An anti-ACTA activist in Berlin. (Adam Berry/Getty Images)
With all eyes on the eurozone crisis (and Barclays), it is easy to overlook other events in Europe which, in their own way, are just as important. I have in mind yesterday’s vote by the European parliament to reject the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta), an international accord aimed at cracking down on copyright theft.
From all sorts of angles this was a landmark vote. It was the first time that the European Union’s legislature had exercised its right, granted under the EU’s 2009 Lisbon treaty, to block ratification of an international agreement negotiated by the European Commission and approved by EU governments.
Some might call the vote an excellent illustration of why EU policy makers should never have given this blocking power to the European parliament in the first place.
Others, however, will see the vote as a welcome expansion of democratic control over the EU executive and national governments. This seems to be the sense of a statement issued by France’s ruling Socialist party, which hailed “a new inter-institutional balance of power” in Europe and “the active participation of citizens in the European debate”. Read more
Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Italy stands on the front line of the eurozone’s battle for survival – but you’d never guess it from the latest available data on Italian public finances.
The cumulative budget deficit fell in the first half of this year to €29.1bn from €43.9bn in the same period of 2011, according to the finance ministry. If you exclude its debt servicing costs, Italy is running a central government surplus of more than 3 per cent of gross domestic product. This is fiscal virtue unmatched elsewhere in southern Europe – or in much of northern Europe, for that matter. Read more
It was as if a magician’s wand had waved away the crisis. Shortly after
midnight, central Athens erupted in joy. Car horns blared and strangers
embraced in the darkness. Over the past 24 months of debt-driven
disaster, I’ve never seen Greeks so happy.
At the Euro 2012 football tournament, Greece had just defied the odds and
beaten Russia 1-0 in Warsaw’s national stadium. Amazingly, they’ve made
it to the quarter-finals and the nation is celebrating. Read more
Lucas Papademos – should we have said 'au revoir', not 'goodbye', when he left office? Photo Reuters
Perhaps the blazing sun is affecting my mental faculties, but here in Athens I am forming the impression that people in other European capitals are misreading the political tide ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election in Greece.
There has been much loose talk, for instance, to the effect that the Greek armed forces, which seized power in a 1967 coup and ruled for seven years, might once again step in because of the failure of the nation’s traditional political classes and the apparent radicalisation of the electorate.
Here is what one minister in Greece’s interim government, formed after the inconclusive May 6 election, told me: “There is zero possibility of a military coup. The lesson was learnt from the military dictatorship.” Read more
Cypriot and EU flags in the city of Nicosia. Patrick Baz /AFP/GettyImages
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the Greek crisis is not just financial in nature. It has geopolitical implications that extend beyond whether or not Greece remains in the eurozone.
There is, for example, the potential impact on one of Europe’s longest-running territorial disputes: Cyprus. Whatever events unfold in Greece after next Sunday’s election, the Greek Cypriot-controlled state of Cyprus will continue to be vulnerable because of its financial system’s massive exposure to Greece and because of its decision last year to turn to Russia for a €2.5bn loan. Read more
Günter Grass. AP
I’ve always thought Günter Grass writes better novels than poems. Remember The Tin Drum, Grass’s hilarious 1959 novel, with its dwarfish protagonist Oskar Matzerath? Of course, you do. Remember What Must Be Said, the dreary, Israel-bashing prose-poem that he published two months ago? Er, not really.
Grass’s latest poem, the subject of which is Greece’s debt crisis, does nothing to change my view that, at the age of 84, he really ought to stop trying to mix politics and poetry. It’s called Europas Schande, which translates as Europe’s Shame. The title gives the game away, doesn’t it? Read more
The launch event for the report in Brussels. Photo: Transparency International
With its fragmenting monetary union, tottering banks and politically discontented citizens, the last thing the European Union needs to hear is that it has an embarrassing public and private sector corruption problem on its hands.
Yet this is the conclusion of a new report from Transparency International, the global anti-corruption watchdog.
“Political parties, public administrations and the private sector are assessed as the weakest forces in the promotion of integrity across Europe,” says the report. Political party funding is inadequately regulated, lobbying remains veiled in secrecy, parliaments don’t live up to their own ethical standards, public procurement practices breed corruption and there isn’t enough legal protection for whistleblowers. Read more
Denis Doyle/Getty Images
How much infrastructure does a European country need? The question occurs to me every time I hear about the European Union’s plans for a “growth pact” to complement “austerity”. One invariable component of these well-intentioned plans is extra investment in roads, railways, airports and so on.
The assumption seems to be that austerity-asphyxiated European countries, many of which are in the Mediterranean, will breathe more freely if they receive funds to build more infrastructure. If so, it is a lazy assumption. Read more
Costas Mitropoulos, chief executive of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, otherwise known as Greece’s privatisation agency, is the most eloquent advocate of selling off state property I have ever met. Once he actually starts doing it, he will be an unchallenged master of his craft. Read more