Monthly Archives: October 2013

Spain: a cautious return to growth
Spain is back! Or is it? In this week’s podcast Ben Hall, world news editor, talks to Tobias Buck, Madrid bureau chief about Spain’s nascent recovery – is it gathering momentum? Also joining us is Michael Steen, Frankfurt bureau chief, to put some of the more positive indicators into a European context as inflation data out today shows worrying signs

It is doubtless just an unfortunate coincidence. But the US Treasury’s criticism of German economic policy seems peculiarly crass and ill-timed – given two other recent developments: the revelations about US bugging of the German chancellor’s phone and America’s own debt-ceiling dramas.

The American suggestion that Germany’s persistent current account surplus is a danger to the eurozone and thus to the world economy has the backing of many eminent economists. But it also invites certain rather obvious responses: Read more

Judges of the German Constitutional Court (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

In the beginning, the eurozone crisis was a banking sector, private debt and government bond market emergency. Then economic recession, unemployment and welfare expenditure cuts took hold, propelling the growth of anti-EU, anti-establishment and anti-immigrant political movements. Now the eurozone crisis is acquiring a third dimension: one in which national constitutional courts are moving to centre stage.

True, the judges sitting on Germany’s constitutional court have been going in this direction since 2009, when they issued a judgement on the EU’s Lisbon treaty. But before the eurozone crisis erupted in full force, such rulings were fairly uncontroversial. The judges could reasonably argue in 2009 that they were simply testing if the new EU fundamental treaty was compatible with the democratic principles of Germany’s 1949 constitution, known as the Basic Law.

Now that the eurozone crisis has pushed the German government and the European Central Bank into once unimaginable measures to rescue the 17-nation currency bloc, the constitutional court has parked itself on wholly different territory. The judges would indignantly contest this, but when the court opened hearings in June into the legality of the ECB’s actions to protect the eurozone, it looked from the outside very much as if the judges had appointed themselves the supreme law lords of European integration – to the exclusion of any other EU or national legal authority. Read more

woman smokingNew York City’s 18-year-olds can vote in their first election next week, but soon they won’t be able to buy a pack of cigarettes.

The city’s famously tough smoking laws got even tougher on Wednesday when the city council voted to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco from 18 – the federal minimum – to 21.

New York isn’t the first US locale to tighten age restrictions – you have to be 19 to buy smokes in several states, including New Jersey, and two towns in Massachusetts have raised their age limit to 21 – but the council bragged of being the first “major city” to pass such a strict rule. Read more

♦ From our comment pages: “How a digital currency could transform Africa“.
♦ Pigs’ trotters are crucial to the advancement of lowly Chinese Communist party officials.
♦ Some interpreted the Westgate attack in Kenya as a sign of al-Shabaab’s weakness, but there are signs that it is regrouping and recruiting new members, becoming “an extended hand of al-Qaeda” in the words of Somalia’s president.
♦ US trade policies are driving the global obesity epidemic, even as its own citizens get healthier.
♦ The Dutch real estate market is getting a new lease of life.
♦ A Egyptian general ousted under Mohamed Morsi has been rehabilitated by his protégé Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and put in charge of the general intelligence service.
♦ South Korea is aggressively targeting US technology for its own use in a variety of Korean weapons programmes, according to Foreign Policy.
♦ Modern Korea, with its electrical power lines, is encroaching on older villages and farmland. Villagers have protested through self-immolation, demonstrations in Seoul and even a two-year sleep-in.
♦ The Afghan government attempted to form an alliance with Islamist militants in the hope of taking revenge on the Pakistani military.
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By Gideon Rachman
Should political leaders who have promoted or tolerated mass killings be brought to justice? Many in the west would instinctively answer Yes. The idea that leaders can kill their way to power – and not face punishment – seems morally wrong and politically dangerous. In recent years, an apparatus of international justice has been set up to ensure that mass murder can no longer go unpunished – with the International Criminal Court at its apex.

