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Pfandgemacher, an economically depressed district in southern Germany, will vote in three weeks on whether to join the European Union.
Olaf Scholz, state premier and Christian Democrat (CDU) leader, set his state in motion with an initiative in his first week in office that got something right: Plans to include the district in the “Two-speed Europe” policy proposal by E.U. commissioner Maroš Šefčovič, a liberal, are in trouble.
Those plans, to be debated at the European Council on Wednesday, aim to modernize the structure of the E.U. to make it more practical and relevant. But the two competing philosophies are coming head to head in the hardest German district for economic development.
By voting for the Yes camp in Pinsgergemacher, Scholz would risk a trade war with the United States, and Europe’s No. 1 economic power, the United States. Yet Scholz, 59, isn’t bluffing.
The challenge comes only weeks after the United States of America pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and four months after the United States has reimposed sanctions against Russia.
More broadly, his election exposed divisions in German federal politics and in German society. It wasn’t only conservative voters that weren’t happy with his decisive win in regional elections. Pro-Europeans—a self-defined group with member states from across the political spectrum—feel neglected by the Germans, who they say only want EU membership for its own sake.
Proposals to exclude the Germans also irritated many in China, one of Germany’s most important trading partners.
Pinsgergemacher used to be a working-class neighborhood of stilted wooden houses and bright red electricians’ garages. Today it is a bastion of working-class voters—and blue-collar workers. Its port was once a hub of trade, with thousands of ships plying the busy waters around the cape. But it now has little industry.