Category - Europe

Finns Set to Topple Government as Economic Pain Spurs Voters

Bloomberg, By Kati Pohjanpalo, April 17

Finns look set to vote out a government marred by political infighting and elect a party led by a self-made millionaire promising a business-driven recovery.

After three years of economic decline, Finland’s next government will need to fix chronic budget deficits, a debt load that’s set to breach European Union limits, rising unemployment and economic growth that’s about half the average of the euro zone.

Juha Sipila, who leads the opposition Center Party, has promised business-friendly policies he says will create 200,000 private-sector jobs. His party is polling about 6 percentage points ahead of the next-biggest groups, according to newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. If he wins Sunday’s vote, Sipila will probably try to form a majority coalition that’s likely to include the euro-skeptic The Finns party.

“Putting together a new, workable government that can turn around Finland’s public finances is the most important economic policy step,” Anssi Rantala, chief economist at Aktia Bank Oyj, said by phone. “The government has to take seriously the gigantic deficits we have in state and municipal budgets, and it has to change the way it implements austerity: most has been through tax increases.”

Thousands in Germany protest against Europe-U.S. trade deal

Reuters, By Noah Barkin, April 18

Berlin – Thousands of people marched in Berlin, Munich and other German cities on Saturday in protest against a planned free trade deal between Europe and the United States that they fear will erode food, labor and environmental standards.

Opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is particularly high in Germany, in part due to rising anti-American sentiment linked to revelations of U.S. spying and fears of digital domination by firms like Google.

A recent YouGov poll showed that 43 percent of Germans believe TTIP would be bad for the country, compared to 26 percent who see it as positive.

The level of resistance has taken Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and German industry by surprise, and they are now scrambling to reverse the tide and save a deal which proponents say could add $100 billion in annual economic output on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sputnik News: Some 22,000 Participated in Anti-TTIP Protests Across Austria – Organizers

Marine Le Pen, Leader of France’s National Front Party, Splits With Her Father, Its Founder

New York Times, By Suzanne Daley, April 8

Paris – Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s far-right National Front, has openly split with her father and the founder of her party, calling his recent comments, including those on German gas chambers, “political suicide” and an attempt to harm her.

In recent years, Ms. Le Pen, trying to clean up the image of her party as racist and anti-Semitic, has kept her distance from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, 86, and his more extreme statements, even as he continued as the party’s honorary chairman.

But Mr. Le Pen made headlines over the last week, after he once again claimed that the Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” of history; praised France’s collaborationist wartime leader, Marshal Philippe Pétain; and questioned whether France’s Spanish-born prime minister, Manuel Valls, was really loyal to France.

His outbursts appeared to be more than Ms. Le Pen and her entourage could put up with. In a statement on Wednesday, Ms. Le Pen said she had already told her father that she planned to block him from running in coming regional elections.

“Jean-Marie Le Pen seems to have descended into a strategy somewhere between scorched earth and political suicide,” she said. “His status as honorary president does not give him the right to hijack the National Front with vulgar provocations seemingly designed to damage me but which unfortunately hit the whole movement.”

She added that, with great sadness, she was calling a meeting of the party’s executive bureau with her father present “to find the best way of protecting the interests of the movement,” a statement that some experts took to mean that Mr. Le Pen may be expelled from the party altogether.

Iceland looks at ending boom and bust with radical money plan

Icelandic government suggests removing the power of commercial banks to create money and handing it to the central bank.

AFP, March 31

Iceland’s government is considering a revolutionary monetary proposal – removing the power of commercial banks to create money and handing it to the central bank.

The proposal, which would be a turnaround in the history of modern finance, was part of a report written by a lawmaker from the ruling centrist Progress Party, Frosti Sigurjonsson, entitled “A better monetary system for Iceland”.

[…]

According to a study [available at the link] by four central bankers, the country has had “over 20 instances of financial crises of different types” since 1875, with “six serious multiple financial crisis episodes occurring every 15 years on average”.

Mr Sigurjonsson said the problem each time arose from ballooning credit during a strong economic cycle.

France is Europe’s ‘big problem’, warns Mario Monti

Gallic nation threatens to blow Europe’s Franco-German axis apart, warns former Italian prime minister.

The Telegraph, By Szu Ping Chan, March 21

France has become Europe’s “big problem”, according to the former prime minister of Italy, who warned that anti-Brussels sentiment and the rise of populist parties in the Gallic nation threatened to blow the bloc’s Franco-German axis apart.

Mario Monti – who was dubbed “Super Mario” for saving the country from collapse at the height of the eurozone debt crisis – said France’s “unease” with the single currency had already created tensions between Europe’s two largest economies.

