The Great Debate UK
–Vashi Dominguez is the founder of Vashi.com. The opinions expressed are his own.–
When the European Union and the U.S. took action against Russia over the invasion of Crimea and the crisis in Eastern Ukraine, alarm bells immediately rang for the diamond industry. Russia is one of the biggest suppliers ($2.8 billion last year) of rough diamonds for Belgium, through which 80% of all rough diamonds and 50% of all polished stones pass. If Antwerp were to lose access to Russia’s diamonds, it would be the latest in a string of challenges facing the world’s diamond trading centre.
Aside from Russia, Antwerp has seen great success recently with Zimbabwe. To much surprise, the EU lifted sanctions placed on diamond trade with Zimbabwe in September 2013. Antwerp’s newly formed relationship with the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) saw its first two sales, in December 2013 and February 2014, yield an impressive $80.5 million from 1.3 million carats.
However, Antwerp’s Zimbabwean successes bring great risk. It will stand accused of offering a direct route to European jewellery shops for unethical diamonds, and of removing a source of pressure on Zimbabwe to eliminate abuses and improve transparency in its mining operations. The ever-present chance of further European sanctions, or the involvement of other political powers, means a trading relationship with Zimbabwe is not a stable basis for Antwerp to rely on.
In addition to the economic meltdown, there is another political story in Europe at present – Belgium.
I’m not referring to the recent release of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Adventures of Tintin’ movie – though it might be argued that Captain Haddock bears a passing resemblance to several much-missed British political figures, thanks to the trademark slur.
By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.
Here we go again – the same sickening feeling, as stock markets reel amid a flight to “safety”. For months, there have been worries about contagion from the Greek imbroglio, and now the nightmare seems to be coming true, as one after another the weak European economies are put to the sword.
First came Greece and Ireland, then Portugal, now it’s the big league – Spain and, even bigger, Italy (and don’t forget Belgium, an accident waiting to happen for many years now, not very important in pure economic terms, but psychologically significant as the home of the whole sorry euro disaster).
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.
Mon Dieu! Are the Germans starting to behave like the French?
Berlin’s efforts to salvage carmaker Opel from the wreckage of U.S. auto giant General Motors pose as big a challenge to Europe’s single market as French attempts earlier this year to tie loans to its carmakers to keeping jobs and factories in France.
Revolting shareholders were reduced to throwing shoes and coins at the chairman at Tuesday’s meeting to approve the carve-up of the failed Benelux bancassurer, but to no avail.