Opinion

John Lloyd

France is the ‘sick man of Europe’

John Lloyd
Mar 26, 2014 15:49 UTC

It’s France’s turn to be the “sick man of Europe,” a competition that no country wants to win.

The phrase seems to have originated with Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, who wrote it in reference to the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire in the mid-nineteenth century. The Tsar said Turkey was “sick” and journalists added the “man of Europe” a century later. It was bestowed on whichever laggard European state could be put into a headline.

In the seventies it was the UK, then seen as prey to militant unions. In the nineties it was Germany as it struggled with the costs of reunification. Italy, with no or low growth and huge debts, has had the title sporadically over the past four years. So has Greece, of course, as well as hard-pressed Portugal.

Now, it’s France.

At a time when many other European economies are showing some growth, output in France’s manufacturing and service sectors is contracting. Unemployment is rising, with a quarter of those under age 25 jobless. A recent report showed an uptick in manufacturing, but the country has a long way to go to make up for the declines of the recent past.

This malaise has centered media attention on the man who is implicitly held to be accountable; the Socialist President Francois Hollande. He is seen as vacillating — he scrapped a number of his initiatives when they were met with sustained protests — and out of touch. Thus, when the French far right party, the National Front, did well in the local government elections on Sunday, images of the president looking doleful were everywhere — as were pictures of a joyous Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader.

Russia’s imperialism vs globalization

John Lloyd
Mar 21, 2014 18:17 UTC

In the sanctions against Russia announced this week by the U.S. and the European Union we begin to see the outline of a titanic struggle. It is one between imperialism and globalization. The Western states have been reminded that imperialism is alive and well, even rampant, and threatens the vision for a more global world economy.

“Russia can be an empire with Ukraine,” said a senior Russian banker earlier this month in an off-the-record briefing. “Without it, it cannot. Simple.” Having Ukraine does not mean possessing it. It is enough for Ukraine to be closely linked to Russia, run by leaders who understand and acquiesce in that necessity. The large failure underlying Russia President Vladimir Putin’s great success in seizing Crimea is that he has propelled much of the rest of Ukraine away from Russia and guaranteed instability; or worse.

The targeting through sanctions of the Russian political and financial elite, including their favored bank, Bank Rossiya, described by a Russian fund manager as “a pocket bank and special purpose vehicle” for the Kremlin elite, has one goal in mind. That is, to drive a wedge between Putin’s imperial strategy and the Russian political and financial aristocracy who have homes in France, yachts moored off Tuscany, children in British private schools and businesses that depend on global markets.

Will the anaconda strike again?

John Lloyd
Mar 19, 2014 18:11 UTC

Ukraine is now a pile of dry straw, waiting for Vladimir Putin to decide whether he will douse it with gasoline and set it alight, or leave it dry and trembling in the wind.

Putin has Crimea and no one will fight him for it. In his speech on Tuesday, when he announced his decision to draw Crimea into the bosom of Mother Russia, he casually told the West not to worry, there will be no more land grabs — “no one needs a divided Ukraine,” he said.

Now many are invoking the Sudetenland crisis of 1938 — where the then-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain earned transient glory and eternal obloquy for agreeing with Adolf Hitler that the region, existing along the Czech side of the Czech-German border with a large majority of German inhabitants, should be ceded to a then-resurgent Germany. Chamberlain’s concession seemed to avoid a war. On the agreement, signed under duress by the Czech President Edward Benes, troops occupied the German areas, and later, the rest of Czech territory.

Even a billionaire cannot save the EU from itself

John Lloyd
Mar 14, 2014 15:02 UTC

The world’s richest hedge fund manager, George Soros, says Europe’s great project, the European Union, is at risk. Even if it survives it is doomed, he says, to a period of stagnation and fragility, rendering it powerless on a world scene dominated by powerful blocs.

At 83 and insisting that he has retired, Soros still commands attention. He appeared at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London on Wednesday (he is a main funder) where he offered an off-the-cuff judgment that a central bank in an independent Scotland would be a risky endeavor. He generated headlines in a country that is nervous of a breakup of the Union. He dominated the morning’s BBC Today program, required listening for all public figures. He addressed a packed lecture hall at his alma mater, the London School of Economics and attended a meeting at the House of Commons.

Soros’ fame is a mixture of fear, awe, admiration and prejudice. At the same time, his reputation, at least among liberals, is one of generosity and vision. In the past three decades he has invested $8 billion in promoting democracy in the former Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, including the former republics of the Soviet Union — and later further afield in Africa, Latin America and Europe.

The retreat of the Eastern partnership

John Lloyd
Mar 12, 2014 14:23 UTC

The Russian bear must be left with meat after its early spring hunt. The hard part is: how much?

The veteran strategist Edward Luttwak argues for a “re-engineering” of Ukraine that would hand Crimea and the Eastern regions to Russia, saving the Western rump for Europe. This would, writes Luttwak, “offer the promise of stability at last, with the major disadvantage of legitimizing Putin’s use of force.”

Unprincipled as it is, a capitulation to Russia may be what the hesitant European Union, rife with part-submerged splits, will settle for.

The coming Slav crash

John Lloyd
Mar 7, 2014 21:37 UTC

Ukraine is not the only crisis to emerge from the former Soviet Union. It’s the most immediate and most immediately dangerous. But beyond the stunning images of boiling demonstrations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, there is a less vivid but as potentially destabilizing danger growing greater by the week. It is the threat of a Slav crash.

The three Slav republics of the former Soviet Union are Russia, with more than 140 million people, Ukraine, with around 47 million, and Belarus, with nearly 10 million. These made up some three quarters of the USSR’s population and were (apart from the tiny Baltic states) the richest regions.

But now they are faltering; Ukraine most obviously. Sergei Voloboev, head of emerging markets at Credit Suisse, said in London this week that the country has a current account deficit of nearly 10 percent and a fiscal deficit of 7.5 percent.

The claims for Russian imperialism

John Lloyd
Mar 4, 2014 19:28 UTC

The more or less liberal, democratic, capitalist countries that make up seven of the Group of Eight (G8) have condemned Russia and are discussing boycotting the June G8 meeting in Sochi. There is even talk of expelling Russia from the group.

This western government consensus against Russia’s actions is based on evidence that prompted the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power to say that it is “hard to avoid concluding that Russia does not want peace and does not want a diplomatic solution.”

It is time, since this is what news media in democracies do, to question that consensus. Let’s consider the case for what’s being called Russian neo-imperialism.

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