Monthly Archives: May 2013

By Gideon Rachman
Twenty years ago, I was an anti-European. Today, I am a pro-European. The strange thing is that my views have not changed. I have always thought that Britain should stay out of the euro but inside the EU. During the John Major and Tony Blair years, when the euro was the dominant issue, that position made me a eurosceptic. But now the argument has become about whether Britain should leave the EU altogether. The front-line in Britain’s civil war over Europe has moved and, because I have stayed in the same place, I find myself on a different side of the battle-lines.

By Aaron Hagstrom

♦ An isolated village in northeast China has adopted an “eldercare” model, in which the old look after the even older.
Richard Beeston, the courageous Times correspondent who covered the 1991 Kurdish massacres in Halabja, has died of cancer at 50.
Pakistan’s “crumbling” railways have become an emblem of a troubled past.
Israeli finance minister Yair Lapid has returned to the limelight, in the wake of his unpopular austerity budget.
French chefs are turning from fresh to frozen ingredients, in the face of rising costs.
Researchers have shown the invention of the “humble” shipping container in 1956 explains a 790% rise in bilateral trade over 20 years.
Greece shows rising fertility rates, despite rising unemployment.
In the highest level of US-China military talks held for nearly two years, cybersecurity was the focus.

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In our Reporting Back series, we ask FT foreign correspondents to tell us about a recent trip. Katrina Manson, the FT’s east Africa correspondent, tells us about her visit to Somalia.

Why now? It’s a rare day anyone can say the future looks bright for Somalia, but for the first time in years, the state preyed on by jihadis, pirates and warlords has a shot at stability. The most significant success came towards the tail-end of 2011, when African Union troops forced out al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, from the capital Mogadishu.

On guard: a pirate on the Galmudug coast.

Ever since, diplomats, donors and Somalis have been hopeful. But Somalia hasn’t had a functioning government for the past 22 years. Everything needs to be done and all gains are fragile. Relations between a new, weak central government and clan-aligned regions are increasingly fractious, al-Shabaab launches regular suicide attacks on Mogadishu and still controls much of the southern countryside. This month, the UK hosted a conference dedicated to security, political stability and reform in Somalia. Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid were pledged. Much more is needed, but Somalia’s debts need to be cleared first. Read more

It’s a competition with some questionable talent, scorned for its lack of taste, and yet the Eurovision Song Contest has an audience of 125m and brings pundits out in force to discuss what it says about the state of Europe today. With this year’s final coming up this Saturday in Malmö, Sweden, we give you the best pieces on how it works and why Europeans care, so that you can mingle with confidence at Eurovision parties.

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The Germans: rated trustworthy but lacking in compassion (Getty)

The Pew poll on European attitudes came out this week and drew plenty of attention because of the remarkably negative attitudes it revealed towards the European Union. But to my mind, some of the most amusing and intriguing findings came when the pollsters probed nations’ views of each other, and of themselves.

The Germans were widely rated as both the most trustworthy and the least compassionate people in Europe – which says something about the complexity of European reactions to the euro crisis. The Italians rated themselves as the least trustworthy people in Europe. Do we call that self-knowledge or self-loathing? Asked to choose from a list of several countries, the French rated themselves as the most arrogant people in Europe. But they also rated themselves the least arrogant people in Europe. Maybe they are just the most self-obsessed? Read more

♦ Pharmaceutical companies are worried that the battle in India over patents will inspire other emerging economies to change their laws and make it more difficult to register or extend patents.
♦ Joshua Foust makes the liberal case for drones: “a lethal autonomous drone could actually result in fewer casualties and less harm to civilians.”
♦ The US military has seen a baffling rise in suicide numbers from 10.3 per 100,000 troops in 2002, to above 18 per 100,000 now.
♦ Gazans have a real taste for KFC and one entrepreneur has set up a business smuggling the fried chicken in from El Arish, Egypt. “Despite the blockade, KFC made it to my home”, says one satisfied customer. Read more

Britain’s future in the EU
Prime Minister David Cameron thought that his promise to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership of the EU, and to hold an in-out referendum on British membership in 2017 had bought him domestic political peace. Instead, many in his own Conservative party are agitating for an even harder-line position, and the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party is soaring in opinion polls. An eventual British exit from the EU is looking increasingly possible. So what’s going on, and what do other Europeans make of it. Quentin Peel in Berlin joins Janan Ganesh and Gideon Rachman in London.

