There is a wonderful passage in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” about the war between Little-Endians in Lilliput and Big-Endians in Blefuscu over how to open a hard-boiled egg.

It would be extremely rude of me to suggest that the uproar in France about the proper use of the circumflex is in any way comparable to the goings-on in Swift’s satire. Read more

The UK is a generous issuer of residence permits to Americans, Chinese and Indians

It is time to stop the panic-mongering and put Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis into a sensible perspective.

Across the 28-nation EU, some rabble-rousing politicians and hysterical media outlets are stoking public alarm that uncontrollable tides of migrants from non-white, often Muslim countries are swamping Europe. These migrants are depicted as instigators and perpetrators of terrorism, sex crimes, random murder and robbery.

Let me cite some data from an official EU report that throw a different light on the topic of migration into Europe. The data concern EU residence permits granted to non-Europeans. I confess that, when I saw the data for the first time, I was pretty startled. Readers may be surprised, too. Read more

Vladimir Putin at a regional security summit in Tajikistan in September

It emerged this month that Tajikistan’s authorities had forcibly shaved the beards of almost 13,000 men last year as part of their grim struggle to stamp out militant Islam. But the big problem for Tajikistan and the rest of Central Asia in 2016 will not be beards. If the predictions of various western and Russian specialists are accurate, it will be the contribution of Russia’s economic troubles to religious radicalisation in the region. Read more


Protesters pour into the Moldovan parliament

Take a moment to consider the events that unfolded on Wednesday inside the parliament building in Chisinau, capital of Moldova, a small, deprived, appallingly governed nation of 3.5m people.

All eyes were on Pavel Filip, a former sweets factory manager who was about to be appointed as Moldova’s sixth prime minister in less than a year. “We’re forming a last-chance government for Moldova,” he told legislators, in remarks that carried only a touch of exaggeration.

What happened next? First, Mr Filip won the parliamentary vote. Then a gang of protesters forced their way into the chamber and started a brawl. One political party leader had blood dripping down his face.

Meanwhile, outside parliament, several thousand demonstrators were chanting anti-establishment slogans on the street. They were still there on Thursday. Read more

A Scottish terrier – favourite of presidents

When I arrived on Wednesday at Cyprus’s presidential palace to interview President Nicos Anastasiades, the first occupant I encountered wasn’t the president but Leo. He was in the car park enjoying the sunniest day of 2016 so far in Nicosia.

Leo is to Mr Anastasiades what Fala was to President Franklin D. Roosevelt – the head of state’s dog, a much-loved mascot of his administration. Like Fala, Leo is a black Scottish terrier, and like Fala at the White House in the 1940s, Leo is given pretty much a free run of the presidential grounds. Read more

How is Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s centre-right prime minister, planning to win re-election when voters elect a new legislature on December 20? Read more

António Costa, the Socialist leader who toppled the Portuguese government

I have a confession to make. After Portugal’s October 4 parliamentary elections, I wrote that Pedro Passos Coelho, the centre-right prime minister, had broken the mould of eurozone crisis politics. He had shown that it was possible for a European government to carry out difficult economic reforms and win re-election. This misread what was about to happen in Portugal.

Mr Passos Coelho’s ruling coalition came first in the polls. President Anibal Cavaco Silva asked him to reconstitute his government. But no sooner was Mr Passos Coelho back in Lisbon’s São Bento palace – the seat of Portugal’s government – than he was, metaphorically speaking, out again. Read more

A protest in front of the parliament building in Moldova's capital, Chisinau

After President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, some feverish western politicians and commentators started to detect the Kremlin’s malign hand manipulating every event large and small across Russia’s former Soviet neighbourhood.

They drew particular attention to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, whose political classes contain vocal, westernised lobbies that rarely waste a chance to point their US and European interlocutors in an anti-Russian direction.

Yet the reality is not so black and white. Since the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991, it never has been. In important respects, the political, economic and social ills that afflict these states are home-grown. You can blame the Russians for a lot, but not for everything. Read more

Will Germany’s economy benefit from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to throw open the nation’s doors to enormous numbers of refugees from beyond Europe’s borders? What, if any, is the connection between this decision and the hunger of German business for new workers in a shrinking labour market?

