After a frenetic period of travel involving 10 separate trips overseas in the past three months, I am trying to catch my breath, shake off the jet lag and make sense of what I have seen. Leaving aside the big geopolitical themes, one tentative conclusion I have reached is that world leaders and hotel lobbies do not mix.
This first struck at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid as I waited to greet Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, who was the guest-of-honour at the FT’s Spain Summit. On one side of the lobby was a bank of photographers and TV crews. I was standing on the other side with a couple of FT colleagues and the hotel management. Rajoy’s limo drew up and we could see him and his entourage heading towards the entrance. Just at that moment, a party of elderly Americans came out of the lift, clad in their trademark tracksuit bottoms and fluorescent visors, and began to totter across the lobby, demanding loudly, “Where’s the coach?” The hotel manager froze — torn between the desire to shove the Americans out of the way and his duty to be courteous. He just about pulled it off but it was a close-run thing. Read more
Another week, another sign of political upheaval in Spain.
Monday brought a fresh poll showing that Podemos, the upstart anti-establishment party, is now the most popular political movement in the country. The survey, published in the El Mundo daily, gave Podemos 28.3 per cent of the vote, two points ahead of the ruling Popular party and more than eight points ahead of the opposition Socialists. Not bad for a party founded just 10 months ago by a group of political scientists
It was not the first time that the new party has come first in an opinion poll. But the latest survey made clear that the Podemos surge is no statistical aberration. Fuelled by wide-spread disdain for Spain’s political class and a festering social crisis, the new party appears to be on course to shatter Spain’s established two-party system – and render any prediction as to who might govern the country after next year’s general election obsolete. Read more
The political leaders of all 32 nations competing in the World Cup will be praying for a good performance from their national side. With the possible exception of Barack Obama, they can confidently expect to bask in any success achieved on the playing fields of Brazil. Football glory is welcome for any country. But, right now, it feels particularly important for those countries that are currently troubled by national identity crises – in particular Belgium, Nigeria, Spain and even, France. Fortunately, all four countries have good teams that have arrived in Brazil with high hopes. 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
By Luisa Frey
♦ Deflation is threatening Spain, which just emerged from recession– falling prices result in higher real value of debt, making families’ and businesses’ lives harder.
♦ In China, reforms announced by the Communist party are compared to “small repairs on an old road”.
♦ The New York Times revealed that JPMorgan Chase hired a consulting firm run by the daughter of Wen Jiabao, the former Chinese prime Minister and US authorities are scrutinising these ties as part of a wider bribery investigation.
♦ The New York Times also writes in its blog Sinosphere about a code used by Bloomberg to keep articles away from the eyes of powerful people in China.
♦ Since its independence, almost every political transition in the Central African Republic has come along with violence. The current conflict is no exception with the country risking genocide, writes Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. Read more
By Luisa Frey
♦ Spaniards may have less faith in European institutions than before, but no eurosceptic parties have risen in the country, writes the FT’s Tobias Buck.
♦ The higher the fire burns in Middle East, the more the US seems intent on turning away, says FT columnist Philip Stephens.
♦ As part of a soviet-inspired urban plan, superblocks are being built in China. The gated compounds in suburbia have residential towers and houses inside them, but force the new urban middle-class to drive back to the city for services.
♦ Rising anti-semitism is bringing fear to Europe. A third of European Jews are considering emigration because they do not feel safe in their home country, according to The New York Times.
♦ Local newspapers called Wednesday’s breakthrough in peace talks aimed at ending Colombias’s half-century-old guerrilla war “historic”. But many Colombians are sceptical, reports the Global Post
♦ Tens of thousands of middle-class Syrians are trying to get to Europe’s wealthy northern states: “Whether they wind up in Nordic comfort or desperate straits on the fringes of Southern Europe is often a matter of luck”. Read more
Judges of the German Constitutional Court (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
In the beginning, the eurozone crisis was a banking sector, private debt and government bond market emergency. Then economic recession, unemployment and welfare expenditure cuts took hold, propelling the growth of anti-EU, anti-establishment and anti-immigrant political movements. Now the eurozone crisis is acquiring a third dimension: one in which national constitutional courts are moving to centre stage.
True, the judges sitting on Germany’s constitutional court have been going in this direction since 2009, when they issued a judgement on the EU’s Lisbon treaty. But before the eurozone crisis erupted in full force, such rulings were fairly uncontroversial. The judges could reasonably argue in 2009 that they were simply testing if the new EU fundamental treaty was compatible with the democratic principles of Germany’s 1949 constitution, known as the Basic Law.
Now that the eurozone crisis has pushed the German government and the European Central Bank into once unimaginable measures to rescue the 17-nation currency bloc, the constitutional court has parked itself on wholly different territory. The judges would indignantly contest this, but when the court opened hearings in June into the legality of the ECB’s actions to protect the eurozone, it looked from the outside very much as if the judges had appointed themselves the supreme law lords of European integration – to the exclusion of any other EU or national legal authority. Read more
♦ Gillian Tett speaks to Alan Greenspan and finds he is prepared to admit that he got it wrong – at least in part.
♦ The White House glitches have gone further than Obamacare, as the administration has been continuously caught off guard by recent crises from Syria to spying, says Edward Luce. And the president gives few signs of having found a learning curve.
♦ France’s central bank governor, Christian Noyer, says Europe’s financial transaction tax poses an “enormous risk” to the countries involved.
♦ Spain’s mini gold rush in the country’s north is part of a broader movement by foreign investors seeking to turn Spain’s woes to their advantage. It also shows some of the difficulties of investing despite a more positive outlook.
