• Hundreds of Russian diplomats have been expelled from the EU since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Some 70 had to leave Germany for another shady reason: it’s claimed they used their diplomatic immunity to illegally gather information for the Russian secret services.

    The presence of Russian agents disguised as diplomats in Germany has been an open secret for years. For a long time, however, the government in Berlin didn’t dare act against them, fearing Russia would retaliate by expelling real German diplomats.

    It comes as no surprise that Germany, as an arms supplier to Ukraine and a training centre for Ukrainian soldiers, is a main target of Russian espionage. Experts estimate there are as many agents working in Germany today as during the Cold War. They will increasingly resort to undercover methods again.

    Ludovic Voet is confederal secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and responsible for its work on the rights of platform workers, such as delivery drivers, cleaners, translators and web designers.

    Why is it so difficult for unions to organise those employed in the platform economy?

    The main reason is the imbalance of power and information asymmetry between platform workers and companies, who may have access to more data, resources and influence, and who can use various strategies to discourage unions from organising, such as surveillance, manipulation, intimidation or retaliation.

    What are the problematic working conditions in the platform economy?

    Companies often use the veneer of technological innovation to undermine workers’ rights by providing a service that is paid for by the task or by the hour, rather than by a salary or fixed contract. Workers have little or no control over the price of the service or their schedule. They are often classified as self-employed and have limited or no access to social protection or collective bargaining.

    What improvements does the EU Directive on platform work bring?

    The EU Directive should address these issues. However, some of the measures that would achieve this are actively being derailed by lobbyists. 

At the core of the struggle is the employment status for platform workers. We have been clear from the start: no more bogus self-employment. We are also pushing for platform workers to have collective bargaining rights and trade union protection. 

    A right to transparency means that platform workers will be able to understand how the platform operates and how it affects their work and income. There should also be a ban on robo-firing, where workers are dismissed through automated decision-making systems.

    What are examples of where platform workers have achieved improvements?

    Workers have gone through years of legal process. But corporations attempt to stymie this progress by only applying the rulings to individual workers covered by the case, or not applying the rulings at all.

    Against all odds, some workers have managed to organise, but these are rare exceptions. In Italy, for example, the Riders Union Bologna, negotiated a collective agreement with the food delivery platform Sgnam.

    The German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock is a passionate advocate of EU enlargement. Yet, it remains unclear if Germany will consent to the swift accession of Ukraine and other candidate states. There is a major worry that the EU will repeat previous mistakes concerning corruption and the rule of law.

    To avoid this, Baerbock has reiterated the necessary steps to reform the Union, such as removing the unanimity principle in decision-making. But this suggestion is also controversial, even inside the coalition leading Germany, such as with the liberal FDP. The party objects to Germany losing its power of veto when it comes to financial and taxation issues.

    Furthermore, support for Ukraine’s rapid accession to the EU is decreasing among the German population. In May 2022, 63% were in favour, but by June 2023 this dropped to only 45%, with 42% showing strong dissent.

    People from abroad keep telling me that Germany is exemplary in coming to terms with its fascist past — including at the editorial meeting for this newsletter. Every time, this makes me freeze, and I cannot find the words to express my unease. Here’s an attempt to overcome this speechlessness.

    Have “we Germans” learned the lessons of our history? Have we faced up to our responsibility for the murder of millions of people and the suffering as a result of war and persecution? Is our democracy immune to nationalist and totalitarian ideologies? With the current rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party, and racist murders and attacks on minorities in Germany, this is hard to believe.

    We must not forget that it took decades — in West Germany — for the Nazi crimes and German responsibility to be discussed among the general population. And this was mainly due to pressure from civil society. Until then, high-ranking positions in the judiciary, administration and politics had been occupied by perpetrators and accomplices of the Nazi regime. Crimes were played down and criminals rehabilitated.

    Countries such as Poland and Greece have still not received reparations. And there is no sign that the German government is even considering whether such claims are justified.

    From the outside, it may seem that Germany is a model in coming to terms with its own history. Every child learns about the crimes of National Socialism in school. Public remembrance is firmly anchored by memorials in central locations and commemorative events attract the most senior representatives.

    But there is a great danger that this commemoration will become a cliché, a shallow routine. Too many people claim that “enough is enough” when it comes to remembrance. This will never be the case as long as the suffering caused by persecution and war continues and the trauma is passed on to future generations. It takes a lot to heal the scars.