♦ Wild card candidates for the Iranian election have confused the regime’s orchestration of the vote.
♦ Dana Milbank thinks President Obama needs to show more engagement with his presidency:He responded as though he were just some bloke on a bar stool, getting his information from the evening news.”
♦ The Guardian reports on climate refugees in Alaska, where people are losing ground to the sea at a dangerous rate.
♦ Devastating water shortages in China are putting a brake on economic growth and stirring political discontent, but Beijing’s high-spending responses to the problem have triggered widespread criticism.
♦ Shanghaiist has photos of Gansu’s Crescent Lake Oasis, where the government had to step in to preserve the lake in the Gobi desert.
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You still need a strong constitution or a taste for gallows humour to read most eurozone economic statistics, as today’s release of the preliminary Q1 gross domestic product growth contraction data shows.

The bloc is now in its longest recession since the birth of the single currency, beating the post-Lehman Brothers slump in duration, though not in the depth of the downturn.

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Fighting on: rebels on a training exercise in Syria's northern Latakia province (Getty)

The international diplomacy to try and resolve the crisis in Syria is entering a new and complex phase. Over the next few weeks, the main focus will be on attempts by the US and Russia to convene a peace conference in early June that brings together representatives of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, president, and the Syrian opposition. Whether this conference can achieve anything – indeed, whether it will even take place – is hard to tell. As President Obama said when meeting David Cameron, British prime minister, this week: “I’m not promising that [the peace conference] is going to be successful. It’s going to be challenging, but it’s worth the effort.”

Despite that effort, the UK and France are not giving up on an altogether different diplomatic push. Both want to open the way for the transfer of weapons by EU states to the moderate rebels fighting the Syrian regime. Britain has committed itself to providing the opposition with armoured vehicles, body armour and power generators. But Mr Cameron said this week that he now wants “more flexibility” to support the rebels.

The UK and France are therefore committed to trying to get the EU arms embargo on Syria amended at the end of this month so that weapons can at some later stage be transferred to the Syrian opposition. The difficulty is the huge opposition within the EU to any amendment that allows weapons to be transferred to Assad’s opponents. Read more

♦ Energy companies scrambling for reserves in Somalia are at risk of opening up dangerous faultlines.
♦ Janan Ganesh thinks the UK Conservative party has become ungovernable. “Drama is giving way to farce. Having run out of big but rash things to ask for, the demands of eurosceptic backbenchers are now plain odd.”
♦ Germany’s Green party is still coming to terms with its historical links to pedophiles.
On a final note… Are you a fan of statistics guru Nate Silver? Do you love Euro-pop song contests with political undertones? Martin O’Leary, a “recovering pure mathematician”, has set up a model to predict the results of this weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest.  Read more

Seen from outside France, the country’s “cultural exception” – which protects its art, music and movie industries in trade negotiations – is like a long-running film franchise.

In the new sequel – Exception Culturelle 3D, if you will – Pierre Lescure, author of a government-commissioned report, has given the story a great new twist by suggesting a tax on smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and e-readers to fund French cultural output. Read more

♦ There are doubts over how much longer Latin America will benefit from the “commodity supercycle”.
♦ Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former Iranian president, has registered for next month’s election, disrupting the Islamic regime’s plans to hand power to a loyal fundamentalist.
♦ Nawaz Sharif has sealed his third term as prime minister of Pakistan. However, the sense of vibrant democracy has been tempered by Taliban attacks. The New York Times bureau chief was also expelled on the day of voting.
♦ Forty years after Watergate, the BBC looks at the legacy of investigative journalism in the UK.
♦ After the news that Bloomberg’s journalists could see more than Bloomberg’s customers would like them to, Quartz takes a look at the culture of omniscience that pervades the organisation and Hilary Sargent (aka ChartGirl) explains how it works in this neat diagram.
On another note… Britain’s approach to Eurovision might need some fine-tuning.  Read more

I have just returned from the annual “Polish-British Round Table” in Krakow. This year, the theme was – “Britain and Poland: A Shared Future?” After sitting through several hours of discussions, my conclusion was – “not necessarily”. In fact, it is quite startling how swiftly British and Polish viewpoints have diverged, since Poland joined the EU back in 2004. Read more

♦ Kofi Anna’s Africa Progress Panel releases a report lambasting Eurasian Natural Resources Corp for “opaque concession trading” costing the Democratic Republic of Congo $725m.
♦ With normal post-recession government employment expansion, US unemployment might be as low as 6.3 percent, but this recovery is different, argues Derek Thompson.
♦ Spain has become a destination for vitro fertilization and there is no shortage of egg donors. Der Spiegel talks to one woman who donated eggs to ease her financial difficulties.
♦ The Bhutto family has been notably absent from campaigning in Pakistan. The FT looks at whether this is the beginning of the end for the Pakistan People’s Party.  Read more

