Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category
It’s the make-or-break EU summit, going on now within the cavernous Justus Lipsius European Council building in the Brussels European Quarter. Will what issues from this conference be enough to save the euro?
The answer to that remains up in the air, as the summit continues into the weekend. What we do already know, however, is that an important split has occurred within the EU, resulting from the failure of German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy to have accepted by all 27 member-states their proposals for greater national budget control and coordination. Now the action on that front has shifted to the group of 17 member-states who actually use the euro.
The excellent “Charlemagne” commentator from the Economist has already termed this development Europe’s great divorce, in an article (in English, of course) featuring at its head a picture of the defiant-looking British PM David Cameron pointing an aggressive finger towards the camera. And indeed, this one and many other press reports from the summit would have their readers believe that the UK is isolated in its stand of resistance against those “Merkozy” proposals for greater EU power over national budgets. That is certainly also the message from the authoritative German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, where an analytical piece from Michael König is rather dramatically entitled Bulldog Cameron bites the British into isolation.
But such observers should be careful about rushing into any over-hasty conclusions. They should remember that a number of other member-states share an attitude towards the EU rather closer to that of the UK than Germany or France. The Czech Republic, for instance:
The Norwegian paper Morgenbladet today carries a worldwide scoop: the first interview (Burma’s worst enemy) provided to the Western press by Sei Thein Win, a former major in the Burmese army who defected months ago. What makes what he has to say so remarkable is that he was – or he claims to have been – deeply involved in an alleged campaign by the military junta in power there to develop atomic weapons.
As written, the piece is really something out of James Bond. “I’m not really here” Sei tells the Morgenbladet journalist, who cannot be permitted to provide any outside details whatsoever of the defector’s location, to protect him against Burmese assassination-teams scouring Europe to find him. But we do get some internal details: the locale is an anonymous apartment where even the landlord is not allowed to know who his tenant really is; the major sports long hair quite unsuited to the military man that he once was, along with glasses that are for disguise, not actual use; the living room is “furnished with military minimalism” that includes only a table, a computer, a book of “Business English verbs” – and a razor-sharp dagger.
And inside his head is copious information that he has already spilled about the Burmese government’s attempts to develop its own nuclear weapons. He has brought along “hundreds of photographs” as well. The regime back home has already denounced him as a “deserter and criminal”; on the other hand, no less than Robert Kelley, former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), calls him “a source with truly extraordinary information,” information which happens to be consistent with the other evidence investigators have accumulated about the alleged Burmese nuclear effort. Kelley himself has already heavily relied on Sei Thein Win’s account for a report he brought out last May under the imprint of the dissident TV/radio station Democratic Voice of Burma (based in Oslo – there’s the Norwegian connection), entitled “Nuclear Activities in Burma” (whose short version is available here for you on the Scribd site).
It’s damning testimony. Then again, it’s (so far) based on only one witness. Can he be trusted? How will the world’s great powers react? And what will “M” say – especially when he learns that the account on the Morgenbladet’s website is but an abridged one, that the full Norwegian article on Sei Thein Win is only to be found in today’s printed edition?
Miss Moneypenny, get our man in Oslo on the line immediately! Not so fast, Chief. Turns out that the Independent newspaper has grabbed the full Norwegian piece and – with some shifting words-and-phrases around – brought it out in English.
In her new commentary on the EU and Serbia in Die Zeit (Europe threatened by Humiliation), Andrea Böhm posits the sort of counterfactual you would expect:
Suppose there were relevant indications that the leader of an Islamic terror-group, responsible for the murder of several thousand people, were hiding himself in a high-rise apartment in a European capital. How long would it take before a multinational army of secret services and investigators would come swarming to observe every garbage-dumpster, illuminate every floor, and if necessary evacuate half the building? Two months? Three weeks? Ten days?
But what is really at issue is not Islamic terrorists at all, it’s rather the high Serbian government officials responsible for war crimes in the Yugoslav Wars of some 15 years ago, in particular General Ratko Mladic. According to Ms. Böhm, he’s clearly somewhere in Belgrade and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find out exactly where. Yet not only is no one going after him (nor after the other wanted Serbian official, one Goran Hadzic, former leader of Serbs in Croatia – him I did not know about), but there has just been alarming signs of weakening in what had been the EU’s insistence that Serbia would be allowed no further progress along the road to becoming an EU member-state until these two fugitives were delivered up to the UN Yugoslavia Tribunal in The Hague.
