Germany’s Political Parties Bargain to Determine Next Government

The wrangling over who will control Germany’s government has begun among the top four finishing parties following parliamentary elections.

The Social Democrats (SPD), led by Olaf Scholz, defeated outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) 25.8% to 24.1%, handing the conservative party its worst ever defeat.  

But since neither party won enough votes to control the Bundestag – the lower house of parliament – they must work with the third-place finishers, the Green party, which received 14.8% of the vote, and fourth place finishers, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), which received 11.5%.

The Greens and FDP agreed Tuesday to meet with each other first before discussions with the SPD or CDU. A photo was released to the media showing Green party candidate Annalena Baerbock with FDP leader Christian Lindner.

While the two parties have some common ground, they have traditionally belonged to rival ideological camps and have different approaches to issues including the economy and fighting climate change.

During media briefings with reporters Wednesday, both parties said they have scheduled meetings with the SPD and CDU, as well another meeting with each other.  

But traditionally, the Greens have leaned more toward the SPD’s left-center politics, and the FDP has been more aligned with the more conservative CDU, and their leadership indicated Wednesday that may not have changed.

When asked which coalition his party preferred, FDP General Secretary Volker Wissing said, “Our preference was based on content and since the parties’ content has not changed, the preference of course remains the same.”

At her own news conference, while stressing they were meeting with all parties, the Green party leader Baerbock, said that since SPD was the winner of the election, it was important to meet with them first.  

The Green and FDP leaders said they scheduled talks with the two first-place finishing parties for this Saturday and Sunday, followed by deliberations with their own party membership.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

In Spain, Push Is On for Squatter’s Rights

The pandemic has made Spain’s affordable housing crisis worse and civil organizations are now pressuring the government to pass a housing law that includes making available vacant, foreclosed homes. The push is causing new friction between Spanish political factions and raising concerns among real estate investors. Jonathan Spier narrates this report by Alfonso Beato in Barcelona.

Court Convicts Former French Leader Sarkozy in Campaign Finance Case

A court in France has sentenced former President Nicolas Sarkozy to one year in prison after finding him guilty of illegal campaign financing during his 2012 reelection campaign.

Prosecutors said Sarkozy spent nearly double the amount allowed under French law ahead of the election won by challenger Francois Hollande.

Sarkozy, who led France from 2007-2012, denied wrongdoing.  His lawyer said he will appeal the court’s decision.

The court said he could serve his sentence at home while wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet.

Sarkozy was found guilty of corruption in a separate trial in March, and was sentenced to three years in prison with two years of the term suspended. He has appealed that verdict.

Russia Threatens YouTube Block After RT TV’s German Channels Are Deleted

Russia threatened Wednesday to block Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube after Russian state-backed broadcaster RT’s German-language channels were deleted, and said it was considering retaliating against German media.

YouTube said on Tuesday that RT’s channels had breached its COVID-19 misinformation policy, a move Russia’s Foreign Ministry described as “unprecedented information aggression.”

Russian state communications regulator Roskomnadzor said it had written to Google and demanded the restrictions be lifted. It said Russia could seek to partially or fully restrict access to YouTube if it failed to comply.

Google declined to comment Wednesday.

The Kremlin said it may have to force YouTube to comply with Russian law, saying there could be zero tolerance for breaches.

“Of course there are signs that the laws of the Russian Federation have been broken, broken quite blatantly, because of course this involves censorship and obstructing the spread of information by the media,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The foreign ministry said Russian authorities had been approached with “a proposal to develop and take retaliatory measures against the YouTube hosting service and the German media.”

Christian Mihr, executive director at Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Germany, said the threat of action against German journalists was “completely inappropriate.”

Moscow has increased pressure on foreign tech firms in the past year, fining social media companies for failing to delete content Russia deems illegal and punitively slowing down the speed of Twitter.

That pressure led Google and Apple to remove an anti-government tactical voting app from their stores on the first day of a parliamentary election earlier this month, Kremlin critics said.

Berlin denied an allegation by the Russian foreign ministry that YouTube’s decision had been made with clear and tacit support from the German authorities and local media.

“It is a decision by YouTube, based on rules created by YouTube. It is not a measure [taken by] the German government or other official organizations,” German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert told reporters.

