Monthly Archives: May 2012

AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

An opposition activist during a protest on May 31. AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

Vladimir Putin’s popularity ratings are likely to be causing a bit of concern in Russia’s ruling circles, as a March election bump in his approval scores appears to be evaporating – and the president’s rating has fallen back to territory seen early in the last decade.

On Thursday, the Public Opinion Foundation, a respected polling agency that works for the Kremlin, published figures showing the number of Russians answering “Do you trust Vladimir Putin?” with ‘Yes’ stood at 48 per cent at the end of May, down from 55 per cent March when he won re-election with 63 per cent of the vote.  Read more

Alan Beattie

Some renewed interest in this perennial surprise fact, which apparently busts national stereotyping WIDE OPEN – the diligent Greeks work more (average 2109 hours/year) than the OECD average (1749 hours/year), second only to the South Koreans. And the idle Germans are among the lowest (1419 hours a year).

Amazing? Not really. These numbers clump together part-time and full-time workers, and Greece has proportionately more full-timers than part-timers (89.8%) compared with the OECD average (84.4%), which bumps up the number. Read more

Tony Barber

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

How much infrastructure does a European country need? The question occurs to me every time I hear about the European Union’s plans for a “growth pact” to complement “austerity”. One invariable component of these well-intentioned plans is extra investment in roads, railways, airports and so on.

The assumption seems to be that austerity-asphyxiated European countries, many of which are in the Mediterranean, will breathe more freely if they receive funds to build more infrastructure. If so, it is a lazy assumption. Read more

Neil Buckley

A still from the BBC Panorama documentary Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate. BBC/PA Wire

A still from BBC Panorama's 'Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate'. BBC/PA Wire

These are sensitive times in Poland.

Polish media spent most of Tuesday in hand-wringing outrage over a BBC Panorama documentary highlighting the problems of football-related racist violence in both Poland and Ukraine – little over a week before they host the Euro 2012 championships. Read more

Edward Luce

Donald Trump in April 2012. Photo: Getty Images

Donald Trump in April 2012. Photo: Getty Images

Anyone wondering if there is well-concealed method behind the Romney campaign’s continued fraternisation with Donald Trump should watch the following video. Compiled by a Democratic group after Mr Trump’s return foray into “birtherism” this week, it shows what a whopper of a gift the tycoon presents to the Obama campaign. The ad ends with a clip of Mr Romney’s declaration that he likes “to be able to fire people who provide me with services”. The man with the perfect hair should start by firing the man with the imperfect hair. Read more

Esther Bintliff

A UN observer takes pictures of bodies of people killed in Houla. Reuters/Shaam News Network

A UN observer photographs the bodies of some of those killed in Houla. Reuters/Shaam News Network

As images of the victims of last week’s Houla massacre were broadcast around the world, and the stories of their deaths began to be told, the wave of outrage and horror in the international community gained force. The White House denounced an act of “unspeakable and inhuman brutality”; the UK foreign secretary spoke of an “appalling crime”; the UN security council condemned the “outrageous use of force against [a] civilian population”, and said it constituted a “violation of applicable international law”.

Yet for all this, the next step is troublingly unclear. The killing of 108 civilians, among them 49 children, was only the latest in a series of atrocities that have taken place under the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria in the past 14 months. More than 9,000 Syrians are thought to have died in this period, including members of the security forces or suspected regime sympathisers who were killed by the armed opposition. While UN envoy Kofi Annan says that a “tipping point” in the crisis has now been reached, the UN security council itself remains hindered by the positions of Russia and China, both of whom have dug in their heels against external intervention. So what are the arguments for and against action, and what form could it take? Read more

Gideon Rachman


Gerard Cerles/AFP/Getty Images

The latest Pew poll on Europe has been given the provocative headline “European unity on the rocks”. And the survey results do indeed show that in six of eight countries surveyed, majorities believe that European integration has damaged their economies.

This is now true even of Spain (by a narrow majority) – and of France, Italy and Britain by large majorities. The only two places surveyed where majorities still think the EU has been good for prosperity are (predictably), Germany and Poland. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Is this the moment when the world moves from “we can’t do anything” to “we have to do something”? The shock of the massacre of more than 100 people in the Syrian town of Houla, accompanied by horrifying pictures of dead children, is reminiscent of the impact of the shelling of Sarajevo market in 1994. The next day, the UN secretary-general called for air strikes on Serb positions surrounding Sarajevo.

Tony Barber

Costas Mitropoulos, chief executive of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, otherwise known as Greece’s privatisation agency, is the most eloquent advocate of selling off state property I have ever met. Once he actually starts doing it, he will be an unchallenged master of his craft. Read more

Gideon Rachman

A mass burial for victims killed in Houla. REUTERS/Shaam News Network

Will the massacre in Houla prove a tipping point in the Syrian crisis? International action has so far been ineffective. Now there is fresh talk of action from the Security Council.

But I am still sceptical. The factors that have prevented effective international intervention to date are still in place. They include big-power rivalries, a divided opposition and a powerful Syrian army. Certainly talking to people last week in Turkey – which is the base for most of the Syrian opposition – I got the sense that people were increasingly resigned to a long and bloody conflict. Read more