Disunited Kingdom: Crisis Leaves Britain Deeply Fractured

The Shard - London, UK(…) Great Britain is currently undergoing a shift. There is growing distance between the periphery and the center, among the individual parts of the kingdom and between the top and the bottom of society. It has never taken as much money as it does today to make it onto the Times list of the 100 wealthiest Britons. Irvine Sellar’s cocktail skewer and all the other towers in London seem even taller and more imposing in eyes of those who stand at the bottom, whom lost a great deal when England was betting on financial industry and neglecting everything else. Society is becoming unravelled at its fringes. Information age has been slow to arrive in Bangor, in northern Wales. “They say we’ll be getting faster Internet soon,” says Bryn Lewis. “They’ve been promising us that for a long time.” Lewis is 23, unemployed, one of about a million Britons between 16 and 24 who are out of work. He writes about his life in North Wales, a remote corner of the country, on the blogs and in Internet forums. Like many of his generation, he would rather do without running water than the Internet. Nevertheless, the Internet is sometimes down for days, he says while sitting in a café in Bangor. Local public transport isn’t in much better shape. Lewis doesn’t have a driver’s license, and there is only limited bus service into the city after 6 p.m. Lewis is one of many who are too clever for the provinces and too lazy for London. His native Wales has seen better days. Its mines stopped supplying fuel for England’s industrial revolution long ago. Nowadays, a young person in Wales has 2 choices: to be unemployed or to move away. Two businesses that still work are health clubs and illegal amphetamine and steroid trade. For years, Lewis has been stumbling between a mentoring program and courses for young entrepreneurs. He was studying chemistry until a year ago, when he dropped out because he could no longer afford the tuition. He is paid a small fee for his blog posts, and occasionally writes articles for the local newspaper. He earns the equivalent of €230 ($310) a month. He saves rent by living alternately with his father and his girlfriend. People who grow up in Bangor waste their youth on the steps of the Costa Coffee Shop or on a bench at the beach. The theater was torn down years ago, the movie theaters have been closed for a long time. You figure out how to get booze without an ID card at early age, says Lewis. He and a teacher recently founded The Bangor Youth Group, which hosts movie nights and lectures. But the group lacks money and space of its own. They are hoping to receive funding from Prince Charles’ foundation. In the meantime, Lewis and his friends get together at Skerries, where a pint of beer costs 1.80. Like in every pub on the entire island, air smells like urinal cake. Johnny and Gaz, who are playing a round of billiards, cook burgers in a fast-food restaurant during the day. Huw is studying creative writing. And Arwel is 21 and stocks supermarket shelves. He has had the words “born free” tattooed onto his knuckles. His daughter Summer has just turned three, but he is no longer with her mother. She is now Lewis’s girlfriend. “It’s all pretty complicated here,” says Lewis. He has just started writing his first novel, which takes place in a desert. Lewis doesn’t want to move to a big city, London included. It’s much too far away. Sometimes it seems to him that London is the capital of a different country.

Link: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/economic-crisis-and-ukip-leave-britain-deeply-divided-a-906600.html

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The German Prism: Berlin Wants to Spy Too

Der Himmel über BerlinThe German government has been largely silent on revelations of US Internet spying. Berlin profits from the program, is pursuing similar plans. Just a few days ago, the man whom many Germans now see as one of the greatest villains in the world visited Berlin. Keith Alexander, the head of the world’s most powerful intelligence operation, National Security Agency, had arranged meetings with key representatives of the German government, including top-ranking officials in Germany’s intelligence agencies and leading representatives of the Chancellery and the Interior Ministry. Alexander gave his usual presentation about how the world could be more effectively spied on and allegedly made safer. At such presentations, NSA chief likes to extol the virtues of his agency’s “incredible technical expertise,” and he urges allies to invest more in controlling +  monitoring today’s new technologies. Alexander maintains there has to be more intensive surveillance of Internet. But while they were still chatting about the Internet in Berlin government offices, news stories were breaking around the world that Alexander’s NSA may already have Web firmly under its control. Former US intelligence official named Edward Snowden had leaked information to the press on the virtually all-encompassing Prism online surveillance program. The world soon learned that Alexander’s NSA, with the help of direct access to the servers of US Internet giants, is able to secretly read, record, store every type of digital communication worldwide. The public also discovered that the Americans have a preference for spying on Germany, more so than on any other country in Europe. During the days of the Cold War, when Germans referred to US as “big brother” it had a positive connotation. Now, that term has entirely different meaning. Snowden’s leak raises big questions: How much surveillance of Internet is a free society willing or able to tolerate? Does the fear of attacks justify comprehensive monitoring of e-mails, search queries on Google, conversations on Skype? Can a country like Germany allow its citizens to be spied on by another country? The Surveillance cannot be based on blind faith in a democracy, but rather on a wide degree of acceptance by informed citizens, politicians and allied countries. This is by no means the case with Prism. There are plenty of reasons to venture a confrontation with the Americans over this issue, particularly in Germany, where there has been a greater awareness of the importance of data protection than elsewhere in world, where citizens have engaged in heated debates over routine data collection efforts such as the national census. “When the foreign agencies infringe upon fundamental rights on the German territory, State cannot look away,” says Dieter Deiseroth, judge at Germany’s Federal Administrative Court. “Accepting the massive collection of private information would be a serious violation of the principle that every state has to defend such rights,” he contends (…..)