British Government to Use Army to Help Ease Fuel Trucker Shortage

Britain’s business minister said Wednesday the army would begin driving fuel tankers in response to shortages at gas stations around the nation brought on by a dearth of truck drivers.

For about a week now, a shortage of around 100,000 truck drivers in Britain has made it difficult for oil companies to get gasoline from refineries to fueling stations. The British Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) reported Wednesday that more than a third of the nation’s 8,500 gas stations remain without fuel.

The situation has left long lines of motorists trying to buy fuel at stations that did have gasoline.

Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng told reporters they could expect to see soldiers driving tanker trucks to help get gasoline to the stations in a few days. He added that he felt the situation was stabilizing, noting that the inflow of gasoline matched sales on Tuesday. 

The situation had been exacerbated by panic buying among some motorists, but Kwarteng said people were “behaving quite responsibly” over the last day or so, and he encouraged them to continue buying fuel as they normally would.

The British business minister said Britain was not alone in facing a truck driver shortage. He said Poland is facing a shortage of about 123,000 drivers, and the United States is facing a similar situation. 

In a release on their website, the PRA reported “early signs that the crisis at pumps is ending,” with more of the association’s members reporting they are now receiving deliveries of fuel. 

They expect the percentage of stations without fuel is likely to improve further over the next 24 hours.

The driver shortage, however, is raising fears in Britain’s retail sector that if it continues much longer, it could create problems for the holiday season.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters. 

Massive North Sea Wind Farm Could Power Denmark, Neighbors

Weeks before a high-profile climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Danish officials are talking up an ambitious program to develop the world’s largest offshore wind energy complex, with the potential to provide enough green energy to power not just Denmark, but some of its neighbors as well. 

The complex, to sit on and around an artificial North Sea island about 80 km off Denmark’s coast, would span an area up to the size of 64 soccer fields and support thermal storage facilities, HVDC converters, a heliport, and a research and visitor center.

Energy Island Envisioned by Denmark

“You can have hundreds of wind turbines around this island,” said Dan Jorgensen, Denmark’s climate and energy minister, during a visit to Washington this month. His government calculates that the energy island could yield up to 10 gigawatts of electricity — enough for 10 million households. 

“Since we’re only 5.8 million people in Denmark, that’s far more electricity than we’ll need for ourselves, so we want to find other countries to be part of this,” Jorgensen said, adding that Denmark is in talks with other European countries. 

The 10-gigawatt estimate is at the high end of what might finally be built. Current planning allows for a range of from three to 10 gigawatts, according to Jorgensen. But even at the low end, the energy island would dwarf the largest existing offshore wind farm — Britain’s Walney Extension Offshore Wind Farm in the Irish Sea that has a capacity to generate 0.66 gigawatts and provide power to 600,000 homes. 

The world’s largest wind farm of any kind is a 10-gigawatt complex completed this summer and based in the northwestern Gansu province of China. The next largest of any kind is a 1.6-gigawatt wind farm in Jaisalmer, India. 

“It’s the biggest infrastructure investment in the history of my country, but we foresee it will be a good business model,” Jorgensen told VOA. 

“There will be some initial costs there, but we’re willing to bear them because this will also mean that we will get the project itself, but also the development know-how, the skills, and the expertise that we want.” 

The project is remarkable not just for its size but also for its innovative approach to some of the most difficult obstacles to weaning the world off fossil fuels. These include finding an effective way to store energy generated from wind turbines, and a way to transform the electricity into fuels to power transportation systems. 

Denmark’s plan is to transform the electricity into hydrogen, which can be used directly as an energy source or turned into fuels for use “in ships, planes and trucks,” as Jorgensen put it. 

“This sounds a bit like science fiction, but actually it’s just science; we know how to do it,” he said. 

While talks between the Danish government, industry, scientists and potential investors are still in the early stage, one decision has already been made, Jorgensen said. 

“We want at least 50.1% of the island to be publicly owned,” he said, calling the island “critical infrastructure because it’ll be such a huge part of our energy supply.” He added that the actual wind turbines will be owned by investors. 

“So far we have seen interest from Danish companies and investment funds; we’ve also seen interest from the governments of several European countries. We expect, of course, this will also mean interest from companies from other countries, definitely European, but probably also others.” 

Jacob F. Kirkegaard, a Danish economist based in Brussels, says the ambitious plan is plausible in light of Denmark’s track record in developing green energy. 