♦ Gillian Tett speaks to Alan Greenspan and finds he is prepared to admit that he got it wrong – at least in part.
♦ The White House glitches have gone further than Obamacare, as the administration has been continuously caught off guard by recent crises from Syria to spying, says Edward Luce. And the president gives few signs of having found a learning curve.
♦ France’s central bank governor, Christian Noyer, says Europe’s financial transaction tax poses an “enormous risk” to the countries involved.
♦ Spain’s mini gold rush in the country’s north is part of a broader movement by foreign investors seeking to turn Spain’s woes to their advantage. It also shows some of the difficulties of investing despite a more positive outlook.
♦ Ikea has sent self-assembly huts to Ethiopia to house Somali refugees – and they could soon be used as alternatives to tents elsewhere.
♦ Josef Joffe, editor of Die Zeit, looks at the history of top-down capitalism and wonders whether China can sustain its astounding growth.
♦ The art world may be marvelling at China’s booming market, but many transactions have not actually been completed and the market is flooded with forgeriesRead more

After days of severe weather warnings and anticipation, England suffered transport chaos and widespread power cuts this morning after a storm with gusts of up to 99 mph hit southern England.

Though the storm was not severe by international standards, it is the worst to hit the country in a number of years.

Porthleven in Cornwall. (c) Getty Images

This video from the Met Office shows the progress of the storm across the country.

The worst of the weather is now over, with the focus turning to the cleanup.

London’s rail stations were eerily quiet as most major rail companies cancelled all early morning trains.

(c) Claer Barrett

(c) Claer Barrett

Network Rail, like many other companies, took to Twitter to update commuters on problems.

It said that more than 100 trees have been discovered on the rail network across the south east so far today.

As of 10am, many major commuter routes were still closed. Read more

What can you trust in China these days? An investigative journalist who says a well-known company has allegedly been manipulating its financial results? Or the company that denies that point blank? How about a police force that crosses provincial lines to arrest the “offending” journalist on suspicion of damaging that company’s commercial reputation?

Above all, can we now trust the confession of the journalist – paraded on state TV with head shaved and in handcuffs – admitting that he was paid to falsify those stories? Read more

♦ The FT’s Neil Buckley interviews Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s most famous prisoner – a former oligarch who dared to cross Vladimir Putin.
♦ Trade has broken from a 30-year trend of growing at twice the speed of the global economy, pushing economists to wonder whether there has been a fundamental shift in world business.
♦ The Palestinians have called on countries to tell companies linked to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to withdraw immediately because the settlements violate international law.
♦ Mark Carney says the Bank of England is open for business and the days when the Old Lady preached the perils of “moral hazard” without due regard to financial pressures are well and truly over.
♦ The allegation by the German government that the NSA monitored Angela Merkel’s mobile phone has set off recriminations behind the scenes in the US.
♦ The NYT looks at the friction point between the Philiippines and China in the South China Sea, reporting from a ship at the dividing line.
♦ Formula 1 is considered entertainment, not a sport, by the Indian government, while chess is considered to be a sporting event.
♦ There is some disbelief over Al-Sisi mania.
♦ Tony Blair in the the Balkans to deliver some “deliverology”.
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Where does President François Hollande go from here?
In this edition of World Weekly, Gideon Rachman is joined by Hugh Carnegy, Paris bureau chief and Ben Hall, world news editor and former Paris correspondent, to focus on France, where President François Hollande’s approval ratings have dropped to a sorry 23%. The President’s plummeting popularity comes against the background of a weak economy and controversy over the deportation of a Roma schoolgirl. So where does Hollande go from here, and should we be worried by the momentum building behind the National Front ahead of the municipal and European elections next spring?

If the Americans really have been tapping Angela Merkel’s phone, perhaps they can pass some political tips onto the White House. For Barack Obama, in common with most other western leaders, would dearly love to learn the secret of the German chancellor’s success.

Just consider some comparative approval ratings. Mr Obama currently hovers somewhere in the mid-40s. In Britain, David Cameron hit 37% after a successful party conference and has almost certainly sunk back a little after a bad week, in which he was bested over high energy costs by Labour’s Ed Miliband. Meanwhile, bringing up the rear is Francois Hollande, whose approval rating in France is down at a pathetic 23%. By contrast, the German chancellor has a personal approval rating of around 70%. Read more

Merkel's love for her mobile began early on (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Gaining access to the personal communications of the leader of any country would be a highly valued prize for an intelligence agency.

