France’s Finances Under The Microscope

The OECD has a new country report out on France:

France’s rising government debt threatens the sustainability of public finances in the eurozone’s second biggest economy, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has warned in its latest country report.

The Paris-based OECD said that a lack of control over public spending could leave France unprepared to deal with the financial consequences of an ageing society.”

I rest my case.
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Hungary: New President & Debt Downgrade

This week Hungary has a new President. The election of Laszlo Solyom as Hungary’s new President was a major setback for the governing Socialist Party (MSZP), at the same time as it was widely lauded as a victory by the right wing opposition Fidesz party. The outcome was largely the result of the behaviour of the MSZP?s junior coalition partner, the liberal leaning Free Democrats, who abstained. Katalin Szili, the MSZP choice, was regarded by Free Democrats as being far too involved with the MSZP. Only 3 votes separated the two candidates, and this reflects the current balance within the Hungarian parliament between Fidesz and MSZP ? a handful of independents and the Free Democrats in fact have the deciding votes.
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The Week Ahead

This week promises to be another ‘busy’ one. Today the EU finance ministers (Ecofin) are meeting in Luxembourg, to discuss the condition of the common currency after last week’s ‘battering’ in the press and in the financial markets. Also headed for Luxembourg is EU Economics Commissioner Joaquim Almunia. Amongst other items he will have one in particulr which is high on his agenda: a meeting with Italian Ecomy Minister Domenico Siniscalco. Almunia is due to present a report on Italy’s deficit situation to the Commission tomorrow, and will almost certainly recommend the initiation of an excess deficit procedure under the revised terms of the stability and growth pact.
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Sheffield a la mar

I have to confess to having had a fairly sucky 2004. Most of the causes are personal, and frankly not very interesting. But, as an example, my plan to spend the holiday season in Tunisia was abruptly cancelled because my wife got chicken pox. So, needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to 2005.

The wife got over her pox just a few days before Christmas, leaving us scrambling to find a vacation that both fit our respective work calendars, didn’t cost too much, and wasn’t booked solid. Consequently, I found myself at Zaventem airport at four in the morning on Christmas day fighting a miserable crowd so I could spend a week at Benidorm, Valencia, Spain.

I can’t claim I wasn’t warned. I did know that Benidorm – and the rest of the Costa Blanca – is something of a joke in the Dutch speaking part of Europe. After a week there, I still haven’t been in Spain. As far as I can tell, thanks to daily discount charter service between Sheffield and Alicante, the Costa Blanca is simply a warm, low-tax part of Yorkshire.
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Agenda 2020.


New Europe?
Late Thursday night, the European Council approved, as widely expected, the Commission’s recommendation to open membership negotiations with Turkey, largely without imposing additional conditions to be met prior to the beginning of the talks on October 3, 2005. “The time to start negotiations with Turkey has come,” Commission President Jos? Manuel Barroso said. Council President, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, will discuss the EU proposals Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, over breakfast on Friday.
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Another Brick In The Wall.


The Berlin Wall.
To be sure, this was a busy week for the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder. In addition to the obligations caused by a state visit of Queen Elizabteth II, which, not unexpectedly, took place in an atmosphere of tabloid turmoil on both sides of the channel, the autumn European summit in Brussels, and the political digestion of the US election, he managed to upset pretty much everyone in political Germany – and beyond (Bild.de) – with the most bizarre proposal to – sort of – abolish the German national holiday, October 3, in order to boost GDP growth and, as a consequence, eventually meet the fiscal criteria set out in the stability and growth pact.
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Turkey recommended for EU accession talks

The European Commission has recommended that accession talks for Turkey should begin, but hasn’t laid out any dates for the process:

Commission officials are reporting on the progress Turkey has already made, along with Bulgaria and Romania.

The final decision on Turkey rests with the leaders of all 25 EU member states in December – with accession years off.

The Commission’s recommendation is a milestone in an increasingly impassioned debate.

The decision was reached by a “large consensus” among commissioners, one EU official said, but no vote was taken.

There was also no recommended date to start negotiations with Turkey.

More from The Scotsman/PA, EU Business, Reuters and EU Observer.

Update: The full text of Romano Prodi’s speech can be found here and I’ve copied it below, so you can click on the ‘continue reading’ link to see it as the English HTML link on the site doesn’t seem to be working (pdf and doc links are).
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Daniel Pipes on Tariq Ramadan: Why French literacy still matters

Readers of my previous comment on Tariq Ramadan will no doubt have come away with the impression that I don’t much like Daniel Pipes. This is not an entirely accurate assessment of my opinon of him. I think Pipes is an unreconstructed bigot and xenophobic fanatic whose academic work fails to meet even the lowest standards of scholarship, whose career has been built on politically driven attacks, and who has set up with his “Campus Watch” as a terrorist front designed to intimidate academics and ensure that there is as little debate, discussion or rational thought on Israel, US foreign policy or Islam as possible. His reseach and scholarship are not intended to better inform action but to support specific agendas, usually revolving around hating some foreign force or people. Instead of fostering debate, his work is intended to intimidate. Pipes advocates religiously targetted surveillance, he supports making federal university funding conditional on ideology, and he has helped to terrorise professors who are named on his website. In short, I think Pipes is swine.

He is a second generation right-wing tool, the son of one of the men most responsible for America’s “Team B”, which grossly overblew the Soviet menace in the 70s and 80s – causing massive US defense spending and resulting deficits – and complained that anyone with a better sense of reality was soft on communism. Normally, Pipes’ parentage would constitute poor grounds for condeming him as having a pathological relationship to facts. But keep this in mind, since it constitutes one of his arguments against Ramadan.

All you need is Google to find out why I think these things about Daniel Pipes. It’s not a lot of work. His own website provides ample examples.

But, today, I will be targeting something a little more specific. Pipes has put up on his website his comment on Tariq Ramadan’s visa denial, originally published in the New York Post on Friday. In it, he makes specific points against Tariq Ramadan, linking, in some cases, to articles on the web in support. These articles are primarily in French. As a service to our non-francophone readers, we will be translating the relevant sections, since they lead one to the conclusion that Pipes assumes his readers will just take his word on their contents.

We report, you decide.
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Digitally Scared.

No doubt about it – revolutions are truly scary. Whether you think of the French one, the ones that freed Eastern Europe, or the digital revolution that is currently changing much of the transactional structure of our economies, and in particular the music industry. But contrary to most people, I do pity major label executives who never even stood a chance of understanding just what happened to them. After all, this is an industry where the average person?s desk had not seen a computer in 1996, as some insider once said.

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