Granted, the Serbs are still far from EU membership, just as they seem equally far from agreeing to do anything to deliver up Mladic and Hadzic. Nonetheless, EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg last Monday did agree to at least open Serbia’s formal application process. And that is the “humiliation” Ms. Böhm speaks of in her piece’s title – Europe once again exposing itself as a softy on the world stage by unilaterally climbing down from what had been it’s ironclad insistence on seeing the two fugitives in jail at The Hague (actually, at Scheveningen, if you want to be technical about it) before the Serb government would even be allowed inside the door. What happened to the Dutch? she wonders – they were the ones single-handedly (well, with occasional Belgian support) holding out on this insistence. She speculates that it all began to seem too much like some sort of Dutch “obsession” – an irrational thirst for revenge against the Serbs for the humiliation suffered by the “Dutchbat” troops who had been assigned to protect the civilians who were massacred at Srebrenica in 1995, so that the Netherlands government finally became self-conscious and too embarrassed to insist anymore.
In point of fact, the situation seems quite a bit more subtle than all that, as explained in a recent entry on the Economist’s “Charlemagne” weblog (in English, of course). Why did the EU foreign ministers budge in the first place? Because they wanted to reward the Serbian government for recently agreeing to meet with leaders of Kosovo, which ordinarily Serbia regards as a renegade break-away province (much as the People’s Republic of China views Taiwan). More to the point, it seems that they made that concession yet at the same time they didn’t: at least according to the Economist analysis, unanimity among governments (meaning the renewed potential for a Dutch veto) will be necessary again soon for Serbia to make any further forward progress.
EU officials are skillful at this sort of sleigh-of-hand, whereby they seem to give something away while in reality doing nothing of the sort (while still retaining the option of giving it away again sometime in the future, should that be viewed as necessary). But all this is hardly to Ms. Böhm’s taste. The EU needs to remember, she writes, that it bears a share of the blame for the horrors of the Yugoslav War; it happened in its own backyard, it was Europe’s big geopolitical test – and, of course, it failed it, having to rely in the end on American diplomacy and military power to rein in both Serb depredations in Bosnia and Croatia and the Milosevic government’s attempt to ethnically cleanse Kosovo. So fancy procedural games for her won’t cut it – much better a full-court military/police press, as if tracking down some Islamic terrorist-leader were what was at issue.
The scoop ultimately belonged to the Financial Times, but that article is ensconced behind their semi-porous paywall. So here at €S we had to get the news from Lidové noviny, from the Twitter alert by @cznews (Oh no! Not Rozpočtoví hříšnici!):
And a scoop it truly is, for the FT journalists (Peter Spiegel and Joshua Chaffin) have unearthed proposed “legislation” set to be officially unveiled by Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn next Wednesday, which their article terms “the EU’s most ambitious attempt to reorder its economic governance since this spring’s debt crisis that nearly destroyed the single currency.” Basically, the Commission would step up to take up a role in examining the national budgets of the 16 Eurozone member-states in a big way, with the authority to impose fines of 0.2% of GDP on governments which “consistently fail to bring down their public debt levels” – or “fail to control their annual spending,” or “fail to reform their economies to improve their competitiveness.” Once having decided to fine a member-state, the Commission under the proposal could only be stopped by a qualified majority vote from the European Council within 10 days of the decision. (Similar rules for member-states still outside the Eurozone will apparently be forthcoming later.)
Even just ignoring recommendations about how to improve national competitiveness (from the Commission presumably; and so how can they really be described as “recommendations”?) could make a government liable to a 0.1% of GDP fine. And, somewhat ludicrously, the Commission would also maintain a productivity data “scoreboard,” sort of like the running list of grades on an elementary school classroom wall.
Pretty amazing – especially when those of us with any sort of historical memory (it need not go back any further than ten years or so) recall the Stability and Growth Pact that was a key component to the introduction of the euro at the end of the 1990s. That also prescribed monitoring of (Eurozone) member-states’ public finances by the Commission; and it also prescribed “sanctions” (initially fines) for those governments who continued to violate the fiscal rules (budget deficit less than 3% of GDP, national debt less than 60% of GDP or getting there) after repeated warnings.
But it didn’t work: among the first to break these rules were the giants making up the EU’s “axis,” namely Germany and France, and no one ever dared to try to punish them in any way. Besides, there was always the fundamental bit of illogic in such arrangements of trying to punish by means of a monetary fine a government which has gotten into trouble because it doesn’t have enough money available.
