Category Archives: Europe

Schäuble lets rip at further US QE

Many that follow both politics and international markets have been concerned about the US and the UK’s quantitive easing or ‘stimulus packages’ over the last few months. To cut to the heart of the matter it’s printing money to sustain a bubble with the hope that rather than popping the bubble might slowly deflate – history has shown us time and time again that it doesn’t work long term and all it does is create secondary bubbles which fail to provide a stable base for the economy.

Over the last few weeks German economy minister Rainer Brüderle has been pretty outspoken about this, so it’s with glee that I notice German Finanzminister Wolfgang Schäuble today shooting from the hip with language that could be described as distinctly undiplomatic, as he laid into the United States’ decision to approve as a huge economic stimulus measure that he considers harmful to German trade and industry. In a statement made at the BMW Foundation event in Berlin he said the Federal Reserve’s attempts to stimulate the US economy with a $600 billion cash injection “did not make sense” and that “with due respect, my impression is that the United States are at a loss, to now say, ‘we’re now going to have another $600 billion,’ will not solve the problem.

This assault added to opinions he made public on Thursday on both ZDF’s Berlin Direkt, in which he stated that the US Federal Reserve had “[already released] an endless amount of money” into the US economy with “horrendous” results, and to ARD, where he stated that the Fed’s stimulus would “create additional problems for the world

But is Schäuble right? Well in my view another stimulus package is unwise, it feels like a desperate attempt to inject further liquidity into the US market when the core problem isn’t liquidity but a toxic mixture of an uncompetitive manufacturing sector, weak foreign trade, over-burdened mortgage markets and a general lack of market confidence. The most likely effect of this ‘stimulus’ will be a hit on the already weakened dollar dragging it still further down: the result of which will undoubtedly make European (and especially German) goods significantly more expensive across the Atlantic and it shouldn’t be forgotten that many german brands consider the US to be a critical export market. Any change in the Dollar would be likely to directly, and seriously, impact the German economy: an economy which if we’re frank is already too deeply linked to an over-balanced exports market.

So far no other voices in the European Union has been quite so sharp in it’s criticism of American economic policy, but where the German’s lead others will no doubt follow. Schäuble has already vowed to take the issue up with the US at a G20 meeting in South Korea next week; lets hope other European economic ministers do the same to try and temper the US governments extreme reactions to local political pressure.

The big green con?

Tonight Channel 4 are showing a programming and having a studio debate about what the Greens have got wrong – it’ll make uncomfortable viewing for many I’m sure but perhaps not for the reasons that are most immediately obvious to many.

In my view we’ve moved from Global warming to Climate Change as Scientists could no longer account for the some of the most miserable summers and some of the coldest european winters in living memory. We’ve now got theories claiming that heating in some parts will plunge europe into a mini-ice-age, the consequences of which are unthinkable.

Then we have the farce of Nuclear power, proved clean – proved safe – proved as a viable option to fill generating capacity as renewables are developed and come online, yet time and time again Nuclear projects have been delayed and now it’s too late – we’re facing the choice of building more coal units to fill gaps in the renewable net, and all of this because of groups of people that made it political suicide to be pro-nuclear.

We’ve plunged trillions of euros worldwide into climate change research, global warming projects and renewable energy research, some of it very worthwhile – some so scientifically questionable that leading lights in the field like Harold Lewis, the Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara slammed the whole climate change community in his utterly damning and very public resignation last month, he wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last.

I’m not a climate denier, I firmly believe that we should reduce the impact of humanity on the planet, that many things the green lobby have done are very worthwhile in reducing pollutants in our water, food and atmosphere – but we have to admit that if green science is to remain credible, not just scientifically but publicly – then we’re going to have to be honest. We need to accept that we don’t understand the weather or the climate of this planet in as comprehensive a detail, until everyone does that – well, we’re just all screwed: more money will be wasted, more conspiracies will be found and the public, the most important element of winning the scientific debate – will be lost.