“In the last few years we have seen France receding in terms of actual economic performance, in terms of complying with all the European rules, and above all in terms of its domestic public opinion – which is turning more and more against Europe,” he told The Telegraph.

Slaughter on Eighth Avenue: A St. Patrick’s Day Commemoration

Pando, By John Dolan, March 17

St Patrick’s Day, a glum and murky occasion.

The Irish are nothing in America now, which is why they’re fit to be patronized once a year. They’re not much, at the moment, on the home island either. I suppose you can’t blame the Dublin-suburb junior execs swarming over the planet; when Ireland joined the EU, the doomstruck islanders found themselves, for the first time in centuries, ruled by people who actually liked them, goofy but generous postwar Teutons. You can’t grumble too much at the young Dubliners for groveling to Brussels, but you can’t warm up much to the current incarnation of Irish either, with their secondhand motivational clichés.

It’s a necessary stage, I get that. It had to change. I read an interview with a Maasai woman once (there’s more between Irish and Africans than anyone likes to admit) who grieved for the loss of the old ways but then shrugged and said, “Still…No one now would agree to suffer as our mothers suffered.” It was always the women who bore the brunt. Which is why I have to fast-forward through the Mrs. Doyle scenes of Father Ted, and waste many an hour on stupid dreams about a time machine, a suitcase nuke, and a one-way trip to London, 1850.

It’s just not practical, all that baggage. Somebody told me once, “The past is past,” and though I nodded, I never got that idea. How can the past be past? That makes no sense to me, never has.

What they really mean is, “The past can’t be fixed.” Now that, I get. But “can’t be fixed” is not the same as “past.” May as well be, maybe, but not actually the same.

US anger at Britain joining Chinese-led investment bank AIIB

US statement says of UK membership that it is ‘worried about a trend of constant accommodation’ of China, in a rare public breach in the special relationship.

The Guardian, By Nicholas Watt, Paul Lewis & Tania Branigan, March 12

The White House has issued a pointed statement declaring it hopes and expects the UK will use its influence to ensure that high standards of governance are upheld in a new Chinese-led investment bank that Britain is to join.

In a rare public breach in the special relationship, the White House signalled its unease at Britain’s decision to become a founder member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by raising concerns about whether the new body would meet the standards of the World Bank.

The $50bn (£33.5bn) bank, which is designed to provide infrastructure funds to the Asia-Pacific region, is viewed with great suspicion by Washington officials, who see it as a rival to the World Bank. They believe Beijing will use the bank to extend its soft power in the region.

The White House statement reads: “This is the UK’s sovereign decision. We hope and expect that the UK will use its voice to push for adoption of high standards.”

IMF signs off $17.5bn loan for Ukraine in second attempt to stave off bankruptcy

Four-year bailout programme is expected to unlock further credit from donors and includes immediate $5bn payment to help stabilise conflict-hit economy

Reuters, March 11

The International Monetary Fund has signed off on a $17.5bn (£11.8bn) four-year aid programme for Ukraine, the second attempt in less than a year to help the country avoid bankruptcy.

The programme includes an immediate payment of $5bn for general budget support to help stabilise Ukraine’s listing economy.

Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, said the aim was to provide immediate economic stabilisation for a country beset by conflict.

The programme was ambitious and involved risks, Lagarde said, “notably those stemming from the conflict” with pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine. “With continued firm implementation, there is reasonably strong prospect of success.”

Italy anti-immigration rally draws thousands in Rome

BBC, February 28

Thousands of supporters of Italy’s Northern League have poured into one of Rome’s biggest squares for a rally against immigration, the EU and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government.

League leader Matteo Salvini accused Mr Renzi of substituting the country’s interests to those of the EU.

He also criticised the government’s record in dealing with Romanian truck drivers, tax, banks and big business.

A large counter-demonstration against Mr Salvini was also held in Rome.

Opinion polls suggest that Mr Salvini is rapidly gaining in popularity.

‘Gerbils replace rats’ as main cause of Black Death

BBC, By Rebecca Morelle, February 24

Black rats may not have been to blame for numerous outbreaks of the bubonic plague across Europe, a study suggests.

Scientists believe repeat epidemics of the Black Death, which arrived in Europe in the mid-14th Century, instead trace back to gerbils from Asia.

Prof Nils Christian Stenseth, from the University of Oslo, said: “If we’re right, we’ll have to rewrite that part of history.”

The study is in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

[…]

And because this was a period when trade between the East and West was at a peak, the plague was most likely brought to Europe along the silk road, Prof Stenseth explained.