So Why Now?
What’s the difference this time, that makes Commission staff think that these sorts of proposals will be accepted, and that they even will work if enacted to influence member-state government behavior? Obviously it’s the big Greek/Spanish/Portuguese/Irish/etc. debt crisis of 2010, which in May prompted the panicked assembling of a €700 billion+ support fund for states in trouble with their sovereign debt. It’s by no means clear that that will be enough to head off trouble; it’s by no means clear, for example, that Greece will in fact be able to avoid default (or, probably, the same thing camouflaged as debt “restructuring”).
Neither is it clear that member-states will be at all receptive to these latest Commission proposals as they are formally presented next week (together with similar ones from Council President Herman van Rompuy). It’s hard to avoid the thought that this sort of supervision of their budget processes from an external, super-national body of experts, backed up by sanctions with financial teeth, was not what most if not all of them thought they were getting into when they joined the EU and then the Eurozone. That historical process of European integration is likely about to face a decisive “gut check” moment, coming up next week.
Today is “Stress Day” – the day when the results of the “stress test” exercises performed on all major European banks will be released after the end of the European business day (but right in the middle of the American business day!). The Financial Times column Alphaville has a handy round-up of articles on the subject, compiled by Gwen Robinson. The most comprehensive guide – perfect if you’re still unsure of what these “stress tests” are all about and have some time – is by far the contribution from Anne Seith of Der Spiegel. (Rest assured: it’s in English. As for Alphaville itself, better enjoy that while it’s still free and available to all!)
Then there is the report by Anne Michel in Le Monde, also cited in the FT Alphaville round-up. Why is everyone so stressed about these “stress tests”? Mainly because banks can only “pass” them or “fail” them, and failure could carry a high price in terms of loss of investor confidence, for starters. Indeed, the impact is likely to be even greater than it was for the ten banks (out of nineteen tested) which “failed” during the American “stress test” exercise carried out back in May, 2009, for banks that fail by definition need recapitalization and there is a dwindling number of European governments still able to provide that. It’s notable, as Mme. Michel points out, that European authorities have staged such “stress tests” twice before, namely dry runs in August of 2009 and April of this year with a more limited selection of banks, whose results have never been made public.
But this time it’s serious, and all results will be released publicly. Naturally, everyone would love to jump the gun and get word of at least some of the results before they’re released to the unwashed masses (there’s potentially money to be made, for one thing). Mme. Michel does her best to oblige. It looks like all the French banks involved – namely BNP Paribas, Société générale, Crédit agricole and BPCE – have passed the test. Indeed, the failures are expected to come only from the usual suspect nations: Spain, Greece, and Portugal. Oh, and Germany, too – but the one German laggard is likely to be the Hypo Real Estate Bank, which already got into so much trouble back in 2008 that the German government fully nationalized it. (Note that this last bit does not come from Mme. Michel’s article, but from another of my on-line sources.)
Going back to the star banking pupils from France, such seeming across-the-board success inevitably raises questions as to the stress tests’ legitimacy. The article does go into some detail about how the tests’ parameters have been toughened up to include some degree of sovereign debt default, placed on top of a posited recession of 3% negative economic growth lasting over a year-and-a-half. But will this go far enough to convince the markets that all this has been a worthwhile, bona fide exercise? That is probably what most EU officials and bank executives are stressed-out about most of all.
Today is the day EU heads-of-government convene in Brussels for yet another summit. There will be an elephant in the room, a problem that needs to be handled – Greece, of course – but which some (mainly, but not only, Germany) don’t want to handle just now. So, bizarrely, the summit meeting itself will not have Greece on its agenda; rather, there will be a meeting called of all Eurozone heads of government (16 of them) just prior to the main summit event to address the Greek problem.
