Monthly Archives: December 2011

By Gideon Rachman

It has been many centuries since the Mediterranean Sea was the centre of civilisation. But in 2011 the Med was back – not just as a holiday destination – but at the very centre of world affairs. This was a year of global indignation, from the Occupy Wall Street movement to the Moscow election protests and China’s village revolts. It was popular protests on either side of the Mediterranean – in Tahrir Square in Cairo and Syntagma Square in Athens – that set the tone for 2011.

With just days to go before the Republican Party caucus in Iowa, Ron Paul, a 74-year-old libertarian, is now in the lead. Up until now the MSM (that includes me) have written Paul off as just too kooky to win. But maybe he really will emerge on top, when Iowans vote next week.

I wouldn’t count on it, however. Not for nothing has the Republican race been compared to a circular firing squad. The pattern is now well-established. A candidate briefly emerges from the pack, and is then subjected to withering fire from all the other hopefuls. Once the new front-runner is mown down, Mitt Romney bobs up again as the leader. So we have had the Rick Perry boomlet, followed by the backlash. Then Herman Cain led and was destroyed by stories of sexual harassment and adultery. Then Newt Gingrich rose to the top – before being dragged back by stories of adultery, lobbying, hypocrisy etc etc. Now it is Ron Paul’s turn to lead – and to be subjected to a fusillade of criticism in his turn. This long piece from the New York Times details his appeal to unsavoury groups like the Montana militia. Read more

Every year, I try to make sense of the preceding 12 months, by writing a column that lists the five most significant events of the year. Here are my efforts from 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006.

This year, there are plenty of big events jostling for attention – and I would like to appeal to readers of the blog for some help. Which ones should I focus on, in my end-of-year column, due on December 30th? The Arab Spring obviously – but does one episode rank above another: the flight of Ben Ali, the fall of Mubarak, Nato intervention in Libya. Maybe they all deserve separate listings? It’s a similar question with the European debt crisis. This was a year-long event, but was there a particular moment that stood out? Read more

Arab Spring special
Gideon Rachman is joined on the podcast by David Gardner, international affairs editor, and Roula Khalaf, Middle East editor, to discuss the major geopolitical upheaval of 2011: the Arab Spring.

By Gideon Rachman
For half a decade the war in Iraq was the most controversial and important issue in international politics. But when the American military slipped out of the country last week, the world hardly noticed

The eurozone after Cameron’s veto, and the Durban climate talks
Shawn Donnan, Ben Hall and Peter Spiegel discuss the eurozone crisis following Cameron’s treaty veto, while Clive Cookson talks to Pilita Clark about the outcome of the Durban climate change talks.

A fairly extraordinary attack by Christian Noyer, the head of the Bank of France, on the credit-rating agencies and on Britain’s AAA rating seems to confirm what Le Monde was saying last night – a French downgrade is on its way.

It’s all pretty grim, even if you are sitting smugly on the other side of the channel. So it is nice to find something to laugh at. This comment from Tom K beneath the FT’s story on Noyer’s comments, made me laugh: ‘your mother is a ‘amster and your father smells of elderberries’ :-)) I fart in your general direction
life imitates art…

Normally I disapprove of quoting Monty Python. But I think it’s fair enough in this case. Read more

It is not for the first time that late-night eurozone summit announcements are looking ragged in the daylight.

The €200bn the EU was supposed to contribute to the IMF (€150bn eurozone, €50bn non-eurozone) turns out not to include certain contributors (for example the UK, until the initiative turns into a global funding round, and Estonia).

