Tag Archives: Germany

Strong words from Merkel

It was good to see Angela Merkel today calling on her European counterparts to take serious efforts to cut their national deficits with a stark warning that the biggest threat to the economies of Europe, and specifically those of the crisis-hit eurozone is debt.

In a politically charged statement, Merkel pulled no punches, telling all attending the Davos World Economic Forum that: “Indebtedness is the biggest danger for prosperity on this continent” strong stuff indeed. But nothing compared to the sledge hammer language which she chose to use to cut through the never-ending bullshit with an emphatic statement that there was: “no crisis of the euro as such. This is essentially a debt crisis [which we must now]  overcome” and that “If the euro fails, then Europe fails“. Her comment echoed French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who earlier passionately defended Paris and Berlin saying that they would “never abandon the euro“.

Possibly the strongest words from a European leader yet on the on-going spiral fuelled by an on-going crisis of private banks and markets speculating with public currency on the basis of advice given by almost totally unregulated credit agencies.

Talking about the German economy she said that “sound fiscal policy and growth do not need to be a contradiction in terms“, and it’s a good point; let’s face it Germany’s economy is booming, it’s Europe’s number 1 exporter, even though it’s actively beginning to rebalance it’s trade deficit. It’s got Europe’s most qualified workforce, and unemployment is lower in Germany than Britain even with an additional 15 odd million people more than us.

It’s really is reassuring to see this economic strength emboldening the Germans to push for the reforms of the eurozone that they’ve wanted for some time: Germany will undoubtedly push through reforms which can only be a good thing for the EuroZone – and quite possibly for the UK too – if the coalition is bright enough to engage directly with Berlin now to advocate strong change in Europe to protect the future of the EU.

Rip off Britain.

We live in a country which is notorious for overcharging the tax-payer and under-delivering on quality and quantity: and amidst the cuts it would seem to make sense for the government to examine why Britain consistently pays over the odds for all it’s public infrastrucutre projects.

A good example is the ‘new’ Forth Road Bridge: the current bridge – despite being less than 50 years old it’s now at the end of it’s life – bear in mind the Golden Gate Bridge is now entering it’s 80th decade straddling a fault line, and closer to home the Forth Railway bridge is now 120 years old and still faithfully performing the task for which it was originally built.

Looking at the plans for the replacement bridge a 2.2km long concrete and steel affair with the aesthetic complexity of a cardboard box you do wonder why the original bridge was engineered to be such a short-life structure, especially when you note the estimated cost of it’s replacement which from the government figures presently stands at £4.2 billion.

How on gods great earth can a 2.2km bridge cost £4.2 billion? It’s a farce.

Let’s just look across the North Sea to our European neighbour Denmark, where the completed Fehmarn Belt Bridge which is nearly ten times longer at 19km serving both and rail traffic came in at a cool €4.7 billion (that’s £3.9 billion just in case you can’t be arsed to google it).

Just exactly how can our government continue to accept figures which are clearly more value both for local regions and the greater public purse? The idea of allowing contractors to abuse the public purse either through under-bidding and then over-running on costs or building in margins of up to 80% is ludicrous.

They’re pissing our money up the wall – and we’re allowing them to continue: despite many many ministers and opposition MPs having involvements with construction and infrasturcture companies, despite being the 6th largest economy in the world with all the buying power that brings, despite having lower wages that for instance, Denmark, despite times of austerity where they’re taxing us more and delivering less, despite being told their ‘is no more money’.

This madness must stop. Now.

We are falling behind in Europe because our infrastructure is poor: if we want to change that in an increasingly competitive world we must now demand that our politicians stop treating our money like a teenager treats a parent’s Gold Card.

So, yeah…

A few days ago I may have mentioned something about emigrating: it’s something a lot of people say when they’re fed up with a situation; many never mean it, others simply don’t follow through – that’s really not the case here: I mean it – I’m up, off, and outta here.