“There are already many days in which Denmark gets all its electrical power from wind energy, so rapid electrification is coming as are further rapid expansions of offshore wind farms,” he told VOA in an exchange of emails. 

He said he has “no doubt” that Denmark will achieve full decarbonization by 2050, “probably even considerably before” that date, thanks to broad public support, especially from the young. 

According to the Danish embassy in Washington, more than 50% of Denmark’s electrical grid is already powered by wind and solar energy, and the government projects that renewables will meet 100% of the nation’s electricity needs by 2028. 

In Spain, the Push is on for Squatter’s Rights

The pandemic has made Spain’s affordable housing crisis worse and civil organizations are now pressuring the government to pass a housing law that includes making available vacant, foreclosed homes. The push is causing new friction between Spanish political factions and raising concerns among real estate investors. Jonathan Spier narrates this report by Alfonso Beato in Barcelona.

Camera: Alfonso Beato


German Election: Olaf Scholz Narrow Favorite to Succeed Angela Merkel

It’s still not clear who will be the next leader of Germany, after Sunday’s election failed to give any party a ruling majority. Talks between rival parties over forming a coalition government are under way. As Henry Ridgwell reports, Olaf Scholz is the narrow favorite to take over from Angela Merkel as chancellor — but the outcome remains uncertain. 

Camera: Henry Ridgwell Produced by: Henry Ridgwell, Marcus Harton 


Swedish Prime Minister Offers Condolences to Victims of Goteborg Explosion

Sweden’s prime minister offered his sympathy, and the Home Affairs minister said the government is aiding in the investigation after an explosion and a fire at a Goteborg apartment building early Tuesday left at least 20 people injured.  

Emergency officials say they were alerted to the blast just before 5 a.m. local time in the Annedal district in central Goteborg, Sweden’s second-largest city. Fires spread to several units of the building, and emergency responders had to rescue several people. At least 16 people were taken to the hospital. Fire crews battled the blaze for several hours.

At a news conference in Stockholm, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and Home Affairs Minister Mikael Damberg discussed the incident with reporters. Lofven said he expressed the government’s sympathy for all those affected, saying an incident like this hits hard on “our whole society.”

Damberg said the explosion was not caused by “anything natural” but that investigators are exploring several hypotheses.

“The incident may be an accident, but it may also be an attempted attack on one or more people who were inside the building.” Police spokesperson Thomas Fuxborg echoed similar sentiments.

Damberg said police have, so far, been questioning witnesses, knocking on doors, and gathering surveillance videos from the area. He said the formal, technical investigation will start as soon as possible.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters.

Kremlin Critic Navalny Hit With New Probe, Could Face 10 More Years in Prison

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny is facing a new criminal probe by Russian investigators that could lead to 10 more years in prison.

The investigation, launched Tuesday by the Russian government’s Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, accuses Navalny of creating and directing an “extremist network” the goal of which was “changing the foundations of the constitutional system in the Russian Federation,” according to a statement by the committee.

Investigators also accuse Navalny and his allies of setting up social media accounts to promote Navalny’s banned Anti-Corruption Foundation “in order to promote criminal activity.”

“The illegal activities of the extremist network were aimed at discrediting state authorities and their policies,” investigators said.

The probe comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s party won lower house parliamentary elections earlier this month.

Navalny’s allies were banned from running in the elections, and last week, Navalny, in a message from prison, said the election had been stolen.

Navalny, 45, is currently serving a two-and-a-half year sentence on a 2014 embezzlement conviction that was widely seen as politically motivated.   

The sentence was suspended but Navalny was arrested for parole violations in January when he returned to Russia from Germany, where he was recovering from what he said was a nerve agent attack by the Kremlin. Russian officials deny his allegation.  

In June, Navalny’s foundation was outlawed as “extremist,” and authorities blocked websites run by his network, charging them with distributing propaganda. Two of Navalny’s top allies, Ivan Zhdanov and Leonid Volkov, are also facing criminal investigations.  


Britain Warns Citizens of Hong Kong Extradition Threat

Concerns are growing over the reach of the national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong as Britain warned several of its citizens that they could face arrest and extradition to the former British colony. 

