Monthly Archives: November 2012

What does the vote upgrading Palestine’s status at the UN to “non-member state” with observer status actually mean? Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, was quick to rubbish the vote as essentially meaningless in her speech. She could be right. But it all hinges on whether the Palestinians will now be able to pursue the Israelis through the International Criminal Court in the Hague. If that happens, then this really is a big deal. If the ICC does not come into play, then today’s vote matters a lot less.

As far as I can gather the legal situation is very unclear – and different lawyers take different views on whether Palestine’s new status will allow it to use the ICC. Inevitably, politics will also come into play. It would be a bold and risky decision for a fledgling institution like the ICC to go after Israel, since that would immediately and possibly permanently sour relations with the US. Most of the European powers would also be opposed. The reason that Britain abstained on today’s vote, for example, was this hovering question of the ICC and the refusal of the Palestinians to give assurances that they would not head straight for the Hague. On the contrary, Mahmoud Abbas hinted heavily in his speech that he was considering doing exactly that. Read more

In the latest in a series of disagreements, Turkey’s prime minister and president have clashed over a popular Ottoman-themed soap opera.  Read more

The advances made in recent weeks by a group of rebel soldiers calling themselves M23 have laid bare the frailty of the Congolese state. They have also underlined the continuing and disruptive influence on the country’s politics by its smaller eastern neighbours, particularly Rwanda. But who are M23? And what do they hope to achieve?  Read more

If I could be a fly on the wall, I would skip today’s White House lunch between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. I would rather be buzzing around the caddy when the president next plays golf with John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House.

For a start, no alcohol will be served. Mr Romney’s Mormon faith will forbid him from even accepting a coffee. This puts a ceiling on the potential for candid disclosures – convivial or otherwise. Any half-educated fly knows why the Latin phrase in camomile tea veritas was never coined.

But even if Mr Romney received some kind of a religious waiver and agreed to do a round of tequila shots with the president, this fly would still head for better walls in Washington. For all the White House’s piety about consulting Mr Romney on how to run the federal government better – the main topic of discussion according to Jay Carney, the White House press secretary – real business is unlikely to be conducted. Read more

What’s next in Egypt following protests against Morsi?
Almost two years after the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Cairo’s Tahrir Square is once again the scene of angry demonstrations. This time, however, the object of protestors’ anger is Mohamed Morsi, an elected president and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose proposed reforms of presidential powers have sparked accusations that he is setting up a new dictatorship. Heba Saleh, Cairo correspondent, and Roula Khalaf, Middle East editor, join Gideon Rachman to discuss what’s next for Egypt.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde arrives at Monday’s eurogroup meeting where Greek deal was struck.

When eurozone finance minsters announced their long-delayed deal to overhaul Greece’s second bailout early Tuesday morning, there was much they didn’t disclose.

The most glaring was how big a highly-touted bond buyback programme would be, a question dodged repeatedly at a post-deal news conference. But there were other things that were left out of a two-page statement summing up the deal, including how much the European Central Bank was making on its Greek bond holdings, profits that will be returned to Athens as part of the agreement.

It turns out, those were not the only – or even the biggest – unanswered questions left after the early-morning deal. As we report in today’s dead-tree edition of the FT, ministers failed to find enough debt relief measures to get to the purported Greek debt target of 124 per cent of economic output by 2020, far above the 120 per cent target set in February.

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Built five years ago, Myanmar's capital is still eerily quiet. (AFP)

At Naypyidaw’s international airport, members of staff in stylish uniforms are at their posts behind ranks of check-in counters. The large departure hall is brightly lit and the air temperature pleasantly cooled. Two pilots and a glamorous young air hostess in traditional Burmese dress breeze across the polished marble floor of a terminal that would grace any European capital.

The only thing missing in this palace of modernity is passengers.

The airport was completed last December on the edge of a ghostly city that had itself not formally existed until November of 2005. After several years of construction, the generals who then ran Myanmar announced without warning that they had built a new capital in the interior of the country 200 miles north of Yangon. Government ministries were to relocate immediately.

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Another late-night Brussels meeting, though this one less shambolic than last week’s. The eurogroup announced it had managed to add up some numbers on a spreadsheet that has been kicking around and agree a debt reduction deal for Greece.