The science cannot be driven by grant access, it now needs to be led at a supranational level; taking into account not just the environmental, but the social, economic, realistic, pragmatic issues that need to be faced so that we can all live in a more sustainable world.

Life Change?

Life, life’s an interesting one – it throws you curveballs, it shakes you up and it spits you out; it’s even worse when you get stuck in your own rut, the change life chucks at you can seem even more difficult: that’s why I’ve always tried to make my own way; not fall into ruts.

At the moment it feels like a rut is forming, not just locally either – but the whole country, I’m not sure I want to get stuck in the UK while house prices are still unconscionably high, while living costs are still giving us the title of ‘rip-off’ britain, and while the UK still sits on it’s hands watching the rest of Europe come ever closer together.

I’m seriously considering just upping and offing – emigrating, leaving for pastures new… bring it on.

Winter is coming

Having just wandered home from Soho I can report that it’s freezing this evening; not just a little chilly, but properly cold – even in the centre of London, this on the weekend when central Germany has early snowfall over the Harz Mountains too, it is looking as if the long term forecast that Winter 2010 would be a bitter one might be true.

The trend of recent European Winters being distinctly colder runs in the face of all the warnings that we’d be getting warmer and wetter winters; we’re instead getting warm wet summers and cold snowy winters. Hopefully people will be a little more prepared this winter – I say hope – as I doubt they will, and once again come the first major snow fall we’ll have wall-to-wall news coverage of cars skidding around in circles and all public transport at a standstill as our cousins from across the channel mock most britons utter ineptitude at even the lightest winter weather.

This time last year I was up in the Alps, where they’d already had an unexpected early snow-fall; which ‘caught them out’ – I say that in bunny rabbit ears as that’s what they said when you asked about the snow; you couldn’t tell exactly where they’d been caught out, as even the highest roads were swept absolutely clear of snow, not a sight of slush anywhere, and certainly no ludicrous patches of black ice that bedevil the UK’s roads.

Addressing the Elephant in the room

It’s been an interesting few weeks politically – no not here, here in the UK it’s been as dull as ditchwater – but over the channel in France & Germany there’s a revolution of language underway which looks set to spark a strongly worded and possibly strongly actioned change in the way these two European giants handle immigration and multiculturalism.

It’s not a new argument admittedly, but it’s unusual in the extreme for centrist politicians to be voicing their concerns about immigration in such strong terms, and in the French case with such strong action.

Immigration has been a political football in the UK and Europe for many years, the general consensus for the last decade has been that it’s a play thing of the right, and the marching drum of the far right –  that there’s always a ‘more sensible’ way of dealing with it than by demanding integration and by toughening inward border controls, and that we’ll all eventually get on under the great banner of multiculturalism.

The truth however has been rather different in practice – and while it’s difficult to agree with many of the broad brush soundbites that certain characters are so fond of, it is time for an adult debate immigration and for concessions from both sides of the argument that the multicultural experiment has perhaps failed in more places than it’s succeeded, and it would seem that the debate will start in Germany.

Since a  string of controversial comments in June from the former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin, linked to the publication and launch of his latest tome Deutschland schafft sich ab – Wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen, or “Abolishing Germany – How we’re putting our country at jeopardy” debate has been raging: and while politicians from all sides initially condemned Sarrazin’s position the conversation has spread, with polls showing growing public support for a much tougher stance on immigration and integration.

Indeed in early September a poll carried in the Bild tabloid, conducted by the respected pollsters Emnid, revealed that 18% would vote for a party headed by Sarrazin, who only a few weeks earlier had been forced to resign from his powerful Bundesbank position for the media storm that his comments had caused. 18% in a land of coalition government is a figure that will get any politicos’ attention, so it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s been an element of band-wagon-jumping from some politicians; but far from it being the usual suspects on the margins it’s the heavyweight nature of those now jumping into the debate with both feet that’s capturing international attention.

The Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer suggested a ban on immigration for Turks and Arabs because of their “difficulties” with integration, roundly abused at the time, but since then, several conservative politicians have been joining his ranks. It’s a difficult question: how do you have a discussion about multiculturalism failing without upsetting the components of the multicultural society? Regardless – the box is now open: and there is no putting the stuff inside it back. We can only hope that the conversation remains adult, that cheap political point scoring doesn’t become the standard.

Europe has fought over different cultures before, it’s a problem that many perceive as unsolvable, many more believe it’s contentious and essential to solve in one way or another. With the potential of new threats caused by population movement, climate change, economic upheaval and the constant issue of illegal immigration and cross-border crime, EU institutions, national governments and individuals – all of us – are going to have some tough decisions to face in the coming months and years on this particular topic.

Apple out of tune with the European single market?

Back in the heady days of the dot com boom we were endlessly told that we were witnessing a revolution, e-commerce sites and services would make international borders a thing of the past; the old worries of buying and importing goods and services would be a thing of the past; interestingly politics beat e-commerce to this in the European single market – a good thing I think we can all agree, but it seems that the more borders we break down the more artificial ones corporations with vested interests and their dedicated corporate lawyers seem to put up

Take for instance the iTunes store, an example of a digital company taking a traditional industry and dragging it kicking and screaming into the digital age: the music industry is practically luddite in it’s views, but iTunes, at least on the face of it would seem to have made it an open e-commerce industry allowing the users to buy anywhere in the world, but it’s not quite that simple. Try buying a track in Europe however and you might find that something you can buy in the UK isn’t quite so available 23 miles across the channel in France, or literally a hop skip and a jump across a border from Italy to Austria, making an utter mockery of the European Single Market, and making life frustrating in our ever more connected world.

It’s a true sign of the luddite nature of the music industry that the combined bureaucracy of the European Union is having to be brought to bear to strong-arm music licensing and distribution companies to sell their products to consumers in accordance with the laws of the lands they’re selling in. But for anyone that travels, or sits as an ex-pat or just happens to be based across borders it’s really great news that The European Commission competition commissioner Nellie Kroes is going to be bringing together industry executives with Apple’s Steve Jobs, Mick Jagger – presumably representing the musicians union/combined interest and the CEO of eBay, a firm which really has cracked pan-european trading to work toward bringing the true goal of a single market to the digital world, no matter what the excuses may be from companies still intent on keeping artificial borders alive in order to buck the market in their favour.

Terror Threat

The terror threat is palpable in central london at the moment: I think every day for the last week has seen at least one major road closure to examine suspicious bags or cars – the security services are certainly on edge, it’s not just London, Paris too is on high alert with regular evacuations of tourist sites, something almost unheard of in our laissez-faire republican cousin.

It’s an odd state of affairs – Be Aware! we’re told, but the question most people ask is of what? Odd looking cars, people with turbans, odd beards, shamrocks, the germans, smurfs – what? Most people on the street wouldn’t know where to start without some guidance, and so far there’s been no guidance. The result? Fear – precisely what the terrorists want, we change our lifestyles because of them, and they win.

It’s interesting to watch the various media outlets explain the terror threat, the BBC have made a huge thing out of it – it’s been the lead or top three story all week, ABC news and FOX are the same, some French outlets – most notably Canal+  are following our lead – whilst the German’s are remaining remarkably stoic, the conservative Erste network and the rather lowbrow commercially guided ZDF and ProSieben channels are treating this as an ‘and in other news’ feature. Not once has the terror threat come above story 3 – why? Because there’s very little one can actually say about it without resorting to hyperbole and conjecture, and that’s not news.

When I grew up it was exposed on an obvious Military installation at the height of the terrorist activities of the Irish Republicans. Cars were bombed, people were shot – but through all of this, guidance was always given, you knew that you have to check your car before you got in it, you knew you had to report certain people, numberplates or activities, and you knew most of all that the chances of you actually being involved were ludicrously low; but for the sake of everyone in your community you should be vigilent anyway. Some commentators have been screaming for exact facts, but that’s clearly not intelligent or practical, but if the state, both ours and abroad, want us to be more aware; they must start giving the public more useful information about what they need to be vigilant for, rather than simply scaring people about an unknown, unsized, unpredictable threat.

