Lex: Greece/Goldman (FT)
Europe’s bear problem (Charlemagne, The Economist)
Greek shipping has enjoyed a surprisingly good year. But there are difficult times ahead for an industry that faces increased competition and dangerous levels of overcapacity.
Nothing illustrates the sensitivity of the European Union’s relationship with Israel better than the statement which EU foreign ministers issued on Monday complaining about the use of forged European passports in last month’s killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the Hamas commander, in Dubai. The statement contained several sentences that were masterpieces of waffle, such as the following: “The EU … believes that its passports remain among the most secure in the world, fully meeting all international standards.”
The statement was, however, remarkable chiefly for its reluctance to spell out that the EU holds Israel responsible for the flagrant misuse of identity documents belonging to European citizens. It could hardly be otherwise, of course. There is insufficient evidence at this stage to state with certainty that Israel’s agents used the false passports and killed Mabhouh. Instead, it was left to a couple of EU foreign ministers to conduct some finger-wagging in one-on-one meetings with Avigdor Lieberman, their combative Israeli counterpart, who just happened to be in Brussels on Monday.
You know that the European Union is in trouble when Russia offers more intelligent advice on the eurozone’s debt crisis than Spain, the country that holds the EU’s rotating presidency. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, disclosed the other day that he had recommended to George Papandreou, Greece’s prime minister, that the Greek government should request assistance from the International Monetary Fund to sort out its problems.
This is exactly the course of action advocated by several non-eurozone EU countries as well as a host of distinguished economists and, dare I say it, the editorial writers of the Financial Times. As it happens, I don’t agree – if by IMF assistance we mean financial help. The IMF will be involved, along with the European Central Bank, the European Commission and eurozone finance ministers, in monitoring Greece’s public finances and providing technical aid as required.
Two thoughts spring to mind when you consider the appointment of João Vale de Almeida, a Portuguese Eurocrat, as the European Union’s next ambassador to the US. The first is that the EU seems to be retreating from its experiment of placing a political heavyweight in Washington to speak up for Europe. John Bruton, the EU’s outgoing envoy, is a former Irish prime minister whose face was well-known in the White House and on Capitol Hill when he got the job in 2004.
Vale de Almeida is familiar to certain US officials – he has been the European Commission’s top liaison man for G8 and G20 meetings. But as a civil servant who started his career with the Commission in Lisbon back in 1982, he has never been elected to office, has never served as a government minister and altogether lacks the profile of someone like Bruton. Americans are already struggling to recall which two figures were chosen last year as the EU’s first full-time president and new head of foreign policy. Now they have a third obscure European name to remember.
Yulia Tymoshenko’s refusal to acknowledge Viktor Yanukovich as the legitimate winner of Ukraine’s presidential election is starting to embarrass her friends in the European Union. The White House, Nato and the EU have all congratulated Yanukovich on his victory. The longer Tymoshenko maintains her defiant stance, the more it will cost her in terms of prestige and contacts in Europe.
Only last December I saw the red carpet rolled out for Tymoshenko at a congress in Bonn of the centre-right European People’s Party, the biggest party in the European Parliament. Everyone was there – German chancellor Angela Merkel, EU president Herman Van Rompuy, French premier François Fillon, Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, etc. Tymoshenko was one of the star attractions from the “new” eastern Europe.
Solving Greece’s current debt crisis is just the start of fixing the economy.
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