I learn this from the preparatory blogpost to the summit provided by the Economist’s “Charlegmagne” correspondent, and I have to admit that, here, that source (in English, of course) is the best provider of information and analysis that I have been able to find. Among other things, his main insight (as embodied in his column’s title, “Why Greece is not suffering enough yet”) that Greece will only be bailed out after it has been forced to suffer considerable economic pain – namely to set an example to other potential fiscal miscreants – is spot-on. And he also reports (although indirectly, from FT sources) the very valuable information of what Germany is demanding to help Greece: 1) Greece must first exhaust all other sources of finance from the markets; 2) It must then get as much as it can from the IMF; and 3) Then Germany will help, but will at the same time demand “tough new rules on debts and deficits that will impose more budgetary discipline than before, even if that involves changing the treaties.” (more…)
Thanks to last Christmas’ “Underwear Bomber” more and more airports all over the world have started digging deep into their pockets to purchase those insidious “full-body scanners” for screening passengers – starting, unfortunately, with Amsterdam’s own Schiphol Airport, where they probably are still feeling the embarrassment of being the place where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab embarked on his ill-fated flight to Detroit. The awkward privacy and civil liberties implications of showing people virtually naked this way – in addition to these machines not being guaranteed to actually work as they’re supposed to – have given rise to a lot of fierce criticism, but with no tangible result so far in discouraging these expensive purchases.
But now, unexpectedly, and as Spiegel Online reports, opponents of these machines have a noteworthy new ally: Pope Benedict XVI, who over the past weekend took the occasion of a visit by a group of airline-industry representatives to try to bring his audience back to some elementary first-principles, like “the primary asset to be safeguarded and treasured is the person, in his or her integrity” and “it is essential never to lose sight of respect for the primacy of the person.”
Spiegel Online’s report actually was prompted by this piece in the Guardian that is even a little bit better (quite apart from being in English), in that it points out that the Pope is himself in that VIP-class of people who never need to worry about any sort of screening no matter how much they travel. Then again, one can also suppose that empathy is an important element of his job-description.
UPDATE: Could the revolution have already begun? The London Times now has this story about how two Muslim women, set to fly to Pakistan, refused to undergo full-body scans (by those £80,000 “Rapiscan” machines! Is “Rapiscan” pronounced with a long “a,” by any chance?) a short while ago at Manchester Airport. (I first found out about the incident, however, from the Nederlands Dagblad, which is itself a religious newspaper.)
John Lennon, thirty years ago; surprise Scottish pop sensation Susan Boyle next, i.e. to be shot down by some crazed fan? That’s what her family are worried about, specifically her brother John, after Susan returned to her council-flat home one evening earlier this week to encounter a young intruder rummaging around inside.
Belgium’s La Dernière Heure picks up the story here, but they originally got it from that shining star of British journalism, the Sun, so you can read all about it in English here. (And those Belgians didn’t even include the extra bits, like how she can dance like Michael Jackson!)
It’s all there in today’s Wall Street Journal:
Just months after rushing to order enough swine-flu vaccine to protect their citizens, European governments are canceling orders and trying to sell or give away extra doses as they sit on a glut of the vaccine.
The main reason: European health officials decided that only one shot per person was needed, instead of the two originally planned.
Actually, there may have been another reason, as announced in the headline of the Czech Republic’s largest-circulation mainstream paper Mladá fronta dnes: Expert: Swine flu pandemic is a swindle by the pharmaceutical companies.
That’s right, it is alleged their profits were not all that they should be, so the drug companies manufactured a crisis to pump up sales revenue by at least millions. But who is the “expert” making this claim? His name is Wolfgang Wodarg, and he is chairman of the Health Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. (Note: that has no direct connection to the European Union, it’s a completely separate – in fact, earlier – organization. I know, it’s confusing . . .) And it seems that that Parliamentary Assembly will debate this question later this month, so maybe we’ll hear more about it then and become better able to judge.
Fortunately, the MFD article cited another piece giving all the details in the UK’s Daily Mail, so you can read about them there. But it also links to an article it published itself (i.e. in the Czech paper MFD) last July, about how the prominent Czech politician (and former Minister for Health) David Rath was also of the opinion that swine flu was just some sort of fraud for the benefit of the drug companies.
UPDATE: And indeed, French president Sarkozy’s house-newspaper Le Figaro is now announcing that the swine-flu epidemic there (known as “H1N1″) is over, according to an organization of French doctors called Réseau [i.e. network] Sentinelles France. At the same time, the article’s author (mysteriously known only as “C.J.”) says that it’s still recommended that one get immunized – the disease “could know a rebound.”
