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Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Iceland: from boom to bust

The blog La moqueta verde has a very interesting post on the boom and bust of the Icelandic financial market.
The graph shows the sharp rise and sudden fall of the Icelandic OMX15 index, it’s just brutal.

From happiest nation in the world according to the UN just a year ago to a country shattered accepting a 2 billion dollar loan from the IMF to save whatever is left of its economy and contemplating the very serious threat of a brain drain that would leave little hope for a country with population 320,000 (that’s smaller than my hometown of Murcia).

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In praise of India

Today the 9th EU-India summit has kicked off in Marseille. As a student of South Asian affairs I would like to mark this event with a little reflection on India as one of the great hopes for our world in the 21st century.

When I arrived at SOAS to study politics I had to decide which region in Asia or Africa I wanted to specialise in. I had lived in China for two years so I already had a relative head start on East Asian history so that seemed like the safest choice. However there was something about South Asia, and specially India, which intrigued me, cultural pluralism.

India is home to 1.13 billion people, 21 official languages, 1,652 dialects and a vast number of different religious groups. India is so heteregoneous culturally that is hard to understand how such a vast country with such a tumultous history has been able to stay united and democratic since its independence for 61 years. The answer to that question is constitutional patriotism. The idea that the Indian nation, formed by all Indians without exception, is rooted in a set of common democratic values. In the privacy of his home one can follow his customs but once out in public a set of common rules are followed so to guarantee equality and social harmony. That unspoken value of respect and sacrifice for the common good shared by all Indians is what has kept the nation together and what fascinates me about this country.

But that’s not all, together with that sense of social responsibility comes one of political responsibility. Despite high economic growth during the years of BJP rule the lack of redistribution of that wealth was punished in the ballot box by India’s rural communities that put the Congress Party, and the current PM, Manmohan Singh, in power. India has kept growing but its people has let the political class know that the Chinese model of fast growth with complete disregard for its social impact isn’t going to happen there.

India’s past and present isn’t perfect. Poverty and social conflicts still exist within and the Kashmir and northeastern conflicts still cast a shadow over the future of the country. But a country that is able to elect a Muslim President and a Sikh PM, despite the fact that 800 million out of 1 billion of its citizens are Hindu, is to be admired and its unity in diversity celebrated.

And what issue is more important today to us in the West, at a time when our societies are becoming culturally more plural, than to build a common identity that belongs to us all but at the same time respects and celebrates our rich cultural diversity.

Europe can learn a lot from India and it is time for us to have a serious look at a country that despite all its defects and challenges is emerging as probably one of the most stable and admired nations in the new world order.

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The big picture: the economy

Two days ago the Spanish finance minister, Pedro Solbes, wrote an article for the FT in which he explained the situation of the Spanish economy and the way the government plans to face the current crisis.

This article should be a must read for Alistair Darling and his entire department.

When an economic crisis hits home there are two messages that any government needs to put out to the electorate, a big picture analysis of what is going on and secondly a clear set of measures (no flipflopping, please) to handle that big picture.

A comprehensive and consistent approach to the economy is the only way to reassure voters that the government is able to handle the situation. In his article Solbes clearly presents the big picture of the state of the Spanish economy, its strengths and weaknesses. Transparency is a must in these situations, Darling needs to come out and clearly describe the state of the British economy so when proposals are put out there to alleviate the crisis the electorate understands what problem each one of them is targetting specifically.

Reassurance, information and transparency for stakeholders are the key to any succesful business, this Labour government needs to follow that exact same path to revive its fortunes for a comeback during the conference season.

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Well! who would have thought so, I’m in shock, I’m in disbelief! Our very own Jose Maria Aznar, the rock star politician, is rumoured to be the father of the child expected by French Justice Minister Rachida Dati. The world is gone crazy: that’s a fact.

Those years playing squash are really starting to show Mr. President…

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Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP, has gone into another of his rants about his very amusing EU conspiracies. The tragic thing isn’t Hannan’s blogpost in the Telegraph (we are used to that) but Iain Dale’s follow-up that denotes how far the Tories are willing to go to paint their own picture on the EU.

The new Tory outcry is coming from the new set of rules approved by the European Parliament by which after the 2009 European elections parliamentary groups will only be formed if they can put together at least 25 MEPs from 7 different member states. I won’t go into detail of why this makes sense, Richard Corbett MEP explains it very well here. I want to focus instead on the Tories’ demagogy on this issue.