Exonerated!

Ukraine: UK and EU’s ‘catastrophic misreading’ of Russia

BBC – The UK and the EU have been accused of a “catastrophic misreading” of the mood in the Kremlin in the run-up to the crisis in Ukraine.

The House of Lords EU committee claimed Europe “sleepwalked” into the crisis. The EU had not realised the depth of Russian hostility to its plans for closer relations with Ukraine, it said… The committee’s report said Britain had not been “active or visible enough” in dealing with the situation in Ukraine. It blamed Foreign Office cuts, which it said led to fewer Russian experts working there, and less emphasis on analysis. A similar decline in EU foreign ministries had left them ill-equipped to formulate an “authoritative response” to the crisis, it said.

The report claimed that for too long the EU’s relationship with Moscow had been based on the “optimistic premise” that Russia was on a trajectory to becoming a democratic country. The result, it said, was a failure to appreciate the depth of Russian hostility when the EU opened talks aimed at establishing an “association agreement” with Ukraine in 2013.

Mr Cameron rejected claims Britain “sleepwalked” into the crisis in Ukraine.

Greek crisis talks collapse in acrimony as Syriza defies EMU

‘The only way to solve Greece is to treat us like equals; not a debt colony,’ says Greek finance minister

The Telegraph, By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, February 16

Greece is on a collision course with the eurozone’s creditor powers after emergency talks ended in acrimony on Monday night, triggering the most serious political crisis since the launch of the euro.

The Leftist Syriza government reacted with fury to eurozone demands that it must stick to the country’s discredited austerity plan, describing the draft text as “absurd and unacceptable”.

Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, said Eurogroup finance ministers had ignored a deal already agreed with the European Commission for a four-month delay and a “new contract for growth”, returning instead to old demands. “The only way to solve Greece is to treat us like equals; not a debt colony,” he said, predicting that EU authorities would soon have to withdraw their latest “ultimatum”.

The talks were halted after four hours of stormy exchanges, risking a traumatic showdown that could precipitate the biggest default in world history and force Greece out of the euro by the end of the month.

Preventing dissent

How Britain’s new police state will radicalise us all

Medium, By Nafeez Ahmed, February 13

In the UK, an insidious secret network of violent extremists is plotting to subvert democracy. The members of this network detest our way of life, and hate our freedoms. Walking amongst us, this dangerous fifth column is exploiting the very laws we hold dear to campaign for the establishment of an extremist, totalitarian state that would police every aspect of our lives based on a fanatical ideology that is devoid of reason.

No, the ‘Islamic State’ is not about to conquer Great Britain. But the neocons in government and industry who profit from fear might well be.

In the name of fighting terror, the UK government, hand-in-hand with the US, is leading the way to turn freedom of speech and dissent into mere formalities that, in practice, have no place in societies that will function, effectively, as full-fledged police-states.
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Deadly shooting at blasphemy debate in Copenhagen featuring cartoonist Lars Vilks

RT, February 14

One civilian was killed and three police officers injured after shots were fired at a cafe in Copenhagen during a free speech discussion attended by controversial artist Lars Vilks and the French ambassador to Denmark, according to Danish police.

The assailant is still at large. Following interviews with witnesses, Danish police have said that evidence points to a single gunman and not two as previously reported. The suspect’s photograph has been released.

The perpetrator fled the crime scene in a dark Volkswagen Polo that was located later in the east of Copenhagen.

The French ambassador François Zimeray had just finished speaking at the event as the shots were fired at around 14:30 GMT. Later he confirmed in a tweet he was unharmed.

Sweden cuts rates below zero as global currency wars spread

Morgan Stanley warns that the world is revisiting the “ghosts of the 1930s” as one country after another tries to steal a march on others by devaluing first

The Telegraph, By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, February 12

Sweden has cut interest rates below zero and launched quantitative easing to fight deflation, becoming the latest Scandinavian state to join Europe’s escalating currency wars.

The Riksbank caught markets by surprise, reducing the benchmark lending rate to minus 0.10pc and unveiled its first asset purchases, vowing to take further action at any time to stop the country falling into a deflationary trap. The bank presented the move as precautionary step due to rising risks of a “poorer outcome abroad” and the crisis in Greece. Janet Henry from HSBC said the measures are clearly a “beggar-thy neighbour” manoeuvre to weaken the krone, the latest such action in a global currency war that does little to tackle the deeper problem of deficient world demand.

The move comes as neighbouring Denmark takes ever more drastic steps to stop a flood of money overwhelming its exchange rate peg to the euro and tightening the deflationary noose.

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