If this is Saturday, and you’re the American president, then that countryside you see down below, outside of the windows of Air Force One, must be the Czech Republic. Yes, today Obama and entourage flies on to Prague, and Dan Bilefsky in the New York Times already has the details about how he has the tricky task before him of visiting a country’s capital while taking care to have very little to do with top leaders of the government there – and pulling all this off without seeming impolite or ungrateful for the hospitality. The first trick involves invoking a presidential desire for a night off in scenic Prague, to grab the chance for an intimate dinner with Michelle at a “secret location,” in order to avoid any extended encounter-over-a-meal with either Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek (who publicly labeled Obama’s domestic budget plans a “road to hell”* only a few days ago; is a rather stolid, apparatchik-type guy anyway; speaks little English – and, most vitally, is now but a “caretaker” prime minister after his government fell this past week) or President Václav Klaus (speaks excellent English, now is in whip-hand position to determine composition of the next Czech government – but who could also bring on an attack of extreme presidential indigestion, no matter how excellent the food served, with his outspoken and negative opinions about the EU and climate change; for more about this in English, from the Economist, see here). (more…)
It has been a particular challenge going through the Danish press today: they seem especially gripped by (to coin a new term) “April-Fool-itis,” that is, celebrating this April 1 by planting remarkable “news” stories that turn out just to be a joke. Even if one is inclined to look favorably on the practice (e.g. as an amusing change-of-pace from the pedestrian nature of most news during the other 364 days of the year), Danish newspaper practice unfortunately waters it down substantially through the practice of frequently running the same articles from the Danish news-agency Ritzau in several of the papers at the same time. This naturally reduces substantially the amount of truly-original (as opposed to “echoed from Ritzau”) material. (Dutch papers also have this problem, i.e. of too many papers too often publishing the same article, by the way.)
Still, there are a handful of original joke-articles out there. But then the next problem arises, i.e. that the humor is too tied-in to the Danish cultural and/or political context to raise any laughs outside of the country. Anyway, let’s go looking for these jokes-articles and you can decide this for yourself. This exercise will also be valuable as a means to “innoculate” you against these tongue-in-cheek news-tales in case you later run across them within a context elsewhere that presents them to you as real. (more…)
fugleman – noun, plural -men. 1. (formerly) a soldier placed in front of a military company as a good model during training drills. 2. a person who heads a group.
So I’m taking my usual stroll through my RSS reader . . . and what do I come across? Something from the Danish daily Berlingske Tidende, entitled The Danish supermodel! Hey, click on that sucker . . . !
To my disappointment, it turns out to have nothing to do at all with anything like the efforts of some lithe, shapely (and probably under-fed) young Miss from, say, the Jutland hinterlands to displace Claudia Schiffer or Gisele Bundchen (she wears the pants!) from the catwalk. But you realize that the parlous times we’re currently in don’t really allow for such idle distractions, right? (Not that EuroSavant has followed, or even is able to follow, this line consistently . . .)
You’ll be glad to know that the “Supermodel” that this article discusses is indeed of an economic nature, namely the Danes’ way of putting together and running their economy, which seems to work extremely well in a time when we are all looking for extremely good solutions. For we have Business Week not long ago plaintively blazing the headline “What is capitalism’s future?” And as this Berlingske article proclaims, “The USA has disappointed the world. The American model, with its irrepressible belief in free-market forces where everyone forges his own success, has loudly broken own.” What could replace it? Why, possibly that Danish “supermodel”! (more…)
I’d like to take up again the subject of the rather unconventional German governmental response – so far – to the surging economic troubles to be found in Germany as well as more widely, prompted as I am to do so by the reader response I’ve received. You might recall that we can summarize that response as “Times might be tough, but there’s no need for this government or any other to spend huge sums, go way into debt, or otherwise endanger the EU’s Stability Pact that is supposed to underpin the euro.” (But also remember that this unorthodox position seems to be held only at the German government’s top levels, with plenty of insistent calls to start spending coming from elsewhere, including lower-down in that same government.)
This whole question in its broader sense – which could be phrased, ¡¿Caramba!, what can we do to stop the onrushing Great Depression? – is put into sharp relief by a commentary from Thursday in the Financial Times by the historian Niall Ferguson* (in English of course: The age of obligation, h/t to Naked Capitalism). (more…)
Don’t get too alarmed: it happened back in January, 1968, when a US B-52 bomber with four nuclear bombs on board crashed a few miles from an airbase near Thule, Greenland – then, as now, a self-governing province of Denmark. The first real problem was that there weren’t supposed to be nuclear weapons there in the first place, as the Danish had only approved the base for use in monitoring for a possible Soviet ICBM attack on the US over the North Pole, not as having anything to do with nuclear weapons themselves. And secondly, only three of those bombs were recovered from the crash site, but US authorities kept quiet about that, instead maintaining that all the weapons had been destroyed in the crash. In reality, three months later they sent a submarine to the area to look some more for the weapon, but with instructions for the officers in charge to lie about their mission to the Danish authorities, stating instead that they were there simply to survey the sea-bottom. (more…)
Back to the subject of Iceland, which holds the doubtful distinction of occupying the current financial crisis’ leading-edge of economic suffering. As the FT recently reported, that country’s monetary authorities have now had to raise interest rates for the Icelandic krona to a record 18% as one condition for receiving what is still a “proposed” $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. The future will seemingly bring a 10% contraction of the economy there, with simultaneous 8% unemployment and 20%-plus inflation.
