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from The Great Debate:

Sanctions finally find Russia’s Achilles heel

Russia's President Vladimir Putin gestures as he chairs a government meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama were reportedly engaged in a heated telephone conversation last Thursday when Putin noted in passing that an aircraft had gone down in Ukraine. The tragic crash of the Malaysian airliner in rebel-held eastern Ukraine continues to dominate the headlines, but it is important to remember what agitated Putin and prompted the phone call in the first place -- sanctions.

Sanctions against Russia have been the centerpiece of the U.S. response to Putin’s interference in Ukraine. While they primarily have been directed against prominent friends of Putin and their businesses, the underlying target has been a weak Russian economy.  The sanctions have definitely found Russia’s Achilles’ heel, and with harsher sanctions looming in the aftermath of flight MA17, Putin is finding it increasingly difficult to craft an effective reply.

Obama had raised the ante for Russia the day before the Malaysian airliner disaster by unexpectedly announcing a new round of sanctions. The designated enterprises included several major Russian banks (Gazprombank, VEB), energy companies (Rosneft, Novatek) and arms manufacturers. They were not, however, the full sectoral sanctions that Putin dreads the most. These would essentially exclude Russia from the international financial system and restrict major technological transfers. Though key Russian banks and energy companies are now prohibited from receiving medium or long-term dollar financing, U.S. companies are not otherwise prohibited from conducting business with them.

But even by hinting as to what sectoral sanctions might look like, Obama has upset Russia’s economic calculations. Obama is often criticized for not backing up the “red lines” that he draws. But in Ukraine, Obama essentially has drawn a “gray line” -- demanding Russia take certain actions to end the crisis. No one knows when this gray line is crossed, however. So these new sanctions only heighten the uncertainty -- and risk -- of doing business in Russia.

from Hugo Dixon:

What is EU capital markets union?

What is capital markets union? Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission’s president-elect, has embraced the goal of creating one for the European Union. But so far it is more of a slogan than a set of policy actions. There’s no harm in having a catchy term to encompass a myriad of specific plans, but the idea needs fleshing out.

The first thing is to clarify the goals. One is to finance jobs and growth throughout the European Union. Another is to have a financial system that is better able to absorb shocks. Banks are shrinking and so can’t do the job of funding economic expansion on their own. Nor are they good at coping with crises. Indeed, they often magnify them, as the credit crunch and euro zone saga showed.

from Hugo Dixon:

UK prepares for possible EU failure

David Cameron looks to be preparing for the possibility that his plan to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union will fail. The UK prime minister would then campaign for the country to quit the EU in a referendum he plans to hold by 2017. That seems the best way to interpret his appointment of a eurosceptic foreign minister and the nomination of a little-known former lobbyist as Britain’s European commissioner.

This is not to say that Cameron wants to take Britain out of the EU – which would be a historical mistake. It is rather that he apparently thinks quitting could be an acceptable Plan B that would keep him in his job and his Conservative party reasonably united.

from Hugo Dixon:

How to fight UK immigration fears

By Hugo Dixon

Hugo Dixon is Editor-at-Large, Reuters News. The opinions expressed are his own.

If the UK leaves the European Union, the main reason will probably be because people fear immigrants are overrunning the country. The best way of assuaging these concerns is to show how free movement of people within the EU benefits the economy and society overall, while acknowledging that some groups may be harmed and working hard to improve their lot.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Karl Marx was right — at least about one thing

 A board displays the Dow Jones industrials average after the close at the New York Stock Exchange

Confidence in the global economy is steadily improving, as shown in the financial markets’ bullish behavior and confident comments from companies and policymakers over the past few weeks. Though these columns have argued in favor of a robust recovery, when investors get uniformly bullish, the pessimistic case deserves attention.

Many distinguished economists believe that the current improvement in global conditions is just a blip. They insist that the world faces years, if not decades, of “secular stagnation.” How seriously should we take them?

from The Great Debate UK:

Europe needs smarter education and research investment

Anka Mulder--Anka Mulder is Vice-President for Education and Operations at Delft University of Technology.  She was formerly Global President of the OpenCourseWare consortium.—

Education and research infrastructure, such as laboratory facilities and digital learning networks, play an increasingly important role in diffusing knowledge and technology to enhance prosperity. At a time when the overall EU budget has decreased for the first time ever, education and research programmes such as Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 continue to receive significant funding increases, but Europe is still falling behind other areas of the world in building digital infrastructure.

from Hugo Dixon:

The European politician worth watching

By Hugo Dixon

Hugo Dixon is Editor-at-Large, Reuters News. The opinions expressed are his own.

Matteo Renzi is on a roll. The Italian prime minister is a brilliant politician. His youthful dynamism has bought him time with his people, the markets and the European Union to carry out the immense job of reforming Italy. But he has yet to show he can execute. He now needs to, because even his time will run out.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

How EU politics pushed Merkel to lift Germany’s austerity policies

German Chancellor Merkel and Luxembourg's Prime Minister Juncker hold a joint news conference after a meeting in Luxembourg

Matteo Renzi, the prime minister of Italy who took the revolving presidency of the European Union this week, seems to be the sort of man that Napoleon was referring to when he reputedly said that the key qualification he sought in recruiting a general was good luck.

Renzi become prime minister without even needing to win an election because Silvio Berlusconi and all other rivals self-destructed. He took power just after Italy passed the lowest ebb of its economic fortunes. In May, he was rewarded for his good fortune by Italy’s voters, who anointed him with a strong democratic mandate in the same European elections that discredited almost all Europe’s other national leaders. Now he is taking the helm in Europe, as an economic recovery is starting and the European Central Bank is swinging decisively in support of growth.

from Hugo Dixon:

EU would also be harmed by Brexit

By Hugo Dixon

Hugo Dixon is Editor-at-Large, Reuters News. The opinions expressed are his own.

It is not just Britain which would be damaged if it quit the European Union. So would other members. Jean-Claude Juncker’s nomination as Commission president at last Friday’s summit increases the chance of Brexit - Britain’s exit from the EU. Leaders from all countries now need to work to limit the risk it happens.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

World War One: First war was impossible, then inevitable

British troops advance during the battle of the Somme in this 1916 handout picture

Why does the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand -- the event that lit the fuse of World War One 100 years ago Saturday -- still resonate so powerfully? Virtually nobody believes World War Three will be triggered by recent the military conflicts in Ukraine, Iraq or the China seas, yet many factors today mirror those that led to the catastrophe in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.

The pace of globalization was almost as dramatic and confusing in 1914 as it is today. Fear of random terrorism was also widespread -- the black-hatted anarchist clutching a fizzing bomb was a cartoon cliché then just as the Islamic jihadist is today. Yet the crucial parallel may be the complacent certainty that economic interdependence and prosperity had made war inconceivable -- at least in Europe.

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