♦ We love our multilateral organisations here at the FT, so we’ve taken a close look at how Roberto Azevêdo managed to win the WTO DG nomination – visiting a mere 47 countries along the way. Mr Azevêdo struck a pragmatic note in an in interview with the FT, saying a year-end Bali meeting would focus on the “do-able”: “It’s… about instilling confidence that we can still negotiate, that we can still deliver multilaterally.”
♦ After David Cameron welcomed Uhuru Kenyatta to London this week, Richard Dowden considers the diplomatic earthquake that could occur when Kenyatta is expected to report to the ICC. Will Britain “abandon the ICC or isolate their closest political and security ally in East and the Horn of Africa”? Will Kenyatta run the country from a Dutch prison using Skype?
♦ Israel has warned the US about an imminent Russian deal to sell ground-to-air missile systems to Syria.
♦ US military camouflage has developed from two types to 10, just one example of inefficient duplication between different government agencies.
♦ Arguably the most haunting photograph of the collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh.
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A turning point for Pakistan?
As Pakistan prepares to go to the polls in the first transfer of power between one democratically elected government and another since the foundation of the state, optimists say the elections will mark an important turning point for the country. But pessimists point to the background of violence against which the elections are taking place and the continuing parlous state of the economy. To assess this, Gideon Rachman is joined by Victor Mallet, South Asia bureau chief, and Stefan Wagstyl, emerging markets editor

(AP)

An audience with Vladislav Surkov, “grey cardinal” of the Kremlin and architect of Vladimir Putin’s “managed” democracy, is a rare thing. But little did those who saw him speak at the London School of Economics last Wednesday realise it would be his last public appearance as Russia’s deputy premier. A week later, he is gone.

His LSE comments may even have played a part in his departure. In particular, Surkov criticised Russia’s investigative committee, the powerful FBI-style agency headed by a Putin classmate that is increasingly becoming a law unto itself. He said the committee was wrong to sling mud about alleged corruption at Skolkovo, Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley that is premier Dmitry Medvedev’s pet project – and for which Surkov has been responsible for the past year.

That move was already a demotion after he appeared just a little too sympathetic to the middle-class Muscovites protesting over alleged vote-rigging in the December 2011 parliamentary election – ironically, the very system Surkov created. As Kremlin deputy chief of staff for a decade, he had been the puppet-master who pulled the strings of the parties and individuals permitted to perform in the political theatre he had created. Read more

♦ Martin Wolf argues that forcing the eurozone to mimic Germany’s path to adjustment makes stagnation likely.
♦ US intervention in Syria becomes more difficult with time because of sequestration.
If you ask me today, we have forces that can go,” says General Ray Odierno, the army chief of staff. “I think it will change over time because the longer we go cancelling training and reducing our training, the readiness levels go down.”
♦ Researchers have identified two dozen 15,000-year-old “ultraconserved” words, which suggest the existence of a proto-Eurasiatic language that was the root of about 700 contemporary languages.
♦ Film director Ann Shin discusses her film about the human smugglers who extract people from North Korea and why so many of them are women.
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Was it the man or the country? Roberto Azevêdo is a polished negotiator, a seasoned trade diplomat and in many ways a perfect pick to head the World Trade Organization.

He knows his way around the Geneva-based organisation, can hit the ground running fully briefed on all the issues, and is well known and liked around the developing world – not least for his record of criticising the farm-subsidy policies of the USA and Europe. If anyone can revive the Doha round of trade talks, launched 12 years ago in an attempt to cut tariffs and trade-distorting farm subsidies around the world but now on life-support, it is surely him.

Yet Azevêdo, 55, is also Brazilian, a country with a patchy record on trade liberalisation and little openness to the rest of the world. Trade accounts for only 20 per cent of Brazilian gross domestic product. Brazil is also the leading member of Mercosul, a regional Latin American trade pact created in 1991 with great hopes that have since foundered. If Brazil can’t boost trade locally, what chance it can boost trade globally? Azevêdo’s nationality therefore makes him an unlikely leader of the WTO, especially as the organisation’s role as a broker of ambitious trade deals is in doubt given the rise of so many regional trade initiatives, such as the mooted US-European trade deal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Read more