I’m afraid I do not possess the skills in Icelandic to start investigating that country’s on-line press to look deeper into this mess that way. But there’s at least some interesting coverage from the Czech Republic’s leading general-interest quality daily, Mladá fronta dnes, in the form of an article Alarmed by the crisis, a third of Icelanders consider moving out of the country. (more…)
The Dutch daily Het Parool has word of the current military struggle between Russia and Georgia spreading beyond land conflict (Russian Fleet Sinks Georgian Boat). Quoting Russian press bureaus, who in turn gained their information from the Ministry of Defense in Moscow, the paper reports that yesterday (Sunday) two Georgian patrol boats in the Black Sea fired rockets at Russian warships, who returned fire and sunk one of the boats. Spokesmen for the Georgian government were not available for comment. (more…)
It’s all a bit bizarre: Here at EuroSavant we consider the Economist’s on-site blog Certain Ideas of Europe to be something of a watered-down competitor, in that its (anonymous) writers evidently command a few European languages themselves and take advantage of that often to remark upon noteworthy articles in the European press (really only the French and the German). Yet in its own day-after Obama-Berlin coverage, what else does Certain Ideas of Europe choose to highlight out of reaction to Obama’s Berlin speech from the German Fourth Estate than a breathless piece from the Bild Zeitung (Britons: think The Sun; Americans: maybe The New York Post but – as we’ll see – with a bit greater tolerance for female nudity.) The blog entry is entitled Obama and the ‘BILD girl’. Wow – 27-year-old Bild reporter Judith Bonesky (stifle the puns!) finds herself together in the gym of the Ritz Carlton hotel with HIM! Oh, he’s much taller than she had expected! They exchange some “How are you?”s! Then he goes and starts hefting some impressively-big weights, in such a manly fashion, without breaking a sweat! Naturally, when it’s time for him to go (he’s got a speech to deliver), she grabs her chance for a smugshot with the candidate. (more…)
This will do nothing for the attempts by the Barack Obama presidential campaign to knock back the charges of “elitism” raised – only by the media and the Clinton and McCain campaigns, admittedly – in the recent storm over his “bitter small town” remarks at what was supposed to be a private fund-raiser in San Francisco. But anyway: yesterday the leading world business newspaper the Financial Times endorsed him for the Democratic Party nomination (Democrats must choose Obama). Of course, who in Pennsylvania reads the FT anyway, outside of some universities and financial houses in Philadelphia – or do I sound bitter? (more…)
Next Monday, 11 February, is promising to be quite an eventful day on the Gazprom front – that’s of course the gigantic Russan natural gas company, the largest extractor of natural gas in the world, of which the Russian government owns a majority stake. On the one hand, it’s the same-old same-old, what we’ve all seen before, for Monday is the day that Russia, speaking for Gazprom, will cut off all natural gas supplies to the Ukraine due to alleged non-payment by the latter of $1.5 billion. Curiously, Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko has been scheduled for some time to arrive in Moscow for a visit on Tuesday. At least he’ll be glad to be away from his native country and someplace instead where it’s actually warm inside the buildings, though one can imagine that the diplomatic talks he will engage in might still be rather frosty.
But that is all par for the course for a European winter; I can remember recently thinking to myself “Hmm, it’s already February – shouldn’t we have had the regularly-scheduled Russian energy cut-off crisis by now?” More interesting is that next Monday is also the evening of the going-away concert in honor of Dimitri Medvedev – Gazprom chairman now, but Vladimir Putin’s “recommended” candidate for president of the Russian Federation at the upcoming March 2 elections, and therefore also a shoo-in as the next Russian president. The concert will be headlined by the legendary English rock-n-roll band Deep Purple, and this was recently commented upon in the New York Time’s weblog “The Lede: Notes on the News,” by Mike Nizza, who notes that Putin himself will surely be present as well. (more…)
(Footnote out of the way first: * As opposed to doin’ the Foggy Mountain Breakdown, by Earl Scruggs – and folks, that link there actually takes you to a webpage showing the guitar fingerings for playing this timeless bluegrass classic!)
