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Barack Obama knows a thing or two about winning elections and having pressed Italy’s Mario Monti into running for prime minister in next month’s elections, the US president is also lending some advice.
Mr Monti, long-time economics professor and former EU commissioner who was appointed technocrat prime minister in late 2011, has never run for elective office in his life, and it shows.
Enter David Axelrod, Mr Obama’s two-time campaign strategist, who responding to a report in Turin’s La Stampa, confirms to my FT Washington colleague Richard McGregor that his old firm AKPD Message and Media has been hired by Mr Monti. Mr Axelrod says he had been retained “to take a look and come in for a day to meet with Monti and his team, which I did.” He adds for transparency’s sake: “I no longer have an interest in AKPD.” Read more
The future of the UK in the EU is, of course, already a subject of fierce debate. Everybody can see that the chances of a British departure have increased. The question is by how much.
I was interested to discover from a private conversation with a very senior continental official that his worry is that the rest of the EU really does not need this diversion of attention from its immediate concern, which is the reform of the eurozone.
He referred to two specific risks.
First, he is worried that the very fact that the UK may be on the way out will shake confidence in the future of the eurozone. As he noted, people in Asia or the Americas do not understand the details. They will just regard this British decision as calling into question the vitality of the European project, partly, no doubt, because the UK has deep relations with these parts of the world. Read more
The financial panics are over. Now we must deal with the longer-term aftermath.
I advanced this thesis at a private dinner last night and, to my surprise, Nouriel Roubini agreed with me. More precisely, he agreed that “tail risk” had been sharply reduced.
The big change of the last 12 months has, of course, been in the eurozone. This has something to do with policy improvements in vulnerable countries, particularly Italy and Spain. It has even more to do with the willingness of the European Central Bank, under the redoubtable Mario Draghi, to use its power to reduce break-up risk and offer potentially unlimited liquidity to banks and sovereigns under stress. Read more
By Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children
David Cameron’s speech yesterday was a source of much speculation, interpretation and voicing of opinions here at Davos, even though delivered in London. This is hardly surprising when so much hangs in the balance, not just for the future of the UK but for Europe too.
A lot is also at stake in the UK prime minister’s next speech, starting soon here. Some 2.3 million children’s lives each year, 20 percent of earning power and up to 3 percent of countries’ GDPs. This is the impact of global malnutrition on today’s children and tomorrow’s workforce.
During the height of Olympic fever last year, Cameron hosted a Hunger Summit where global leaders pledged to reduce the number of children left stunted by malnutrition by 25 million by the next Olympics in 2016. I’m hoping Cameron will keep the momentum going by announcing today a follow-up meeting in advance of the G8. This hidden issue needs the attention of the G8 and G20. Read more
By Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children
The funny thing about the whole concept of the World Economic Forum bringing together all these different people from different countries and sectors, is that I’m not sure they actually talk to each other.
At a lunch on East vs (sic) West the packed room looked pretty thin on non-anglos, while a series of men offered mono focal views of just Europe, just China and just the US (and at the end a prominent FT journalist pronounced that he had never heard such outrageous claims).
I noticed today (prompted by a trek out of town to meet the Ethiopians) that different continents hang out in different hotels. An exception would be my hotel where there are fellow Brits plus Koreans – but we never talk and breakfast is conducted in earie silence. Read more
As our colleagues in the mountains don boots, bobble hats and gloves for day two of Davos, here’s some reading material from the comfort of the FT’s London office to help you limber up for Thursday’s talk-fest.
David Cameron’s speech yesterday on Britain’s future in Europe provided much fodder for journalists – with reaction from leaders across the continent and further. Le Monde’s Marc Roche takes the theme of tact to interpret his speech, while in Der Spiegel Christoph Scheuermann argues that Cameron “missed an opportunity on Wednesday to haul Britain back to the centre of Europe“. The New York Times’ Andrew Higgins writes that “while the acute phase of the financial crisis has passed, the challenge to Europe’s mission and even its membership has not”. Cameron will be taking to a podium again this morning, this time in Davos. Read more
Coverage of Thursday’s highlights at the World Economic Forum will include contributions from Angela Merkel, David Cameron and Henry Kissinger, brought to you by the FT’s team of reporters and columnists in Davos and by Ben Fenton, Claire Jones and Lina Saigol in London.
18.00: The Davos live blog is closing down for Thursday. For more reading and insight on today’s events, please visit the FT’s in-depth page on the World Economic Forum. We will be back with Friday’s highlights, including world wide wisdom from Sir Tim Berners-Lee and central forethought from Mario Draghi.
