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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Katrina Manson

 

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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Gideon Rachman

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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James Blitz

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