Financial crisis

Greece on the brink
Greece is said to be about to run out of money and yet there’s no sign of a deal with its creditors. Gideon Rachman is joined by Martin Sandbu and Kerin Hope to discuss whether a further crisis can be avoided.

  • Despite being accused of naivety in his foreign policy, Barack Obama is showing qualities associated with Henry Kissinger – the arch-realist of US diplomacy, writes Ed Luce
  • Whether by design or accident, Athen’s Syriza-led government has achieved deep European harmony – but this has not produced agreement on a strategy for dealing with the Greek crisis
  • Dubai is hoping to be a bridgehead for deals with Iran as international investors prepare for a gold rush with the prospect of an end to nuclear sanctions in sight
  • Secret files from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) show how former officials under Saddam Hussein helped design a blueprint for the militant jihadi group’s meteoric rise (Spiegel Online)
  • Who or what abdicated power in Grimsby, once the largest fishing port in the world and now a target for the UK Independence party, leaving swathes of it to rot? (London Review of Books)

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Three weeks to go until the UK general election, and whatever the result – most likely no party with an overall majority in parliament – the remarkable thing is the serious underperformance of the ruling Conservatives.

The Conservatives inherited a nascent economic recovery in 2010 from a desperately unpopular Labour government that had been in power for thirteen years, and, despite questionable economic policies such as excessive austerity, narrowly managed not to screw it up.

But instead of building on their modest 36.1 per cent vote share in 2010, which forced them to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, polls now show the Tories struggling to break above 35 per cent. Read more

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  • Lee Kuan Yew, the founder and patriarch of modern Singapore who has died at the age of 91, was one of postwar Asia’s most revered and controversial politicians
  • In a fight between whales, the shrimp’s back is broken, according to a South Korean expression that sums up the country’s struggle to balance its strategic relationships with China and the US
  • Can economic optimism return quickly enough in Europe to prevent the further rise of extremist political parties? asks Gideon Rachman
  • Despite brutal punishments under Saudi justice drawing comparisons to Isis, avenues for mercy are built into the system that allow reprieves (New York Times)
  • It is used by almost a tenth of the world’s population, gives a buzz equivalent to six cups of coffee and is a symbol of love. But the humble betel nut is also sending tens of thousands to an early grave (BBC)

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By Gideon Rachman
Europe is in a race against time. After six years of economic crisis, extremist political parties are well-entrenched across the continent. Set against that, the European economy is in better shape than for some years. The question is whether economic optimism can return quickly enough to prevent the bloc’s politics slithering over the edge.

In his Budget speech to parliament on Wednesday, the UK chancellor George Osborne indulged in the traditional needling of his opponents on the opposite bench. Whether it was a dig at Ed Miliband, Labour leader, for his two kitchens, or at the party’s recent electioneering in a “women-friendly” pink van, his jokes at the opposition’s expense met with the usual roars of raucous approval from his own benches.

But the second biggest target of his needling was rather more surprising – our friends across the Channel. Read more

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Remarks by the president of Chechnya have sparked theories that Boris Nemtsov, the assassinated Russian opposition politician, fell victim to infighting in an opaque regime

Policy makers in some of the world’s largest economies have devalued their currencies in a bid to boost export-led recoveries, but there is evidence lower exchange rates do not always work

An unprecedented environmental protest movement in a remote part of Algeria has disrupted the country’s multibillion-dollar shale programme, and is making political waves across the region

Four years after a nuclear disaster, Fukushima’s farmers are struggling to sell their produce despite decontamination efforts as the region tries to stand on its own two feet (WSJ)

Win or lose in Tikrit, Isis can only be defeated in Iraq by the Sunnis, writes Hassan Hassan (The Guardian)  Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Watching the Greek crisis unfold, I found myself torn between two equal and opposite thoughts. First, the euro cannot survive. Second, everything must be done to save the euro.

Are Europe’s politicians ready to contemplate Grexit?
Gideon Rachman is joined by Ferdinando Giugliano and Stefan Wagstyl to discuss the growing stand-off between Greece and its eurozone creditors as the language becomes more uncompromising on both sides. What would happen if Greece left the eurozone and are politicians prepared to contemplate such an outcome?

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  • Greece’s privatisation programme, ordered under the terms of its international bailout, was falling far short of targets even before the country’s new left-wing government vowed to scrap further sales of state assets
  • Following Isis’ brutal execution by immolation of captured Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, many in the country have called for a deeper military commitment against the jihadist group
  • Foreigners are leaving Russia in unprecedented numbers, reflecting a worsening economic outlook as western sanctions bite
  • The west’s inability to comprehend how Vladimir Putin sees the world means it has trouble thinking constructively about how to deal with him (The American Interest)
  • A convicted al-Qaeda operative has claimed that more than a dozen prominent Saudi figures were donors to the terror group and that a Saudi diplomat discussed with him a plot to shoot down Air Force One (NYT)

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A former colleague on the FT (no names, but he now runs the UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility) used to muse that a useful all-purpose headline for any story about an emerging market economy was “[Insert Name Of Country Here]: Structural Reform?”

Putting “Greece” into that formula after Syriza’s resounding victory in Sunday’s election, where do we stand? Every pundit in Europe is retailing some version of the insightful observation that it is all about whether Syriza — and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s new prime minister (above) — can be induced to do enough structural reform to buy the fiscal leeway and debt relief it wants.

The problem with this view is that “structural reform” is a crude and unhelpful term. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Syriza have won the Greek election. But, perhaps just as startling, the “far left” party is making considerable headway in the struggle to win over elite opinion in the west.

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Most euro area governments and investors are breathing a sigh of relief after Wednesday’s preliminary judgment from the EU’s highest court in favour of the European Central Bank’s sovereign bond-buying programme – the 2012 initiative that helped to bring the euro crisis under control.

But governments and investors, in and outside Europe, should keep in mind that the danger of a bitter, protracted struggle over EU constitutional law will now go up. This would pit Germany against other power centres in the EU. Read more