By Toby Luckhurst
Europe is beset by rising energy prices, driven by the increasing competitiveness of shale production in the US, political commitments to lower emissions and an over-reliance on Russia in the wake of unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.
Britain’s Big Six, the six dominant energy companies, face accusations of overcharging, but they in turn claim that prohibitive emissions targets and governmental “green levies” are to blame for the price increase. While the US is benefiting from a shale gas boom that is predicted to give it an edge over both the EU and China for the next two decades, fracking is struggling to take off in Europe due to high costs, geological difficulties and public ambivalence to the environmentally destructive production methods. European politicians are considering abandoning the 2030 renewable energy targets in light of these high costs.
These articles analyse the causes of and possible solutions to Europe’s energy crisis.
One of the benefits – and pleasures of Davos – is the chance conversations that strike up among strangers, either in the fringes of meetings or on the shuttle buses that ferry people around town.
On Wednesday evening, I was in a shuttle bus with three other people. One of them introduced himself as Kumi Naidoo, head of Greenpeace in South Africa.
Sitting opposite him happened to be Tulsi Tanti, chairman of Suzlon, an Indian wind energy company that has an operation in South Africa. They started to talk about wind and solar energy in Africa.
♦ Backroom political pressure has kept drone funding intact despite doubts over reliability.
♦ The war in Syria is turning out to be good business for people smugglers.
♦ Israel is set to approve a Gaza gasfield deal, though there is scepticism about the likely success of the plan.
♦ An election app in Azerbaijan accidentally released results before voting actually started.
By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ The signing of a contract between the Somali government and UK oil and gas exploration company Soma to collect data on onshore and offshore oil has been called non-transparent, and raised concerns about whether oil politics could destabilise the country’s fragile recovery.
♦ Prague’s CorruptTour agency is selling out bookings for their Crony Safari that brings tourists to a sites connected with the most famous corruption scandals – from an address registered by 600 companies to a school where cash can buy a degree.
♦ The monetary tightening by India’s central bank could close credit arteries and make it difficult for the country’s banks to cover a mass of rapidly souring loans, writes Reuters’ Andy Mukherjee, as short term funding costs have increased during a time where the economy has slowed and the stock market is slumping.
♦ The drive by policy makers to put Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac out of business doesn’t make any sense, writes Joe Nocera, as they are no longer bullies, are making the government money, and are necessary to uphold the core of American housing finance.
♦ The sit-ins being held around Egypt by those in favour of reinstating President Mohamed Morsi will likely not work, according to an analysis by Foreign Policy’s Erica Chenoweth, as studies show that nonviolent campaigns must follow a strategy of carefully sequenced moves, or they can end in catastrophe.
♦ All change in Europe? French labour market reforms start to bear fruit, with signs of movement in industrial relations and eurozone austerity might be on its way out.
♦ India’s economy grew at the slowest rate in a decade – hampered by electricity shortages and poor infrastructure.
♦ Mexico’s highest-grossing film is still filling multiplexes 10 weeks after its release. The NYT looks at whether audiences just want to see rich people humiliated, or whether they are actually looking for a form of middle class catharsis.
♦ Neal Ascherson reports on the state of German politics: “They are pissed off with Angela Merkel’s governing coalition, but reluctant to let go of Mutti’s hand. In short, the public are in one of those sullen, unreasonable moods which make politicians despair.”
♦ Ethnic strife in Xinjiang, northeast China, is worsening with the growth of immigrant-dominated settlements – Uighurs are resentful of such powerful entities dominating the region and employing so few of their own ethnic group.
♦ And here’s something to chew on this weekend. When you’re having your morning pastry spare a thought for New Yorkers who have been lining up at 6am, or paying as much as $40, for a delectable new pastry – the cronut, a croissant-donut hybrid. It seems the bakery has a scaling problem, which is driving cronut-craving customers to the black market.
♦ Energy companies scrambling for reserves in Somalia are at risk of opening up dangerous faultlines.
♦ Janan Ganesh thinks the UK Conservative party has become ungovernable. “Drama is giving way to farce. Having run out of big but rash things to ask for, the demands of eurosceptic backbenchers are now plain odd.”
♦ Germany’s Green party is still coming to terms with its historical links to pedophiles.
♦ On a final note… Are you a fan of statistics guru Nate Silver? Do you love Euro-pop song contests with political undertones? Martin O’Leary, a “recovering pure mathematician”, has set up a model to predict the results of this weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest.
Photo by Getty
An energy and diplomacy deal that would reshape the map of the eastern Mediterranean might be proceeding faster than many people think.
It is just a few weeks since, in a bid to revive frozen diplomatic ties, Israel apologised to Turkey for a deadly raid that left nine Turkish citizens dead. The process was still sufficiently shaky for US Secretary of State John Kerry to come to Istanbul last weekend to chivvy both sides to go all the way and exchange ambassadors.
There are plenty of potential slips on the way ahead: compensation has to be agreed; the fate of Turkish court cases against retired Israeli commanders has to be decided (at present, they are going ahead); and Ankara still has to pronounce itself satisfied with the lifting of restrictions on civilian goods to Gaza (relevant, because the flotilla stormed by Israeli Defence Forces in 2010 was seeking to break the Gaza blockade).
For a man who suffered the indignity of having to stand down after one term as president of Russia to make way for the return of Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev appears comfortable in his own skin.
Meeting the Financial Times and representatives of six other European newspapers this week, Russia’s prime minister seemed relaxed, sometimes jocular – in spite of the pressures many political observers believe he is under. Compared with the somewhat tense and nervous figure the FT first interviewed just after his election as president in 2008, he seems comfortable with the trappings of power – even if they are now diminished from what they were.
Today, a conservative or hardline faction in the Kremlin, emboldened by Putin’s return to the presidency, is seen as jostling to replace the more liberal Medvedev with its own premier. Putin, too, is thought ready to jettison Medvedev as a scapegoat in the event of a crisis such as an economic slowdown – and Russia’s economy has got off to a weak start this year.
For now, the premier remains in the same Gorky-9 compound he occupied as president, in which Boris Yeltsin spent his second presidential term, just off the chic Rublyovskoye Shosse 15km beyond Moscow’s outer ring road.