I have just returned from the annual “Polish-British Round Table” in Krakow. This year, the theme was – “Britain and Poland: A Shared Future?” After sitting through several hours of discussions, my conclusion was – “not necessarily”. In fact, it is quite startling how swiftly British and Polish viewpoints have diverged, since Poland joined the EU back in 2004. Read more
In the week of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral – and with the euro-crisis bubbling along – it is interesting to take a look back at what Thatcher had to say about the single currency. Much of the commentary since her death has portrayed Thatcher’s views on Europe as irrational and backward-looking. For example, Anne-Marie Slaughter in the FT, wrote that “her attitude to Europe was a throwback to the 19th century”. For good measure, Prof Slaughter adds that Thatcher’s views were “deeply anachronistic and dangerous”. Of course, there was a strong element of emotion in Thatcher’s views of Europe. So what? It is more interesting to note that she also made some quite precise criticisms of the European single currency that look increasingly prescient, as time wears on. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
In the end, the Cypriots swallowed the bitter medicine. Facing national humiliation and a bleak future many complain their small nation has been forced to succumb to the will of a larger, merciless power – Germany. Read more
A poster for Social Democrat Stephan Weil next to one of the CDU's David McAllister (AFP/GettyImages)
Voters handed a narrow victory to Germany’s centre-left opposition in Lower Saxony on Sunday. ‘But it’s only a regional election!’, you cry. Here’s why it matters:
1) The vote in Lower Saxony is considered a dry run for Germany’s general election in September this year.
The defeat of Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition in the swing state on Sunday – albeit by one seat – is a blow to the Chancellor. It emboldens her opponents, the centre-left alliance of the Social Democrats and Green party, who won power with 69 seats compared to the 68 seats of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led coalition. Merkel is still favourite to win in September – particularly because her personal ratings in the polls are excellent – but Lower Saxony suggests she has a battle ahead.
2) Merkel’s party, the CDU, lost power due to the downward drag of its coalition partner, the Free Democrat Party (FDP) – and the fear is that this effect could be replicated in the national elections.
Merkel’s own party still came top in Lower Saxony, with 36% of the vote, but in coalition politics, it’s all about team performance – and the chancellor’s chosen teammate let her down. The voting results slightly hide this: on first glance, the FDP did far better expected, winning 9.9%, compared to polling that showed them with just over 5% last week. Read more
There was a big kerfuffle in October when the IMF made a point of saying that it (along with a bunch of other forecasters) had underestimated the effect of fiscal tightening on European economic growth over the past couple of years, with obvious implications for the troika’s austerity programmes for the likes of Ireland, Greece and Spain.
The admission got some predictable pushback from troika members who have drunk deep from the austerian well. It was also questioned by my colleague Chris Giles, who pointed out that the results were highly sensitive to the inclusion in the sample of outlier countries – especially Germany (which, despite its frugal prescription for others, has itself followed expansionary fiscal policy and enjoyed good growth) and Greece (the opposite) – and possibly the exclusion of the Baltic states, which followed aggressive fiscal tightening to better effect than Greece. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Berlin does not feel like an imperial city. The new government buildings – the chancellor’s office, the Bundestag and the foreign ministry – have all been designed with plenty of glass and natural light, to emphasise transparency and democracy. The finance ministry is, admittedly, housed in the old headquarters of the Luftwaffe. But most of the grandest architecture – Unter den Linden and the Brandenburg gate – is a legacy of the Prussian kings. Modern Berlin presents a more welcoming face, and has become a magnet for tourists and teenagers. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
“This is what you have to do, if you want the people to build statues of you on horseback.” Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was doubtless being whimsical when he urged his colleagues to make bold decisions about the future of Europe. But the former French president’s remark offers a telling insight into the mentality that created the great euro-mess of today. Read more
Is the worst over in the eurozone?
With the ECB committed to unlimited purchases of eurozone bonds, the German Constitutional Court in a forgiving mood, and the Dutch electorate surprising pundits by voting for pro-euro candidates, is the worst over in the euro crisis, or, with Spain still teetering, is this just another false dawn? Tony Barber, Europe editor, and Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief, join Gideon Rachman. Read more
Add Poland to the list of European Union countries turned off by the incoherent, self-isolating policies of Britain’s Conservative-led government towards Europe.
First there was Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel restricts her visits to the UK these days to the barest minimum. She has been lukewarm about David Cameron, the UK prime minister, ever since he pulled the Conservative party out of the pan-European centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), of which her Christian Democrats are a leading light.
Next came France. President François Hollande hasn’t forgotten how Cameron refused to meet him when he visited London on an election campaign trip earlier this year. Hollande is not inclined to do Cameron any favours on crucial issues such as the protection of British interests in a more deeply integrated Europe. Read more