The IMF, which had been digging its heels over the need for the other two troika members to fill Greece’s financing gap, professed itself satisfied, even though the Greek debt:GDP ratio was projected at 124% in 2020 rather than the 120% the Fund had apparently drawn as a line in the sand two weeks ago.

Actually, as we reported after last week’s inconclusive eurogroup meeting, the Fund had already backed away from the 120% target in return for sharper reductions in the years following. That suggests it probably wasn’t a good idea to make a fuss about the figure in the first place, as it now makes it appear that, for the nth time, the IMF gave its assent to a deal it wasn’t happy with. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Anybody might think that Susan Rice is gearing up for a confirmation hearing. Last week, the US ambassador to the UN tweeted: “I condemn today’s cowardly terrorist attack targeting innocents on a Tel Aviv bus.” Yet trawling back through her Twitter feed over the previous week, there is no indication that innocents might be dying anywhere else in the Middle East. The word “Gaza” is noticeable by its absence – although the ambassador did find time to hail America’s Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Mark Carney (Getty)If anyone should understand the benefits of open markets, it is a central bank. The Canadian Mark Carney’s appointment as Bank of England governor (unexpected, mainly because he had said he wasn’t interested) is a significant step even for a country that has had German, Swedish and Italian national football coaches, a Zimbabwean national cricket coach and various Dutch and German heads of state.

But it is not unprecedented. The Bank of England (more accurately HM Treasury, which makes these appointments) has form in bringing in foreigners. Read more

Ceasefire agreed in Gaza but will the calm hold?
After a short and bloody conflict in which at least 152 Palestinians and 5 Israelis died, a ceasefire has been declared between Israel and Hamas. In this week’s podcast, Gideon Rachman is joined by Tobias Buck in Gaza City and Middle East editor Roula Khalaf to discuss the recent fighting and its implications for the wider region

One of this morning’s reports from the EU summit is headlined – “David Cameron fails to cut EU bureaucrats pay and perks“. With the EU budget talks collapsing on Friday afternoon, it appears to be true, at least for now. And it’s a great shame. I know that sentiment will deeply irritate my friends in the EU bureaucracy – some of whom have been emailing me to point out that spending on administration is a mere €6bn a year, which is less than 6% of total EU spending. Even so, there is plenty of waste in the EU budget that could be easily sliced away.

What is true is that one element of Cameron’s approach – which is to suggest a 10% cut in the budget for pay – is potentially too crude. Not all EU operatives are overpaid. Some of the lawyers, for example, have relatively modest salaries by private-sector standards. Rather than an across-the-board cut in pay it would be much more productive to start eliminating entire agencies, functions and perks. This would cut the payroll and the budget, while preserving the bits of the EU that actually do something useful. Here are some candidates for the chop. Read more

In Israel and the Gaza Strip, there might be no real winners from the week-long conflict that ended last night. But there is already a clear loser, writes Roula Khalaf – he is Mahmoud Abbas and he is the president of the Palestinian Authority. Read more

Buenos Aires is basking in the balmy mid-20s. But it’s not just because the southern hemisphere summer is on its way that the temperature is rising for President Cristina Fernández, says JP Rathbone. Read more

Chris Cook, the FT’s education correspondent, on how the WISE conference in Qatar showcased alternative attitudes towards learning and knowledge.  Read more

Anglo-French relations could hamper negotiations over UK nuclear power stations. Image by Getty

Another European summit, and another step in the progressive disengagement of the UK from the core of Europe. I wonder if the UK government appreciates the impact of what is happening on the real world of business? Let’s take just one example. Relations between Britain and France are at a very low ebb. No one is throwing plates but there is now a mood of mutual indifference, which, as anyone who has lived through a bad marriage will tell you, is worse.

I was in Paris this week visiting the Banque de France. The Banque’s senior management were as ever exquisitely polite, but the sense of distance from the UK was unmistakeable.

Anglo-French relations are always complicated but the current round of problems really began with Franςois Hollande’s visit to London at the end of February. Mr Hollande was at that time a candidate rather than Le Président de la République. He was clearly ahead in the polls and judged likely to win by the most experienced observers of the French scene. But Mr Cameron, usually a model of politeness when it comes to personal relations, refused to see him.

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