Daily Archives: October 31, 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

Gideon Rachman

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: 

Tony Barber

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. 

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.