Western European News Digest
Italian Economist: Risk of '1929-Style Crisis' in U.S.
Guilio Tremonti, who is a leading figure in the current center-right opposition, gave an interview to the (Corriere Della Sera) Nov. 12, in which he questioned the economic "development" in the U.S. from 2001-06. While this boom was caused by such factors as lower interest rates and the explosion of real estate values, "the real estate crisis is now very deep: in the third quarter, foreclosures increased by 43%. It went from boom to bust, although this has been partially compensated for by the fall in the price of oil."
Tremonti also questions the official version of the situation, and says there are two hypotheses: "The first is that the end of the boom did not cause the collapse [in growth], because the financial system is well-balanced, it absorbed the crisis, and now it can start growing again. The second is suggested by many economic websites, which include predictions of a structural crisis, like that of 1929. I hope the first hypothesis is correct, but I fear the second may be."
Despite losing his bearings on various other issues, Tremonti's remarks inject an element of reality into the increasingly hysterical political and economic debate in Italy.
Germans Urge Syria, Iran Talks; Brits Want Concessions
Interviewed on the public radio station DLRadio Nov. 10, Ruprecht Polenz (Christian Democrat) said that a pacification and stabilization of Iraq can only be achieved through direct talks among the United States, Syria, and Iran. Granted, talks which have not been held for many years, are difficult to reopen, said Polenz, but a new start is possible now, after the midterm U.S. election.
Polenz added that the Germans, who have good relations with the Syrians and the Iranians, could help establish an opportunity for the Americans to begin talks on the sidelines of a broader forumfor example, a Mideast-Persian Gulf regional security conference with all states of the region taking part.
Three days later, Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking at the Lord Mayor's Guildhall, held out the vague promise of a "new partnership," but only if Iran and Syria would stop promoting terrorism in Iraq, in Lebanon, and with Hamas, in the Occupied Territories. Otherwise, said Blair, they face "isolation."
Blair, who has the credibility of a poisonous snake, said that a new Middle East strategy should start with efforts to pursue the "Road Map" between Israel and Palestine.
Spanish Peace Center Is Origin of New Mideast Proposal
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced a new Middle East peace initiative after a summit meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, the Jerusalem Post reported Nov. 16. Chirac and Zapatero were participating in the first meeting of the French-Spanish Security and Defense Council.
"We cannot remain impassive in the face of the horror that continues to unfold before our eyes," Zapatero said in reference to the recent massacre of 19 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. He said the situation "has reached a level of deterioration that requires determined, urgent action by the international community."
The initiative was, in part, developed at the Toledo International Center for Peace. In the tradition of the pre-Inquisition civilization of Spanish toleration, the Center brings together notable sane Israelis and like-thinking Europeans.
The peace plan will be presented at a European Union summit in December.
German Parliament Votes To Extend Afghanistan Mission
The mandate for the German share in "Operation Enduring Freedom" was approved for another year, by two-thirds of the Parliament members. Willy Wimmer, dissident Christian Democrat, who spoke for the opposition, said in an interview with the DLRadio station Nov. 10, that the mandate cannot be kept, because military operations in southern Afghanistan no longer target al-Qaeda, as was their original mandate, but now are deployed against a people's insurrection, a Pashtun uprising against the foreign troops. NATO troops are not there to fight against the people of Afghanistan, nor must German soldiers take part in military operations, which lead to a transfer of prisoners, then, to Guantanamo, Wimmer insisted, calling for a pull-out of German troops from Afghanistan.
Freiburg Votes Against Public Housing Sell-Off
In a referendum on Nov. 11, the citizens of Freiburg, Germany voted 70.5 to 29.5%, against the plans of Mayor Dieter Salomon (Greens) to sell off 7,900 flats (apartments) that are municipal property, to locust funds. The Fortress fund was already named, as among the most hopeful candidates for the takeover. The Fortress deal with Dresden also was supposed to be the model for Freiburg, which would have received more than 500 million eurosnot to invest, but to pay its debt (and please the creditor banks).
The referendum, which followed several weeks of heated public debate, mobilized 64,000 of Freiburg's 150,000 voters, and the "no to privatization" front received way above the required quorum of 25% of the electorate. For the coming three years at least, the sell-off of Freiburg's municipal housing is off the agenda.
Labour Party Moneybags Bails Out of Blair Government
Lord Sainsbury, the billionaire former chairman of the Sainsbury supermarket chain, and British Labour Party moneybags, was questioned in the cash-for-honors criminal investigation in July, The Times reported Nov. 11. He claims his resignation has nothing to do with that case, although few believe him. Sainsbury has given 6.5 million pounds to the Labour Party since 2002, including a 2 million pound loan.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown denied that Sainsbury was leaving a "sinking ship." Nonetheless, now that he has left government, he is less likely to be caught in the storm which is brewing over the investigation.
He will be replaced by Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks. Alistair Darling, the Trade and Industry Minister, will take over responsibility for energy policy. This could be a positive move since Darling, who is said to be pro-nuclear, will now be, in part, responsible for deciding whether the U.K. expands its nuclear energy capacity.
Berlin's Tempelhof Targetted as Oasis for Jet-Setters
Leaks about behind-the-scenes discussions on a new privatization round in Berlin, reveal the latest monstrosity in this sphere: Locust funds plan to purchase the Tempelhof airport from Berlin, for future use as an international "wellness compound" for the jet set. This may be combined with a clinic complex for wealthy patients, who would secure a profitable revenue for this entire operation.
New rumors had it, that Estee Lauder, the global cosmetics firm based in New York, plans to join a Tempelhof makeover, as well. Thus, almost 60 years after the famous Western allies' "Berlin Airlift," the German capital is threatened by an ominous Operation "Berlin Facelift."
The Tempelhof issue was also on the agenda of closed-door talks Nov. 13 between Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit and Chancellor Angela Merkel, Wowereit's office made public. Whether cosmetics were discussed, too, has not been revealed.
Troubled Austrian Bank Target of Locust Takeover
The Austrian bank BAWAG, ruined through high-risk speculative dealings in the Bahamas, in the wake of the post-LTCM turbulence at the end of the 1990s, is about to be sold off to private investors.
It is said that three prominent locust funds have signalled interest in the bank: Apollo, Cerberus, and Lone Star. The funds are cooperating with big banks and insurance companies: Cerberus is ganging up with Assicurazione Generali, Apollo with Talanx, Lone Star with Bayern LB (state bank of Bavaria). The sale is organized by the investment bankers at Morgan Stanley.
Conservative Cameron Answers Annual Queen's Speech
Queen Elizabeth II delivered the Queen's Speech (somewhat like the State of the Union in the U.S.) Nov. 15 to the assembled Lords and Commons on the legislative agenda for the next year. The theme this year was "security in a changing world," and it was more of the same failed policies, with 29 bills addressed in the proceeding debate, two in draft form. David Cameron led the debate in the afternoon, and said: "The tragedy of this Queen's Speech is that all his [Prime Minister Tony Blair's] successor [Gordon Brown] offers is more of the same. More laws on crimeyet violent crime is up. More laws on healthyet hospitals closed. More laws on immigrationyet our borders are completely out of control."
Cameron also had critical words about U.K. foreign policy, and called for various 'support our troops' proposals. The key to Middle East peace, he said, demanded a "fresh and unremitting push to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict." These steps are necessary to provide the right background to bringing our troops home, he said, "but we should not set an artificial timetable."