The Israelis are pretty used to international condemnation. They weathered the storms over the attack on the Gaza Strip in 2009 and the invasion of southern Lebanon in 2006. The Israelis will not be enjoying the current wave of international condemnation, unleashed by their deadly assault on the blockade-busting ships bound for Gaza – but they will assume that it too will pass. Are they right?
There are three particular angles for the Israelis to worry about. First, that there will be some sort of new intifada. Second, the continued deterioration in their relationship with Turkey. Third, their fraying ties with the Obama administration. Read more
From a diplomatic point of view, last night’s German victory in the Eurovision song contest could not have been better timed. How fitting therefore that the nineteen-year-old chanteuse who carried off the title, Lena Meyer-Landrut, is from an old German diplomatic family. Her grandfather used to be German ambassador to the USSR. And I am sure that she must be related to Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, who is one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s closest diplomatic advisers.
I knew Nikolaus quite well in in Brussels. where he was first spokesman for the German government and then for Valery Giscard d’Estaing, when Giscard chaired the ill-fated constitutional convention. Nikolaus was a charming and cultivated guy – but he was not exactly what you would call a song-and-dance man. Rather tightly wound, I always thought - although he did once let me interview him in a telephone kiosk. (There was nowhere else to sit.) Anyway, dear blog-readers, if somebody can pin down the relationship between Nikolaus and Lena Meyer-Landrut, I would be most grateful. Read more
When the European Union works well, the co-operation of three crucial partners is vital: France, Germany and the European Commission. It was the alliance of the Franco-German couple, allied to a powerful commission president in the shape of Jacques Delors, that led to the creation of a single European currency.
So it is a sign of the huge disarray at the heart of the European Union that the current president of the commission, José Manuel Barroso, is feuding openly with the German government. Even a few years ago, this would have been unthinkable. But now Barroso is calling German plans to re-open the Lisbon Treaty “naive”, criticising Germany for being too slow to act on the Greek bail-out, and pointedly reminding the Germans that the euro was all their idea in the first place. German ministers, meanwhile, have responded with even more aggressive language – openly calling Barroso’s charges “absurd”. Privately, top officials in Berlin have been cruelly dismissive of the commission president for months, accusing him of grovelling to secure his re-appointment. Read more
When a regime as brutal, unpredictable and desperate as North Korea puts itself on a war footing and severs all ties with its bitter enemy to the South, then the world has every reason to be worried. Under the circumstances, a fall of just over 3% in the South Korean stock market sounds like a fairly moderate response.
The markets obviously think the risk of war is still fairly small. And I think – and hope – that the markets are right. The fact is that neither side has a real reason for wanting conflict. The North Korean government would risk a humiliating defeat and a loss of power. Unlike in the Korean War, it has no external backer to come to its rescue. South Korea is a rich, sophistictated society with a rising international profile – why should it risk all that, by being sucked into a conflict with its crazy neighbour to the North? Most South Koreans also have zero desire to shed the blood of their unfortunate compatriots. Read more
Everybody’s favourite moment in The Graduate is when the film’s hero is cornered by one of his parents’ friends. The older man’s advice to Benjamin Braddock consists of just one word – “plastics”. Something similar keeps happening to me at international conferences. I will be minding my own business, when a delegate will get up with a gleam in his eye and announce portentously – “shale gas!”
Continue reading “Shale gas will change the world” Read more
Paddy Power, the Irish bookmakers, have a flair for offering bets that make a headline. Here is a good one. They have set odds for which country will be the first to leave the euro. The favourite obviously is Greece – at a rather ungenerous 11/8. But I was most attracted to the sixth favourite, which is Germany offered at 12-1. Given the current state of German public opinion, I think that might be quite a good bet – although it is not clear what the time-frame offered is. Imagine if Germany does indeed become the first country to leave the euro – but in 2025 – and I have lost the betting slip.
Consulting Paddy Power’s odds on who is going to win the World Cup, I see they have Germany at 14-1. In other words, they think that Germany is more likely to abandon its currency and unleash political turmoil in Europe than to win a soccer tournament that it has already captured three times. Read more
For connoisseurs of British class distinctions, I would particularly recommend this article by Ben Macintyre, on the subtle distinctions between David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Both posh – but in different ways, it seems. My favourite line is where Macintyre notes that Clegg’s Russian great uncle was”clubbed to death by his own peasants, which carries a certain aristo cachet.”
For those interested in Thailand, here is an audio slideshow that I put together with the Ft.com team yesterday. And I can also recommend Joshua Kurzlantick’s piece in Foreign Policy. Less sophisticated, perhaps, than McCargo’s piece that I linked to yesterday – but still definitely worth reading. Read more
There are two rival narratives about what is happening in Thailand. According to the first story, a privileged elite has decided to hold onto power by gunning down unarmed demonstrators, drawn from the rural poor, on the streets of Bangkok. This makes Thailand today sound like a replay of the French Revolution – only with the royalist reactionaries winning.
But according to the rival narrative, a sinister and thuggish protest movement – manipulated by an exiled billionaire with a criminal record – has been holding Thailand to ransom by occupying the capital city and making normal business and government impossible. The constitutional government has offered to hold early elections to defuse the protests, but was spurned. It had no option but to act. Read more
With the enactment of the Lisbon treaty late last year, some European leaders allowed themselves to dream of a new world order – one in which the European Union was finally recognised as a global superpower, to rank alongside the US and China.
In the past few weeks, Europe has certainly got the world’s attention – but not in the way that it had hoped. Rather than admiring the EU for its dynamism and power, the rest of the world is watching the unfolding economic crisis in Europe with fascination and horror. Observing the struggle to save the euro from Washington or Beijing is a bit like watching a car crash on the other side of the road. It is bad enough being a spectator – but there is the added fear that you will be hit by flying debris. Read more
A week of political and economic turmoil across the European continent has left British politics looking more European; and European politics looking more British.
Britain now has the type of coalition government that seems perfectly normal in Germany, Italy or the Netherlands, but which is deeply alien to the UK’s tradition of adversarial politics and strong one-party government. Meanwhile, the debt crisis in the eurozone has created a political and economic atmosphere reminiscent of Britain during the heyday of Thatcherism: riots in the streets in Athens; a confrontation with public-sector workers in Spain; a Eurosceptic backlash in Germany led by populist tabloid newspapers. Read more