Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Greece gets help, but debt quicksand is all around

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After five months of struggling to stay afloat in the quicksand of a debt crisis, Greece has finally asked the European Union and the IMF to throw it a lifeline

Some might think that’s the end of it — Greece now has access to up to 45 billion euros in special funds, it can finance its deficit and refinance its debts at better rates, and speculators (who have metaphorically been stepping on Greece’s head while it thrashes around in the quicksand) have to beat a retreat.

But not so fast. Greece is just one link in the chain of 16 countries using the euro single currency. As such — and under the terms of the rescue package the euro zone agreed for Greece this month — the 15 others share a part in hauling Athens out of its predicament.

While Germany, France, Sweden and the Netherlands may have the financial strength to do that, other euro participants are far weedier and are already up to their knees or ankles in quagmires of their own. In the playground-bullying that is often the driving mentality of financial markets, this is just the sort of situation where speculators start pressing down on the heads of some of the other countries wading in debt. And there are quite a few candidates to choose from.

Which companies are oiling the cogs of EU legislation?

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If Europe’s lobbying register is correct, oil giants like Shell and BP are spending just a few hundred thousand euros a year on EU lobbying, sums that are dwarfed by the millions they spend across the Atlantic.

Europe’s voluntary Register of interest representatives, launched in 2008, shows that Shell and BP spent 400,000-450,000 euros each on lobbying in 2008. 

Biofuels’ green credentials called into question

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Biofuels were once seen as the perfect way to make transport carbon-free, but a series of EU studies are throwing increasing doubt on the green credentials of the alternative fuel.

The latest to be released gave a preliminary assessment that biodiesel from soybeans could create four times more climate-warming emissions than conventional diesel.

Luxury brands ride high in online trade dispute

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- The European Union’s competition regulator made an important move this week, issuing revised rules governing the sale of goods and services over the Internet in Europe.

The so-called “vertical restraints block-exemption regulation”, unveiled on Tuesday, set down new guidelines for online retailers who don’t operate a ‘bricks-and-mortar’ outlet. In doing so, it sought to resolve a debate that has been going on for years between luxury brand retailers such as Gucci and Chanel and discounters who sell big-name brands more cheaply from warehouses over the Internet.

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If how quickly a company sends out a press release welcoming an EU decision is a measure of how popular that decision is, then the European Commission’s updated rules were just what luxury goods manufacturers were waiting to hear.

Head scratching over EU plans for EMF, helping Greece

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- IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn

IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn

It was no great surprise that the managing director of the International Monetary Fund looked perplexed when asked during a visit to Brussels to comment on proposals to create a European monetary fund.

 ”I would be very happy to comment if I knew what it was,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn told a committee in the European Parliament.

Lapland’s part in EU foreign policy

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Last weekend, Finland’s foreign minister gathered six of his colleagues and the EU’s foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, in the frozen far reaches of Lapland for two days of talks on the future of European foreign policy.

As informal ministerial gatherings go, it was a rather jolly (if cold) affair, complete with a ‘family photo’ taken with a pair of nervous reindeer, a chance to see the northern lights and activities such as skiing, sledging and snow-mobiling. Some of the ministers even brought along their families.

‘Frankenstein’-food fears keep GMOs out of Europe

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As the new European Union executive prepares to debate fresh policy proposals which might unblock the stalemate over approving genetically modified crops for feed, processing or cultivation, there are few signs that Europe’s fears over what some have termed “Frankenstein foods” are easing. 

On Friday Bulgaria’s ruling GERB party proposed a five-year moratorium on the production of genetically modified (GM) crops for scientific and commercial reasons following public outcry over a new legislation. 

Brussels’ MEPs ready to duke it out with bankers

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Every new year brings resolutions, and the European Parliament is no exception.

Often derided as a multi-lingual talking shop, the institution is feeling newly invigorated by some fresh faces and by the European Union’s Lisbon reform treaty, which came into force late last year and gives the 736-member parliament more say in drafting laws and acting as a check on legislation.

Almost immediately, parliamentarians were letting their voice be heard, forcing Bulgaria to withdraw its nominee for the European Commission last month because she wasn’t seen to be up to the job. They also look ready to block an agreement between the EU and the United States on sharing data on bank transfers, and are really beginning to show their teeth when it comes to financial sector reform.

Does Greece really deserve such a market pummelling?

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So there’s no question Greece has work to do to improve its bookkeeping.

Not only must it get spending in check,  but it needs to be a bit more honest about where its finances stand in the first place. After all, it’s not often an EU country says one month that its budget deficit is a little over three percent of GDP and admits a few weeks later that, oh dear, it’s actually nearer 13 percent.

Yet it’s hard not to have a little sympathy for Greece at the same time.

Its government bonds have been hammered and the price it has to pay to finance its debt has soared as financial markets have relentlessly taken it to task over the past six weeks for its profligacy.

Berlusconi charms Israel with EU talk

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- Berlusconi and Netanyahu shake hands during a meeting in Italy last year

Berlusconi and Netanyahu shake hands during a meeting in Italy last year

Silvio Berlusconi is seldom shy about making headlines, and he’s also known to turn on the charm when he meets foreign leaders.

So it was hardly surprising the Italian prime minister kicked off a three-day visit to Israel on Monday by declaring his hope that Israel might one day become a member of the European Union.

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