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Daily Briefing

You’ve got no mail; but Deutsche Post wants to charge you more for it

By: Andreas Kluth

Put a stamp on it; The CDU’s refugee trauma; The Munich Security Conference; Longgermanwordoftheday. Our Daily Briefing for February 12, 2019.


There are two kinds of people: those who are incorrigibly sentimental about getting slices of dead trees in little boxes outside their homes; and those who’d rather be done with the whole thing, communicate electronically, and forget about having to cancel service every time they take a trip. Guess which kind I am. Which brings me to our first topic this morning: Germans and mail.

Andreas has been editor-in-chief of Handelsblatt Today (formerly Handelsblatt Global) since March 2017. His articles can be found here. Marko Priske for Handelsblatt

Andreas Kluth

Andreas has been editor-in-chief of Handelsblatt Today (formerly Handelsblatt Global) since March 2017. His articles can be found here.

One of my first impressions upon moving from California to Germany in 2012 was that those Germans still get a suspicious amount of mail. They do send emails, of course (though they’re notorious about not replying to them). But when they think something should matter, they still put it on paper. For instance, in the US, I got my pay stubs and annual salary statements (called W-2s), via a payroll company called ADP, by logging on securely and simply to a website, then downloading the PDF, for easy upload into my tax software. Done. Not so in Germany. Here a computer (!) prints out an unsigned form, the pay stub, which shows up in my mailbox, expecting to be scanned back into a (dumber, larger) PDF file.

But even some Germans are discovering that this is stupid. As a result, the number of letters keeps falling every year. Stamped letters now make up only about 10 percent of the revenues of Deutsche Post, the dominant service provider with 83 percent of the market. Because those revenues keep shrinking, Deutsche Post, like its peers in other countries, wants to raise prices.

Deutsche Post was privatized in 1995, by the way, although the state still indirectly holds 20.6 percent of the shares. If you live outside of Germany, you’re more likely to have encountered its logistics brand, DHL. Now, the Germans at some point had a really good idea. For any business that has what economists call “network effects,” they have a regulator, called the Federal Network Agency. It oversees the current auction for 5G wireless spectrum, for example. It also regulates Deutsche Post.

In January, the agency said that Deutsche Post, given the declining volumes, may raise prices by 4.8 percent in the next two years. But Deutsche Post would like to raise them even more, from 70 cents for a standard letter now to perhaps 90 cents. (In 2002, when the euro was introduced, a stamp cost 56 cents.) The economics ministry appears to be siding with Deutsche Post. Higher prices, of course, should lead to lower demand, leading to calls for higher prices… As you might have figured out by now, I personally will not be affected.

The refugee trauma

Yesterday, I was mean to Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), who are still trying to overcome the ideological trauma to which one of their own, Gerhard Schröder, subjected them when he was chancellor and enacted market-friendly labor reforms. To be fair, I should therefore be mean to the Christian Democrats (CDU) today. Fortunately, they make that easy. For they, too, have a trauma to overcome: the fall of 2015.

That was when a Christian-Democratic chancellor, Angela Merkel, “opened the borders” to the refugees, causing un-Germanic chaos for months, as local, regional and federal bureaucracies struggled to cope with about 1 million arrivals. This crisis also caused a political backlash that strengthened the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which had, in the summer of 2015, been close to self-destructing.


Well, now the CDU has a new boss, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (pictured), who will almost certainly be its candidate for chancellor in 2021. AKK, occasionally known as “mini-Merkel,” must do two things at once: 1) avoid overt criticism of Merkel, who is still chancellor, and 2) signal to the CDU’s base that “2015” will never happen again.

That’s what she tried to do in several internal “workshops.” The constitutional right to individual (rather than group-based) decisions about asylum will stay untouched, she vowed; but those decisions will be made much faster. Ditto on deportations: Decisions will still obey existing law, but they will somehow become swifter and tougher. On and on she went with this mixed message. Merkel, tactfully, did not attend; that would have been too awkward. Much-needed comical relief arrived only when AKK, speaking to her audience of Christian Democrats, accidentally addressed them as “my fellow Social Democrats.”


On Friday, heads of state, foreign ministers, army brass and think-tank wonks will again converge on the Bayerischer Hof in Munich, a five-star hotel with surprisingly narrow hallways that make for great networking. The event is the Munich Security Conference, a sort of Davos for people with armies. It was founded in 1963 by the very Prussian Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin, the last surviving member of the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. Today, it is run by Wolfgang Ischinger (pictured), a former German ambassador to the US.

Every year, Ischinger gives a little foretaste of what is to come. This year’s conference could be the most important ever, he thinks. Cold-War-era treaties between the US and Russia to limit nukes are breaking down. The American superpower no longer behaves like a guardian of the “liberal international order.” Russia, China and others are menacing. The world, in short, seems really dangerous.

In this context, says Ischinger, Germany must finally assume more responsibility, also in getting its creaking army into shape, and in actually being ready to deploy it for good purposes, as France by tradition is. Hear, hear. READ MORE

picture alliance/KEYSTONE

The regular readers among you know that I have an occasional series called Longgermanwordoftheday. Last time it was Länderfinanzausgleich. The only required pre-reading in my syllabus has usually been Mark Twain’s 1880 essay, “The Awful German Language,” because nobody describes Germans as well as Anglo-Saxons do. That’s also why Twain has strong competition from Timothy Garton Ash at Oxford University, a connoisseur of all things Teutonic. TGA (pictured) has now weighed in with: Weltpolitikfähigkeitsverlustvermeidungsstrategie.

Impressive. I won’t translate it because, I mean, that’s just so obvious. Suffice it to say that it ties directly into Ischinger’s point above. Garton Ash is saying, I think, that Germans and Europeans, if they don’t start keeping their continent united and getting real about world politics, are toast.

Andreas Kluth
Handelsblatt Today Editor-in-Chief

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