The Great Debate UK

from Commentaries:

Germans vote for change; will they get it?

angieGermans have voted for change. A centre-right government with a clear parliamentary majority will replace the ungainly grand coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats that ran Europe's biggest economy for the last four years.

This should mean an end to "steady as she goes" lowest common denominator policies, and at least some reform of the country's tax and welfare system. The liberal Free Democrats, who recorded their best ever result with around 14.7 percent, will try to pull the new government towards tax cuts, health care reform, a reduction in welfare spending and a loosening of job protection in small business.

Conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, a cautious centrist, made clear in her first post-election comments that she she would not allow a radical lurch to the right. She promised to be the "chancellor of all Germans" -- old and young, entrepreneurs and workers -- and said the conseravtives would be sufficiently dominant in the new coalition to prevail "in questions that affect social balance".

The new government faces tough economic challenges in what is bound to be a more polarised political atmosphere, with the Social Democrats in opposition. The economy is expected to contract by at least 5 percent this year, and export-led growth is likely to return only slowly. Unemployment is set to explode in the coming months as short-time work schemes run out. The budget deficit is set to top 6 percent of gross domestic product next year, more than twice the EU limit. So 2010 will be an extremely difficult year. But there are some problems that are even more urgent.

German elections too close to call

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Erik Kirschbaum- Erik Kirschbaum is a Reuters correspondent in Berlin. -

Has this been dullest German election campaign in decades or the most exciting?  Has the battle for power in Berlin between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that concludes with Sunday’s election been a memorable showdown or a forgettably boring contest?

Many journalists, pundits and voters have complained it’s all been a merciless bore compared to the high-octane battles of the past with little action and precious few highlights.

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 Global News Journal:

Germany’s ‘Pirate Party’ hopes for election surprise

Founded by computer geeks in Sweden in 2006 and now active in 33 countries, the Pirate Party is hoping to win over young, disaffected voters in Germany's federal election on Sept. 27 with demands to reform copyright and patent laws along with their policies that oppose internet censorship and surveillance. But do the single-issue activists, with no stance on foreign policy or the economy, even have the faintest hope of overcoming the five percent hurdle needed to enter parliament?

This looks unlikely given the 0.9 percent of the vote they won at the European parliamentary elections in June.  Nonethless, the Piratenpartei with more than 8,000 members is the fastest growing party in Germany, a development partly sparked by the German parliament's ratification of controversial legislation on blocking certain websites in a bid to fight child pornography.

Vauxhall future is headache for Mandelson

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jb2- John Bowker is Reuters’ UK transport and defence correspondent. The opinions expressed are his own -

Lord Mandelson was in buoyant mood on Thursday night.

The future ownership of British car-maker Vauxhall had finally been decided. U.S. giant General Motors agreed to sell its European unit — which includes Vauxhall — to Canadian car parts maker Magna and its Russian backers. According to Mandelson, this was good news for the Vauxhall’s 5,000 British workers as it removed the uncertainty over their futures. Everyone can get back to work making cars and live happily ever after.

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.

Ghosts of Germany’s communist past return for election

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kirschbaum_e- Erik Kirschbaum is a Reuters correspondent in Berlin. -

Will the party that traces its roots to Communist East Germany’s SED party that built the Berlin Wall soon be in power in a west German state?

Or is the rise of the far-left “Linke” (Left party) in western Germany to the brink of its first role as a coalition partner in a state government with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) simply a political fact-of-life now so many years after the Wall fell and the two Germanys were reunited?

from Commentaries:

GM blog lifts hood on power struggle over Opel

cfcd208495d565ef66e7dff9f98764da.jpgIt's not often you get to lift the hood and watch a power struggle going on in the engine room of General Motors. But the vice-president of GM Europe, John Smith, has just provided tantilising details of the arguments over the rival bids for Opel/Vauxhall, the main European arm of the fallen U.S. auto giant. Smith is the chief negotiator on the sale of Opel.

In a blog apparently intended to reassure Opel staff, but accessible to the public, he insisted GM had not specified a preferred bidder. But he made clear his own preference for the bid from Belgian financial investor RHJ International, which is loosely related to U.S. private equity fund Ripplewood, over the offer by Canadian-Austrian car parts maker Magna and its Kremlin-backed Russian partner Sberbank.

from Commentaries:

Lufthansa milks EU drama for cost cuts

Lufthansa <LHAG.DE> is milking an antitrust standoff with the European competition regulators to extract maximum cost cuts from Austrian Airlines <AUAV.VI> as it seeks to cement its dominance of central Europe's skies.
The German flag carrier has held back key concessions to the European Commission needed to secure approval for the takeover of the ailing airline while it squeezes further concessions from Austrian's workforce and its biggest shareholder, the Austrian government. It won another 150 million euros in savings from job cuts agreed in a third round of AUA cost-cutting this week.
The EU regulator, which supports airline consolidation in principle, is right to insist that the creation of a central European mega-carrier should not be at the expense of consumer choice on key routes such as Vienna-Frankfurt.
Lufthansa, which has set its own deadline of July 31 to clinch the deal, has the Austrians in a tight spot because the cost to the Austrian taxpayer would be far higher if it walked away. The Austrian government holding company, OIAG, says this could cost about 1,400 jobs and imply total costs of 840 million euros. The state has promised to assume 500 million euros of AUA's 1 billion euros of debt as part of a Lufthansa deal.
The German giant needs to reduce the cost of acquisitions it launched last year before the financial crisis hit air travel.
It has already beaten down Sir Michael Bishop to lower the cost of his majority stake in British carrier BMI [BMI.UL] and has snapped up Brussels Airlines, the successor to bankrupt Belgian flag carrier Sabena.
In the latter case, Lufthansa made concessions to the Commission on routes and take-off and landing slots to avoid restricting competition. But it has balked so far at the most important remedies for the Austrian deal, which concern what would be a monopoly on nine daily flights between Vienna and Geneva, operated jointly with another subsidiary, Swiss, and above all on feeder flights to its Frankfurt Airport hub to connect with its more lucrative transatlantic routes.
If the Commission does not stand firm on these issues, it risks being overturned by the EU's Court of First Instance, to which rivals Air France-KLM <AIRF.PA> and former Formula 1 racing ace Niki Lauda's latest venture, Fly Niki, would undoubtedly appeal.
Of course, Lufthansa could let the Austrian deal founder on EU competition concerns in hopes of picking up the pieces of a shrunken or bankrupt AUA later. But it might face competition were the airline's assets to be sold out of bankruptcy. Both Air France and a consortium of Air Berlin and Fly Niki were interested last time.
So the betting must be that, as with the Belgian deal, it will yield to Brussels' demands to clinch the deal in the end.

from Commentaries:

Politics, economics collide over Opel

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.

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