It never stops when your blog has to cover an entire continent. Hardly had the Italian left taken AFOE’s advice to get Giorgio Napolitano elected as president than the Clearstream scandal in France was getting out of hand, and nothing at all on the blog! Fortunately, at the moment the news from that quarter is coming so thick and at such a howling rate of speed that it wasn’t going to be hard to catch up. The latest despatches suggest that, firstly, it was De Villepin and Chirac, and secondly, that the victim-Nicolas Sarkozy-probably has something to hide too, as in any good film noir.
And that’s before you get on to the 300 million francs in the president’s secret Japanese bank account. Allegedly.
So what is a Clearstream and why is it a scandal? Clearstream is a bank clearing house in Luxembourg that permits banks to carry out international payments on a net basis, paying just the balance of their transactions in cash every business day. It has a bad reputation in France because of one Denis Robert, who has written three books alleging that it’s responsible for money laundering on a vast scale. But more relevantly, it’s also the supposed cause of a major political crisis. Continue reading →
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.
Germany isn’t the only EU country where serious ongoing economic problems are leading to political gridlock. Italy’s situation is no better, and arguably worse. This ‘worse’ aspect was pushed into the headlines yesterday by the resignation of Economy Minister Domenico Siniscalco. This is sending shock waves throughout the entire Italian political system. It still isn’t clear at the time of writing whether the Berlusconi government can survive, especially given the gravity of the underlying problem which is the need to make severe budget cuts when Italy is in a prolonged recession and elections loom sometime next spring.
About the bombings in London I have nothing useful to say, beyond expressing my sympathies for the wounded and bereaved and my admiration of Londoners’ stoic resolve. And as others, here and elsewhere, are expressing those things better than I could, I shall leave it to them to do so.
Instead I shall turn to another topic, one that is admittedly less dramatic, but important for all that. That topic is corporate governance; specifically, corporate governance as it is (or is not) implemented in Germany. In recent days German headlines have been full of two particularly interesting items: a corporate governance scandal of colossal proportions at a major firm, and now a significant governance reform that is unlikely to make top German managers very happy.