Europe

Blimey, those lazy French slackers are at it again.

Not content with a statutory 35-hour week, now people are banned from checking work emails after 6pm. No wonder France’s economy is going down the pan. That, more or less, was the story that went viral this week after a flurry of reports on English-language media (The Guardian, the Daily Mail, the tech blog Engadget among others) that a new “legally binding labour agreement” in France prohibited employees from answering emails from work outside office hours. Read more

Gideon Rachman

The news that Greece is returning to the markets as an issuer of sovereign-debt is symbolic of the resurgence of interest in Europe among international – and particularly US – investors. As ever there is a circular logic in play here.

Because most investors no longer fear a collapse of the euro, Greece can come back to the markets. And the sight of Greece returning to the markets will confirm the prejudices of those who argue that the crisis in the eurozone is over.

But just as international investors were, in retrospect, too panic-stricken about Europe in 2012 – I suspect they are probably too relaxed now.

Greece’s return to the markets is one striking sign of this. Another is the fact that 5-year Spanish bonds now have a lower yield than their US equivalent – despite the fact that Spain is barely growing, that its budget-deficit continues to bust EU rules, while unemployment is more than 25 per cent. Read more

While officials at the debt management agency prepare to trumpet Greece’s return to international capital markets, for long-suffering Athenians it is just another day marked by anti-austerity protests in the centre of the capital.

The five-year bond issue will be snapped up by investors eager for extra yield. But Greek risk, though diminishing, is unlikely to disappear soon. Here is a quick checklist of informal indicators tracked by local analysts. Read more

Could the UK go it alone in the cut-throat world of global trade?

Iain Mansfield, the 30-year-old British diplomat awarded a €100,000 prize by the eurosceptic Institute of Economic Affairs for his plan for a British exit from the EU, certainly thinks so. At the centre of his plan is the case for the UK to go it alone in negotiating trade agreements with big players like China and the US. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
“Whatever it takes.” Mario Draghi’s declaration that he would save the euro could well go down as the most effective three-word statement by a Roman since Julius Caesar’s veni, vidi, vici.

Tony Barber

As the televised brawls between Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister, and Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-EU Ukip party have recently shown, the quality of political discussion in Britain is rarely so low as when the topic in question is the European Union.

All the same, sanity and thoughtfulness on the EU issue can still be found in British public life. For this we should thank, among others, the House of Lords, the much misunderstood but invaluable upper house of parliament. Read more

Gideon Rachman

 

Arseniy Yatseniuk (centre), Ukraine

Is the European Union in some way to blame for the fate of Ukraine? That idea has been popularised by the British politician, Nigel Farage, who has argued that Europe has “blood on its hands” in Ukraine – apparently because the Europeans irresponsibly encouraged Ukrainian aspirations to “join Europe”, without thinking what they would do, if Russia reacted aggressively. Mr Farage has been roundly denounced for taking this line. But he is not alone in making the charge that the EU is at fault. I’ve heard similar sentiments expressed by Asian and American policymakers. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Any western leader negotiating over the fate of smaller countries in central or eastern Europe does so in the shadow of two bitter historical experiences: the Munich agreement of 1938 and the Yalta agreement of 1945. At Munich, the British and the French agreed to Adolf Hitler’s demands for the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia – without the participation of the Czech government, which was not represented at the talks. At Yalta, the British and the Americans made a deal with Josef Stalin that, de facto, accepted Soviet domination over postwar Poland and other countries under Russian occupation – again, without the participation of those concerned.

French President François Hollande has made an uncharacteristically audacious decision in appointing Manuel Valls, an economic reformer and Socialist party moderniser, as his new prime minister. Here are five things you need to know about the new premier: Read more

Tony Barber

When out of the blue a little-known millionaire businessman with no political past is elected president of his country, what does this tell you about the quality of that country’s democracy and about the trust of citizens in their established political classes?

These questions are raised by the remarkable victory on Sunday in Slovakia’s presidential election of Andrej Kiska, 51, who will serve a five-year term as head of state after trouncing Robert Fico, prime minister, by a margin of almost 60 to 40 per cent. Read more