Commentaries

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Shelved missile shield tests NATO unity

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foghAfter just six weeks as NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen has his first crisis. The alliance may be slowly bleeding in an intractable war in Afghanistan, but the immediate cause is the U.S. administration’s decision to shelve a planned missile shield due to have been built in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The shield, energetically promoted by former President George W. Bush, was designed to intercept a small number of missiles fired by Iran or some other ”rogue state”. But Russia saw it as a threat to its own nuclear deterrent and NATO’s new east European members saw it as a useful deterrent against Russian bullying, by putting U.S. strategic assets on their soil.

President Barack Obama’s decision to drop plans to install it on Polish and Czech territory leaves those former Soviet satellites feeling betrayed — because they expended political capital to win parliamentary support — and more exposed to a resurgent Russia, especially after its use of force against Georgia last year.

Obama’s move is clearly part of a warming of U.S. relations with Moscow from which Washington hopes to gain help in return on supply routes to Afghanistan, pressure on Iran to rein in its nuclear programme, and an agreement on radical cuts in nuclear arsenals. But this “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations has only exacerbated the rift within NATO over Russia.

Why Paddy powers past the field

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Here’s why Paddy Power makes the other bookies look flat-footed. Microsoft’s politically-incorrect move to turn a black model’s face white for an ad featuring three smiley happy people that ran in Poland has produced the predictable grovelling apology from the company.

Now Paddy (is that racist? – ed) is offering odds on the racial mix when the campaign for MS Office 2010 is launched. Here they are: 12/1 against white and Asian, 4/1 white only, and a reassuring 11/10 for the original mix of white, Afro-American and Asian. Bet on the favourite, I’d say.

GM dumps Chinese in Opel race, standoff looms

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Two things Opel junkies need to know in today’s news.

1) General Motors has dumped Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC’s long-shot bid to take over GM’s main European arm. That leaves a two-horse race between Canadian-Austrian car parts maker Magna and Belgium-based financial investor RHJ, loosely associated with U.S. private equity firm Ripplewood.

2) The two trustees appointed by the German authorities to a board overseeing Opel in its transition to new ownership are refusing to toe Berlin’s line that Magna’s bid is the only game in town (according to an intriguing Reuters sources story).

Polish EU vision breaks the mould

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At last — a Polish vision of the future of the European Union that does not involve refighting
World War Two or dying in a ditch for outsized voting rights.

In a thoughtful report entitled “Europe can do better”, a group of eminent Poles, including two former foreign ministers and a former central banker, offer a blueprint for Poland to partner EU heavyweight Germany in advancing European integration.  Even if some of the proposals look unrealistic, Berlin would do well to grasp the outstretched hand from Warsaw and explore common ground.

Politics, economics collide over Opel

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Political and economic logic are set to collide in the byzantine decision-making over the future of German carmaker Opel, the main European arm of fallen U.S. auto giant General Motors.
If politics prevail, as seems likely, the cost to German taxpayers will be higher and the chances of commercial success lower.

The aim of the Berlin government and four federal states, which are sustaining Opel with bridging finance, is to save as many German jobs and production sites as possible. That makes political sense ahead of September’s general election. But the business logic is that only a greatly slimmed-down Opel can survive in an industry with chronic overcapacity.
In theory, it is up to GM’s board to choose among the three offers it expected to receive on Monday from Canadian-Austrian car parts maker Magna <MGa.TO>, Belgian financial investor RHJ <RJHI.BR>, and, less plausibly, Chinese state-owned auto maker BAIC. But there are several other powerful players with a say. They include the trustees responsible for the company since GM entered U.S. bankruptcy in June, the German federal and state governments, Opel’s works council and, last but not least, the European Commission, which must approve the restructuring plan as a condition for authorising the state aid.

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