Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
from Jeremy Gaunt:
Greeks smashing windows and setting fire to shops and banks in a fury of opposition to yet more austerity is gripping. But it is hardly unique. A few years ago there were similar scenes for weeks after police shot a 15-year old schoolboy. And back when I lived there, U.S. President Bill Clinton was treated to a similar welcome -- mainly because of his military assault on Serbia (a fellow Christian Orthodox nation) during the Kosovo conflict.
There are doubtless degrees. The latest level of destruction was the worst since widespread riots in 2008 -- and austerity being imposed on Greeks is very painful. But it is worth noting that there are two underlying elements than make such uprisings more common in Greece than elsewhere.
The first is a division in Greek society that goes back to at least the end of the second world war. The civil war that followed the end of the German occupation was brutal and split the country between those wanting western free market democracy and those favouring Soviet-style communism. This carried though into the 1967-74 junta.
The second element is the role of outsiders on Greek history. The Civil War brought in western intervention and the junta got U.S. support -- to the deep-seated bitterness of those on the other side. Going back further -- and Greeks have long historic memories -- there are Persians, crusaders, Nazi Germans and the particularly hated Ottomans trying to make Greeks be something other than Greek. Here is a feature on it.
If the world thought that Europe’s finance ministers were running in to put out the blaze spreading through Athens and Rome this week, it might come as a surprise to learn they still don’t agree on the size of the fire or how to deal with it.
Any training course will tell you that if a small fire isn’t tackled quickly, it could make things a lot worse. The Greek crisis is like a small electrical fire that has grown into a dangerous inferno now threatening to gut Italy.
from Jeremy Gaunt:
It seems as if almost everyone was surprised by Prime Minister George Papandreou's decision to hold a referendum on the euro zone's bailout package for his country. At the very least, it can probably be said that he is weary of being hammered from all sides -- his own party, the opposition, the people on the street, Germany, the tabloid press, you name it.
A lot will obviously depend on what question is asked. Do you want an end to austerity, would get a clear yes vote. Do you want to leave the euro zone -- perhaps not.
Times are hard in distant corners of the European Union, even when the sun is shining and the euro zone’s debt problems are thousands of miles away.
Leaders of nine regions on the edges of the EU are asking the rest of the 27-country bloc to pay more attention to their needs and shape investment policies better to their problems, exacerbated in some cases by the global economic crisis.
Angela Merkel has already abandoned plans to pursue billions of euros in tax cuts next year — the central policy pledge of her 2009 election campaign and main plank of her 7-month-old coalition agreement with the Free Democrats.
But now her uneasy government looks ready to go one step further and raise value-added tax on certain products which benefit from a reduced rate to help it consolidate the budget.
The European Union can rarely have been more in need of a
show of unity than now, as it tries to convince financial
markets it can handle the euro zone’s debt crisis.
Hardly a day goes by without a European leader underlining
the need to act together, but hardly a day passes without signs of
differences among them that undermine the impression of unity.
Whichever way you look at it, Germany is in a bit of a quandry.
For the past 11 years, since the launch of the euro single currency, Europe’s biggest economy has enjoyed steady current account surpluses as it has exported its manufactured goods around the world, while keeping labour costs down and productivity steady at home.
Its economic growth may not have been stunning in recent years, but it has experienced none of the huge budget-deficit and debt problems of its euro zone partners, particularly those in southern Europe such as Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy. And it has none of the nagging competitiveness issues that all those countries also face.
Who do you call when you want to speak to Europe? The question, long attributed to Henry Kissinger, has yet to be answered convincingly by the 27-country European Union.
Six months ago, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference the person to call on foreign policy issues was Catherine Ashton, who had just been chosen as the European Union’s foreign affairs chief. The “so-called Kissinger issue is now solved”, he said.
Most people would agree that the European Union and the euro single currency are part of a grand political and economic vision. But at times they are also a bit of a numbers game.
As Greece has shown with its less-than-reliable economic statistics, numbers can be fiddled to get budget deficits and debts down and meet the criteria to join the euro.