a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

Romano Prodi calls out Germany

Posted on the November 30th, 2011

It is a brilliant stroke by Romano Prodi in an interview yesterday with Spiegel Online International when he parries a challenge from the interviewer by asking bluntly “Is Germany better off with the euro or without it?”

The interviewer has just referred to German PM Angela Merkel’s stated opposition to eurobonds, and to Germans’ fear that it is primarily Germany that will carry the financial burden for the bonds. Excerpt:

SPIEGEL: …By now, Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to be completely isolated, with all partners exerting huge pressure on her. Will that be effective?

Prodi: That is the way politics works. But let’s be rational. Is Germany better off with the euro or without it?

SPIEGEL: With the euro.

In a later section of the interview, the subject of a “two-speed” Europe comes up. Here also, Prodi offers an interesting perspective. And he goes on to talk about a major criticism that he says he hears increasingly voiced about Europe’s power globally.

You can read the full Q&A here, which also includes some discussion of the current and past state of things in Italy.

I do wish Prodi hadn’t retired from Italian politics (and I’m not the only one).


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Who wants to leave the Euro?

Posted on the November 11th, 2011

Surely I’m not the only one to take notice that the bulk of the doomsday talk these days about the imminent fall of the euro is coming either from outside Europe or from eurosceptics.

An underlying assumption of this dire talk, perhaps, may be the idea that eurozone citizens are so discontented that they are demanding return to national currencies. But where is there evidence of this?  Even most Greeks, supposedly mad as hell at EU leadership, reportedly want to stay with the euro (see here, for example).

And, although it’s admittedly an anecdotal report, I can say I’ve not heard or seen either a peep or a scribble of any such San Pietro! let’s return to the lira talk here in Italy either. That is, except for the usual disgruntled voices of the northern far right who, more or less, want to exit everything including the southern half of their own country.

And then this just now in the UK Guardian‘s live blog on the eurozone crisis:

1.47pm: Almost four out of five Germans believe the 17-nation single currency will survive, according to poll for ZDF television. Some 78% of people asked said the euro would survive despite its problems while 56% felt chancellor Angela Merkel was doing a good job of managing the crisis. That’s an improvement on a similar poll in October which had her approval rating at 45%.

How much of a role does the European public play in the rise or fall of the euro? I have no idea really, given the murky fog that constitutes most financial reporting, and the politicians’ backroom political jockeying. But if eurozone voters’ support is needed to drive the currency into collapse, seems to me that’s a non-starter.

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Beware of Greeks cradling democracy

Posted on the November 3rd, 2011

This morning while reading a couple of analyses about the great Greek referendum brouhaha, the shade of John Lennon floated past murmuring “Democracy is what happens while politicians are busy making other plans.”

Might that be the case if the Greeks are allowed to vote on the EU’s latest proposal to rescue/doom them into penury for years to come? Wouldn’t that be nice (shades of the Beach Boys just now floated by). Messy? Maybe yes, but maybe not.

The two informative commentaries mentioned above are “Time to resign Mr Papandreou” by Greek economics professor Yanis Varoufakis (here), and “Papandreou shows no regret as he faces a grilling from Sarkozy and Merkel” by the Guardian‘s Helena Smith (here). They offer differing perspectives on the Greek PM. Varoufakis scorns his government leader’s latest referendum maneuver as political ploy only. Smith, in contrast, casts Papandreou more admirably, as in this quote from an unidentified “adviser”:

He is not afraid to upset others if he firmly believes it is in the interests of his country. And as a committed socialist George really does believe in the value of participatory democracy.

Well, notwithstanding that Varoufakis makes powerful argument to the contrary, we can hope that Smith’s featured adviser may prove to be auspicious. That whether mere political operator or democracy’s champion, Papandreou will by hook or crook give the people a voice. That would be true democratic process, wouldn’t it?



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One Irishman voices the pain of losing sovereignty to the IMF

Posted on the November 24th, 2010

Writing with a fighting voice, wellknown Irish journalist and author Fintan O’Toole sadly and scaldingly recounts the current Irish government’s disgrace and surrender, in an article yesterday for openDemocracy (“Ireland: the challenge of failure” Fintan O’Toole, Nov 23, 2010).


Sovereignty is a bit like a clock whose constant ticking you notice only when it stops. It becomes conspicuous in its absence. Most of the time, in an interdependent world where no nation can exist on its own, it seems a rather fuzzy concept. But it becomes crystal clear when you don’t have it.

There is nothing abstract in the sudden reality of officials from the EU and the IMF poring over the books in Merrion Street and the prospect of all big decisions on government spending and taxation having to be approved by those same bodies for years to come. A simple rule of thumb for a sovereign state is that it – and it alone – makes its own decisions about taxation and spending. For the foreseeable future, Irish governments will not pass this test.

