European Council on Foreign Relations

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Useful charts comparing European economies

You may find this useful - it's a set of interactive and clickable charts that allow comparisons of different European economies - GDP, unemployment, debt and government deficits.



Of ironing boards and decline

My wife wonders why I like ironing shirts so much – I tell her that it gives me more time to listen to more podcasts (at which point she either sighs or questions my sanity). I digest hours of podcasts every week, ranging from politics to football to business to history. And every so often, I find something that makes my ears prick up and my brain start to spin.

The BBC’s flagship Today Programme’s recent short series on declinism – the idea that the US is on the slide on a rather grand, historical scale – had my ears pricking and my brain spinning. Presenter Justin Webb spoke to an impressive list of interviewees – Richard Haass, Francis Fukuyama, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Jeffrey Sachs (all interviews plus an overall piece from Justin are on the web page). The result was fascinating and illuminating.

Here are just two of the more engaging points that were raised. Richard Haass

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Madrid view: no happy ending yet


Yesterday, we saw Zapatero concentrated in reading his papers before the European Council started when Merkel entered the room and directly went to see him. He stood up and then, after the usual two kisses which are due to the Spanish tradition, they had a lively exchange. It looked as if Merkel was telling Zapatero “do not believe those who say Germany is not willing to save the eurozone”.   

Apparently, Merkel has taken enough fire: from her own Parliament; from other governments, and from the European press and she is now willing to be more reassuring about Germany’s role. This is all fine, and anything done to reassure markets is welcome, but if you have already have to move twice the firewall from one place to another, from Greece to Ireland, and now to Portugal, it might well mean that there is something failing.

This is what is happening with the EFSF and the doubling

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Sofia view: Enter the dragon

A stream of news from Europe’s East. Out of the blue, EU-hopeful Serbia decided not to attend the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony and honour imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Facing Brussels’ ire, Belgrade then mde a U-turn and dispatched the ombudsman, Saša Janković.

“This had nothing to do with a payback to China over Kosovo?” was the question The Economist’s Tim Judah shot to Prime Minister Mirko Cvetković.  Cvetković: “No, nothing to do with Kosovo”.

The premier’s answer was probably disingenuous, but only up to a point. Back in February, Beijing and Belgrade struck a deal to upgrade the thermal power plant at Kostolac (Serbia’s second largest), with China’s EXIM bank offering a loan to cover 85% of the 1.25 bn dollars project.  On 7 December,  Energy Minister Petar Skundrić and Chinese officials  endorsed a follow-up agreement for the first tranche to  the tune of

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Germany in Europe: Germany’s euro learning curve

The German government seems to have been on a pretty good learning curve about what is needed to save the euro now. A ‘too little, too late’ approach during the Greek crisis has developed during the summer and the Irish crisis into a ‘quick and decisive’ strategy (albeit with a too harsh tone).

Since the October Council meeting, Germany and its elites are waking up on both sides: those in this country who always have been against deeper European integration and those in favour of it. The first group – described by former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt  as ‘reactionaries’ and represented by for example former constitutional court judge Paul Kirchhof and former President of the Bundesbank Otmar Issing  – feel this is probably their last chance to avoid the worst, which, in their eyes, is a fully-fledged monetary union with a common fiscal entity and a true economic government. An entity which

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