Western European News Digest
French Violence Spreads Toward Italy
Jacobin mob-like demonstrations at the Italian-French border are adding to the "strategy of tension" in the wake of the French riots. In Val di Susa, the Italian region on the border with France, where the Turin-Lyon high-speed rail project is to be built, a "general strike" brought about 80,000 people out to protest against the railway. The left-wing character of the action fitted with earlier incidents to halt the project, including violent clashes on Oct. 31, and discovery of a small package of explosives on Nov. 5.
The project is intended to reduce pollution and noise, among other improvements.
Bankers Threaten Germany
Standard and Poor's rating service views the new German government as not fully committed to drastic budget cuts. In an assessment on the new Grand Coalition government (which brings together the CDU, CSU, and SPD), S&P said Nov. 17 that what Chancellor-designate Angela Merkel plans to do is "not enough to spur the economic growth that's needed to maintain the country's top credit rating."
The Coalition accord does not adequately address issues such as "making it easier to fire employees and securing funds for the health-care system," S&P stated. "The coming years offer the last chance to mitigate the long-term fiscal implications of Germany's aging population in a manner that is not socially disruptive. The need for further reforms remains high."
Voicing the financial-market controllers' expectations that "the new government will maintain expenditure discipline, and will draw up a credible medium-term fiscal plan that will stabilize and eventually reverse the current rise in general government debt," S&P warned at the same time: "If this scenario does not unfold, the ratings would come under pressure." That is: financial warfare against Germany, if the Germans walk out on the monetarist discipline.
Italian Prosecutors Seek Extradition of CIA Operatives
Italian authorities are seeking the extradition of 22 CIA operatives, in connection with the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric off the streets of Milan in 2003. The cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Omar, had been granted asylum in Italy; the CIA is said to have taken him back to Egypt where, he later said, he was tortured. Justice Minister Roberto Castelli was in Washington this past week, and met with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, but neither would say if they discussed the Omar case.
When Does a Rebellion Become a Revolution?
This question was posed by wrote Times of London political commentator Ben Macintyre Nov. 13. Perhaps it is the moment when a Labour Party rebel "starts quoting Shakespeare against his leader," Macintyre mused. "At that point you truly know something has shifted in British politics." During the debate which led up to British Prime Minister Tony Blair's resounding defeat on his police-state "anti-terrorism" bill on Nov. 9, Frank Dobson, whom Macintyre described as "a grumpy Labour backbencher and former minister,... a figure more Falstaff than Cymbeline," quoted from the song "Fear No More the Heat o' the Sun," from Shakespeare's Cymbeline:"
"Fear no more the frown o' the great,
Thou art past the tyrant's stroke...."
The tyrant to whom Dobson was using this to refer is, of course, Tony Blair.
Widespread Support for Investigation of Blair's Prewar Role
Some 200 cross-party members of Parliament could support a demand for an investigation of Tony Blair's conduct before the Iraq war, The Sunday Herald of Nov. 13 reported. MPs who were organizing a campaign to impeach Blair, think they could get this scale of support to force a Commons investigation. The effort to impeach Blair last year got only 23 MPs signing the motion. Things are now different. Former government ministers are also expected to support the measure. The situation inside the House of Commons has changed because of the size of the Labour revolt, and its political alliance with opposition MPs.
Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond, a key leader of the impeachment campaign, said he thinks that the cross-party effort to bring Blair's government to account over Iraq "would become more urgent than predicted problems associated with social legislation in England and Wales," on which Labour rebellions are also expected.
The Sunday Herald quoted one MP as saying, "This would be a golden opportunity. It would be pay-back time for Blair over the way he manipulated Parliament before the Iraq war in 2003. Last week's defeat changed the atmosphere in the Commons. The hunt is on, as they say." Also, an impeachment campaign organizer told the Sunday Herald, "We have been promised 200 signatures and are now hopeful this process will go ahead as it should have last year. There will be a vote and an investigation will be set up. Does this have the potential to finish Tony Blair? Yes, it does."
German Paper Highlights Problems with Euro
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung covered the crisis of the euro system Nov. 15, with a special focus on Italy. In an article headlined, "The Euro as Scapegoat," the daily complained that, whereas any critic of the euro in Italy would formerly have been shouted down, today, the situation has completely reversed.
The industrialists can no longer knock at the door of the central bank to ask for a devaluation of the lira, because the national currency has been replaced by the euro. The attacks on the euro also serve the aim of declaring the Maastricht criteria irrelevant, as strictures that must not be allowed to interfere with Italian fiscal policies. And, the euro serves as a campaign item in the upcoming election for national Parliament against Romano Prodi, the leader of the opposition alliance, because he was EU President at the time the euro was introduced.
Moreover, Deputy Italian Prime Minister Giulio Tremonti has succeeded in rallying support among the population of northern Italy, in particular, for his polemics against the euro and Maastricht, the article noted.
Will British Military Continue To Fight in Afghanistan?
The British military is trying to build a coalition to carry out the counterinsurgency fight in Afghanistan, after the U.S. pulls out 4,000 troops early next year, according to the Guardian of Nov. 14. Since France and Germany have refused to allow their troops to participate in counterinsurgency combat operations, Britain will hold talks with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and other countries on the issue before the Dec. 7 NATO meeting in Brussels.
Britain will send 2,000 troops to drug- and warlord-ridden Helmand next spring, on top of another 2,000 British troops to go to Afghanistan next year, when Britain takes command of NATO's International Security Assistance Force there. Britain will then have some 4,800 troops in Afghanistan, along with 8,500 troops in southeastern Iraq. The deployment in Helmand will be by far the most dangerous. The Guardian cited one military officer as saying that fighting the warlords, drug traffickers, Taliban, and "al-Qaeda wannabes ... could take longer to crack than Iraq. It could take 10 years."
Canada and New Zealand already have special forces in Afghanistan, and Australia is discussing the issue. In Europe, only the Netherlands, Denmark, and Estonia have agreed to support the operation, while France, Germany, Spain, and Italy are refusing to change from peacekeeping to a "war on terror" combat operation.
Spain's Real Estate Bubble Shows Excessive Growth
A report in the Nov. 15 issue of the Swiss bankers' paper Neue Zuercher Zeitung calls attention to the development of a real estate bubble in Spain, where construction is showing a rate of expansion disproportionate to the rest of Europe. In 2004, about 700,000 new flats were built in Spainmore than what Germany, France, and Italy together built in the same period.
This housing boom naturally went along with a huge boom in mortgage loans. The Spanish central bank warned in a recent report of the indebtedness of the average household, which is at already 106% of average income. And, at 3.7%, the inflation rate in Spain is visibly above the EU average.