By Christian Oliver and Richard Milne
Europe’s leaders are preparing for a trade war with Russia by mapping out the battlefields on which they see the highest risk of casualties.
In data released on Friday, the European Commission identified the agricultural exporters most vulnerable to Moscow’s trade embargo on EU produce. Spanish peaches, Dutch cheeses and Polish apples find themselves squarely on the front line.
Polish fruit exports to Russia were valued at €340m last year and win the dubious honour of being the most exposed crops. The Poles have launched an impassioned public campaign to try to switch to more domestic consumption with their “Eat an apple to spite Putin” slogan.
The Netherlands (with dairy exports to Russia of €257m in 2013) and Finland (€253m) are at most risk on the milk and cheese front. Spain and Greece are vulnerable in relation to citrus, with stoned fruit such as peaches and nectarines also being described by farmers as being at crisis point in terms of storage overload and no market to go to. Read more
Croatia's economy is not so sunny
The slow, painful healing of the Greek economy after a catastrophic debt crisis raises an interesting question. Which country now holds the title of No.1 Economic Basket Case of the European Union?
The answer is surely Croatia. It is a small country (4.3m people, not even 1 per cent of the 28-nation EU’s 506m inhabitants) that did not join the EU until last July. It is not a eurozone member. It has gorgeous islands and beaches where life seems distinctly pleasant. So Croatia and its economic troubles often slip under everyone’s radar.
But Croatia is now in its sixth successive year of recession. During this time it has lost almost 13 per cent of its gross domestic product. Unemployment is about 17 per cent of the workforce, and among young people the rate is close to 50 per cent. Read more
The focus in last week’s European elections was on the seismic waves of the distinct currents of Euro-populism and reaction that “earthquaked” to the top of the polls in France, Britain (or at least England), Denmark and Greece. But arguably the most intriguing insurgency was Podemos (We Can) in Spain, a phenomenon worth examining outside the swish and swirl of populism.
Much of what I have seen written about Podemos has them “coming out of nowhere” – a cliché employed by politicians and analysts that means “we didn’t see them coming”. Yet a three-month-old party with a budget of barely €100,000 shot into fourth place with one and a quarter million votes and five seats in the European Parliament – similar to Syriza, the Greek left-wing party they plan to hitch up with.
The eruption of Podemos and its compellingly outspoken leader, Pablo Iglesias, has already triggered the fall of Alfredo Perez Rubalcalba, the Socialist secretary general who has presided over the party’s worst electoral performance since democracy was restored in 1977-78. But while obviously a rising current of a new left, Podemos could be a broader catalyst for political change in Spain and beyond. Read more
The differing responses to the Ukraine crisis
This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Washington for talks with President Barack Obama, and Ukraine will top the agenda. Washington has led the way on sanctions, imposing asset freezes and travel bans on dozens of senior Russians and scores of companies, in an attempt to show Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that his interference in Ukraine will bring rising economic costs. The EU on the other hand, seems deeply resistant to tougher economic sanctions, given the much more important ties between Europe and Russia. In this week’s podcast, Ben Hall, world news editor, is joined by Geoff Dyer, Washington correspondent, and Stefan Wagstyl, Berlin bureau chief, to discuss how the two leaders should handle the escalating situation
Wednesday night’s debate in Britain between the standard-bearers of the pro- and anti-EU camps came out as a victory for the eurosceptic, Nigel Farage, over the pro-European deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg. That is not my judgement, it is the verdict of the polls. A snap poll showed that 57% of viewers had Farage winning, whereas 36% had Clegg ahead. That verdict is extra-depressing for pro-Europeans since the polling company weighted the audience to make sure that it was as neutral as possible. Read more
There was good news for Europe’s farmers this week after a survey of EU citizens showed strong public support for the much criticised common agricultural policy. French farmers, who rely on EU subsidies for about half their income, will be especially glad to hear that Europeans polled by the latest Euro Barometer survey place an increasing importance on the challenges of developing agriculture while preserving the environment .
The French certainly believe the farmer is crucial to safeguarding the countryside as well as producing their food as the recent Salon de l’Agriculture showed. One of the world’s largest food and farm shows, it is held every year close to heart of Paris and this year drew a record 703,000 visitors.
People come here to revel in the best of the French terroir – the people, the food and the drink that make up rural France. The Salon is a mandatory stop for any politician with ambition, and this year everyone from President Francois Hollande to hopefuls in the race for Paris mayor made an appearance. Read more
I was passing through eastern Croatia the other day and found myself in Vinkovci, a pleasant town not far from the Danube river border with Serbia. As any Agatha Christie enthusiast will tell you, Vinkovci is the place in Murder on the Orient Express whereSamuel Ratchett, a shady American traveller, is bumped off while the famous train is stuck in a snowdrift. Read more