EU closes in on Russian oil ban — but how tough will it be?

“An immediate, full-blown ban imposed by the EU on oil is still a no-go for economic powerhouse Germany. Berlin has indicated to other EU capitals it’s ready to consider cutting Russian oil — even if it is not yet able to abandon imports of gas — but only under specific conditions, which are now being discussed with the European Commission.”

Ukraine crisis prompts Germany to rethink Russian gas addiction

“Behind the rude awakening on energy security lies an even more unsettling realization for many German elites: That a decades-long goal of bringing Berlin and Moscow closer together through mutually beneficial trade seems to have failed.”

“The idea that growing trade links with other nations would help to gradually embed Western democratic standards in those countries has already taken a hit when it comes to China, which has only become more and more repressive despite growing economic links. Still, leading German politicians have long held out hope that “Wandel durch Handel” might still work with Russia, and defended Nord Stream 2 as a tool to also influence Russia for the better.
“Obviously, this policy has totally failed when it comes to Russia,” said Marcel Dirsus, a non-resident fellow at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University. He argued that instead of influencing Moscow by making Russia more dependent on Germany, the policy had the opposite effect.

“Right now, when push comes to shove, Berlin is dependent on Moscow when it comes to energy, and that influences the way it positions itself,” he said, referring to Berlin’s initial reluctance to include Nord Stream 2 in potential sanctions against Russia in the case of further aggression against Ukraine.

It took weeks of internal bickering and harsh international criticism before Scholz’s Social Democrats agreed to put the pipeline on the sanctions table.

“Now, they are coming to this realization [that they are too reliant on Russia] and now they are also admitting it in public, but now it’s too late,” Dirsus said.”

Germany Shuts Down Three Perfectly Good Nuclear Power Plants

“Electricity prices tripled in many European countries this winter, including in Germany, as renewable power supplies faltered and Russia seized the opportunity to boost the price of its natural gas exports. So, of course, the German government thought this was a fine time to permanently shutter three perfectly good nuclear power plants.
The closures are part of Germany’s famous energy transition, widely known as the Energiewende, to a low-carbon, nuclear-free economy. Germany aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045 chiefly by switching entirely to renewable energy generation to supply electricity to residences, factories, and transport. That goal would be much more easily achieved if the country not only kept running its carbon-free nuclear power plants, but also built more of them.”

“How will Germany make up for the power lost from shutting down the three nuclear power plants? A new analysis by the admittedly pro-nuclear Environmental Progress activist group argues that the expected addition of solar and wind capacity will not be sufficient to make up for the loss of the German nuclear plants. Consequently, the group observes, “Next year, the share of German electricity generation coming from fossil fuels could be as high as 44 percent, compared to 39 percent in 2021 and 37 percent in 2020.”

In contrast, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged in November that France will build more nuclear power plants. The new plants, he said, are meant “to guarantee France’s energy independence, to guarantee our country’s electricity supply and achieve our objectives, in particular carbon neutrality in 2050.””

Germany’s new government has big plans. It might be a shock after Merkel.

“And despite the differences, the three parties are unified around some big things. All three are fairly socially progressive, for example, on things like LGBT rights, and the coalition has proposed an agenda including greater protections for trans people and ending restrictions on blood donations from gay men. The parties, too, may have different ideas of what progress means, but they are coalescing around the idea that Germany has to move a bit forward, and faster, to tackle challenges like climate change.”

“The coalition wants to lower the voting age in Germany to 16. It wants to legalize weed, an issue Merkel never really got behind. Climate change was a big issue among all parties during the 2021 elections, and this agreement speeds up the timeline for Germany to abandon coal, from 2038 to 2030. The plan also calls for social investments, like building 400,000 affordable housing units and raising the minimum wage to 12 euro an hour.”

Berliners Endorse Creative New Housing Affordability Plan: Steal Buildings From Private Owners

“Tenants in newly seized units obviously benefit from the lower rents that would come from government ownership. Everyone else would be worse off, as they’d be forced to compete for a smaller share of private units.

This is in effect what happened with Berlin’s brief experiment with a law that froze rents at apartments built before 2014. Rents did indeed stop rising in regulated units, benefiting the tenants who lived in them. But prices shot up dramatically for unregulated units. (In April 2021 Germany’s constitutional court struck down Berlin’s rent control.)

The number of regulated units on the rental market also collapsed, while new listings for unregulated units weren’t enough to pick up the slack.

The rent control represented “a windfall to one group of tenants: those, whether rich or poor, who are already ensconced in regulated apartments,” wrote Bloomberg columnist Andreas Kluth in March. “Simultaneously, they hurt all other groups—especially young people and those coming from other cities—by all but shutting them out of the market.”

There is robust evidence that new housing, even expensive new housing, makes cities more affordable for everyone. Berlin’s leaders should consider ways to boost housing production so the city can continue to grow and thrive, instead of just redistributing existing units to benefit a minority of incumbent renters.”

The US was a world leader in vaccination. What went wrong?

“The United States started its vaccination drive with a structural advantage. It had the most generous supply of Covid vaccines, along with Israel, thanks to investments made to procure doses before the vaccines were approved for emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration.”

“Demographics may also be holding the US back to a degree. America has more young people than most Western European countries: About 16 percent of Germany’s population is under 18 versus about 22 percent of the US’s, to give one example. Children under 12 are still not eligible for vaccines in the US (or anywhere else), which may be partly depressing its vaccination share.
But there is more to the story than supply quirks or demographic trends.

Compared to a country like Portugal, now a world leader in Covid vaccinations, the United States’ vaccination rates for its eligible population are not particularly strong, either. In Portugal, 99 percent of people over age 65 are fully vaccinated; in the US, the share is closer to 80 percent. Those disparities persist in the younger age cohorts: 85 percent of Portuguese people ages 25 to 49 are fully vaccinated versus less than 70 percent of the Americans in the same age range.

Another big difference that explains that divergence is one of culture and politics. Covid vaccinations have become, like so much of America’s pandemic response, polarized along political lines. As of July, 86 percent of Democrats said they were vaccinated, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, while only 54 percent of Republicans said the same. One in five Republicans said they would “definitely not” get the vaccine.

“This political divide over vaccines has contributed to the US falling behind European countries when it comes to coverage levels,” Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told me.

There are pockets of vaccine hesitancy in Europe, especially in Germany and France, but nothing on the scale of what we have seen in the United States. In Portugal, as reflected in its exemplary vaccination rate, skeptics have a very low public profile.

“We don’t need to convince people to get vaccinated,” Gonçalo Figueiredo Augusto, who studies public health at NOVA University Lisbon, told me over Zoom. “People want to.””

Germany’s (sort of) change elections

“German election officials released results for the parliamentary elections, putting the Social Democrats (SPD) ahead with 25.7 percent of the vote. They narrowly beat the conservatives Merkel had helmed for almost two decades, who won 24.1 percent.”

“The SPD’s slim victory showed a vote for change — of sorts. For the first time in 16 years, a center-left party will have the most seats in the Bundestag, or German parliament.”