♦ Ikea has sent self-assembly huts to Ethiopia to house Somali refugees – and they could soon be used as alternatives to tents elsewhere.
♦ Josef Joffe, editor of Die Zeit, looks at the history of top-down capitalism and wonders whether China can sustain its astounding growth.
♦ The art world may be marvelling at China’s booming market, but many transactions have not actually been completed and the market is flooded with forgeries. Read more
♦ Spain may be emerging from the recession with a more competitive economy, but critics claim that confidence in the rebound is premature and potentially dangerous.
♦ A leaked video shows Egyptian Army officers debating how to influence the media before the military takeover.
♦ Patrick Cockburn writes about how media coverage of conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria doesn’t always reflect the whole reality of each war.
♦ Justice officials in Hong Kong admitted to knowing that one of Berlusconi’s allies tried to interfere with evidence in a money laundering case, where Berlusconi’s son is one of the defendents, according to the South China Morning Post.
♦ The stance of some Republican House members on the US government shutdown is generating anger among senior Republican officials, who think the small bloc of conservatives is undermining the party and helping President Obama. Read more
By David Gallerano
♦ The Kremlin-backed candidate Sergei Sobyanin beats anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny and remains mayor of Moscow, although Navalny’s unexpected result looks like an alarm signal for Vladimir Putin.
♦ A school regional programme shows many families in Spain cannot provide their children with basic needs – namely, food and a balanced diet.
♦ Writer John le Carré discusses his life and recent events with Philippe Sands.
♦ While jihadists and al-Qaeda affiliates prepare on the Syrian mountains for the US attack (with the lessons of Iraq in mind), Syrian refugees are leaving the country and experiencing a hard time in Egypt, where they are now associated with the discredited regime of Mohammed Morsi. In the New York Times Nicholas Kristof outlines two options for the US – intervention or paralysis – and chooses the latter.
♦ The ancient practice of self-immolation – though relatively uncommon – is Chinese farmers’ ultimate protest. Chinese government will probably respond by increasing compensation for expropriated rural land.
♦ Iowa grants gun permits to people who are legally or completely blind. There is disagreement among advocates for the disabled and public officers on whether this endangers public safety.
♦ Brazilian TV network Globo reveals that the NSA spied on Brazilian Oil giant Petrobras, adding to the existing tensions between United States and Brazil. Read more
Can Spain’s scandal-plagued government survive?
Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and his Popular Party are embroiled in a scandal that threatens to bring down the government. The flare-up in the long-rumbling scandal comes at a bad time for Spain, which continues to struggle to revive an economy where unemployment is around 20 per cent. Tobias Buck, Madrid bureau chief, and Tony Barber, Europe editor, join Gideon Rachman to discuss the crisis.
♦ Kofi Anna’s Africa Progress Panel releases a report lambasting Eurasian Natural Resources Corp for “opaque concession trading” costing the Democratic Republic of Congo $725m.
♦ With normal post-recession government employment expansion, US unemployment might be as low as 6.3 percent, but this recovery is different, argues Derek Thompson.
♦ Spain has become a destination for vitro fertilization and there is no shortage of egg donors. Der Spiegel talks to one woman who donated eggs to ease her financial difficulties.
♦ The Bhutto family has been notably absent from campaigning in Pakistan. The FT looks at whether this is the beginning of the end for the Pakistan People’s Party. Read more
♦ The ever-growing ranks of unskilled and unemployed youth in Spain not only pose a challenge to the economy but are also threatening the fabric of Spanish society – a problem Madrid is only now beginning to address.
♦ Voter outrage sparks José Manuel Barroso’s concerns about eurozone belt-tightening.
♦ Paul Kevin Curtis, who has been cleared in the ricin letter investigation, might have been framed, according to his lawyer. James Everett Dutschke, another entertainer, is now the focus of the investigation and it seems that the two men’s lives have coincided before.
♦ Thirteen female corrections officers were charged with federal racketeering at a state prison in Maryland, US. “The indictment described a jailhouse seemingly out of control. Four corrections officers became pregnant by one inmate. Two of them got tattoos of the inmate’s first name, Tavon — one on her neck, the other on a wrist.”
♦The 200m emails to be kept in the George W. Bush Presidential Center are creating years worth of work for archivists, a growing problem for the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, the federal agency that keeps the nation’s trove of historic documents.
On Tuesday, the editor of the Financial Times, Lionel Barber, gave the commencement address at Barcelona’s Esade Business School. His theme was the eurozone crisis – but he began with a story from the earlier, headier days of the new millenium, when the Spanish economy was displaying “sustained dynamism”, in the words of the IMF.
In the summer of 2001, I interviewed José María Aznar and Silvio Berlusconi in successive weeks. Aznar was at the height of his powers. He had just successfully pressed for better budget terms at an EU summit, and boasted of quietly smoking a fat cigar until Chancellor Schroeder and others came round to his demands.
A few weeks later I was in Rome at Silvio Berlusconi’s private villa next to the Spanish steps. Inside, the roses were purple, the ceilings were high and the women statuesque. When I insisted in conducting my interview in French, il Cavaliere responded by crooning an old Edith Piaf song. Then I mentioned I had just interviewed his old friend Aznar at the Moncloa. “Well,” said Mr Berlusconi, suddenly serious, “Spain is a great success story. Madrid is one of the great cities, bustling with commerce and trade. If Italy does not reform, it will be overtaken by Spain in the next decade.”
The EU summit that begins on Thursday has enjoyed less fanfare – and less frenzied speculation over its potential outcomes – than many others. But don’t be fooled: it still matters. Here’s why. Read more