The Great Debate UK

Capitalism and democracy under threat from euro zone crisis

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 acceptance of the referendum proposal is apparently not a foregone conclusion, which is just as well, since it is plainly insane.

First, consider the wording of the referendum question. Opinion polls appear to show that Greeks remain keen on staying in the EU (and maybe even in the euro zone), so as things stand at the moment the outcome could be a majority in favour of rejecting the deal, but staying in the EU.  But is this option still open to Greece? If not, the Greek government could end up with a mandate to follow a road that is already clearly blocked.

The euro zone marriage is over

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.

from Commentaries:

“Tobin tax” gaining ground in Europe

No longer just a hopeless cause for anti-capitalist activists, the idea of a global tax on financial transactions is gaining ground in Europe.

European Union leaders could not agree to put it on the agenda of this week's G20 summit on reforming the financial system in Pittsburgh, but the leaders of France, Germany and the European Commission endorsed the concept.

More strikingly, the head of Britain's Financial Services Authority, which regulates the world's second biggest banking centre, said last month that such a levy could help shrink a swollen financial sector.

from Commentaries:

Trichet points to possible double-dip recession in Europe

In his cautious Franglais central-bank speak, Jean-Claude Trichet has pointed to the strong possibility that the euro zone may face a double-dip or W-shaped recession.

Of course, that's not exactly what the European Central Bank president said. But how else are we to interpret his repeated references to a "bumpy road" ahead, and his comment that we are likely to see quarters with positive growth and other quarters with "less flattering" figures? All this was illustrated with a hand gesture that drew a W (or a corrugated iron washboard) rather than a V or a U.

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