There are two points to be made here.

First of all, if we are serious about cutting costs in the EP a very good idea will be to make sure political parties get together in parliamentary groups (before anyone jumps I’m also in favour of the one seat campaign). As each group gets a budget for their campaigns, staff, etc. it makes sense to reduce the number of groups in the Parliament as far as all the political views are expressed freely. If one is a eurosceptic there is already a group in the Parliament to join, Independence and Democracy (UKIP is part of it), why do we need two different groups saying the same thing at double the cost? It makes no sense. Even within the Socialist group not all parties share the same view on social democracy, Labour and French socialists often clash on issues like further liberalisation etc. and no one is arguing for an extra Socialist Group for more liberal-minded parties.

My second point is related to Dale’s rather bizarre claim that this new set of rules prevents the Tories from leaving the EPP group. How is that? If, as Cameron has argued, the Tories would like to be part of a more eurosceptic parliamentary group, as mentioned before they are free to join UKIP in the Independence and Democracy group. How do the new rules stop the Tories from doing that? I think the reason is very different. What the Tories want is a new parliamentary group led by them, not by UKIP. Dale and others are scared that if the Tories join the Ind/Dem group they will be competing with UKIP for the same type of eurosceptic vote in Britain. That’s the real reason behind this sudden outcry from Hannan and Dale, they want their own group they can lead rather than being subjugated to Farage’s leadership within the already existing eurosceptic group.

It’s not that we want to stamp out opposition Iain, it’s that the Tories don’t want to be seen as second to UKIP on the Eurosceptic flag-waving that is so electorally profitable in Britain.

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Practice your French

A friend of mine has sent me a link to this new French online magazine called Rue89.

I had a look around and it seems really interesting. Its content is pretty mixed with some good curent affairs analysis from alternative perspectives (don’t worry, it’s not a Indymedia style lefty e-zine). It’s also pretty interactive with the reader in terms of public participation through comment, signed articles, etc.

In fact I read (struggled to read actually would be more accurate) a very interesting article on Rajendra Pachauri‘s opposition to India’s involvement with the reduction of CO2 emissions as agreed in today’s G8 summit. If you remember Pachauri received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 on behalf of the IPCC and together with Al Gore for their fight against climate change. Pachauri is quoted in the article defending the prioritisation by India of economic development over environmental concerns. This certainly raises the ultimate question on climate change, should the West pressure emerging economies to reduce their emissions even if it has a negative impact on poverty reduction?

All in all Rue89 is definitely worth to have a look at. A good way to practice one’s French while reading some interesting analysis on current affairs worldwide or even if it’s just to follow once more the annual self-destroying capacity of the French Socialist Party.

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The so-called Maroni census, named after Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, is the latest and gravest attempt in Europe to haunt inmigrants and violate their human rights.

The Maroni census created by the Berlusconi government aims at recording the identities of all Gypsies in Italy, but not just their identity also their ethnicity and religion. The census is an specific attempt to control the Gypsy community in Italy, both national and foreigners, and discriminate them for their ethnicity despite the Italian Constitution, and the EU charter for that matter, guarantee of equality independently of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc.

The Maroni census is the last example of ‘paranoia Europe’. Tougher laws that gamble with basic human rights both within the new European directive and national governments’ legislation. While the economic boom was happening we well used inmigrants to provide cheap labour and take care of our elderly, children and clean our houses. But when the bust has arrived we are being so ungrateful to those same people; we have made them scapegoats of an economic model we built and enjoyed.

It’s easy to attack inmigrants because they have no political voice in Europe. They are politically speaking second class citizens. Anti-immigration rhetoric is popular with natives and it doesn’t hurt because inmigrants don’t vote. Maybe it’s time to change that. The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) had its federal convention this past weekend in Madrid. The delegates approved a proposal to allow non-EU inmigrants residing in Spain to vote in local and regional elections. I applaud this action. The right to vote for legal inmigrants will show political parties that pseudo-racist and xenophobic populism has an electoral cost, moreover the inmigrant communities will gain a certain level of political power for their communities to be taken into account rather than marginalised (think of the French banlieus here).

An inmigration vote is the best thing that could happen to a Europe who was once proud of its openness. If inmigrants were to vote our politicians will think twice about using inmigration to manipulate the electorate. How are we to lecture other nations on human rights if we are unable to respect them ourselves?

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