Cannons To The Right Of Me, Cannons To The Left Of Me

Gerhard Schröders electoral troubles only seem to increase. With Merkel’s lead seemingly consolidating rather than reducing, a recent poll now shows the alliance between the former communists in the east and Election Alternative in the west set to win 8% of the vote:

Experts say the new group could attract votes from Social Democrats in the west unhappy with Schroeder’s efforts to trim social programs, and from unemployed people in the economically depressed east fed up with his recent cuts in unemployment benefits.

A poll showed the alliance getting 8 percent ? well over the 5 percent barrier needed for representation in parliament. Schroeder’s party had 27 percent, trailing the conservative Christian Democrats of challenger Angela Merkel at 44 percent.

The poll, for ZDF television by the Mannheim Election Research Group, surveyed 1,175 people June 21-23. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

The new group showed its appeal Tuesday when veteran Social Democratic legislator in the state of Baden-Wuerttemburg defected to take up its cause. Ulrich Mauer, the party’s former regional head, said he was joining the left alliance because it was “the only chance” to stop the advance of the center-right.

The Soap Bubble

Apart from the fact that the alleged origin of the prize exhibit at Art Basle – a bar of soap, displayed on a square of black velvet, purportedly made from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s fat, which was removed during liposuction – may be in bad taste in terms of historical precedents, something else struck my untypically prudish eye: the yield inversion on contemporary over historic works of art. Sign of the times, Jack, sign of the times.

Prices are soaring for star-quality artists, topping levels charged for the old masters in a market that has an estimated $20 billion annual turnover, making veteran art experts wonder if this feeding frenzy can really last. Cellphones clamped to their ears, clutching lists, buyers clad in high-fashion gear dash from booth to booth. They exchange prices in the clipped shorthand of a seasoned trader. “Six-eight for that? Or two at 20?” said one, pointing from a Donald Judd minimalist sculpture to photographs. Nothing sells here with less than three zeros added to the price. Like Internet stocks, bonds, real estate and commodities before it, contemporary art today is luring the type of glitzy investment where anything that sniffs of a potential blockbuster is flying off the walls.

Ibarretxe Follows Rumsfeld Lead

Is Basque President (Lehendakari) and Christian Democratic Basque Nationalist Party leader Juan Jose Ibarretxe taking a leaf out of Donald Rumsfeld’s manual? Regular readers will remember that earlier this week, when questioned about possible negotiations with representatives of armed insurgents in Iraq, Rummy said “I would not make a big deal out of it. Meetings go on frequently with people.” Maybe this is what Ibarretxe should reply to his socialist and PP critics. Really though, this is an important issue. I personally think Ibarretxe is doing the right thing, and for the same reason I think it necessary to ‘talk-in’ if possible the Sunni insurgents in Iraq: because the priority is dealing with Zarqawi and his like. It is time the Basque question inside Spain was resolved, and talking, with whoever, is one of the ways to do this.

“To reach a true dialogue, a round table between the parties, it is necessary to live without ETA violence and without urban violence,” moderate nationalist Ibarretxe told parliament as he was sworn in for a third term…..

He proposed including Batasuna, the banned political mouthpiece of ETA, blamed for some 800 deaths in a four-decade campaign for an independent state straddling the Pyrenees to include parts of southwestern France.

However, the Spanish political establishment, led by the ruling Socialists and the conservative opposition Popular Party (PP) rejected the proposal.

Ibarretxe criticised the Socialists, judging it “contradictory that they (the Socialist government in Madrid) talk with them (Basque radicals) in private but on the other hand reproach us for counting on Batasuna’s presence for this round table of discussions”.

S&P Downgrade Portugal Debt

The credit rating agency Standard and Poors yesterday cut Portugal’s long-term sovereign debt rating from AA to AA-. The downgrade isn’t exactly earthshattering, but it is a sign of the times.

“The downgrade is the result of the reported sharp deterioration in public finances . . . and the depth of fiscal reform required to reverse the deterioration seen in recent years,” said Trevor Cullinan, an S&P credit analyst.

