Western European News Digest
Berlin Airport Project AprovedWith Conditions
A ruling by Germany's Supreme Administrative Court (Bundesverwaltungsgericht) rejected complaints by some 4,000 plaintiffs, and gave the green light for construction of the Berlin-Brandenburg International (BBI) airport, according to German media March 17-18. Construction of the BBI, which would be an extension of the existing airfield at Schoenefeld costing 2.8 billion euros, is conditioned on two restrictions: 1) no nighttime flights, and 2) sufficient noise protection. This would drive the expense way above EU3 billion.
Plaintiffs (a high percentage of whom are members of the leftist PDS) announced they will not back down, but take the whole case before the Supreme Court in Karlsruhe. They expect the project to be too restricted, too expensive now, ever to be completed.
The two main alternatives to the BBI are expanding the airport at Leipzig, or building an entirely new airport on the site of the former Soviet-run air base at Sperenberg, about 40 km south of Berlin. In either case, it would make sense only if these airports were connected to Berlin via a maglev rail line, which should be built in such a way that it could easily be expanded towards Poznan-Warsaw, Dresden-Prague-Bratislava (and on to Budapest), to Hamburg (and on to Denmark and Scandinavia).
Whatever the alternative, it will play a role in the September election for Berlin municipal parliament, in which the BueSo Party of Helga Zepp-LaRouche will take part with a sound infrastructure development program.
Record Desertion Rate Hits British Army
The number of soldiers going AWOL from the British Army has trebled since the start of the Iraq war, reaching 380 last year. The March 19 Independent reported that, "Military lawyers and campaigners said that these figures suggested significant levels of disaffection in the ranks over the legality of the occupation, and growing discontent about the coalition's failure to defeat the Iraqi insurgency."
Conference in Frankfurt on 'Locust Funds'
A two-day event in Frankfurt, Germany"Super Hedge 2006," beginning March 20was organized by the BAI (Bundesverband Alternative Investments), the central German association of non-banks. Panel themes included "Investing in Energy," "Understanding the Economic Growth Potential of Emerging Markets," "The German Hedge Fund Market: Mythical Beast or 900-Pound Gorilla?" The conference participants also debated the implications of the new restrictive German legislation on hedge funds, which goes into effect in July.
Not surprising: The role of the bigger banks behind the activities of the hedge funds, is shown by prominent attendees at the Frankfurt event. The three Swiss banks Credit Suisse, UBS, and Julius Baer were there with senior representatives (some of them also as speakers), as well as Deutsche Bank, City Group Investment Germany, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein.
Germany's 'Schwarzenegger Wannabe' Now Faces Protests
Juergen Ruettgers, Governor of North Rhine Westphalia (NRW) since late May 2005, and admirer of California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger (though lacking the latter's steroid-enhanced physique), now faces the same mass protest as Arnie: On March 23, the state sections of the German Labor Federation (DGB) and the Association of German Public Servants (DBB) joined for a mass protest march and rally of 20,000 in Duesseldorf, the state capital. Spokesmen for both organizations said the protest was not so much on specific issues, but more against Duesseldorf's "culture of sacrifice," which the city demands the public sector adopt. The sacrifice includes the axing of 10,000 jobs.
War of Words Between Berlusconi and Industrialists
An open war has broken out between Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and the leadership of the Industrialist Association (Confindustria). Berlusconi stormed a national meeting March 19 on "industrial competition," organized by Confindustria in the city of Vicenza, which was organized to promote globalization. Berlusconi had been invited, along with his electoral challenger Romano Prodi. Berlusconi wasted no time in launching a frontal attack against the leadership of Confindustria. He accused industrialists of catastrophe-mongering and animosity against his government, and boasted about his record, saying that Italians today are richer than in the past. Of course, this is not true, but the oligarchical Confindustria leadership is so hated among small and medium entrepreneurs, that Berlusconi's brawl provoked a standing ovation from the thousands present, excluding the stony-faced VIPs in the first row.
Although Berlusconi's coup de théatre failed to challenge the content of the meeting, it effectively ruined it. This is already a significant result, as the meeting was intended to undermine the rising demand for protectionism coming from the industrialist rank-and-file, and to sell a recipe for "competition" made up of outsourcing and deindustrialization. Leading up to the two-day meeting, the Confindustria daily Il Sole 24 Ore ran a four-page insert on the topic, including a distorted history of the fight between the free-market and protectionist doctrines: The sophistical history falsely claimed that protectionism led to World War I, and that the free market has increased personal wealth.
Tremonti Asserts State Responsibilities in Debate
In an interview on Italian Rainuno TV's Porta a Porta, Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Giulio Tremonti insisted that, under the euro system, "national governments have lost the traditional instruments of economic policy," which are the currency and the budget. "Nevertheless," he said, "there are three, four, five things that governments can still do, and these are: 1. public works, infrastructure; 2. energyguaranteeing the energy supply, and I say nuclear energy; 3. protectionismwe must protect our industries from unfair competition from China and other Eastern countries" (sic). Tremonti, who was on a television debate March 22 with Francesco Rutelli, chairman of the opposition party "La Margherita," indicated that the EU Commission had finally moved on protectionism, but too late and still too little.
Rutelli, a former environmentalist, replied, "Your government has cut money for research, including for nuclear plants of the next generation, which we are in favor of."
Never before had Italian politicians spoken so openly and bluntly in favor of nuclear energy. Italy has had no nuclear plants since the decision to close them all down in the 1986 referendum. Clearly, the shift on nuclear power is not only due to the election campaign, but also the fallout of the recent G-8 energy meeting in Moscow (see this week's InDepth for, "Russia Embarks on Its Global Nuclear Power Plans," by Marsha Freeman).
However, when asked where he would find the money to finance his programs, Tremonti said: "through privatization."
Majority in Hesse See Unemployment as Main Problem
A survey carried out in March for Hessischer Rundfunk radio, reveals broad disinterest in what establishment politicians think is a priority, namely, environmental protection: Only 7% of the voters consider environmental issues a priority, and only 5% list either security or social security as prime interests. Child care, another upfront issue in the established parties' campaigns, is seen as a priority only by 9%.
But 14% identified the economic situation, 29% education, and 53% unemployment, as the top issues.