On these questions there is a spectrum of opinions. At one end stands Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right, anti-immigrant National Front. On her party’s website you can find a video and text of a speech she delivered in Marseilles on September 8.

Ms Le Pen said of Ms Merkel’s decision: “Germany is most likely thinking about its ageing population, and it is most likely seeking to lower wages and to continue recruiting slaves by means of massive immigration.”

You don’t have to like Ms Le Pen’s vicious language to appreciate that Germany has a demographic problem. According to David Folkerts-Landau, a Deutsche Bank economist, the German population – the EU’s largest, at close to 83m – is set to decline by 3.5m over the next decade unless net migration into Germany increases significantly. Without such migration, he forecasts that the German labour force will shrink by an even greater 4.5m workers. Read more

Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s re-elected prime minister, is finding the first few days back in government anything but plain sailing.

On Thursday this blog reported how Mr Tsipras had demanded the resignation of a deputy transport minister barely 24 hours after having appointed him. The minister, Dimitris Kammenos, was from the rightwing nationalist Independent Greeks party, the junior coalition partner to Mr Tsipras’s leftwing Syriza party. Embarrassingly, his social media accounts contained anti-Semitic content.

Now some curious details are emerging about another deputy minister, this time from inside Syriza itself. Read more

Questions are already being raised about the competence of Alexis Tsipras's government

Two days into the new Greek government led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, and tensions are already showing. They will probably be manageable, for the moment, but troubling questions about the competence of the ruling coalition are already being asked.

Late on Wednesday Mr Tsipras felt obliged to ask for the resignation of a deputy transport minister whom he had appointed only 24 hours earlier. The minister, Dimitris Kammenos, belongs to the rightwing nationalist Independent Greeks party, with which Syriza, the leftwing party led by Mr Tsipras, is in coalition. Read more

Portugal’s October 4 general election catches the eye for three reasons.

Firstly, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s centre-right government has overtaken the opposition Socialists in opinion polls. If he holds on to this lead, he will become the first prime minister to be re-elected among the five eurozone states that required emergency financial help between 2010 and 2013. Read more

I was at the Greek archaeological site of Delphi last weekend, attending a conference on Europe’s future, when the news arrived that Jeremy Corbyn, a 66-year-old leftwinger, had been elected as leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party. I climbed up the hill and asked the Oracle for some predictions.

TB: Oh, Oracle, will the world see Corbyn’s triumph as irrelevant? After all, Labour’s never going to win a general election under him, so he will never be prime minister.

ORACLE: Not irrelevant, my friend, but illustrative. The world will see Corbyn’s success as one more that Britain, like a snail, is retreating from the international stage and withdrawing into itself. Read more

Once again, it was an agonisingly long piece of Greek parliamentary theatre. But once again, in the early hours of Thursday morning, Alexis Tsipras came out on top.

For the second time in a week, the prime minister survived a mini-rebellion in his radical leftist Syriza party and, with the help of opposition parties, passed a set of reforms required to secure a new, €86bn financial rescue from Greece’s international creditors. Read more

Alexis Tsipras and Vladimir Putin at a meeting in the Kremlin in April

We learned on Monday that Yuri Milner, the billionaire Russian entrepreneur, is to spend $100m of his own money over the next 10 years to fund a project searching for alien civilisations beyond our solar system.

According to my calculations, that is $100m more than the Russian government has offered in financial aid to Greece since the radical leftist Syriza party, often presumed to be close to Moscow, came to power in January.

During Syriza’s chaotic six months in office, the notion has cropped up time and again that Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister and party leader, would like to play a ‘Russian card’ to ward off pressure from Greece’s eurozone creditors.

There is something to this, but the picture is more subtly textured than first impressions might suggest. Let’s look below the surface and find out what’s going on. Read more

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses the European Parliament (Reuters)

Two thoughts come to mind when one looks at the last-minute reform proposals which Greece’s radical leftist-led government has sent to its creditors as a way of saving the nation’s eurozone membership.