Unity Day

German Reunification

German Reunification (Photo via Wikipedia)

Today is unity day – it’s 20 years ago today that Deutschland was stitched back together, and although perhaps not as famous in visual terms as the fall of the wall – the official date of reunification is marked today for various historical reasons.

It’s always nice to be able to say, “I was there” – and I remember it well, I remember the endless fireworks of this day and the fall of the wall earlier  in 1989, I remember the god-awful trabants and the sudden politicisation of tone: some people made a real and conscious effort to talk about ‘Germany’, whilst others clung doggedly to West Germany.

Contrary to popular myth now, many people didn’t welcome reunification warmly – yes there was widespread belief that it was ultimately the right thing, but many people were (possibly rightly) afraid of what the ‘ossies’ might bring: some to this day still are – And while it’s fair to say that East & West Germany still have some very different ways of doing things.

Like any other nation in Europe it has problems it wishes and needs to resolve, all told though unification has heralded a period of strong economic and cultural growth, and Germany is now more respected and (legitimately) stronger politically than it’s been in it’s entire history. Long may this continue!

The City maketh the Culture.

Gilbert & GeorgeThis is reproduced from an article I wrote on the Vivid London blog – if you’re interested in design, pr or marketing it’s well worth bookmarking.

If you’re very blunt cities are just a collection of buildings, roads and infrastructure where people happen to live and work; they’re essentially just a theatrical backdrop to the daily dramas of each individual’s life – but i like to think they’re more than that.

Cities aren’t just backdrops, they define cultures and movement, some much more so than others. For years certain cities have grabbed their denizens shown them the lights, whether it be London, Berlin, Köln, New York, Paris or Florence the greatest artistic, political and cultural movements have sprung forth from the cities that spin their inhabitants like whirling dervishes into creative thought and action.

Take the naturalistic beauty of that Florence that inspired generations of not just artists, but real masters, you think of Florence and you think of the whole Florentine School cabal which amongst others gave us Donatello, Botticelli, Masaccio and Michelangelo. And to this day artists flock to Florence to be inspired, to take in the winsome tuscan countryside, the exquisite architecture and the delicate palette of colours, smells and tastes that float through every Florentine street and piazza.

Or consider the roaring seething orgy that still is Berlin – through generations this city has inspired biting satire, political activism and an art scene that could only be described as brutally honest portrayals of the world around them. Politically this is the city that saw the rise of Communism and National Socialism in the 30s, during the cold war it saw political activism like nowhere else with a plethora of strong protest groups and even today ferments real dissent and anti-government feeling with activists still keeping Angela Merkel’s coalition quite firmly on it’s toes. Artistically, this political melting pot drives the art scene, from the vicious social commentary of George Grosz or Kathe Kollwitz to the glorious revelry in the debauchery of the cocaine fuelled metrosexual nightclubs as portrayed by Otto Dix and more recently the free-wheeling poor but sexy Berlin as captured so marvellously in my opinion in the joyous canvases of Ann-Kristin Hamm.

London again twists it’s inhabitants, the driving ever-changing scene in London opens new doors every day; one person’s crap is another person’s treasure, from the decaying East End of the 1980   that inspired the mega-canvases of multi-cultural faces in Gilbert & Georges seminal work ‘Are you angry, or are you bored’ to the gawking polemic on Britain’s celebrity obsessed culture embodied so well in Damien Hirst’s ‘For the love of God’ (better known as the diamond encrusted skull). Over and over again London like Berlin or New York has allowed a level of expression that no other city in it’s shadow could foster. It’s taken in the waifs and strays and given them a canvas to play with: and that – that – is why we love our cities.

Vivid London – it’s not just a name: it defines us, the city we’re based in hones our approach. Life should be Vivid, and London inspires us. It truly is a vivid city, the cultures, languages, art, theatre, cinema, architecture, the whole simmering mass is exciting to be in, and because of that creative thought thrives.