The global funding round won’t happen until the eurozone gets its act in gear, and the odd numbers that are dribbling out of capitals so far — maybe €10bn from Moscow, maybe €8bn-€10bn from Brasilia — are underwhelming. Read more

The latest polls in the race for the Republican Party nomination are pretty stunning. One puts Newt Gingrich no less than 17 points ahead of his nearest rival. If Gingrich does indeed win the nomination, it will be striking proof that political commentators are not nearly as powerful as some people reckon. In recent days, Gingrich has been the subject of some devastating attacks. Strikingly, the most withering articles have actually come from the ranks of his fellow conservatives. Read more

The Russian winter has helped the country to repel foreign invaders, from Napoleon to Hitler. Might it now also help Vladimir Putin to hang onto power? Read more

By Pilita Clark and Andrew England in Durban

He was young, he was from French-speaking Senegal, and his English was excellent. But at the end of yet another briefing in English at the UN climate talks this week, he made an urgent plea. “This subject is so technical it makes it very difficult for those who speak English as a second language,” he said. “So please could we have translators at the next briefing?”

Good luck, muttered a nearby native English speaker. “We can’t understand most of it either.” Read more

David Cameron arrives for the EU summit. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

Welcome back to our live coverage of the eurozone crisis. By Tom Burgis and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura on the  newsdesk in London, with contributions from FT correspondents around the world. All times are GMT.

A summit  in Brussels ended in deep division, with the UK refusing to back a new treaty for all 27 EU members and leaving the eurozone countries plus at least six others to forge ahead with a pact of their own to enshrine strict new rules on deficits and debt. It was meant to be the summit that would decisively chart a course out of the eurozone’s debt crisis. 

19.03 That’s the end of our live coverage today. We’ll leave you with a quick summary of the day’s developments. See for more news and analysis through the evening.

  • The European Union’s 27 leaders, minus David Cameron, struck a deal in the early hours to draw up a treaty by March that would bind them to strict new rules on debt and deficits, with automatic sanctions for countries that break them
  • The UK courted isolation as it refused to sign up to a treaty for all 27 members after David Cameron’s early-hours pitch for safeguards to protect UK financial services met a chilly reception from his counterparts
  • Markets were volatile before a tentative rally lifted equities in Europe and the US. The euro strengthened against the dollar but yields on Italian and Spanish bonds climbed once again
  • The IMF welcomed the European deal, which included €200bn for the fund to ensure it has enough cash to deal with any more fallout from the eurozone crisis, with Christine Lagarde, its head, saying she was “hopeful that others will also do their part”

 Read more

Egyptian elections, pressure on Iran and demonstrations in Moscow

This week, Gideon Rachman talks to Roula Khalaf, Middle East editor, about the results of the Egyptian elections, where Islamist parties have won almost two-thirds of the vote and discusses the growing international pressure on Iran with James Blitz, defence and diplomatic editor. Also this week, David Crouch, Europe news editor, talks to Charles Clover, Moscow bureau chief, about the demonstrations in Moscow against Vladimir Putin. Read more

The British delegation that set off for the European Union summit in Brussels today was in no doubt that it faced a rough ride. The British are being accused of worsening the crisis, by adopting a hardline negotiating position. This is regarded as a little unfair in London. As a senior member of the British delegation puts it – “You can blame Britain for lots of things. But we didn’t invent the euro.” Read more

eurocoasterWelcome back to our live coverage of the eurozone crisis. By Tom Burgis, Esther Bintliff and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura on the  newsdesk in London, with contributions from FT correspondents around the world. All times are GMT.

Europe’s leaders gathered in Brussels for another crunch summit. Expectations are running high for a new grand bargain to restore sanity to the eurozone’s finances and chart a course out of the debt crisis. Also today:

  • The European Central Bank cut interest rates by a quarter point to 1 per cent, as expected, and announced that it would accept more forms of collateral and offer longer-term loans to try to protect the banking system
  • Mario Draghi, ECB president, poured cold water on hopes the central bank was poised to take more aggressive action
  • The European banking authority unveiled its updated stress tests of 70 banks, which tripled the capital shortfall for the German banking sector and pushed up the Europe-wide deficit from €106bn in October to €115bn now

20:15: We’re winding up the liveblog for tonight, but you can follow the rest of the action at and we’ll be back again on Friday morning. Thanks for reading and for all the comments. Bon courage!