Prospects for a “Yes” vote on the proposed EU Constitutional Treaty are under pressure these days not only in France but also here in the Netherlands. Well, at least “Yes” is currently ahead of “No” by only about ten percentage points in the polls, which is taken to be a worrying sign. So cabinet ministers are swinging into action to tout the Constitution, including Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner who, as reported in the newspaper Trouw (registration required) has warned against the danger of war if the Constitution is not adopted.
War? Yes, war: Because without the more authoritative and more effective EU institutions that the Constitution will supposedly bring into being, Europe’s inherent “irritation, suspicion, and distrust” threatens to escalate out of control. Just like happened in the mid-1990s in the Balkans: “Yugoslavia was more integrated than the [European] Union is now, but bad will and the inability to stifle hidden irritations and rivalry led in a short time to war.” (more…)
Ludomani – there’s your Danish word for the day, meaning “compulsive gambling.” Plagues to society are one of my fascinations, and so will often be encountered on these pages, but make that plagues to rich societies. Europe is after all my self-appointed beat. So don’t expect to come to EuroSavant and find anything about the mysterious Marburg virus stalking Angola, for example. Instead, take a situation where national payment systems evolve to the point where you can send money almost anywhere, almost instantly; and where you can receive anywhere, on your mobile telephone, attractive, easy-to-look-at data. Two “goods,” right?, which must characterize a nation riding modern technology’s leading edge. Unfortunately, as the Danes are now finding out, what all this must also mean, sooner or later, is an explosion of high-tech gambling – and ludomani. (more…)
Poor Charles and Camilla: their wedding plans have been beset by one problem after another. First of all, the Queen let it be made known that she did not intend to be there for the second marriage of her own eldest son. That ruled out access to every couple’s dream wedding-venue – Windsor Castle, naturally – and recourse instead to a garden-variety local town hall. The shine on the event had also quickly faded among the British public, who were noticeably slow to go after the usual commemorative souvenirs brought out for sale for a royal wedding – you know, teapots, coffee cups, dishtowels, that sort of thing.
Now, however, such souvenirs are flying off the shelves. It’s not so much because of the English reconsidering their attitudes towards the marriage of Prince Charels and Camilla Parker-Bowles, as it is due to another mishap on their path to the altar, reports Marianne Fajstrup in the Danish Berlingske Tidende (Wedding Souvenirs with the Wrong Date Hoarded). That darn Pope John Paul II, as sainted a guy as he was otherwise – I know, EuroSavant promised just yesterday not to cover him again – had to up and die on such a schedule that pencilled his funeral in for this upcoming Friday, just the day when the Prince of Wales was intending to tie the knot again. (more…)
The UK has a new Freedom of Information Act. It used to be that you had to wait 30 years to get access to public documents, but now (or as of the beginning of the new year), in the words of Lady Ashton, the UK minister responsible for public records, “you will be able to request information and be given it as long as exemptions do not apply.” Those exemptions involve things you would expect, like national security or commercial secrets.
Now that access to public information in the UK has supposedly greatly widened, how are people taking advantage of that? The Guardian newspaper itself is pushing to get the legal advice given Tony Blair about whether Britain could join the United States in its attack on Iraq, according to international law, but indications are that request that will be blocked. And over Christmas, operatives of an opposition party, the Conservatives (these days it’s controversial whether they merit the label “the leading opposition party”), had great fun coming up with 120 “embarrassing questions” they want to pose to Tony Blair’s Labour government, i.e. to get information shedding further light on various awkward episodes in that government’s seven-year term in power such as its change-of-mind allowing a referendum on the EU Constitution when previously it had refused. (more…)
Another change-of-pace here at EuroSavant today – but we love to keep you all off-balance, after all. Today’s subject is the “sex scandal” currently embroiling Britain. And today’s text, for once, is itself in English and from an American newspaper, namely a recent entry (Anatomy of a Political Sex Scandal) in the “World Opinion Roundup” series Jefferson Morley writes regularly for the Washington Post. That “sex scandal” involves David Blunkett, who is Britain’s Home Secretary (i.e. the cabinet minister in charge of law-and-order and internal security, the equivalent of the Attorney General in the US). Morley’s piece will give you all the links that you need to articles in the British press examining various facets of this case, from various points-of-view. And even now, a couple days after it first appeared, none of the links have yet gone dead. (more…)
The new European Commission started work today – finally. They were supposed to start work on November 1, but got held up by one Rocco Buttiglioni, the Italian Commission candidate who was supposed to get the Justice and Home Affairs portfolio. In nomination hearings before a European Parliament committee, Buttiglione was not shy in setting forth his personal value-system in which homosexuals are sinners and women encouraged to stay home and care for the children. Those sorts of sentiments just won’t do for the EU of the 21st century, to the extent that if the Parliament had no other choice but to reject the entire new Commission proposed by Commission President Jose Manual Barroso in order to keep Buttiglione from taking his place within it – and, the way the EU’s rules now stand, it didn’t – then fine, they were willing to reject the entire new Commission. Barroso pulled back from this brink and managed to get rid of Buttiglioni and find another Italian much more to everyone’s liking.