Link: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/berlin-profits-from-us-spying-program-and-is-planning-its-own-a-906129.html

The Ghosts of Europe Past

From Cambridge, UKThe cheerleaders of the European Union like to think of it as an entirely new phenomenon, born of the horrors of two world wars. But in fact it closely resembles a formation that many Europeans thought they had long since left to the dustbin of history: the Holy Roman Empire, political commonwealth under which the Germans lived for many hundreds of years. Might take that as a compliment; after all, empire lasted for almost a millennium. But they shouldn’t. If anything, today’s Europe still has to learn lessons of empire’s failures. (source: Brenden Simms – NYTimes – 1o/06/2013)

The similarities with the Holy Roman Empire, which at its greatest extent encompassed almost all of Central Europe, exist at many levels. Today’s European Council, at which union’s member states gather, reminds one of the old Reichstag, where representatives of German cities and principalities met to deliberate matters of mutual concern. And like the European project, which originated in a determination to banish war after 1945, the “modern” Holy Roman Empire, which was reformed by 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, was intended to defuse the domestic German antagonisms had culminated in the traumatic Thirty Years’ War. But most similarities are less flattering. Both the European Union and the empire are characterized by interminable and inconclusive debate. The German phrase for delay, which translates as “shoving something onto the long bench,” stems from when imperial bureaucrats pushed their uncompleted paperwork farther and farther down a long bench in the Reichstag council chamber.

And like the European Union, which is rived by tensions between larger and smaller states, the Holy Roman Empire proved too weak to contain over-mighty members like Prussia and Austria. Fears of partition and the collapse abounded. The Reichstag was paralyzed; the emperor was hamstrung by rival princes. Granted, in a world of increasingly absolutist neighbors, the empire stood out in its respect for law and a high degree of personal freedom. But the truly powerful states of the 18th and 19th centuries were those that learned from the empire’s mistakes. The German experience was a cautionary tale for American colonies after Revolutionary War. They, too, were profoundly divided over how to defend themselves, and above all on the question of how huge debt accumulated during the war should be repaid. The existing Articles of Confederation were too weak for the task, and the founders cast about for alternative models. In the Federalist Papers, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton looked at the federal system of the Holy Roman Empire, but they found it to be “a nerveless body, incapable of regulating its own members, insecure against external dangers, and agitated with unceasing fermentations in its own bowels.” Instead, the patriots embraced the model of the Anglo-Scottish Union of 1707, when the two kingdoms, formerly so divided, had come together by merging their debts, parliaments and collective efforts on the international stage. The resulting American Constitution created a powerful executive presidency and a representative legislature, made possible the creation of a consolidated national debt, a national bank and eventually a strong military, all of which in time turned the United States into the superpower it is today. The Holy Roman Empire, by contrast, failed to reform and disintegrated after it was defeated by Napoleonic France in 1806. Some 200 years later, this history has been forgotten. Today’s constant round of the European summit meetings and reform initiatives remind one of nothing so much as interminable and futile German “imperial reform debate”, and they are likely to have a similarly unhappy, if less spectacular, end.

