Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

EU

Spain becomes Argentina

Thursday, 25 April, 2013 0 Comments

First, Bayern Munich hammered Barcelona and then Borussia Dortmund routed Real Madrid. Now, comes news that Spain’s unemployment rate soared to a new record of 27.2 percent of the workforce in the first quarter of 2013. The jobless figure is the highest since at least 1976, the year after Francisco Franco’s death began Spain’s transition to democracy and, to add further woe, data released on Tuesday by the Bank of Spain showed the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy had shrunk by two percent in the first three months of 2013, compared with the year-earlier period.

What makes the economic crisis so shocking is that Spain was once Europe’s most vibrant and exciting country. Prosperity soared for two decades and Viva España became the slogan for a global leader in football, fashion, food and cinema. But where once there was optimism, there’s only rage now. It’s directed against the banks, the politicians, the royal family and, increasingly, the European Union. Initially, the EU seemed to offer a way out of an Iberian jungle of ignorance, poverty, isolation and authoritarianism. Indeed, in a moment of euphoria, the writer, José Ortega y Gasset, put it thus: “Spain is the problem and Europe is the solution.” But that was then.

The “European dream” that Spain bought into seemed to promise a middle-class lifestyle for all, from Andalusia to Zaragoza. But with no hope of jobs for the young, the welfare state under threat and the fabric of society rent, the worry now is that Spain will become more like Argentina than Munich or Dortmund. Those football results are portents.


Speech Writing vs. Speech-Writing in Dublin

Friday, 19 April, 2013 0 Comments

That was quick. Yesterday’s post here about the execrable speech delivered to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday by Michael D Higgins, the President of Ireland, has prompted a fast response in the form of this job specification:

“The Head of Speech-Writing is responsible for preparing draft speaking material and written messages for the President and works under the direction of the Secretary General and deputy-Secretary General to the President, in close cooperation with the Adviser to the President and operates as part of the wider team at Áras an Uachtaráin.”

Typically, the job title is “Head of Speech Writing“, while the text begins: “The Head of Speech-Writing is responsible for…” So, which is it, then? With or without the hyphen? Actually, it doesn’t matter as the bureaucrats who wrote the job spec are cut from the same cloth as those who famously tried to improve upon the writing of James Joyce. Whoever gets the job will be challenged, as they say, to better this gem from the infamous Strasbourg speech:

“They feel that in general terms the economic narrative of recent years has been driven by dry technical concerns; for example, by calculations that are abstract and not drawn from real problems, geared primarily by a consideration of the impact of such measures on speculative markets, rather than driven by sufficient compassion and empathy with the predicament of European citizens who are members of a union, and for whom all of the resources of Europe’s capacity, political, social, economic and intellectual might have been drawn on, driven by the binding moral spirit of a union.”

Clearly, a new Head of Speech Writing or a new Head of Speech-Writing is badly needed at Áras an Uachtaráin.

UPDATE: John Waters of the Irish Times rows in on the debate with The President has momentously said the unsayable about our economy. Waters, who is able to write clear English, notes “In a carefully crafted and historical-minded speech, the President said some very clear things…” And he said some very unclear things, too, which does not seem to concern Waters. Instead, the unsayable speech leads him to conclude: “But we can sleep a little easier now that the President has spoken as he has.” Agreed. It was a soporific speech.


In Bruges

Wednesday, 17 April, 2013 0 Comments

On 20 September 1988, Margaret Thatcher delivered her famous Bruges speech. The venue was the College of Europe, the Oxbridge, the Harvard and the MIT of the European Union. It produces the officer class of the “European project” and most graduates go on to work in the European Commission, Parliament, Central Bank or the Court of Justice.

In Bruges, Mrs Thatcher spoke to those who religiously believe that federalism is the European raison d’être. To their horror, she sang the praises of national sovereignty. “The European Community is one manifestation of that European identity, but it is not the only one. We must never forget that east of the Iron Curtain, people who once enjoyed a full share of European culture, freedom and identity have been cut off from their roots. We shall always look on Warsaw, Prague and Budapest as great European cities.”

Margaret Thatcher called out the federalists in Bruges and accused them of plotting the end of the nation state in Europe. In doing to, she placed Europe at the heart of British politics and the aftershocks continue to this day. That fact that her successor as leader of the Tory Party, David Cameron, has pledged an in/out referendum on Europe is something she could not have dreamed of that night in Bruges.