China passed the national security law in June 2020 in response to months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong. Beijing claimed the law was necessary to restore order to the territory and, in its words, “protect people’s rights.” Critics say the law curtails basic democratic freedoms and is aimed at suppressing political opposition. Over 140 people have been arrested under the legislation since it was introduced, including opposition lawmakers, activists, journalists and media executives.


Among those arrested was opposition activist Andy Li, who was charged with foreign collusion in 2020 after allegedly lobbying foreign governments to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China.

Several British citizens were named in the court papers relating to Li’s case. Earlier this month, the British government contacted them to warn they could face arrest and extradition to Hong Kong if they traveled to any country that had an extradition agreement with the Chinese territory.

U.S.-born British citizen Bill Browder was among at least five people contacted by the British Foreign Office. He has successfully campaigned in several countries for Magnitsky sanctions against human rights abusers, named after his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian jail in 2009.

Browder told VOA Monday that his involvement stemmed from that lobbying. “Specifically, my name was mentioned because I was having discussions with various people about Magnitsky sanctions against the Hong Kong officials who were involved in this suppression of democracy,” he said. “After alerting me to my name being in the document, the (British) Foreign Office officials pointed out to me that the Chinese national security law doesn’t just apply domestically to residents of Hong Kong; it applies to anyone, anywhere in the world. And I guess the point of their reach out was to alert me to that fact and to the possibility that I may be subject to some type of persecution myself from the Chinese authorities for being involved in these discussions.”

Browder has already faced several attempts by Russia to have him arrested and extradited on fraud charges through Interpol, the global agency that communicates arrest warrants between police forces. Browder says those charges are clearly politically motivated, but he is, nevertheless, limited as to where he can travel.

“I basically contain my travel to what I describe as ‘rule of law’ countries. So, for example, I won’t travel to South Africa, even though I actually own a home in South Africa, because it’s not really considered to be a rule of law country, whereas I would travel to Germany regardless of what treaties they have because I know that a court will not hand me over to Russians or Chinese on politically motivated cases,” Browder said.

China has not commented on the British government’s warnings. More than a dozen countries have extradition agreements with Hong Kong, including India, South Africa and Portugal. Several countries, however, tore up their extradition treaties with Hong Kong following the introduction of the national security law. These include Britain, the United States, Australia, Germany and France.


British pro-democracy activist Luke de Pulford, who had also been named in the Hong Kong court papers relating to the prosecution of Andy Li, was approached by the British Foreign Office last week. He told VOA that Britain should stand up to Beijing.

“It’s a really sad indictment and reflection on the U.K.’s cowering before China. We’re now in a situation that having failed to honor their promises to the people of Hong Kong, the U.K. is telling people that they can’t go to third countries because they might end up in prison. They might be extradited to China,” de Pulford recently told VOA.

Under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration signed between Britain and China before the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, Beijing promised to maintain the territory’s autonomy under the so-called Basic Law and the principle of “one country, two systems.”

In a statement, the British government told VOA: “The UK will not look the other way on Hong Kong, and we will not duck our historic responsibilities to its people. As a co-signatory to the Joint Declaration, we will continue to stand up for the people of Hong Kong, to call out the violation of their freedoms, and to hold China to their international obligations.”

Volcano Lava Flow Halts but Many Confined Over Toxic Gas Fears

A Canary Islands volcano that has been erupting for over a week fell silent Monday as coastal residents were confined over toxic gas fears when the lava hits the sea.

La Cumbre Vieja, which straddles a southern ridge in La Palma in the Atlantic archipelago, erupted on September 19, spewing out rivers of lava which have slowly crept towards the sea.

But on Monday morning, there was no lava and ash emerging, with the week-long rumble of the eruption fading to silence, an AFP correspondent at the scene said. 

It was not immediately clear whether the eruption had stopped completely or merely paused, as smoke was still emerging from the top. 

“Volcanic activity in La Palma has reduced significantly in the last few hours. We must be very vigilant about how it evolves because the scenario can change quickly,” Madrid’s Institute of Geosciences tweeted. 

“It seems the volcano has entered a phase of decreased activity. We will see how it evolves in the coming hours.”

And the Involcan volcanology institute gave a similar assessment.

“In the last hours, the volcanic tremor has almost disappeared, as well as the… explosive activity,” it tweeted.

Contacted by AFP, Involcan was unable to say whether the eruption had finished or just paused, with a spokesman saying its experts were “evaluating the different scenarios”. 