O’Toole’s article offers an inside view of the pain and humiliation an Irish citizen is going through these days. Read full piece here.

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Certamente, nei giornali italiani l’inglese c’è

Posted on the September 26th, 2010

Se qualcuno preferisce leggere la stampa italiana ma non parla bene la lingua, può approfittare della sezione inglese di qualche giornale italiano.

Per esempio, uno dei più grandi quotidiani italiani è il Corriere della sera. Nel suo sito, nel menù in alto, c’è la categoria “English”. In questa sezione ci sono le traduzioni di una limitata selezione degli articoli del giornale.

Uno dei più recenti è intitolato: “100,000 Sign Manifesto to Ban Shooting as Season Opens” di Margherita De Bac, tradotto da Giles Watson.

Un brano:

ROME – More than 100,000 people have signed up against shooting. On the Sunday that saw the opening of the new season, which will close on 31 January, the signatories of the Manifesto per la coscienza degli animali [manifesto for the awareness of animals] borrowed a phrase from Tolstoy to protest at “an idiotic, cruel practice that offends moral sentiment”.

C’è sempre un link all’articolo originale. Questo stesso brano, in italiano, è:

ROMA – Oltre centomila firme contro la caccia. Nella domenica di apertura delle attività venatorie – che si chiude il 31 gennaio – esprimono la condanna di «un atto stupido, crudele e nocivo al sentimento morale» (parole mutuate da Tolstoj) sottoscrivendo il «Manifesto per la coscienza degli animali».

Questo post è scritto in occasione di “Day of Multilingual Blogging“(Note: Un ringraziamento a mio marito Franco per il suo aiuto gentile con il mio italiano per questo post.)

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A close-up look at the British election race

Posted on the April 29th, 2010

If you’re interested in how things are turning in the UK’s current election race, there’s a lively round-up (with videos) on the Gulf Stream Blues blog (“The Anti-American vs. the Anti-European” April 23, 2010).

For those who haven’t been paying much attention, the race is being shaken up considerably by the surprise surge to the front of Liberal Democrats party leader, Nick Clegg. Nice.

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Reading Barzun: decoding today’s headlines

Posted on the February 25th, 2010

This morning, I read in the New York Times that the banks who helped Greece hide its massive debt  may actually now be pushing the nation closer to the brink of financial ruin (“Banks Bet Greece Defaults on Debt They Helped Hide” Feb 24, 2010):

…credit-default swaps, effectively let banks and hedge funds wager on the financial equivalent of a four-alarm fire: a default by a company or, in the case of Greece, an entire country. If Greece reneges on its debts, traders who own these swaps stand to profit.

“It’s like buying fire insurance on your neighbor’s house — you create an incentive to burn down the house,” said Philip Gisdakis, head of credit strategy at UniCredit in Munich.

Crazy, right? Legal, oh yes. Perfectly. These days. (see here)

As I wrote about in an earlier post, I’m reading Jacques Barzun’s history of our past five hundred years (“FROM DAWN TO DECADENCE 1500 to the Present/500 Years of Western Cultural Life”).  Today, reading the Times story, I recalled something I just read in the Barzun book.

He is describing the 16th century Protestant Reformation,  a revolution against the widespread (Perfectly. Legal.) institutional decadence of the time:

The system was rotten. This had been said over and over; yet the old hulk was immovable. When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent. The term is not a slur; it is a technical label.

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Tough words from chief wonk at European Central Bank: Jürgen Stark

Posted on the February 12th, 2010

Continuing to try and find the god/devil in the details of what the European Union is doing or not doing to help the oh-so-ailing Greece, I came across some helpful clues supplied by Jürgen Stark, the European Central Bank Chief Economist.

In an interview in today’s Spiegel Online International, Stark faces some grueling questions and is unshakable in his tough love fiscal perspective (“‘Everyone Is a Sinner at the Moment'” Feb 12, 2010).

Topics covered include, of course, Greece’s teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, plus the debt of other member states of the EU, and the health of the Euro itself these days.

One of the first questions was about how safe the Euro is at present. Stark’s reply:

Stark: We have been in a global crisis for more than one-and-a-half years now. We still can’t say whether it’s over. But you could just as easily apply your question to other regions. No one talks about whether the United States could break apart because of California’s ailing finances. So let’s not take things too far!

SPIEGEL: Washington and the US central bank, the Fed, would certainly intervene before allowing California to go bankrupt.

Stark: To be honest, I don’t see that they would do that. There are many examples to the contrary in the history, including American history.

If you want info about the Greece-EU-Euro situation, other than the one-note dirge that’s commonplace in the headlines of USA and UK news coverage, this interview’s a good place to begin. (For earlier posts on this topic, go here and here)

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