No. No. No.

Tuesday, 9 April, 2013 0 Comments

In her two autobiographies, The Downing Street Years and The Path To Power, the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made clear that she wanted the UK to have no part of EMU (Economic and Monetary Union) in the form of what became the euro currency. With uncanny prescience, she foresaw that Germany would baulk at the inexorable need for greater inflation and that the weaker countries would inescapably become uncompetitive and need bailouts.

“I said that it was psychologically wrong to put ourselves in a frame of mind in which we accepted the inevitability of moves towards EMU rather than attacking the whole concept. We had arguments which might persuade both the Germans — who would be worried about the weakening of anti-inflation policies — and the poorer countries — who must be told they would not be bailed out of the consequences of a single currency, which would therefore devastate their inefficient economies.” The Downing Street Years (1993)

And so it has come to pass. After Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus have had to be bailed out, and now Slovenia is wobbling into parlous territory. If only the hotheads had listened to Mrs Thatcher 23 years ago, much of the current suffering could have been avoided.

“It will be recalled that when John Major and I had been discussing the tactics required to resist pressure towards economic and monetary union in the summer of 1990, I had been quite prepared for the other eleven Governments to negotiate a separate treaty for Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Under this, Germany and France would finish up paying all the regional subventions which the poorer countries would insist upon if they were going to lose their ability to compete on the basis of a currency that reflected their economic performance.” The Path To Power (1995)

As it’s turned out, Germany, not France, is paying for the poorer countries in the form of a new wave of anti-German feeling swelling across Europe. The things that vex stony sleep to nightmare are many, as the poet said.


How Cyprus was robbed

Tuesday, 26 March, 2013 0 Comments

Reuters: “As new President Nicos Anastasiades hesitated over an EU bailout that has wrecked Cyprus’s offshore financial haven status, money was oozing out of his country’s closed banks.”

All those TV and newspaper images of Cypriots standing in line to get their daily €100 from the ATM show the real victims of the bailout/bailin. The reality is that the big money has left the island and the Brussels PR campaign that the real pain would be felt by the “rich” is exposed as just another Big Lie. Check this out:

“The two banks at the centre of the crisis — Cyprus Popular Bank, also known as Laiki, and Bank of Cyprus — have units in London which remained open throughout the week and placed no limits on withdrawals. Bank of Cyprus also owns 80 percent of Russia’s Uniastrum Bank, which put no restrictions on withdrawals in Russia. Russians were among Cypriot banks’ largest depositors.”

And who’s left holding the can? We’ll see real suffering at the end of this week when Cypriot firms are scheduled to pay their workers.

When the euro was launched, its most ardent defenders used to argue that monetary union would eventually require political union. Their moment came, they thought, with the Greek nightmare. However, instead of being the expected catalyst, it turned out that the “cure” of forcing bitter economic medicine down reluctant throats in Athens generated hatred, not gratitude. The Cyprus crisis has exacerbated the situation and the thing that was meant to unite is now becoming the great divider. What we’re left with is an increasingly unhappy marriage of totally incompatible partners.


How Cyprus was betrayed

Monday, 25 March, 2013 0 Comments

“We are all prisoners of knowledge. To know how Cyprus was betrayed, and to have studied the record of that betrayal, is to make oneself unhappy and to spoil, perhaps for ever, one’s pleasure in visiting one of the world’s most enchanting islands. Nothing will ever restore the looted treasures, the bereaved families, the plundered villages and the groves and hillsides scalded with napalm. Nor will anything mitigate the record of the callous and crude politicians who regarded Cyprus as something on which to scribble their inane and conceited designs. But fatalism would be the worst betrayal of all. The acceptance, the legitimization of what was done — those things must be repudiated. Such a refusal has a value beyond Cyprus, in showing that acquiescence in injustice is not ‘realism’. Once the injustice has been set down and described, and called by its right name, acquiescence in it becomes impossible. That is why one writes about Cyprus in sorrow but more — much more — in anger.”