Overnight, the inhabitants of several coastal areas were ordered to stay at home to avoid harm from the release of toxic gases when the lava finally reaches the sea, a process which has been much slower than initially expected. 

When the molten lava enters the ocean, experts warn it will send clouds of toxic gas into the air, as well as explosions and a fragmentation of the lava, which shoots outwards like bullets. 

The authorities have set up a no-go zone to head off curious onlookers.

5.8 Quake Hits Crete, Killing One

A magnitude 5.8 earthquake rocked the Greek island of Crete Monday morning, leaving at least one person dead and several injured.

Across the island, people were reportedly seen running out of buildings and homes, while many older buildings suffered damage.

“The earthquake was strong and was long in duration,” Heraklion Mayor Vassilis Lambrinos told private Antenna television.

Greek authorities dispatched civil engineers around the island to assess damage.

“We are urging people who live in damaged older buildings to remain outdoors. One aftershock can cause a collapse,” seismologist Efthimios Lekkas, who heads Greece’s Earthquake Planning and Protection Organization, told The Associated Press. “We are talking about structures built before 1970. Structures built after 1985 are built to a higher standard that can withstand the effect of an earthquake.”

Crete is a popular tourist destination, and according to reports, the quake did not disrupt international flights to Heraklion, nor did it cause serious damage to hotels.

The only known fatality was in the town of Arkalochori, which is about 30 kilometers outside of Heraklion. A man was reportedly working on the renovation of a chapel when the dome caved in.

Some information in this report comes from Reuters and The Associated Press.

Panic Buying Leaves Fuel Pumps Dry in Major British Cities 

Up to 90% of British fuel stations ran dry across major English cities on Monday after panic buying deepened a supply chain crisis triggered by a shortage of truckers that retailers are warning could batter the world’s fifth-largest economy. 

A dire post-Brexit shortage of truck drivers emerging after the COVID-19 pandemic has sown chaos through British supply chains in everything from food to fuel, raising the specter of disruptions and price rises in the run up to Christmas. 

Just days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government spent millions of pounds to avert a food shortage due to a spike in prices for natural gas, the biggest cost in fertilizer production, ministers asked people to refrain from panic buying. 

But lines of dozens of cars snaked back from gasoline stations across the country on Sunday, swallowing up supplies and forcing many gas stations to simply close. Pumps across British cities were either closed or had signs saying fuel was unavailable on Monday, Reuters reporters said. 

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents independent fuel retailers which now account for 65% of all UK forecourts, said members had reported that 50% to 90% of pumps were dry in some areas. 

“We are unfortunately seeing panic buying of fuel in many areas of the country,” Gordon Balmer, executive director of the PRA, who worked for BP for 30 years, told Reuters. 

“We need some calm,” Balmer said. “Please don’t panic buy: if people drain the network then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.” 

Britain is considering calling in the army to ensure fuel supplies reach consumers, according to The Times and Financial Times. 

Environment Secretary George Eustice said there was no shortage of fuel and urged people to refrain from panic buying. 

Haulers, gas stations and retailers warned that there were no quick fixes, however, as the shortfall of truck drivers – estimated to be around 100,000 – was so acute, and because transporting fuel demands additional training and licensing. 

Supply chain crunch 

Britain’s retail industry warned the government on Friday that unless it moves to alleviate an acute shortage of truckers in the next 10 days significant disruption was inevitable in the run-up to Christmas.

For months, supermarkets, processors and farmers have warned that a shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers was straining supply chains to breaking point – making it harder to get goods onto shelves.

Aldi UK CEO Giles Hurley said that while his discount supermarket chain was in a good position, nobody could guarantee there would not be inflation in the market around Christmas. 

BP said on Sunday that nearly a third of its British petrol stations had run out of the two main grades of fuel as panic buying forced the government to suspend competition laws and allow firms to work together to ease shortages. 

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the suspension would allow firms to share information and coordinate their response. 

“This step will allow government to work constructively with fuel producers, suppliers, haulers and retailers to ensure that disruption is minimized as far as possible,” the business department said in a statement. 

The government on Sunday announced a plan to issue temporary visas for 5,000 foreign truck drivers. Around 25,000 truckers returned to Europe before Brexit and Britain was unable to test 40,000 drivers during COVID-19 lockdowns.