Like old empire, the union has become preoccupied with legality and procedure at expense of participation and effectiveness. This renders the euro zone cumbersome in face of competition from the east and causes the bond markets to doubt its creditworthiness. Indeed, everything that Madison and Hamilton wrote about the empire then is being echoed today in Washington, albeit sotto voce. Fortunately, there is a solution from history. The euro zone faces the same choice as the Holy Roman Empire + the American patriots of old: how to overcome discredited forms of confederation. Rather than digging themselves into a deeper recession and a democratic deficit through austerity measures, the states in the common currency need to form a full and mighty union on the Anglo-American lines. They must create a strong executive presidency elected by popular vote across the eurozone, a truly empowered house of citizens elected according to population and a senate representing the regions. The existing sovereign debts should be federalized through “Union Bond”, with a strict subsequent debt ceiling for member state governments. There will have to be a single European military and one language of government and politics: English. This is the only framework that will endow the euro zone with the democratic legitimacy to reassure the bond markets, underpin the implementation of good financial governance across the entire union and defend its interests and values on world stage. More than 200 years ago, the choice was between Holy Roman Empire and Britain. The Americans opted wisely and prospered; the Germans continued to muddle through only to see their empire extinguished. History thus holds out both a great opportunity and a terrible warning for the eurozoners. 

Bonjour Tristesse: The Economic and Political Decline of France

Bonjour Tristesse(…..) What this shows, however, France’s fear of no longer playing an important role is real. This is all the more jarring because the country, with its 1.500-year history and its “civilisation française,” sees itself as a natural leader among nations. France still maintains a costly vestige of its former colonial empire, scattered halfway around the globe. Imperial Parisian palaces contribute to sense that France is not just an ordinary country. But does a democracy truly benefit from being celebrated in a monarchical setting? France’s biggest problem is not economic reforms, like the ones Germany demands, but a dearth of democratic culture, says journalist Edwy Plenel. He is sitting in the conference room of an office building in a residential neighborhood in eastern Paris. Plenel, with his trademark large moustache, was a Trotskyite in his youth. Today, at 60, he manages the Internet newspaper Mediapart, which has set almost all major French political scandals of the recent years into motion, including perhaps the most devastating of them all, the case of Jérôme Cahuzac. The fact that a budget minister faced allegations of tax fraud and held a secret bank account in Switzerland, which he had strenuously denied until overwhelming proof finally forced him to admit it, transcended even the worst of improprieties to which the French had become accustomed. The case of disgraced former IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn had already given the public a glimpse into the behavior of an elite that considers itself above the law. Citizens had long resigned themselves to the fact the politicians repeatedly embroil themselves in inscrutable financial scandals. The Cahuzac case, says Plenel, demonstrates with nearly chemical clarity that the French democracy isn’t functioning properly. “Democracy isn’t just the institutions,” he explains, “but also the way it is lived out.” In this case the entire system failed, says Plenel. After Mediapart reported on minister’s Swiss bank account in December, other media organizations, which Plenel accuses of engaging in “a government journalism,” chose to believe Cahuzac’s lies instead. Neither the president nor the parliament, including the opposition, took action after the Mediapart report. The judiciary only became involved when Mediapart filed a complaint, says Plenel. “In this manner, the public gains impression of French oligarchy that sticks together”. Plenel has been working as one of France’s few investigative journalists for the last 30 years. He was with Le Monde for many years, including a stint as editor-in-chief. After leaving the paper, founded Mediapart, which is now in its third year, has 45 employees and is turning a profit. Plenel defends the profession of journalism as he understands it, but, as he points out, this makes him something of an oddity in France. France’s basic problem, says Edwy Plenel, is a presidentialism. “We entrust everything to one man instead of strengthening our democracy”. Plenel explains that France had the most absolute monarchy on the continent until French Revolution swept it away, but it in turn was followed by the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte. As a result, the concept of placing so much control into the hands of one individual was implanted into the heart of post-revolutionary politics. “It has shaped our entire history since then. Unfortunately, General de Gaulle was also a Bonapartist” (…..)

Link: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/economic-decline-in-france-the-failed-leadership-of-hollande-a-903732.html