17.30: Gillian Tett reports on her own Davos session this morning and its compelling insights into China’s future:
One of the big guessing games in Davos this year is whether China will be able to maintain a growth rate of 8 per cent a year. But today I had a chance to interview Li Daokui, the renowned Chinese economist and former central bank official – and he insisted during the Davos event that the 8 per cent growth debate is entirely the wrong thing to worry about.
In the short to medium term, Li argued, there is every reason to expect China to keep expanding at a healthy pace since the economy is still “catching up” with other countries and it is rebalancing away from export-lead growth towards domestic consumption at a much faster pace than most Western observers recognise. And while many Western economists argue that the official statistics overstate the pace of growth, Li thinks that the data is pretty accurate: even if some state activity is inflated, that is being balanced by the fact that swathes of the “informal” Chinese economy are being under-recorded.
However, Li argued that the really big issue now is what model China will want to emulate in the future: will it be more “capitalist” like America, or more state-controlled like Singapore (or, a cynic might suggest, something more wild, like Russia). Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Li thinks that Singapore is the best option. But he stressed that it remains unclear whether the new leadership will be ready to embrace the radical reforms that he thinks will be needed in China over the next decade; it is also unclear whether public opinion in China will permit this. And while the citizens are not expressing their views via the ballot box, Li says it is a mistake to think that popular views do not count. Whereas America relies on democracy to test public views, China is now using Twitter, he argues: the social media forum has become such a crucial weather vane of public sentiment that it is being closely watched by top Chinese officials, and influencing policy. And it is not just politicians who are Twitter-focused: Li himself currently has some 5m Twitter followers, who are eagerly reading his economic tweets.
It is a fan club that even Beyoncé would be excited about; let alone any of the Western economists who are in Davos this week.
As President Obama begins his second term in office, Shawn Donnan, world news editor, is joined by Richard McGregor, Washington bureau chief, Geoff Dyer, US diplomatic correspondent and Roula Khalaf, Middle East editor to discuss what the administration’s foreign policy priorities are likely to be and if we should expect any surprises.
An armoured column of Chadian troops was rumbling on Wednesday through the Niger scrub on its way to the Mali border. The contingent is part of a 2,000-strong force that N‘Djamena has promised to deploy to help retake the northern two-thirds of the country from Islamist militias, whose offensive towards the Malian capital triggered France’s intervention.
The Chadian army has had extensive training from France and some from the US too in recent years. More importantly, the Chadians have their own history of fighting rebellions in scalding desert sands and mountains – something the smaller Nigerian contingent that has landed in Bamako as part of a hurriedly put together African intervention force cannot quite claim. Read more
Senior Ukrainian officials insist they are still intent on closer integration with the European Union. So why do they make it so difficult for Europe to embrace it?
Friday’s announcement that jailed former premier Yulia Tymoshenko is now a formal suspect in ordering the 1996 contract killing of a Ukrainian lawmaker threatens further worsening of relations between Kiev and the west. Though prosecutors said last year they were investigating her involvement in the killing, which she categorically denies, the latest move is clearly an escalation.
That is a surprise — especially since the EU is currently debating whether to soften its stance on Ms Tymoshenko’s 2011 conviction on abuse of office charges, widely seen as politically motivated. Her imprisonment is the main reason why a far-reaching EU trade and political cooperation deal with Kiev — the biggest Brussels has ever negotiated with a third party — remains unsigned, though the text is agreed. Read more
The World Economic Forum’s 43rd annual shindig is kicking off in Davos this morning and to get you started ahead of our live blog, here’s some reading to accompany your morning coffee. You’ll find all the FT pieces on our WEF page. And here’s the WEF home page. Enjoy.
Peter Vanham guides us through what is being touted as one of the main themes at the bash - how to capitalise on the strength of emerging markets over developed ones – on our Beyondbrics blog.
18.26 That’s it for the first day of Davos live.
Among the talking points were monetary policy, currency wars and that speech by David Cameron.
The British PM arrived in Switzerland today and is due to talk at 10.30am local time (9.30am UK time) tomorrow.