But accessing chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, as Germany strongly suspects the US has done, was a coup indeed. Read more

Protests in Gezi Park (Reuters)

Four months ago demonstrations about trees in Istanbul’s Gezi Park grew into mass protests against the rule of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Now trees – or, put another way, the polarised politics of big development projects – have sprouted up once again on Turkey’s agenda. Here are five reasons why. Read more

♦ Martin Wolf argues that the fiscal crisis that the US faces is not about debt as the fiscal position has improved dramatically and poses no medium-term risks.” The debate is about whether citizens will fund the government.
♦ The US government shutdown produced “much sardonic merriment in Beirut“, says David Gardner. “What are these Americans fussing about?… Lebanon has, after all, been without a government since March – and few of its citizens would be able to spot the difference anyway.”
♦ Bernard Kouchner, founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, says, “Lampedusa is a metaphor for the EU: there were once high hopes but there are no longer any expectations… It is not even able to rescue those who still believe in the European dream.”
♦ Der Spiegel speaks to refugees struggling to get by in Hamburg, where there have been protests of the treatment of asylum seekers.
♦ There is a new exodus from Egypt of citizens who feel defeated by the tragic turn taken by their country and have grown tired of waiting for better days.
♦ Uruguay is set to become the first country in the world to legalise marijuana, bringing a $40m industry under state control.
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♦ Gideon Rachman writes about how “the big danger to the European single currency is that the political consensus that underpins the euro could come unstuck” and next year’s European parliament elections could be a breakthrough moment for the “European Tea Party”.
♦ Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief has said that he plans to scale back cooperation with the US to arm and train Syrian rebels in protest against Washington’s policy in the region, raising tensions after Riyadh’s decision to renounce a seat on the UN Security Council.
♦ Norman John Gillies, the last surviving St Kildan, died at the end of September: the Economist looks back at the man’s life and his memories of life on an island 110 miles off the Scottish coast.
♦ Vigilante groups are fighting back against Boko Haram in Nigeria.
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By Gideon Rachman

America’s debt-ceiling crisis achieved something quite remarkable. It made the EU look well governed by comparison. Both the EU and the US systems are weighed down with checks and balances that make it hard to get things done. But Europe currently has one thing going for it that America lacks. All the most important decision makers in Brussels are committed to making the system work. There are no Tea Party types who regard compromise as a betrayal.

♦ Edward Luce explains why it is stupid to insult the IQ of Tea Party members.
♦ The budget fight that led to the first government shutdown in 17 years set off a public escalation of the battle for control of the Republican Party – a confrontation between Tea Party conservatives and establishment Republicans.
♦ The National Geographic reports on how the presence of Boko Haram has affected public psyche in Nigeria: “Boko Haram has become a kind of national synonym for fear, a repository for Nigerians’ worst anxieties about their society and where it’s headed.”
♦ Susan Faludi, the author of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, wonders which women the Lean In community is trying to reach.
Christina Lamb writes about her year with Malala Yousafzai.
♦ Dennis Rodman compares a visit to North Korea with a holiday in Ibiza. Read more

Prospects of a deal over the Iranian nuclear programme
After the most productive talks on Iran’s nuclear programme in years in Geneva this week, Gideon Rachman is joined by defence and diplomatic editor James Blitz and Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Tehran correspondent, to examine what was discussed by the diplomats and how a potential deal might look.

Dalian port, China (Getty)

Friday’s GDP data out of China (the economy grew at an annual rate of 7.8 per cent in the third quarter of this year) has illustrated what many economists see as the “new normal”. China is growing slower than it once did. But, given its increasingly outsize role over the past two decades what does that mean for global trade? Together with Valentina Romei from our stats department and the helpful people at the WTO we have been running some of the numbers. Here are a few interesting points to pass on…

China is now the world’s biggest trading nation…

According to Coleman Nee, one of the data gurus at the WTO, China overtook the US as the biggest trader in the world (exports + imports) in the first half of this year. Read more