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
I contributed to the Weekend FT’s “Summer Books” round-up last week. But there are lots of other interesting titles that have come my way, over the past six months, and that might interest readers. Here is a selection:
Greece, the EEC and the Cold War 1974-1979 (Palgrave Macmillan) by Eirini Karamouzi -A scholarly and readable history of how Greece joined the EU provides a fascinating and valuable context to today’s events. 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
Nato renews its commitment to collective defence
Defence ministers from the Atlantic Alliance’s 28 members are meeting in Brussels to discuss the reinvigoration of the alliance in the face of Russian aggression. The US is to make the biggest reinforcement of its forces in eastern Europe since the fall of the Soviet Union. Ben Hall discusses the development with Geoff Dyer and Sam Jones.
David Cameron says that Britain’s relationship with the rest of the European Union is deeply unsatisfactory and must change. He is pressing ahead with his plans to demand reforms in Europe and to put the results to an “in-out” referendum in Britain – probably next year. But if you look at current events in Europe, Britain’s deal does not look at all bad – in fact, it is strikingly good. There are two major crises currently underway – involving Greece’s debts and refugees arriving in Italy. And yet because of opt-outs negotiated by previous British governments, the UK has been able largely to avoid the painful choices facing the other Europeans. 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
Greek bailout negotiators have come up with a set of revenue-raising projections for 2015 and 2016 that troubles even the most optimistic Athens economist.
The leaked eight-page proposal published by Kathimerini includes administrative measures aimed at raising €1.6bn in the second half of this year and €2.3bn next year and include the following measures: Read more
The president of the World Bank has warned that a pandemic could kill tens of millions people and wipe out between 5 to 10 per cent of GDP of the global economy. Jim Yong Kim said in Frankfurt on Tuesday the world was “complete unprepared” for an outbreak on the scale of the Spanish Flu outbreak witnessed in 1918, which killed between 3 to 5 per cent of the world’s population at that time.
Quoting research commissioned by Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, Dr Kim said a Spanish flu-like pandemic in the modern era would kill 33m people in 250 days. The recent Ebola outbreak had, the former physician, who has headed the World Bank since 2012, said, “revealed the shortcomings of international and national systems to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.”
It was also, according to Dr Kim, by far the biggest risk to the global economy. 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
By Richard McGregor in Washington
In the confrontational atmosphere pitting Beijing against Washington and its allies in Asia, it is often forgotten that China and much of the west were allies in the region’s defining wartime struggle, fighting their then mutual foe, Japan.
In September, Beijing is planning a massive military parade to remind the west and the rest of the world of that moment, the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in the Pacific War. As commemorations go, it promises to be an awkward occasion. Read more
Keep an eye on Transnistria, the pro-Russian breakaway state in Moldova. On Monday, Dmitri Trenin, one of Russia’s best-known foreign policy analysts and a man with good Kremlin antennae, tweeted: “Growing concern in Moscow that Ukraine and Moldova will seek to squeeze Transnistria hard, provoking conflict with Russia.” On Tuesday, a columnist in the pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper warned that Russia “seriously faces the prospect of a repeat of the  situation” – when it went to war with Georgia – “this time around Transnistria”.
What sparked the tensions was a May 21 vote in Ukraine’s parliament to suspend military co-operation with Russia. That included a 1995 agreement giving Russia military transit rights across Ukraine to reach Transnistria, which borders Ukraine’s Odessa region. Read more
Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko (L) with Mikheil Saakashvili (C) in Odessa
Unlike Russia’s leaders, who loathe him, and unlike some of his western friends, who once treated him as if he were Georgia’s greatest hero since King Davit the Builder (1089-1125), I don’t hold strong views for or against Mikheil Saakashvili.
If pressed, I would say that, during his 2004-13 spell as president of Georgia, he displayed an impressive, but slightly frantic reformist energy in pursuing what he believed to be his country’s pro-western destiny. His modernising fervour combined indomitable self-confidence and business school English with an unpredictability and a capacity for misjudgment that at times bordered on recklessness.
I interviewed Saakashvili in Brussels in October 2008, two months after a short war in which Russia in effect partitioned Georgia by invading it and recognising the independence of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He was more subdued than usual, possibly because it had dawned on him that in the build-up to that conflict he had fallen into a well-laid Russian trap.
Now, in the strangest of career twists, Saakashvili has been appointed governor of Ukraine’s southern region of Odessa by President Petro Poroshenko. The Ukrainian president has speeded up this move by granting Saakashvili instant Ukrainian citizenship. Read more
Christine Lagarde made headlines on Friday saying in a German press interview that Grexit was “a potential.”
Coming from the head of the International Monetary Fund, her words rightly caused a stir – even if they were little more than a statement of the obvious. Those charged with maintaining financial stability are not supposed to rock the boat, even if the water is already coming over the gunwales. Read more
There are drawbacks to being a satirist from a deeply authoritarian state. Exile is a frequent consequence. But it has its advantages.
“I’m really blessed as an Iranian comedian,” Kambiz Hosseini told the audience of democrats, dissidents and defectors who gathered this week in Norway for the annual Oslo Freedom Forum (or “Davos for dissidents”). “There’s no shortage of material for me.” Read more
FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio arrives to give a press conference on 27 May, 2015. © Getty
Charges of corruption have swirled around Fifa for many years. Now with the arrest of senior officials at football’s world governing body and the investigation into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, those allegations may finally be converted into a genuine and full exposure of corruption at the top of world football.
Three key issues will now come into focus. First, the future of Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, who is standing for re-election for yet another term in office this Friday. Second, the future of Fifa itself, which looks increasingly like a completely rotten organisation. Third, the future of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar. On Wednesday morning, Fifa reaffirmed that these World Cups would go ahead as planned. But the corruption investigations may make that impossible. A decision to re-award the two World Cups would have political implications that go well beyond football. Read more
Ireland's Dustin the Turkey at the 2008 contest
Russian Babushki have invited Europeans to a “Party for Everyone”, four Swedes found their “Waterloo”, British airline attendants camped it up when “Flying the Flag”, and a girl band from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia pressed Financial Times readers’ buttons with a percentage breakdown of their amorousness (“I Love You 100%”). Read more
Over the weekend, my colleague Richard McGregor, reported on the growing clamour in Washington to push back against China’s “island factory” in the South China sea. He pointed to the possibility of a “limited but risky challenge to Chinese actions by the US military”. That challenge now appears to be underway. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
As Europe’s military capacity has shrunk, so the Nato alliance has grown more dependent on the US. But Urban argues US military power is also on the slide. Read more
If you think that getting fast-track authority from Congress to negotiate trade agreements is hard, just wait for the deal that it is designed to pass.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the US, Japan and 10 other economies in Asia and Latin America has run into a barrage of criticism. Some of it is probably justified; some of it is not. The problem is that we don’t really know.
The governments involved, and particularly the US administration, have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the negotiating texts secret. Even senators and congressmen are only allowed to look at them in a secure location without taking away notes.
By Gideon Rachman
Why is Barack Obama so desperate to secure a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal? The long-winded official answer is that the US president thinks that it would break down barriers between 12 leading Pacific economies and so increase prosperity. The short, real, answer is: China.