Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
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.
But ministers meeting in Brussels have clearly not been on any fire extinguisher training courses lately — they don’t know their water from their foam and their dry powder. In fact, they appear to be pouring oil on the fire.
Belgium’s Finance Minister Didier Reynders says it is best to try to smother the blaze with a small cloth soaked in a chemical called a financial transaction tax, while Sweden’s Anders Borg and Austria’s Maria Fekter say they can’t spare any of their CO2 extinguishers.
Covering a summit of European leaders is a bit like covering a soccer match with no ticket for the stadium and no live TV broadcast to watch. The only way you have an idea of the scoreline is from the groans and cheers from inside the ground.
With EU leaders meeting on Brussels on Sunday and again on Wednesday to try to resolve the region’s debt crisis, the emergency back-to-back summits look like a game of two halves.
Investors are hoping for something big from European leaders at the EU summit on Oct. 23 and of the Group of 20 on Nov. 3. But they also know the 17 nations of the euro have a habit of offering delayed, half-hearted rescues that have cost them credibility.
So there’s been a lot of “urging” and “warning” in Brussels lately — politicians and central bankers have all been demanding Europe act as international alarm grows that its sovereign debt problems may drag the world into recession. “Further delays are only aggravating the situation,” said European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet on Tuesday in his last appearance at the European Parliament, before he hands over the post to Mario Draghi on Nov. 1.
It was early March and Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner of International Cooperation Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, was traveling in Asia. Her plan was to attend a 7.5 magnitude earthquake simulation that would hit Indonesia and generate a tsunami. A few things, however, changed in her itinerary: The destination turned out to be Japan, the earthquake was 9.0 and it not only generated a huge tsunami, but also a nuclear catastrophe. Plus, it was real.
“Usually our fears are bigger than reality. In this case our reality was worse than our fears,” Georgieva said recently at a World Bank panel on the climate, food and financial crises the world is facing today and the way they all intertwine. Georgieva’s strong Slavic optimism brightened the gloomy panel, but the data she threw in didn’t back up her positive view:
A guide at the "Japanese Experience" exhibition talks to Miim, the Karaoke pal robot, on the sidelines of the APEC meetings in Yokohama, Japan on Nov. 10. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao
Miim is one of the more popular delegates at the APEC meetings in Yokohama Japan. She sings. She dances. She tosses her shoulder length hair. She may not be able to spout an alphabet soup of APEC acronyms like the other Asia-Pacific delegates. But she's still pretty lively. For a robot.
If people stop commenting on the financial crisis, does it still exist?
A month ago, Europe was in the throes of fretting about Greece’s debt problems and whether they were going to spill over to Portugal and Spain, bringing down the euro and a decade of monetary union with it. At the same time there was intense anxiety about impending results from stress tests on nearly 100 European banks.
Every day — and sometimes several times a day – European Union officials, ministers, leaders or central bank governors would say something about the crisis, providing more fodder for frazzled financial markets to make another round of cliff-hanging calls over whether things were getting better or worse.
Never let it be said that the European Union doesn’t get things done.
It may have a slightly maddening way of going about it — last-minute, late-night summits, hours and hours of sweaty, closed-door negotiation, multiple conflicting plans put forward by the likes of the Finns, the Italians and, who knows, the Estonians – and then, hey presto, like the proverbial rabbit out of a hat, at 2 in the morning, a $1 trillion deal to haul the world back from the debt-crisis abyss. All in the name of European unity.
As one Brussels policy analyst put it somewhat delphically : “The EU is not crisis resistant, but perhaps it is crisis proof.”
There was more a sense of relief than joy when the European Union finally got its new executive on Tuesday. These are difficult times for the EU and there is little to celebrate.
The new European Commission is taking office in a tough economic climate, with the 16-country euro zone facing its hardest test since the single currency came into being 11 years ago.
Pope Benedict issued an ambitious call to reform the way the world works on Tuesday shortly before its most powerful leaders meet at the G8 summit in Italy. His latest encyclical, entitled "Charity in Truth," presents a long list of steps he thinks are needed to overcome the financial crisis and shift economic activity from the profit motive to a goal of solidarity of all people.
Following are some of his proposals. The italics are from the original text. Do you think they are realistic food for thought or idealistic notions with no hope of being put into practice?
This is one in a series of post cards from Reuters correspondents across Europe, Middle East and Africa.
“Watch out for watermelons” was the ominous warning long given to visitors arriving by night in Lagos. The Third Mainland Bridge, Africa’s longest, snaking over the lagoon and into town from the airport, was notorious for armed robbery. A watermelon embedded with nails and rolled in front of your car was enough to stop you, allowing gunmen to relieve you of your possessions.