De Villepin tried to frame Sarkozy?

Major political scandal underway in France says Jerome.

A first scandal was started in early 2004 when a number of politicians (including Nicolas Sarkozy) and top businessmen were accused to have hidden bank accounts with Clearstream in Luxembourg. These accusations were proven to be false in early 2005 by the investigating judge, and new judicial procedures were started, by Sarkozy and others, for slander (“dénonciation calomnieuse”), to try to find out the mysterious source of the fake documents that triggered the first scandal.

Sarkozy has long suspected Chirac and Villepin to have been behind this attack on him, and today’s revelations would seem to bear this out. Villepin has already denied categorically the substance of what Le Monde prints today, but this could trigger his resignation and a government reshuffle, especially coming just after the CPE episode which has gravely weakened his authority and credibility.

“Black Wednesday” once again

For those of you who aren’t closely following British news (or are being distracted by your own national scandals), it looks like the Blair cabinet is an wee bit of trouble, after being hit by what the media called either “triple whammy” or “black Wednesday” :

Labour’s authority as a government was severely shaken [Wednesday] when two of the prime minister’s closest allies faced calls for their resignation, and the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, went to ground after admitting an affair with his diary secretary.

The Tories and Liberal Democrats demanded that the home secretary, Charles Clarke, should quit over the chaotic release from prison of 1,000 foreign criminals. And Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, was repeatedly booed, barracked and slow-handclapped during her address to the Royal College of Nursing in which delegates shouted for her to go too. In the end, she was forced to abandon her televised speech because of repeated disruptions from the floor.

Tony Blair swiftly switched to full damage control mode, refusing to sack any of the three ministers and accusing the media of exagerating the crisis. To no avail. Today, The Economists talks (subscription required) ominously about a “Black April” threatening to engulf the reputation for sound management of the Blair cabinet (Blair haters : I know), in much the same way as the original Back Wednesday of 1992 had ruined that of the Conservatives for economic competence (Thatcher haters : I know).

Regardless of the impact of this week’s events on Blair’s future as Prime Minister (it’s all about economic models anyway), the whole stuff makes for fun political theater. Notably, it appears the “triple whammy” should really have been a mere double but for the attempt of John Prescott to use the media coverage of Charles Clarke’s blunders to try to bury the news, Jo Moore-style, of his extramarital adventure.

Seems like it didn’t quite succeed. At least John “Two Jags” Prescott has promptly earned a new nickname. Makes you love the British press.

Liberation Day

It’s a national holiday in Italy today, the anniversary of Liberation. So there was a suitably grand state ceremony at the Quirinal palace – the President’s residence – and, as tradition demands, a big demo for the Left to march through the streets, sing “Bella Ciao” until they get hoarse (well, hoarser, given how most people sing on demonstrations).. Only one man was missing.

It will come as no surprise to know that it was Silvio Berlusconi, who still won’t go away. Despite the highest court in the land ruling that the election results are valid, and unfavourable to him, he’s still clinging to the trappings of office. Yesterday, he produced yet another drama-queen eruption, entertaining a gathering of supporters in Trieste with a song of his own composition, threatening to paralyse the legislature, and promising that he would turn up for work at the prime minister’s office as usual on Friday.

Much as it is tempting to think he was getting back in practice for a possible return to his old career as cheesetastic hotel lounge crooner, it seems he meant it. As Existing Phil translates from La Repubblica, his remarks since the election, especially towards the President, have been alarming – according to him, there ought to be a recount because the centre-left won’t govern in the interests of the country.

It seems quite clear that he won’t go without some final indulgence in low comedy. Will he be refused access to the prime minister’s office by cops, appeal to force in some way, or perhaps flee the country? Will he sing on television? Perhaps they will use the same approach favoured by British newspaper proprietors with editors who fall out of favour, involving a black bin liner and 30 minutes to clear your desk before security guards throw you out in the street.

French Shop As Germans Save

This just about sums it up:

French shoppers, scarcely distracted by riots in March, increased spending significantly in the first quarter of this year, with purchases of household durable goods soaring, official data showed on Friday. The robust spending growth is almost certain to have helped eurozone economic growth rebound in the first quarter of 2006.

Meanwhile:

the outlook for German consumer spending remains poor – highlighting the underlying weakness of the eurozone economy…..German households have been hit by falling real wages and house prices. Germans have also continued to save at a furious pace because of their fears about the future of the welfare state.