19.54: BREAKING – Peter Spiegel, the FT’s Brussels bureau chief, has this scoop from the summit:

EU leaders have begun their late-starting summit, and they were given a 6-page draft of their conclusions at the start. According to people who have seen it, some of the most interesting new language is on the eurozone bail-out funds.

The current version says the existing €440bn fund, the EFSF, will continue running for another 2 years financing its current programmes – which would not be transferred to the new fund, the €500bn ESM.

That would free up the ESM’s resources, giving the eurozone significantly more firepower, with the two funds running in parallel.

The conclusions say the ESM would have its maximum €500bn lending capacity, regardless of how much the EFSF is committed to.

That could mean as much as €200bn in new “bazooka” weaponry.

embed1  Read more

Welcome back to our live coverage of the eurozone crisis. By Tom Burgis on the  newsdesk in London, with contributions from FT correspondents around the world. All times are GMT.

18.25 That’s the end of our live coverage of the eurozone crisis today. We’ll be back tomorrow morning for a day that includes the ECB rates decision and Mario Draghi’s press conference, as well as the meeting of centre-right European leaders in Marseille ahead of the start of the EU summit in Brussels in the evening. And, just as the leaders tuck in their napkins for a working dinner, the European banking authority will unveil the details of which banks need to raise what capital.

We’ll leave you with a round-up of today’s developments. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

In retrospect, it was all desperately naive. Read more

Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel prior to their meeting at the Elysee Palace on Monday. Photo: Remy de la Mauvinere/AP

Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel before their meeting at the Elysee palace on Monday. Photo: Remy de la Mauvinere/AP

Welcome back to our live coverage of the eurozone crisis. By Esther Bintliff on the world news desk in London, with contributions from FT correspondents around the world.

This post should update automatically every few minutes, but it may take longer on mobile devices. All times are GMT.


19.40: So, after a relatively quiet morning, this afternoon and evening have proved to be a bit of a rollercoaster.

  • First, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel surprised everyone by announcing they had reached “comprehensive agreement” on a new set of fiscal rules ahead of the EU summit later this week. Of course we knew they were going to meet, but to be honest, we hadn’t expected them to say very much in public at this stage. So stock markets rallied, bond yields fell and suddenly it looked like a resolution to the eurozone crisis might be in sight…
  • Then, just when you thought it might be safe etc etcthis story broke. In brief: Standard and Poor’s has warned Germany and the five other triple A members of the eurozone that they risk having their top-notch ratings downgraded as a result of deepening economic and political turmoil in the single currency bloc. The US ratings agency is poised to announce later on Monday that it is putting Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, and Luxembourg on “creditwatch negative”, meaning there is a one-in-two chance of a downgrade within 90 days.

Understandably, investors took fright, and stock markets pared many of the gains made earlier in the day. There will be more news on this story tonight – see for all the latest. In the meantime thanks for reading, and for all the comments. Read more

I have often hesitated over whether to describe Russia as a democracy. Yes, the country has elections. But so much about the political system seemed to be rigged: from the harassment of the political opposition, to the slavishly favourable coverage given on television to Vladimir Putin and the United Russia party. There were also frequent rumours of ballot-box stuffing during elections. But, whatever the flaws of Russian democracy, it is robust enough to have delivered a genuine slap-in-the-face to Putin’s United Russia party, which looks as if it could well lose its majority in the Duma, after the elections today. Read more

The original Socrates died thousands of years ago after being forced to drink hemlock. The modern version died yesterday, aged 57, after an intestinal infection. Socrates was captain of the Brazilian football team, but looked charmingly like an Athenian philosopher. His fantastic performances in the 1982 World Cup also provoked one of the great lines in football commentary - “And Socrates scores a goal that sums up the philosophy of Brazilian football.” A shame that he won’t be around when the World Cup is played in Brazil in 2014.