By Gideon Rachman
Some years ago, I made a futile attempt to persuade a Chinese diplomat that Taiwan should be allowed to declare independence – if that is what its people want. “If Scotland voted to be a separate nation,” I argued, “England would not stop it.” The diplomat smiled sceptically, like a man recognising a particularly crude falsehood. “I know that’s not true,” he said. “England would never accept Scottish independence. It would invade.”
José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, caused quite a kerfuffle in London at the weekend when he said on one of Britain’s most-watch political chat shows that Scotland would find it “extremely difficult, if not impossible” to rejoin the EU if it were to succeed from the United Kingdom.
But for those who have been following the debate closely, Barroso’s position had been telegraphed long before – in fact, it has been the stated European Commission view for nearly a decade. Read more
The terrorist killing of tourists in the Sinai peninsula is a bad blow for Egypt. If the Egyptian economy is to revive, it is crucial that holidaymakers start coming back to the country. Political instability in Egypt has led to a sharp fall in tourist arrivals, ever since the revolution of 2011. Yet, despite the political violence on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere, tourists had not hitherto been targeted by terror groups. That has now changed, with the first major attacks on tourists since 2009. Read more
Five lesser-known facts about the man likely to become Italy’s youngest ever prime minister:
- He was once a boy scout. According to his online biography, he continued his scout duties while director of his family firm.
- Some compared him with Barack Obama when he chose to run a grassroots primary campaign with the tagline “Adesso!” – “Now!” While Obama wrote books called The Audacity of Hope and Dreams from My Father, Renzi has written a book called Fuori! (Out!) about the dreams, ideas and hopes for a new generation. It tells the reader what he has learnt from football and scout camps.
- He has also written a book call Tra De Gaspari e gli U2 — Between De Gaspari and U2 — on young people and the symbols of politics.
♦ Young ‘scrapper’ squares up for reform battle. The challenges awaiting Matteo Renzi, the 39-year-old centre-left leader likely to form Italy’s new government
♦ As Britons struggle to protect their homes from unprecedented floods, the sandbag – the traditional bulwark against rising water – has been branded by experts outdated and hopelessly ineffective.
♦ Termite robots build the future. The FT looks at a ground breaking experiment in artificial intelligence.
♦ How an Arab/Iranian women’s movement to fight patriarchy through reclaiming the body has become intertwined with revolutions in the Middle East.
♦ Carlo Strenger in Haaretz slams the Israeli right’s use of ‘the holocaust card’ whenever the settlement policy is criticised by overseas allies.
♦ For romantically inclined smart readers: The Economist explains the science of love at first sight. Read more
Do last week’s German constitutional court ruling lambasting – but failing to overturn – the ECB’s crisis-fighting bond-buying programme and Matteo Renzi’s ousting of Italy’s prime minister Enrico Letta have anything in common?
In the view of many ECB critics, particularly in Berlin, the two are not only related, but one may have caused the other. Read more
According to the old saying, if you knew how a sausage was made, you’d never eat one. It is no easier on the stomach to watch the political intrigues that lie behind the formation of Italian governments.
A new government is on its way in Rome because Matteo Renzi, leader of the centre-left Democratic party, has decided to pull the plug on Enrico Letta’s premiership. It is difficult to see who other than the youthful, super-ambitious Renzi will replace Letta.
For Italy’s eurozone partners, this is a fateful moment. If Renzi, as prime minister, fails to deliver the reforms that European policy makers know are essential to keeping Italy in the eurozone, the likelihood that some other Italian politician will do so are exceedingly small.
But Renzi’s very public political assassination of Letta, his party comrade, was a kind of theatrical “stab in the front” that may one day return to haunt him. For if these are the methods he deems suitable to clear his path to national office, it is reasonable to assume that they will sooner or later be used against him. Read more
First protests; then inevitable casualties and recriminations. Life is getting harder on the mean streets of Venezuela’s cities. But that does not mean that a change of regime is in the offing.
The street protests that left three dead on Wednesday after pro and anti-government forces clashed came after a week of scattered gatherings across the country. The trigger was the arrest on Feb 6 of four students in western Tachira state. Since then relatively small gatherings, coordinated by social media under the hashtag #LaSalida, the Exit, have gathered in provincial cities.
Some of these protests turned violent after the National Guard attempted to disperse crowds. Wednesday’s nationwide protests were of a different scale. Rough estimates suggest the crowd in Caracas reached 20,000 people. Reports suggest pro-government motorcycle gangs attacked them. Either way, it was the worst unrest since President Nicolás Maduro won last year’s election by a whisker after his mentor, Hugo Chávez, died. Read more