Hollowing Out In Moldova?

The Moldovan population has fallen from more than 4.3 million people in 1989, to just 3.4 million in 2004 excluding the separatist Transnistria area in the east, rising to a bit under 3.8 million if one includes Transnistria’s resident population. Randy McDonald asks:

Moldova’s example demonstrates that, when economic conditions become sufficiently bad and/or when the benefits accuring to emigrants become sufficiently great, regional and national populations can contract at speeds more reminiscent of wartime depopulation than anything else. Where Moldova goes now, perhaps any number of relatively small and relatively impoverished states (Serbia, Paraguay, Cuba, Laos, Lesotho) in the future, perhaps–who knows?–even much larger countries.

Don’t miss this important post.

Joe Van Holsbeeck

I’m not sure how much this story has been covered elsewhere, but the big story in Belgium for the last couple weeks has been the murder of Joe Van Holsbeeck, a 17 year old who was killed for an MP3 player in the main hall of Brussels Central train station during rush hour.

I left for vacation in Tunisia two days after the murder and returned just last Saturday, so I missed much of the development of the story. On Sunday, some 80,000 people marched, nominally in solidarity with the family but a little more realistically in response to fears about their security. I want to point out that much of Belgian society has behaved admirably. The victim’s family specifically did not want this to turn into a partisan cause. Almost all sectors of society expressed their horror at this crime without resorting to racialism. I’m actually kind of proud of my land of residence, which is not something that happens very often.

I, however, will not be abiding by the family’s wishes. I have a partisan statement make about this killing.
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Too Old To Work For Ericsson?

Well if you’re over 35 you may be. That’s the implication of today’s decision to offer redundancy to workers in the 35 – 50 age group:

Ericsson, the telecoms equipment maker, on Monday offered a voluntary redundancy package to up to 1,000 of its Sweden-based employees between the ages of 35 and 50. The unprecedented move is designed to make way for younger workers.

This fits in with the findings of ongoing research by Italian economist Francesco Daveri. See especially working paper 309: “Age, technology and labour costs”, which examines the case of Finland and especially Nokia (available on this page, abstract pasted at the bottom of this post).

Details below the fold:
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Don’t Throw the Bums Out

For the first time since the fall of Communism, a national election in Hungary is not being followed by a change of government. Eszter points to a useful graphic from Népszabadság, a Bdapest daily newspaper, that shows the compositions of all of Hungary’s post-1989 parliaments. There’s an ebb and flow of parties (particularly the growth of the former youth party into the largest conservatice party), occasional independent membes and a gradual consolidation into the present four parliamentary parties. There’s also a change of government after every election. Not this time.
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Shipbuilding

The European Union will soon have the world’s second-biggest amphibious warfare fleet. As well as the Royal Navy’s two LPDs (Landing Platform Dock – what the RN used to call an “assault ship”, basically a ship with a large dock in the stern, a shitload of radio gear, a heli deck, and space for several hundred soldiers and a gaggle of landing craft) Albion and Bulwark and one LHA (a helicopter carrier) Ocean, France has one LHA, and is building two more of the Mistral class, Spain has two LPDs and is building a large LHA, Portugal is building one LPD, Italy is building three LPDs, and Holland has a big (18,000 ton) LPD. That adds up to a fleet of 14 amphibious warfare ships of various kinds, not counting the UK’s four auxiliary dock transports that are a-building. By comparison, the biggest fleet is the US Navy’s, which has 10 LHAs and 12 LPDs organised in several amphibious warfare groups, usually of one LHA and two LPDs and a regiment of Marines.

Rob “Lawyers, Guns and Money” was discussing this in terms of the pre-1914 battleship race and the curious way countries with no need of battleships, indeed who could not maintain a meaningful fleet, were desperate to have just one ship. I replied that you had to look at the whole, and that he was right to think it might be about taking part in multinational operations. Just not necessarily the same ones…

In essence, these ships are the fruit of the late-90s efforts to lessen EU dependence on US assets in defence, and specifically the Nice Treaty’s goal of a EU Rapid Reaction Force similar to the NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps but without the Americans. One might think nothing had come of this except for a new HQ in the Brussels ‘burbs, what with the change of emphasis from the 60,000 man EURRF to small scale battle groups (essentially a way of fulfilling the letter of the plan without more money). But the ships are a-building…