Niger’s Uranium Facilities Under Assault

FRANCEOne of the scariest scenarios for Western intelligence analysts is possible nexus between terrorism and nuclear materials. Recent events in Africa have heightened these scenarios. On 23 May 2 suicide bombers got into French-owned Areva Somair mine in the Arlit, Niger, 620 miles northeast of capital Niamey, detonating their vehicle. The resultant blast damaged the grinding units, it may take two to nine months to get facility up and running again. At almost the same time, twenty people, mostly soldiers, were killed in an attack against a military camp in Agadez, 160 miles to south, both attacks being claimed by jihadist groups. Niger Defense Minister Mahamadou Karidjo told a press conference, “The situation is under control and the search for the other attackers is under way. There will be a 72-hour period of national mourning starting from today.” The Mouvement pour le Tawhîd et du Jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (“Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa,” MUJAO), formed in December 2011, one of groups fighting French military in Mali since January, claimed responsibility. MUJAO spokesman Abu Walid Sahraoui said, “Thanks to Allah, we have carried out two operations against the enemies of Islam in Niger. We attacked France and Niger for its cooperation with France in the war against Sharia (Islamic law.)” Areva, majority-owned by the French government, has been operating in Niger since 1958 and currently has 2,500 workers employed by four subsidiary companies there, where it is the largest private-sector employer, producing 3.000 tons of uranium every year on the Arlit site through the companies COMINAK and SOMAÏR. According to company website,” During the more than 40 years AREVA has been present in Niger, the group has successfully built a long sustainable partnership with the country. It is a major contributor to the Nigerien economy. It carries out many social projects that help to improve living conditions of the local population. Its commitment is expressed through action plans for local economic development + healthcare. The group also has a continuous improvement program and pursues an active policy of risk prevention, impact limitation, environmental protection. It reports regularly on these policies, strives to maintain an ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders.” Somaïr is 64% owned by Areva and 36% by Niger, last year produced 3.065 tons of uranium. Uranium currently produces 5% of Niger’s budget revenues but Niger, the world’s fourth largest producer of uranium, is one of the poorest countries of the world and its government has repeatedly criticized its “very unbalanced” partnership with Areva and called for renegotiating the terms of its contract. Uranium is France’s major strategic economic interest in Sahel, hardly surprising, given that France is the world’s most nuclear-dependent country, with its 58 nuclear power plants producing 75% of country’s electricity. Roughly a quarter of uranium fueling France’s NPPs comes from Niger, where France has been mining since 1969. Blowback? Earlier this year, Niger sent troops to provide ground support to French-led military operation to end Islamist control over northern Mali. The military action displaced MUJAO from the region. But France intends to stand firm in its new conflict zone in Niger. Last week French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius visited Niamey, telling French citizens at the embassy France intends to stay in Niger because Niger is France’s friend, contributes a lot to France, Niger needs assistance before concluding that Niger’s authorities have been “extremely brave in the fight against terrorism.” Further bolstering French policy, French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Philippe Lalliot stated France has pledged its “full solidarity with the Nigerien authorities in the fight against terrorist groups.” How long before the bombings hit Paris? (source: John Daly – Oilprice.com – 04/06/2013)

Un Nuevo Ciclo Político Europeo

1914 - 2014(…..) 2014 es un año clave. Es el fin de un ciclo político y debiera ser el comienzo de otro. Habrá un nuevo Gobierno alemán, se votará para elegir nuevo Parlamento Europeo y a fines de ese año tendremos una nueva Comisión. Es ahí donde debemos poner todos nuestros esfuerzos, empezar a movilizar desde ya a los ciudadanos, a nivel nacional como europeo. El resultado de elecciones europeas puede plantear una enorme paradoja. Justo cuando más poder tiene Parlamento Europeo, como consecuencia del Tratado de Lisboa, más grande es el riesgo que se condene a la irrelevancia. Si como resultado de las elecciones se configura Parlamento fragmentado, reflejo del estado de ánimo de las sociedades en los Estados miembros, además de poco representativo por baja participación electoral; la parálisis, la desafección y la inoperancia están garantizadas. Todas las soluciones deben pasar necesariamente por Europa. Así pues, no hay que tener miedo a ceder soberanía para llegar a la unión política mediante el proceso de creación de un sentimiento ciudadano. Debemos aprovechar este nuevo ciclo político para corregir diseño institucional europeo, dotarlo de una mayor legitimidad democrática, responder con más integración al euroescepticismo y al intergubernamentalismo. Frente a ambos, es importante recuperar el eje París-Berlín como motor del método comunitario. Necesitamos presupuesto europeo que sea suficiente para responder las expectativas, estar a la altura de retos que tenemos por delante. Resolver estas cuestiones es tan importante como resolver los problemas económicos. Por eso creo que es la hora de recuperar la política como acción transformadora. Las instituciones se legitiman por su acción eficaz, la Unión Europea (UE) debe volver al lugar que le corresponde, para defender los intereses comunes frente a los intereses nacionales. El Parlamento Europeo (PE) debe ejercer el poder que le corresponde, ser el lugar donde la ciudadanía se sienta representada. Kemal Dervis, vicepresidente de Brookings Institution, lo ha expresado recientemente: “Si se permite que los tecnócratas determinen las políticas a largo plazo y establezcan objetivos que no pueden ser controlados por mayorías democráticas, la democracia en sí misma está en serio peligro”. 2014 se cumplen 100 años del comienzo de la I Guerra Mundial. Desde entonces hasta hoy, Europa ha pasado por lo peor y por lo mejor de su historia. No olvidemos la enorme carga simbólica que tiene esta fecha para entender lo mucho que hemos cambiado. La Unión Europea es uno de los grandes hitos políticos de la humanidad. Por eso, para salir de la dificilísima situación que nos encontramos, este momento requiere lo mejor de todos los europeos para trabajar con la convicción que nuestro futuro está inexorablemente ligado a una Unión más fuerte, más integrada y más capaz.

