The Great Debate UK

What would markets and Merkel make of Hollande?

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It’s time I came out of the closet and ‘fessed up. My friends, colleagues and family all know anyway, so ……OK, here goes.

All my adult life I have been and remain a Francophile. It is a perversion I can neither defend nor explain.

Having got that off my chest, I’ve a feeling my position is going to get more uncomfortable than ever over the next few weeks, as the French Presidential Election campaign gets going. Elections invariably expose the most unattractive aspects of any country, but with the National Front breathing down the neck of the incumbent, the immediate outlook for France is distinctly unappetising.

One common factor the French share with the Americans is a belief in their own exceptionalism, which in the current situation translates into a sort of deficit-denial syndrome, where either the fiscal balance is ignored altogether or the need to do anything about it is questioned. This delusion makes it possible for the French Socialist candidate to enjoy a 10%-plus lead in the polls in spite of running on an unreconstructed tax-and-spend platform for all the world as if it were still 1972 and the intervening decades were some kind of dreadful aberration. Not only does M. Hollande want to spend 20 billion euros or more on job creation schemes, he intends to pay for it by squeezing more tax out of the rich, which has to be good news for estate agents in Monaco and South Kensington. That should raise the French government’s share of national income, already one of the highest in Europe, to nearly 60%, and just to prove his insanity, he is also dead set on reversing the rise in the pension age from 60 to 62, a change which marked the highpoint of President Sarkozy’s timid reform programme.

Put the euro zone out of its misery

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By Laurence Copeland. The author is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.

Let me make a wild guess – just a hunch, a vague feeling, the kind you get when you hear a football club chairman say “the manager has my full support”. My forecast is that the IMF monitors currently poring over the Italian government’s books will uncover a black hole somewhere, probably one big enough to swallow the euro zone, and the discovery will leave them as shocked as Captain Renault when he found there was gambling going on at Rick’s Bar in Casablanca.

Capitalism and democracy under threat from euro zone crisis

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By Laurence Copeland. The author is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.

It takes quite a lot to make me feel sorry for politicians, especially the European variety, but I must say that Nicholas Sarkozy and particularly Angela Merkel have a right to be livid at the news that the Greek government now proposes to hold a referendum on whether they will agree to be given another gigantic dollop of aid. Having only reached agreement (of a very vague kind) at last week’s summit in the early hours of the morning, you can imagine how the French and German leaders must have felt when they discovered that their marathon negotiating sessions may all have been in vain. It seems the Greeks are now too wary of foreigners bearing gifts to accept their largesse without weeks or months of prior deliberation and debate.

The euro zone marriage is over

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By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.

Under the Arc de Triomphe, tourists can gaze up at the engraved list of Napoleon’s great victories: Austerlitz, Jena, Wagram… Perhaps a similar triumphal arch should be built in Brussels to commemorate the string of victories won by a tiny band of heroic Eurocrats over the mass of their combined electorates: Rome, Maastricht, Lisbon, Wroclaw, and now Berlin, where, to nobody’s surprise, the integrationists in the Bundestag have easily seen off the opposition to their plan to bolster the EFSF. Cue the now-familiar backslapping in Europe after each of their knife-edge victories over the forces of democracy.

The starting point for these Eurocrats/integrationists is that the popular will is simply an obstacle on the road to the ultimate destination of a United States of Europe. Whenever they encounter one of these inconvenient roadblocks, they fume, argue among themselves about the merits of alternative routes until they finally swerve triumphantly round the obstacle, congratulating each other for their ingenuity and skill.

from Global News Journal:

UNsensational? Five more years of Ban Ki-moon

U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman and John Kerry look on as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon addresses reporters in Washington. REUTERS/Molley Riley

U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman and John Kerry look on as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon addresses reporters in Washington. REUTERS/Molley Riley

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."

from James Saft:

Pension savers get the boot

From Dublin to Paris to Budapest to inside those brown UPS trucks delivering holiday packages, it has been a tough few weeks for savers and retirees.

Moves by the Irish, French and Hungarian governments, and by the famous delivery company, showed that in the post-crisis world retirees, present and future, will be paying much of the price and taking on more of the risk.

from MacroScope:

Did France cause The Great Depression?

Economist Douglas Irwin of Dartmouth College has stirred up a bit of a fuss by concluding in some academic research that it was France, not the United States, that was most to blame for The Great Depression.

Irwin's theory, in a paper posted here by the National Bureau of Economic Research, is that France created an artificial shortage of gold reserves when it increased its share from 7 percent to 27 percent between 1927 and 1932.  Because major currencies at the time were backed by gold under the Gold Standard, this put other countries under enormous deflationary pressure.

from FaithWorld:

Strong support to outlaw face veils as France prepares to vote ban

France's plan to ban full face veils, which comes up for a vote in the National Assembly on Tuesday, enjoys 82% popular support in the country, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. Its neighbours also approve -- 71% of those polled in Germany, 62% in Britain and 59% in Spain agreed that there should be laws prohibiting the Muslim veils known as niqabs and burqas in public. burqa 1(Photo: French woman fined for wearing a niqab while driving outside court in Nantes June 28, 2010/Stephane Mahe)

The poll, conducted from April 7 to May 8, did not range further afield, but reports from other countries show support there as well. The lower house of the Belgian parliament has voted for a ban, which should be approved by the Senate after the summer. In the Netherlands, several bills to ban full veils in certain sectors such as schools and public service are in preparation. Switzerland's justice minister has suggested the cantons there should pass partial bans but make exceptions for visiting Muslim tourists (the wives of rich sheikhs visiting their bankers in Zurich or Geneva?)

Intelligence cooperation: time to ask the hard questions

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- Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher for Human Rights Watch, has worked extensively on counterterrorism issues. The opinions expressed are her own. -

Torture is prohibited under international law, at anytime and anywhere. No exceptions are allowed. Yet the UK, France and Germany are engaged in ongoing counterterrorism cooperation with foreign intelligence services in countries that routinely use torture.

from Breakingviews:

Brown’s financial tax call falls flat

OUKTP-UK-G20Brown's bid to depict himself as the saviour of the world economy and champion of Joe Taxpayer against Big Finance fell flat at the weekend.

So keen is the British prime minister to airbrush out his decade as a "light touch" finance minister that he embraced the heretical idea of a levy on financial transactions as one way to make banks pay for future bail-outs -- the so-called Tobin tax.

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