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.
This week U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon‘s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, defended the United Nations’ record on Ivory Coast. In a highly unusual public rebuttal, Nambiar told former South African President and African Union mediator for the Ivory Coast conflict, Thabo Mbeki, that it was he – not the international community — who got it wrong in the world’s top cocoa producer.
In April, Ivory Coast’s long-time President Laurent Gbagbo was ousted from power by forces loyal to his rival Alassane Ouattara, who won the second round of a U.N.-certified election in November 2010, with the aid of French and U.N. troops. According to Mbeki — who has also attempted to mediate in conflicts in Sudan and Zimbabwe – there never should have been an election last fall in the country that was once the economic powerhouse of West Africa.
It’s hard to find a delegate to the United Nations who despises U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. But it’s even harder to find someone who thinks he has the gravitas and charisma of his Nobel Peace Prize-winning predecessor Kofi Annan, who invoked the wrath of the previous U.S. administration when he called the 2003 invasion of Iraq “illegal.” As one senior Western official, who declined to be identified, said about Ban: “It’s not as if he’s lightning in a bottle, but we can live with him.”
One of the most wrong-headed arguments in the debate about Muslims in Europe is the shrill "Eurabia" claim that high birth rates and immigration will make Muslims the majority on the continent within a few decades. Based on sleight-of-hand statistics, this scaremongering (as The Economist called it back in 2006) paints a picture of a triumphant Islam dominating a Europe that has lost its Christian roots and is blind to its looming cultural demise.
from Summit Notebook:
Jim O'Neill, the new Goldman Sachs Asset Management chairman who is famous for coining the term BRICs for the world's new emerging economic giants, reckons he knows why Germany might not be rushing to bail out all the euro zone debt that is under pressure. Europe is not as important to Berlin as it was.
Speaking at the Reuters 2011 Investment Outlook Summit being held in London and New York, O'Neill pointed out that in the not very distant future Germany will have more trade with China than it does with France.
France attempted the arguably impossible on Wednesday by presenting a bill to ban Muslim face veils and asking Muslims not to feel it was singling them out in the process.
President Nicolas Sarkozy made a brave effort of it at the cabinet meeting that approved the government's draft "burqa ban" that we reported on here. Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, who Sarkozy's UMP party always seems to call on when things get tough, did her best in an interview (here in French) that got the part about Mecca wrong. There will be more of this in the months ahead as the bill moves through the National Assembly and Senate.
Greece and the euro zone are still very much in the midst of a debt and deficit storm, with not just Athens but possibly Portugal and Spain at risk of being swept up in the maelstrom.
But that hasn’t stopped economists and political analysts looking for a silver lining in this unprecedented meltdown.
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.