Hostage to History: Cyprus from the Ottomans to Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens


The Divisions of Cyprus

Wednesday, 20 March, 2013 0 Comments

“Enlargement, widely regarded as the greatest single achievement of the European Union since the end of the Cold War, an occasion for more or less unqualified self-congratulation, has left one inconspicuous thorn in the palm of Brussels. The furthest east of all the EU’s new acquisitions, even if the most prosperous and democratic, has been a tribulation to its establishment, one that neither fits the uplifting narrative of the deliverance of captive nations from Communism, nor furthers the strategic aims of Union diplomacy, indeed impedes them.”

So begins The Divisions of Cyprus by Perry Anderson, which appeared in The London Review of Books in June 2008. Given what is going on right now in the EU, this is a must-read piece, especially the parts on the perfidious role that the British played in the island’s misfortunes. Anderson’s conclusion is prophetic: “Sometimes small countries defy great powers, but it has become increasingly rare. The more likely outcome remains, in one version or another, the sentence pronounced on another Greek island: ‘The strong do what they can, the weak do what they must.'”


Cyprus banks pass EU stress test

Tuesday, 19 March, 2013 0 Comments

That was the headline on an article by Poly Pantelides, which appeared in The Cyprus Mail on 16 July 2011. Best bit: “In Nicosia the Finance Ministry issued a statement saying: ‘The measures which the banks are taking or planning to take will further increase solvency.'”. Two years later, the same paper is today reporting that “Eurozone finance ministers last night urged Cyprus to protect small savers’ deposits while still coming up with €5.8 billion from a deposit levy so the island’s €10 billion bailout could go ahead.”

Hero to zero in just two years. How come? Because EU stress tests are as reliable as EU promises and policies.


The undead returns to Europe

Wednesday, 27 February, 2013 0 Comments

The undead Just as F. Scott Fitzgerald toyed with Trimalchio as a possible title for The Great Gatsby, Bram Stoker considered using the title The Un-Dead for his novel Dracula. In both cases, we should be eternally grateful for what finally appeared on the cover as Gatsby and Dracula have become metaphors for hosts of phenomena, ranging from plutocracy to lack of proper dental care.

Roger Corman and lots of other makers of Hollywood B movies are in the debt of Bram Stoker as well because his use of “undead” is responsible for the modern horror sense of the word. Neologism note: The word undead does not appear in English before Stoker. Definition: “The term undead describes beings in mythology, legend or fiction that are deceased yet behave as if alive. A common example is a corpse re-animated by supernatural forces by the application of the deceased’s own life force or that of another being.”

Following the inconclusive Italian election at the weekend, the undead euro has returned to haunt its crazed creators. Today, Italy will attempt to sell between €3 billion and €4 billion of a new 10-year bond and between €1.75 billion and €2.5 billion of five-year paper. Observer should keep a close eye on two-year Italian yields for signs that the market is worried the political paralysis has voided the protection offered by the European Central Bank’s bond-buying pledge.

“Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” Dracula


Europe of the Concilium Plebis

Thursday, 24 January, 2013 0 Comments

The day in Europe begins with the news that Spain’s unemployment rate has hit the highest level since measurements began in the 1970s. At the end of last year, the jobless rate was a frightening 26 percent, while unemployment for people under 25 years old reached an off-the-scale 60 percent. Clearly, some parts of Europe are not working. And David Cameron will, no doubt, allude to this when he addresses the World Economic Forum this morning in Davos.

As the European north-south divide gets larger and the suffering of those yoked to the common currency becomes more visible, it’s time to talk about the future of the continent. Or, at least, the entity known as the European Union. Unless it manages to create some kind of accountable, democratic institutions, the outlook is grim. The Roman way For the Brussels bureaucrats, European democracy means minimizing the role of the nation state, a form of governance they see as outmoded. In their vision, the European Council would be abolished and the EU Commission would be directly elected by the EU Parliament. This post-national system would represent democracy.

The problem with this scenario is that most Europeans don’t want it. They wish to keep the democracy they have right now. The one thing they do want, however, is increased use of the plebiscite, a concept that dates back to the Concilium Plebis, the popular assembly of the Roman Republic. The problem with referendums, though, is that there’s no knowing what the people would decide. The reintroduction of the death penalty? The deportation of illegal immigrants? The scrapping of student fees in Bavaria? The list is long.


Cameron: It will be in-out

Wednesday, 23 January, 2013 0 Comments

“The next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament. It will be a relationship with the Single Market at its heart. And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give […]

Continue Reading »