-Borjans, is also skilled at generating news headlines. Yesterday he called on the SPD no longer to field a candidate for chancellor. This is partly in order to frustrate Scholz, who might re-emerge as a chancellor candidate if he were to lose the party leadership race against Borjans.