Cyprus and Iraq

I’m certainly no expert on the Cyprus question. But John Quiggin at Crooked Timber has made the claim that the upcoming referendum on the reunification of Cyprus is of monumental importance for the future of Europe, the EU, and the Middle East–so much so that the eventual fate of Iraq (very likely “an imperfectly democratic Islamist government dominated by Shiites,” in John’s opinion) will “fade into insignifance” in comparison. This has sparked a bit of a flame war between commentators, which I don’t intend to wade into. But it’s interesting to think about, nonetheless, and I’d be delighted to hear from Europeans who might have a different grasp on this issue than idea do. From my perspective (perhaps unconventional for an American), Turkey has of course always been more important, for the future of the Middle East, than Iraq or any other of the regions many deplorable criminal states. If the settlement of the Cyprus issue removes one of the most significant–perhaps the most significant–roadblock to Turkey’s joining the EU, then the referendum is of vital importance, because Turkey is more culturally locked into either working out or rejecting some sort of fusion of Islamic institutions and European secularism than any other state with a significant Muslim population (more than Egypt, more than Algeria). Turkey, in other words, is important not just strategically, but historically (if I may wax Hegelian), and anything done to help that history along is worth doing, even if the result isn’t at all what EU boosters might hope it to be. Whereas Iraq, whatever becomes of it, has gone from extremes of tyranny through war to colonization, neither of which provide much grounds for trusting in the “organic” authenticity of whatever innovations or failures historically emerge. (This, by the way, is one of the reasons many of us who study the politics and culture of East Asia are more interested in ideas and arguments about political life which come out of South Korea, Taiwan, China or Singapore, rather than Japan: the latter was an outright colony, with a constitution written for it by occupying powers, whereas the others, despite the many historical particularities, more or less worked out their current polities on their own.)

Anyway, for additional insight, this article on Turkey and Islamic democracy from the New Yorker last year is one of the best things I’ve ever read on the subject. It’s long, but worth it.

The Last Foreign Correspondent

This is really a case of two stories in search of a common theme: a theme, that is, which goes beyond the rather random unifying factor of the work of Shanghai based ‘foreign correspondent’ Fons Tuinstra. In fact both points emerged from browsing his blog.

In the first place we have the problem with the uses and abuses of statistics – an issue which surfaced once more this week with the outrageous use of the carefully crafted 7% Japanese GDP growth number (those looking for a rather more jaundiced – not to say realistic – view on this, could do worse than consult Bloomberg’s ever intelligent William Pesek).

But Fons target this week is not the investor-seeking financial press, but rather his own compatriots, the Dutch politicians, and how they have turned the creative use of statistics into an art form, for, as he says:”Dealing with figures is an art: the Dutch call themselves the Chinese of Europe, for a good reason.”
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Free movement of labor, redux

On the previously mentioned subject of Europe’s “free” movement of labor (and the possibility of a massive influx of cheap labor from the east come EU accession time) here’s an article I wrote on the topic in November for Czech and Slovak Construction Journal (for some reason the article’s not posted online).

If you’re too lazy to read the whole thing… It talks about the onset of “EU fatigue” in the east, plus it cites a bunch of studies that discredit the fear of a massive influx of eastern workers wrecking havoc on Western European job markets. And this is really about Polish construction workers already living illegally in Berlin, not Czech IT geeks in London (nor British chefs in Prague). Enjoy.
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Eta And The Spanish Elections

As someone who lives and works in Barcelona (capital of Catalonia, and formal definition in the eyes of the local nationalists of being Catalan), it is really rather frustrating to find that about the only time we make it to the European headlines (apart, of course, from when Bar?a wants to buy some world famous footballer like Beckham) is when one of the players in the greater-Spanish political arena – in this case Eta – wants to exploit some situation or other here to its own advantage. Outside of this context (and with, of course, the honourable exception of George Orwell) Catalonia is little heard of, and even less understood.
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The Euro and the Company

Now maybe David is sitting there today asking himself just what the hell that post of Edward’s on outsouring in the US had to do with a European centred blog. Well the answer didn’t take long in reaching us: the euro rose to a fresh record above $1.29 today as upbeat U.S. data yesterday failed to diminish the bearish view of the greenback and off it went to new multi-year lows against a range of other currencies (this should make us ask ourselves what may happen if we get a run of bad data).

And just what has this got to do with outsourcing? Well we seem to be on a conveyorbelt at the moment, one which stretches all the way though Asia across the US and then on over to Europe. What this is producing is ‘weakness’ in the US labour market, an intractable US trade deficit, and interest rates at historic lows. Which means of course that the dollar keeps on falling, and the euro keeps on rising. Until…….
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Minding the parking meters

The Czech press digest Fleet Sheet puts out a free email bulletin with blog-like observations on Czech culture, business and politics. Though it’s sometimes a bit off base, it’s worth looking at to get a sense of the scene in Prague. Today’s

Why does Prague airport have expensive self-service parking machines, when the CR is a mecca for low wages?… It’s still possible to get shoes or a broken TV repaired in the CR, but the march toward the European welfare state will soon raise taxes and wage costs so high that it’ll be cheaper to throw out the old shoes and buy new ones. Premier Spidla told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that reconciling the costs of modernizing the welfare state and the impact on common people is a European-wide problem without a solution. If the European welfare model collapses, he said, so will the EU itself. Then Czechs could go back to minding the parking lot.

An interesting statement with wide implications, although I’m not exactly sure there’s such a strong connection between parking meters, broken televisions, and the European welfare state.