Link: http://elpais.com/elpais/2013/05/23/opinion/1369321828_595718.html

The Great Reckoning: Why the European ideal is under threat

The Wanderer(…..) By the time of the long run-up to the First World War, the growing importance of the banks and speculators was attracting wide attention, especially from radicals and peace activists. J A. Hobson was the first to make use of the term “imperialism” to account for the way profiteers such as Cecil Rhodes had grabbed control of British foreign policy and led the country into the Boer war. In his classic study “Finance Capital”, published in the year after the 1909 pamphlet that Angell turned into his book “The Great Illusion” and still worth reading today, Austrian-born Marxist economist Rudolf Hilferding described the growing power of the banks. He saw a new cause of war in this, and thus a further catalyst for world revolution. From today’s perspective, what is striking about such analyses is their confidence: fin­ance and the financiers might be setting private profit ahead of public welfare but there were collective responses to this, domestic and international, and they could not get away with it for ever. Hobson saw the internationalisation of colonial control as the best guarantee colonial peoples and their resources would be managed for their own and the general good, rather than for the sake of profiteers. Rudolf Hilferding, like Marx, saw capital’s international character as likely ultimately to prove self-defeating. He welcomed monopolistic position of finance because it was going to simplify the workers’ ultimate task and help them bring the entire economy under their control. First World War expanded criticism of banks because in many quarters it was customary to blame them for tensions that had presaged this war and seemed likely to fuel a new one. If Angell believed that wars broke out when influence of the capitalists was not heeded, others believed the exact opposite: the speculators revelled in creating conflicts and profiting from them, reaping the rewards while ordinary people paid the price. In the interwar thrillers of Eric Ambler, for instance, the ultimate puppet-masters are shadowy entities such as the Eurasian Credit Trust. “It was the power of Business, not the deliberations of statesmen, that shaped the destinies of nations,” one of his characters comments. From this perspective it is worth pondering whether our inability any longer to imagine a reason for a general war in Europe does not serve in its own right to soften public anger at the financiers, because it removes one of the main historic causes of suspicion of them. The Bankers may have an image problem today, but arguably what needs explaining is why this is not worse than it is, and why it has had so few repercussions for the way they run their businesses compared to the 1930s. One of the reasons, surely, is that old anxiety about profiteers, which ran through European history for much of 19th and the first half of 20th centuries, has vanished. Who even speaks of the profiteers today? It was the 1929 Wall Street crash that discredited finance for a generation and more. The ensuing collapse of gold standard around the world made globalisation go into reverse. Capital controls became an unremarkable fact of life. In one country after another, the state took over from the private sector in making major investment decisions and in regulating relations between workers and employers. At the same time, the rise of Soviet Union posed a grave new challenge. European politicians seeking to stabilise capitalism responded on some fronts, parcelling out landed estates in eastern Europe to peasantry, founding new central banks and formalising international co-operation through bodies such as Bank for International Settlements. It was threat of Bolshevism that brought managed capitalism to Europe, with it, new conceptions of the state as the guarantor of a collective welfare. Thus the “European model” combining liberty and social solidarity, which commentators such as Tony Judt and Jeremy Rifkin hailed a decade or so ago as a civilised alternative to American capitalism, originated in the fear of communism and the looming presence of USSR on Europe’s margins. Where avoiding communist revolution was the priority, the politicians were willing to give a growing share of national income to labour, curb potentially destabilising capital flows, use State as guarantor of social peace, equalise wealth and opportunities by expanding a tax base and bankrolling welfare. But what would happen when no one feared communism any longer and took the stability of parliamentary democracy for granted? (…..)

Link: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/05/great-reckoning-why-european-ideal-under-threat