18.03 Unsurprisingly, the “resilient dynamism” (see 10.09) theme of this year’s Davos hasn’t gone down too well with the British press pack:
17.48 The IMF’s managing director Christine Lagarde took the stage after Mario Monti and she’s just taken a swipe at Cameron:
17.40 Gideon Rachman’s analysis of the Italian PM’s reaction to Cameron’s speech:
Gideon Rachman: His line that Europe does not need reluctant Europeans will be spun as anti-Cameron. But, in context, I think Monti was trying to be positive.The Italian PM said Cameron was right that “prosperity and growth have to be priority number one” and that he was confident “Britain will vote to stay inside” in the event of a referendum. He also said it’s good that Cameron will ask the “fundamental” question of whether nations are in or out and that this will provoke Brits to make a proper analysis of costs and benefits.
The cruellest but most revealing tweet about the Israeli election exit polls came from the American writer Jeffrey Goldberg: “I wonder if someone in the White House is right now researching the question, ‘who is Yair Lapid, and what exactly does he think?’”
Exit polls need to be treated with caution and Israel’s political system is particularly complex, but the early indications are that Lapid, a former television personality and leader of the self-described “centre-centre” Yesh Atid, has been the big winner of the elections.
The Obama administration had expected to be dealing with a Benjamin Netanyahu emboldened by a commanding electoral win and leading a coalition that was even more right-wing in its distaste for doing a deal with the Palestinians. According to the script, Nafatli Bennett of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, and not Lapid, was supposed to be the new star. Instead, the most likely outcome seems to be a more chastened Netanyahu looking to Lapid and the centre to help him form a new government. Read more
As Algeria’s hostage crisis unfolded last week one man was conspicuously absent from the action: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Mr Bouteflika wields enormous power and he has dominated the country’s politics since the late 1990s. He also has been at the centre of the diplomacy in the Sahel.
Yet when the going got tough, the 75-year-old president was nowhere to be seen or heard (although he did bother to send a note of encouragement to the national football team, which is competing in the Africa Cup of Nations). Instead he left it to his prime minister, Abdelmalek Sellal, to field the anxious calls of world leaders and to communicate – rather poorly – with the public. The British government, for example, tried to contact Mr Bouteflika but was told that he was not available. Read more
Israelis go to the polls today in an election widely expected to return Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister for a third term – an historic achievement in the turbulent world of Israeli politics. A hardliner who has not hidden his backing for settlement building on occupied land — despite issuing qualified support for a Palestinian state in 2009 — Mr Netanyahu has successfully portrayed himself as a strong leader who can protect Israelis in a tough neighbourhood in the face of widespread international criticism.
That the already hawkish Mr Netanyahu was outflanked on the right by a charismatic new candidate, Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, has become the main theme of the election campaign. Mr Bennett makes no bones of his opposition to a two state solution with the Palestinians, and advocates the annexation of at least part of the occupied West Bank. His success in the campaign is part of a sharp shift to the right in Israeli politics.
In the FT:
Welcome to our rolling coverage of Barack Obama’s inauguration for another four years as US president, complete with agenda-setting speech. By Johanna Kassel in New York and Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington with contributions from FT correspondents. All times are EST.
5.40 As we wrap things up for the night, a round up of the best the FT has to offer about President Obama’s second inauguration. Thanks for joining us
5.30 As the parade continues, running about 45 minutes behind schedule, the arrival of the president and first lady at the balls will be delayed. We’ll leave them to review the rest of the floats and bands as the sun sets on Washington.
Voters handed a narrow victory to Germany’s centre-left opposition in Lower Saxony on Sunday. ‘But it’s only a regional election!’, you cry. Here’s why it matters:
1) The vote in Lower Saxony is considered a dry run for Germany’s general election in September this year.
The defeat of Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition in the swing state on Sunday – albeit by one seat – is a blow to the Chancellor. It emboldens her opponents, the centre-left alliance of the Social Democrats and Green party, who won power with 69 seats compared to the 68 seats of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led coalition. Merkel is still favourite to win in September – particularly because her personal ratings in the polls are excellent – but Lower Saxony suggests she has a battle ahead.
2) Merkel’s party, the CDU, lost power due to the downward drag of its coalition partner, the Free Democrat Party (FDP) – and the fear is that this effect could be replicated in the national elections.
Merkel’s own party still came top in Lower Saxony, with 36% of the vote, but in coalition politics, it’s all about team performance – and the chancellor’s chosen teammate let her down. The voting results slightly hide this: on first glance, the FDP did far better expected, winning 9.9%, compared to polling that showed them with just over 5% last week. Read more
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Welcome to the World blog. Gideon Rachman and colleagues offer commentary on international affairs.