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Good morning. Today I’ll walk you through the mounting pressure on German chancellor Olaf Scholz to allow the supply of German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine in a pivotal week for military support to Kyiv. And our Nordic and Baltic Correspondent explains why the Danish government is in a pickle over a plan to cancel a public holiday.
Yesterday in Davos it seemed everyone was talking about the need to send battle tanks to Ukraine. Well, everyone except the man with the power to do so.
Asked directly why he had not approved the shipment of Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv, Olaf Scholz ducked the question, instead stressing Berlin’s other support for Ukraine.
Context: Ukraine is pleading for western battle tanks to help the country defend against Russia’s invasion. Poland and Finland have said they are ready to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks, but the shipments need Scholz’s approval. He’s also being urged to donate tanks from Germany’s own stocks.
Scholz’s foot-dragging on the issue continues despite mounting pressure from both EU and Nato allies and Ukraine itself for him to give his blessing. The UK last week became the first country to send western battle tanks to Ukraine.
“Mobilisation of the world must outpace a next military mobilisation of our joint enemy,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address to the World Economic Forum. “The supplies of western tanks must outpace another invasion of Russian tanks.”
Poland’s president Andrzej Duda, speaking on the same stage, made a similar demand — though didn’t reference Germany.
Scholz has said he is uncomfortable acting alone. In Davos yesterday he told delegates that it was important for him to “discuss with our partners” before taking big decisions. German officials have said they want the US to join them in sending tanks.
But the pressure on Berlin is only going to rise.
Tomorrow, defence officials from around 50 countries will gather at the Ramstein air base in southern Germany to discuss military support for Ukraine.
Scholz’s new defence minister — just two days into the job — should expect all eyes on him. For once, the regular meeting won’t be headlined by what the US promises to send, but whether Germany continues refusing to free its Leopards.
Chart du jour: Migration surge
EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland received more than 107,000 asylum applications in November, according to new data, a record high since 2016 and the third consecutive month with around 100,000 applications. That doesn’t include tens of thousands of Ukrainians who registered for temporary protection.
Scrapping a public holiday is never going to be a popular move. But Denmark’s new grand coalition has created an impressively broad opposition to its plans including trade unions, bishops, and nine other political parties, writes Richard Milne.
Denmark’s first government since the 1970s to combine left- and rightwing parties came to power last month pledging to cut one of its 11 public holidays — Store bededag, or Great prayer day — to help boost defence spending.
Prime minister Mette Frederiksen, a Social Democrat known from the past four years as perhaps the most powerful and centralising head of government Denmark has had for decades, is unsurprisingly sticking to her guns and insists the three parties in power will use their narrow majority to push the measure through.
But opposition is fierce. Trade unions, supported by several smaller political parties, have called for a referendum. The nine opposition parties, including the far-left and far-right, are trying to work together on an alternative proposal on how to increase defence spending, which lags behind Nato’s target of 2 per cent of gross domestic product.
The government is unlikely to back down, viewing this as just the sort of unpopular decision a left-right coalition can take in a time of multiple crises. But it has created bad blood by suggesting only parties that back the move can be involved in talks about the future of defence policy, something that has normally been open to nearly all.
And if the public puts on more pressure via opinion polls, the issue is whether this left-right government might follow the short-lived precedent of the 1978-79 grand coalition, which collapsed because of infighting after just 14 months.
What to watch today
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell delivers a speech on global affairs in Madrid
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin meets new German defence minister Boris Pistorius in Berlin.
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