1) Why should the creditors, financial markets or anyone else have faith that the Syriza-dominated government will actually implement any of these reforms?

After all, even Greek governments that were more politically mainstream, more pro-EU and, in theory, more business-friendly found it impossible to execute comprehensive reform programmes between May 2010, the month of Greece’s first bail-out, and last January, when Syriza came to power.

But much of the Syriza leadership is wedded to Marxist or quasi-Marxist dogmas that run completely counter to the spirit governing the reforms to which the government, all of a sudden, is promising to put its signature.

In other words, there seem few reasons to believe that Alexis Tsipras, prime minister, and his colleagues would want to carry out these reforms, even if the party and the Greek state possessed the capacity to carry them out – which they don’t.

2) The latest proposals appear to be deafeningly silent on some important matters raised with Greece by the creditors since January. In the letter sent by Euclid Tsakalotos, Greece’s new finance minister, to Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch head of the eurogroup, I see no mention at all of labour market reform or privatisation of state assets. Read more

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (Getty)

His hair is receding, his beard is splashed with grey, and he speaks English with the grammatical precision of an independent-minded Balkan intellectual who grew up in the communist era – which is exactly what he is. But Edi Rama, Albania’s prime minister, is also so tall and muscular that, as a young man, he played for the national basketball team. Before he gave up art for politics in the post-communist era, his paintings were exhibited in Berlin, New York and beyond.

As he explained over dinner in Tirana on Thursday night, he is also old enough – he turns 51 on Saturday – to have searing memories of the cruel, isolated madhouse that was Albanian communism under Enver Hoxha, the dictator who ruled from the end of the second world war until his death in 1985. This is why Rama passionately wants Albania’s future to be in the EU, and why he foresees danger ahead if his and other Balkan countries are denied this prospect. Read more

Another chapter will be written this weekend in Greece’s proud, painful history of national suffering, defiance and martyrdom, real as well as imagined, at the hands of foreign oppressors.

Whether Greece’s radical leftist-led government capitulates to the demands of its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund, or whether it rejects them, the essentials of this narrative will not vary much.

Here is the reason: thanks to the way that Greece and its creditors have mishandled the debt crisis since it erupted in October 2009, the only available choice now, from the perspective of ordinary Greeks, is between extremely bad and worse. Read more

A man pushes a trolley with recyclable materials past graffiti in central Athens

Spectators of the debt drama starring Greece and its eurozone creditors are shuffling uncomfortably in their seats. They do not know the ending, but every twist in the plot suggests that it is extremely unlikely to be happy.

The Greek state is slipping closer to official default on its loans, and even exit from the eurozone. This creates an impression that the drama, which began in 2001 with the fatal decision to admit Greece into Europe’s monetary union, is approaching a sort of Act V dénouement. But real life is not a play, when the curtains come down after a fixed period of action.

Some high-level eurozone politicians – by which I mean prime ministers and finance ministers – have made it clear for at least five weeks that they are ready to let Greece default and, if necessary, drop out of the 19-nation currency area. Yet not all have thought hard enough about what might follow. To say “good riddance to the Greeks, they’ve been unreliable and irresponsible, we’ll be better off without them” does not amount to a serious policy. Read more

It is possible, of course, that the Greek crisis will once again derail their plans. But as things stand, one subject under discussion at a Brussels summit of European leaders on June 25-26 will be how to improve economic governance in the 19-nation eurozone.

The most succinct explanation for why Europe’s leaders must get their act together on economic governance appeared in a speech last November at the University of Helsinki by Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president. He said: “Doubts over the viability of EMU [European monetary union] will only be fully removed when we have completed it in all relevant areas. This means banking and capital markets union; it means economic and fiscal union. In a monetary union, no policy area can be seen in isolation.”

What a shame that these fine words, and various thoughtful proposals for enhanced eurozone integration that are circulating in EU capitals, appear likely to produce next to nothing in terms of concrete progress at the Brussels summit. It will be a wasted opportunity – or, to put it more strongly, yet another wasted opportunity. Read more