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Madrid view: Bad blood

The expression bad blood denotes the unpleasant turn taken in a relationship when one party is perceived to be hurting the other. The result is animosity, and an inability to communicate and interact freely. Think of Angela Merkel characterized as a Nazi in Athens, or branded with swastikas in Lisbon. Or think of the cover of Der Spiegel, featuring a quaint Southern European peasant on a donkey loaded with euros, under the EU umbrella, and the legend “The lie of poverty: how the crisis countries hide their wealth.”

And never forget that, though the center left has assumed power in Italy, some 55 percent of Italians voted for Beppe Grillo or Silvio Berlusconi, whose electoral speeches were furiously anti-German. And the French Socialist Party’s internal memo complaining of how Germany’s “selfish intransigence” is dragging Europe down: we are talking not just about placards in street

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So what’s the plan, Mr Rehn?

This article first appeared in El Pais. It was translated by Press Europ

Perplexity. That's what’s conveyed by the clash over austerity going on between the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The debate is as extremely technical as it is profoundly political. In essence, it’s about how much national GDP falls with every point of tax cut. While it may seem rather complex, it’s actually rather simple: depending on the extent of the so-termed "fiscal multiplier", tax cuts can pump an economy back to life – or deflate it.

National and international blogs where economists debate these matters are abuzz with analyses and counter-analyses that attack and defend the austerity policies pursued by the EU. The problem is not just that the discussion about the fiscal multipliers has reached levels of complexity that delight only academics. The issue is that,

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Madrid view: Zero foreign policy

Spain’s foreign policy is in a critical state. Due to the crisis, true; but also due to decisions made in recent years. We need only take a close look at the three pillars that sustain the exterior action of any country: diplomacy, defence and development. As for diplomacy there are a number of elements that have combined to create the present situation. Most obvious of these is the crisis, which has had a serious impact on Spain’s capacity for international action. Spain, which always had to jockey for elbow room between the big states of the EU, now has a hard time not just being influential but merely being heard in Europe, not to mention outside it.

The crisis has also relegated the Foreign Ministry to a back seat in favor of Economy and Finance, whose decisions are now the ones that count internationally. This tendency, which is general in Europe, means that foreign ministers,

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Empty house in Italy

Italy has spoken. And what has it said? The post-electoral urge is always the same: give some meaning to these millions of voices, speaking through the electoral filter. Majority-based electoral systems, especially those with two rounds, force you to vote for second or third options, so that your real interests are not rightly represented. They also tend to displace minorities from the parliament, and award tempting clear majorities to the winners, who are wont to use them in contempt of parliament, which is the real seat of democratic life. Yet the alternative, proportional electoral systems, apparently fairer in representation of the citizens, have the disadvantage of blocking a central element of democracy: the capacity to oust a bad government and replace it with another. Worse, in so far as they give rise to governments of coalition between various forces, they have the

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Madrid view: Papacy, Realm, Party

We are all victims of some institutional design or other. Engineers build bridges; political scientists study political institutions, and try to understand what goes wrong with them. Decades of research have led to an apparently trivial but unavoidable conclusion: institutions are very important. Without them, power cannot produce results.

The same decades have taught us that institutions are not only a means or a solution, but can often become a problem of the first order. The most frequent of these is that they tend to acquire a life of their own. On some occasions they are hijacked by groups that, from without, wish to prevent them from doing their job, or seek to orient it in a direction favorable to their interests; but on others this is done by their own chiefs, who make the institution serve them, instead of them serving the institution. The result is that many institutions

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