You see, I was fortunate enough to grow up in Europe, West Germany to be exact, it’s the place I’ve always thought of as home, the formative years when you form bonds, attachments and habits were all spent in Nordrhein-Westfalen, and having recently been back to my ‘home town’ of Gütersloh, I realised just how much I’d missed it – not just missed though, but how much I thought of it as a home town compared to Stamford, Peterborough, London or anywhere else.

It’s not just local attachment though, it’s a question of quality. The quality of life is significantly higher, the opportunities which are presented in that area for travel, new experiences, work and building a life are enormous. I’m sick of being couped up in the UK: I want to travel in Europe – I want the freedom to just jump onto the autobahn and go shopping in Dutch markets, go walking in the Harz mountains, go tobogganing in the Alps, drink in the culture of Venice, Salzburg, Wien, Berlin, Köln or just go to a different country without having to think of it as an excursion with passport clasped in hand. Let’s face it the only way to do those things in the UK is to start taking extended weekends or holidays, my job precludes being able to take that amount of time out – and I’ve just had enough of it – I want my life back, and moving to a place that makes it easier to escape makes a lot of sense.

Of course those of you who read the political posts will know where I stand on Europe – I really do roll my eyes at the attachment to the Pound, the constant interference in our daily lives of a thoroughly inept and at times disreputable civil service and government. The ludicrous and frankly luddite situation of having to enter Europe – a continent we’re all officially citizens of with a passport and customs control – and the sheer hassle of getting anywhere that’s remotely interesting without having to pay extortionate train fees for the Chunnel or having to slog down to Dover for my preferred choice, a leisurely P&O ferry and a decent car all take their toll on me. I want to be in the heart of Europe – not just personally, but professionally.

So the planning starts now… If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about moving in the UK it’s that planning is key, the more organised you are the better: and moving into a foreign country even with prior experience needs military precision; we know many things about what we want. We love Köln, right in the heart of NRW it’d make a great base: it’s got great shopping, a compact city centre with good public transport, a good gay scene and a busy ex-pat community. It’s close enough to the border to make the UK a not entirely tiresome drive and it’s got good links to all of NRW and the rest of Germany, a quick hop across the border to Holland or Belgium, and only a matter of minutes on the autobahn before you start to hit some really beautiful scenery.

So that’s the beginnings of a plan to emigrate. I’m looking at this as a long term plan, rent first see what happens and then look at settling down. I want to make the move this year coming: 2011 – disengaging from the rat race of ludicrous rents and house prices, rip-off britain, x-factor and all the other stuff that sets my teeth on edge, escaping to cheaper living in the heart of europe only a car drive away from mountains, glaciers, rolling hills, vineyards and more. Bring it on.

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.

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.

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.

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!

Brazil are out?!

I did promise myself I wouldn’t blog about the world cup – Football really isn’t my sport of choice, I’ve always found it difficult to follow a league game, and of late the international tournaments have been quite dull. But I must say that I’m supremely happy to see Holland & Germany progressing in the Cup. Holland’s victory over Brazil is a real twist, and Germany’s crushing of the useless England team only went to underline what’s wrong with continuing to pick the ‘cream’ of the overpaid, over strung premier league.

Germany becomes Eurosceptic

There’s an interesting article today on ConservativeHome that puts forward a case that Germany has become Europe’s second eurosceptic nation, typical ConHome spin I hear you scream, but reading the German press and talking to friends in Germany it would seem not to be the case – there really is a genuine groundswell of annoyance and dismay with the European Union, a system which many Germans are now rumbling is unfairly biased it’s decisions toward latin nations for too long: a view that’s been long held by many in the UK – especially when it comes to the ludicrous con that is the CAP.

Now would be a very good time for our new coalition to stand strong with Germany: they’re our nearest neighbour in many ways: our cultures have so much in common and our position in Europe is similar economically – we’re both reliant on world trade (for Britain financially and for Germany in exports). Standing with Germany now would be a superb opportunity to force long needed reform on the EU which for so long has limped from one kludge to another.