The Euro and Structural Reform

New Economist has a useful post one the euro and the reform process. He picks up on the point that as much as interest rate cuts, what the eurozone needs are the Lisbon Reforms. He also points to the fact that having cheap money in the southern part of Europe may be impeding and not facilitating reform. What can I say, I agree:

Nonetheless, I hope the ECB eventually do cut rates. Even if the stimulus to growth proves to be modest, it can’t hurt (likewise a weaker Euro). But of course what’s really needed in Europe is structural reform of product and labour markets, greater competition and the extension of the single market to services.

This makes the findings of new research by OECD economists Romain Duval and Jorgen Elmeskov, delievered at a recent ECB conference, all the more disturbing. Their paper, The effects of EMU on structural reforms in labour and product markets (PDF), points to:

…the apparent slowdown in the reform process after the formal advent of the euro and by the limited ability of EMU countries ? with the exception of few small ones and of reforms to retirement schemes ? to carry out needed reforms in areas where political resistance is normally strong.

This is consistent with their finding that:

…the absence of monetary policy autonomy seems to be associated with lower structural reform activity in large, more closed economies.

…Obviously these simple findings should not be exaggerated. However, if additional testing suggests that they are robust it would point to a potentially problematic aspect of EMU. In particular, an effect of EMU in the direction of weakening the incentives for structural reform in the larger member countries would be a cause for concern.

Russia’s Iran Offer

Russia is offering to build up to six new nuclear reactors for Iran. I think that if the loss of global consensus attendant on the Iraq war has a price, a ‘less cordinated world’ will be one part of it. I think there is a serious danger of all this getting out of control.

Russia has pressed ahead with construction of Iran’s first nuclear power plant near the southern city of Bushehr, dismissing Washington’s belief that Tehran could use Moscow’s technology and know-how to make an atom bomb. “When Iran announces new tenders to construct nuclear reactors, we’ll take part in them,” Alexander Rumyantsev, head of Russia’s Atomic Energy Agency, told Itar-Tass news agency.

Desertification

The FT has a timely piece of Spain’s drought. You see, it isn’t simply a question of special pleading on my part :). And note the little detail, 700,000 new homes built last year. I suppose at least when the construction sector stops all those builders will be able to finally cool off.

A severe drought in Spain, the worst since records began in 1947, is playing havoc with livelihoods, sparking forest fires and threatening millions of tourists with water rationing as they head for the beaches this summer.

Worse yet, 2005 is unlikely to be a freak year. Spain is getting hotter and drier, with average temperatures rising by 1?C since 1960. The European Environment Agency estimates that average temperatures will rise by a further 4?C over the next century.

Winters are now so mild that storks have stopped their annual migration to north Africa. Scientists are witnessing desertification many estimate that up to one third of the country may be a desert within 50 years.

Coup de Grace for Italy, or for the SGP?

Well I got it wrong (or so it seems). Someone has ‘leaked’ to the FT the news that Italy will be ‘given two years grace’ on the deficit problem. If this is confirmed I suppose it shows that the Commission fears more the Italian voters than it does the international financial markets. Obviously a ‘to the letter of the law’ application of the revised SGP would present Italy with hard economic decisions (which she will face anyway), but not applying it tests yet one more time the credibility of the EU’s institutions. It depends I suppose which you think is more damaging in the long run.
Continue reading

Two years ago today…

Hey, I know!

I just got the idea of starting a politics weblog with a bunch of euros (expats would be ok too.)

Brilliant, eh? Of course I’ve only thought about for five seconds.

Now I just have to find some reasonably smart and not too wingnutty people who’s interested?

Anyone up for it?

Update: Nah.

Update: Yes!
Posted by David Weman at 01:56 AM | TrackBack

I can’t really put my mind around the fact that it was two years ago today, or that afoe’s will soon have its 2nd anniversary. If I accomplish nothing else in life, well, this is… something.