By Gideon Rachman
In theory, David Cameron and Radoslaw Sikorski should get on marvellously. Both the British prime minister and the Polish foreign secretary studied at Oxford and were members of the elite Bullingdon club, which specialises in dressing up, drinking, vomiting and vandalism. Both men have matured into robust conservatives. But last week we witnessed an unedifying dispute between the two politicians, sparked by Mr Cameron’s suggestion that Britain should not be paying child benefit to children living in Poland, even if their parents are working in Britain. In response, Mr Sikorski accused the British of stigmatising Polish immigrants and tweeted (in Polish) a suggestion that Poles in Britain should return home.
Here is a startling prediction from the European Commission. In the absence of comprehensive economic reforms, living standards in the eurozone, relative to the US, will be lower in 2023 than they were in the mid-1960s.
This forecast, contained in the Commission’s latest quarterly report on the euro area economy, deserves to be displayed prominently on the wall of every president and prime minister’s office in Europe.
It is a sobering prediction for two reasons. First, it contrasts starkly with the comforting tales of economic recovery and financial market stability on which Europe’s leaders are congratulating themselves in these early weeks of 2014. Second, it raises profound questions about Europe’s relative weight in the world and, in particular, about its military alliance and economic partnership with the US. Read more
♦ Borzou Daragahi ventured into Libya’s badlands: a combination of guns, trafficking and inter-ethnic conflict.
♦ The winner of the Bodley Head/FT Essay Prize is an account of being a British Muslim soldier.
♦ John Plender argues that the real driver of income inequality over the past decade or so has been top pay and this is unlikely to change.
♦ Juan Carlos, the King of Spain, is fighting for his legacy.
♦ The National Review looks at the deep poverty among masses of white working class people in the US heartlands.
♦ Gamal Essam El-Din at Ahram Online has put together a comprehensive nuts and bolts guide to Egypt’s constitutional referendum. Read more
Ariel Sharon (right), then Israel's prime minister, shakes hands with Palestinian prime minister Mahmud Abbas as US President George W Bush watches during a 2003 summit in Aqaba, Jordan. (AFP/Getty)
Ariel Sharon, who died on Saturday, was unquestionably a historic figure. He fought in all of Israel’s major wars – including the disastrous 1982 Lebanon invasion he essentially originated. He is also the principal architect of an Israeli settlement policy long designed to make the occupation of roughly half the West Bank and most of Arab east Jerusalem permanent. While all can agree – as no portrait of Sharon and his impressive but dynamic bulk neglects to point out – that he was “larger than life”, only within the solipsistic terms of debate of much of Israel’s political elite, and those who defer to it, can he be seen as a great statesman and master strategist.
Sharon’s reputation as a warrior began with his role in the 1948 war that established the state of Israel. But, as historian Avi Shlaim and other revisionist scholars have shown, he quickly became the spearhead of a policy of reprisals and provocations aimed at expanding the new state’s borders, which its political and military establishment regarded as dangerously vulnerable if not indefensible. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding father, backed by General Moshe Dayan and usually using Arab infiltration as the pretext, attacked Jordan, Egypt and Syria across the 1948-49 armistice lines between 1953 and 1955. The officer who led the main operations, establishing early on a reputation for bloodthirstiness, was Ariel Sharon. Read more
François Hollande and Valérie Trierweiler. AP
When Bill Clinton was being impeached over the Monica Lewinsky affair, I remember wishing that the Americans could be a bit more like the French – and leave the salacious details of their president’s private life out of the public gaze. But now, as the story of President François Hollande’s affair gets ever messier, I’m beginning to wonder whether the French might have to become a bit more like the Americans. Or, to be more specific, whether this strict French insistence on respect for the president’s private life can, or should, survive.
The revelation that the president’s partner, Valérie Trierweiler, has taken the news of his affair so badly that she has been hospitalised has immediately injected a darker note into some of the press coverage. Initial reports, particularly in the English press, were characterised by plenty of sniggering. But, perhaps, this isn’t a hilarious French farce, after all. Read more