a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

Project Europe is Angela Merkel’s to save, the writer says

Posted on the May 19th, 2012

As she was in the beginning (Angela Merkel)

What is the nitty gritty of what precisely is happening with the European Union — the Europe project — in these days?  An answer to that puzzle is set out clearly, shortly and sweetly by Irishman Jason O’Mahony in a blog post today.

O’Mahony rests the matter of Europe’s future squarely on the shoulders of the remarkable Angela, the current Chancellor  of Germany.  Merkel faces a  very clear choice between saving Europe or destroying Europe, O’Mahony argues.  Check out what he has to say here.

My favorite part of the post, though, is this excerpt.

British eurosceptics constantly remark that the euro was a political project, as if that is a killer argument. It was. It was supposed to be, and whilst it is malfunctioning from bad design, the fact with European integration is that it has been the great success story of post-war Europe.

 

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Seeking insight into the “Greek crisis”

Posted on the May 18th, 2012

A few days ago in an email conversation with my daughter I mentioned that the political and economic turmoil in Europe had intensified this past two weeks. Writing back, she asked me to send her a few links to news stories that could give her some insight into the situation.

Harrumph, I mumbled to myself, I wish I could ask the same of some wise news guru.

And I suspect I’m not the only one. It’s much more difficult than it should be to find news reports that aren’t simplistic re-cyclings of various prejudicial stereotypes or political ideologies posing as expertise.

As an example, just last week economist Bill Black strongly criticized the mighty New York Times‘s coverage of the European crisis as “overwhelmingly written from the German perspective.”  You can read the post here on the Naked Capitalism website.

So when I found these two videos this morning featuring Harvard University economist Richard Parker talking about Greece, I decided to post them. Parker has a bit of an inside track on Greece especially. He served as an adviser to former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou from 2009 to 2011 (see bio).

In the first video (click on screenshot above), Parker advises against falling for easy answers “about the character or moral values of other people to explain a crisis of the kind we’re seeing in Greece.” He then quickly refutes some of the worst stereotypes against the country that are found in daily news headlines.

I particularly liked Parker’s summing up comment because he calls for citizen activism as part of the resolution. Here it is:

Now in Europe as in the United States there have been attempts to rein in the power of an unregulated financial system. But it’s very difficult to do. So the way forward in the 21st century in the wake of this crisis that we’re still living through is going to require a kind of intelligence and vision that transcends national borders. And that will have to come in part from citizens demanding behavior of public leaders of all sorts that moves us to a new world.

This video is a concise three and a half minutes and was posted online earlier this week (May 14).

The second video I found, via Googling, is a six-minute excerpt of a lecture Parker gave last October to the World Affairs Council of Connecticut. In this video, the economist traces step by step how the Greek economic crisis began some years ago to its current deepening turmoil.

 

 

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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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Differing views on a European woman in charge: Angela Merkel

Posted on the November 17th, 2010

The world as we know it still has need of strong leaders, be they perfect or most definitely not. For my part — though I’m often  gloomily skeptical about the state of the world (Eeyore move over) — I take some comfort in seeing those few women leaders we have now calling the shots for good or ill here and there.

One of those few is here in Europe, the increasingly powerful German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Not everyone is happy with her and some are furious, judging by reports in the English language press I’m reading. Well, I’m not cheering wildly for so many of her moves either. My political preferences are a bit left of Chancellor Merkel’s.

But the gender factor in leadership in this case is at least some compensatory pleasure.

Those pros and cons

There’s always some opinion somewhere, though, predicting Merkel’s imminent departure at the hands of grumpy German voters. An in-depth feature at Yahoo! News this week tracks the mixed reviews she receives at home and elsewhere (“Special Report: The two lives of Angela Merkel” by Andreas Rinke and Stephen Brown, Nov 16, 2010).

But an article in yesterday’s Spiegel Online International reports that, at least, when it comes to her position as leader of her party, Merkel is now more secure than ever (“The Beginning of the Merkel Era” Nov 16, 2010).

We smile coyly through our tears.

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It’s all Greek to him: Michael Lewis

Posted on the September 28th, 2010

When it comes to figuring out complex things in today’s world, Michael Lewis has proven himself better than most at doing so. Along with this, he has an uncanny sense for the perfect doorway into a narrative, and an eye (and ear) for the telling detail that raises the bar to new highs.

The reading public must agree — most of his ten or so books have made the New York Times bestseller list (see Vanity Fair bio and Wikipedia). And his 2006 book, “The Blind Side,” was made into a hit movie of the same name that earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture (2010).

But coming away from reading the more than 11,000 word feature about Greece by Lewis in next month’s Vanity Fair, I was struck by the series of questions he posed — and left unanswered — in the piece’s final paragraph (“Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds” Oct 1, 2010).

Two, for example:

Will Greece default?…

Even if it is technically possible for these people [Greeks] to repay their debts, live within their means, and return to good standing inside the European Union, do they have the inner resources to do it?

To research the Vanity Fair article, Lewis spent some time in Greece,and interviewed some key figures and government workers in the national financial drama underway there. It makes for interesting reading — the full article is here.

Also interesting is the magazine’s companion Q&A with Lewis about the piece. Here you can read some opinions he has of the possible economic prospects of various other countries in Europe, in particular Germany.

My favorite segment  was a question asking Lewis to compare specific European countries to major baseball teams in the U.S. Of course, unless you’re a baseball fan, the metaphoric word play is illusive (and I can’t be of much help here — the sports world is certainly Greek to me).

One sample, though, was more explicit. His description of Italy — he compared the country to the baseball team The Marlins — is generous and apt, I think. He said:

Even though Italy is in financial trouble right now, like the Marlins are always in financial trouble one way or another, it still somehow feels like a successful place. Italy is this giant wild card; they can win the series at any point.

Italy certainly can do with a good word just about now. And maybe I’m biased, but I do favor such optimism. And I do so hope Lewis is as astute about this as he has been about so many other things. Vediamo.

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