The new token Italian – but Italians, don’t get offended: every one of the 25 member-states gets a “token” of its own on the Commission – turned out to be a very safe choice, namely Franco Frattini, or the Italian government official who is supposed to be most congenial to foreigners, that is, the foreign minister. (more…)
Heard of the latest new Russian pop music phenomenon? No one knows her real name; she’s known only as “n.A.T.o.” and is a self-professed “suicide bomber” musician, who performs in a full-length burqa (i.e. the all-covering Muslim female dress) and veil, singing in Arabic.
Yep, it’s apparently for real. I first got word of “n.A.T.o.” from Belgium’s De Standaard, whose De Kleine Parade feature always has short but noteworthy, even believe-it-or-not pieces of which I have made mention in this space before. But in this case there is thankfully even more extensive coverage available from an English-language source, namely Elizabeth Day’s article in Britain’s Telegraph. (more…)
This is a first: if anything, EuroSavant is a “foreign press review” weblog, of course, but today’s entry is itself about a “foreign press review” article. There’s a new movie coming out of Germany that you are sure to hear much more of, if only from what has been heard of it already before it even opened in its home-market. It’s called Der Untergang (“The Downfall”), and its depiction of the last days of the Nazi regime in the spring of 1945 is based upon the book of the same name by noted Hitler scholar Joachim Fest, supplemented by the diary of Hitler’s secretary Traudl Junge.
You can well imagine the consternation in Germany over the making of a film that depicts the Führer in even a remotely-human light. But this is a weblog with an international bent, and the point of the article in today’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung by London correspondent Gina Thomas (British Fears: Does Germany Forgive Hitler?) is that the British media are already getting upset about the whole thing themselves. This when the rights for showing the film in the UK haven’t even been bought yet!
(By the way, that photo – from dpa/dpaweb – is not of the real historical article, but rather of the movie’s star, Bruno Ganz.) (more…)
It looks like I’m on something of a German roll here – but maybe that’s OK, since I noticed that articles from the German press tended to get short shrift in EuroSavant recently. (For instance, click the category for Germany to the left and see what’s there for the month of July.) In any case, who could resist a headline like “Germany Must Become More American” (free registration required)? (more…)
John Kerry delivered his acceptance speech last Thursday night to bring the Democratic National Convention to its culmination, and the German press was certainly paying attention. But this should have been no surprise to readers of the Economist (subscription required), which this week reminds us how Germans massively dislike George W. Bush, and so are presumably very interested in the personality and prospects of the alternative candidate who can send him packing to Crawford, Texas. (That Economist article, unfortunately, also dwells on Germans’ current dislike for the US generally – but, like the country or not, they surely cannot be under the delusion that the result of November’s presidential election has no impact on them.)
Unfortunately, most of the articles I surveyed in the German press covering Kerry’s acceptance speech were happy to limit themselves to a mere “translation function,” i.e. explaining to their readers what Kerry said. Most disappointing was such a “translator” article in Die Zeit (Kerry Wants to Restore the USA’s Prestige), from which we ordinarily can expect better – and that article itself was borrowed from the German business newspaper Handelsblatt. EuroSavant readers presumably had plenty of opportunity to read in English what Kerry said, if they didn’t already see the speech on TV live, so such articles are not so useful.
Handelsblatt wisely chose to keep its higher value-added materials for itself, though, as we can see from its editorial on Kerry’s speech (Bridge-Builder Kerry) from correspondent Michael Backfisch. (more…)