Laughing at the Euro?

There’s a lot of rather haughty laughing coming from many sectors of British political society at the moment: not least from a vocal group of little-englanders enjoying the Euro’s current difficulties and praising the hinterland of Sterling for ‘saving’ us from the economic woe caused by a lack of initial control in the Euro and the profligacy of almost all of the southern states.

But wait. Let’s take a look at the facts:

UK Exports – Main sources :

  • European Union 57%
  • United States: 15%
  • Switzerland: 2%
  • China: 2%
  • Japan: 2%
UK imports – Main sources :

  • European Union 55%
  • USA: 9%
  • China: 8%
  • Norway: 5%
  • Japan: 3%

Now, using this as an anchor for our perspective, maybe we could have a little sensible debate: clearly it would be entirely inapproriate for Britain to stump the Euro, even though we’re bound in part by the Lisbon Treaty to do so (and indeed have when Alistair Darling put up £6bn hours after the election result). But we have to be reasonable – we are reliant on trade with our European neighbours, and if they’re in trouble then let’s be under no false pretence, we will be too.

Also, let’s not forget that we’re a veritable speck in the economic ocean compared to the Eurozone, let’s look at the markets, we have a ‘critical’ election that decides how UK government spending is going to change and days of uncertainty as coalitions are forged and it’s barely acknowledged on the international markets. The Eurozone sneezes on the other hand and it’s massive percentage knocks day after day: let there be no question – the Eurozone is taken very seriously, and will continue to be taken so.

Of course, this is a major set-back for the Euro, it’s reputation has been damaged by it’s inability to control the states which make it up, and that’s always been my problem with it: huge economies rubbing shoulders with economies that are barely functioning. Powerhouses of export next to countries that live in the economic past struggling to pay the bills with second-rate tourist attractions. It simply never made sense that Greece, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia and Malta (to name but a few) were rushed into the Eurozone. The checks and balances that should have been in place were swept away in preference of unchecked growth.

What is needed now is a period of reflection and reform: the Euro needs to be reigned in; countries that are incapable of paying their bills need to get out – and serious questions now need to be asked about the way the Euro is set up: should it be the case that the countries in the Eurozone share a common taxation base, common economic policies, and if so – who will set that up, and will anyone but the major northern european states actually be able to cope with that, both economically and socially?

Athens descended into rioting and flames when it was suggested that people work longer and with less public services: but in Germany and Britain, this has been the acknowledged truth for many years – with interruptions from various unions yes, but generally, we all know that in reality if you’re my age now, then you’re likely to be working until you’re well into your 70s, and after that there won’t be a national pension of any worth to fall back on (if there’s even one at all). Should this cause social panic? Indeed has it? Of course not – yes union’s have screamed and thrown their toys out of their prams, but the bulk of the population simply see it as impetus to provide for one’s own future… a plan which I hasten to add many thought shot to pieces by Brown’s audacious private pension raid.

So where next for the Euro? Well despite Cameron’s position with Chancellor Merkel the other day, I think we’re actually heading for a period where Britain will hold a bit more power in Europe: played right Cameron & Clegg now have a mandate to use our vote in Europe to make real change happen, fiscal responsibility, reform of waste, reform of the CAP and other european problems that (believe it or not) don’t just irritate us here in Britain. We’d have support to demand change, we’d have a platform to place them upon, and we’d have the right timing to make change in Europe happen for the first time since before Maastricht, because if past-precedent is anything to go by, the hardline integrationists will use this as an excuse to push through unified tax and fiscal policy whatever the cost – and a quick fix is not what Europe needs right now.

We need Europe, and Europe needs us – we are still the gateway to the english speaking world for many major corporations. So let’s take this opportunity to stand with our partners in Europe and roll back years and years of profligacy, selfish and excessive regard for individual nation’s interests and the rampant need for expansion at all cost. Let’s put ourselves at the centre of Europe and make it work, not just for it’s own sake, but for ours.