Western European News Digest
Germany Scraps Maglev Project
March 27 (EIRNS)A planned 34-km maglev track connecting the city of Munich to its international airport will not be built, German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee announced today. He said the industrial consortium planning the Munich Transrapid line now estimates construction costs at more than Eu3 billion, a third above the previous estimate of Eu1.85 billion.
The project was supposed to be financed by the German Federal government, the state of Bavaria, German rail operator Deutsche Bahn AG, and the industry consortium. The German government, in its typical cost-cutting approach, had set itself an upper financing limit of Eu925 million, and the state of Bavaria, a limit of 500 million.
In a tragic irony, the Federal government, which is otherwise throwing billions of euros away to bail out failed speculators, will not spend an extra Eu1.2 billion to finance this pioneer technology project of the maglev.
Kosovo and EU Reopen Debate on Break-Up of Belgium
March 23, (EIRNS)As expected, the winds of Kosovo arrived in Belgium. In late February, a small group of "progressive" intellectuals published a now widely debated manifesto of the Gravensteen Group, invoking break-up, "if...." Starting from the reality that Belgium was founded on social inequality and the exclusion of the Flemish people, the group asks to end the current status quo. Furious that most Flemings remain supporters of a united Belgium based on the solidarity between the wealthier Flemish and the poorer Walloons, they accuse "self-proclaimed progressive Flanders" of behaving conservatively and missing the "train of history" (i.e., independence), while a "modern vision of decentralization, subsidiarity, and regional autonomy, is making its way through all of Europe, from Scotland to Kosovo and from Catalonia to Estonia.
While the manifesto is getting wide press coverage, it only succeeded in gathering 7,500 signatures. A petition favoring national unity, called "Save Solidarity," got over 120,000 signatures, most of them from Flanders, without anywhere near the same level of media coverage.
Brown To Call for a 'New Harry Truman' on U.S. Visit
March 26 (EIRNS)British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to call on the U.S. to invoke the spirit of Harry Truman in reasserting its global leadership role, when he visits the United States April 16-20.
The London Daily Telegraph writes, "Significantly, making the speech in the Kennedy Library in Boston, Mr. Brown will evoke the memory of JFK as well as other American leaders he feels have been vital to global peace and prosperity including Presidents Truman and Roosevelt." Brown's idea of the challenges to be taken up are reported as "extremism and climate change."
Neither Kennedy nor Roosevelt is mentioned again in the article, but there is another photo of a construction site from the immediate post-war period with the caption, "Brown believes that the leadership which President Truman gave in helping Europe rebuild after World War II should be drawn on."
Iceland in Financial Meltdown
March 24 (EIRNS)The currency of Iceland, the kronawhich has gotten itself into one of the world's nastier speculative bubblesis melting down, and whatever remains of the economy with it, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported today.
In February 2006, the crash of the krona set off a wave of other currency crashes. Both U.S. and European banks have "savagely curtailed" lending to Iceland's banks in recent weeks, and credit default swaps are now at "stratospheric levels," the Telegraph reported. British firms are deeply implicated, since Kaupthing, the biggest Icelandic bank, had been lending to Iranian-born investor Robert Tchenguiz, who owns large parts of key British firms, and other Iceland banks are also heavily involved in Britain.
The krona has fallen almost 25% this year, including 17.2% this month alone.
It's Official: Spanish Banking System in Free Fall
March 27 (EIRNS)No one can now deny the reality of the last six months, during which Spain's housing bubble has been rapidly deflating. The housing market, and therefore the country's banking system, are in a state of free fall. Spain's National Statistics Institute released its latest figures, showing that the buying and selling of houses collapsed by 27% in January from the previous year's level. This coincides with a 25% fall in the granting of mortgages. New homes are selling at a 30% "discount." In prosperous Catalonia, the drop was 42.7%, and in Madrid, sales have "virtually ground to a halt," according to Britain's Independent.
McCain, Lieberman Lobby for Trans-Atlantic Empire
March 21 (EIRNS)The French Internet newspaper Rue89 gives some insight into the March 16 visit of Republican Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to France. Overcoming his hatred of the country he used to describe as "an aging actress of the 1940s thinking she could still be invited to dinner without realizing she no longer has a perfect face," McCain, on the way back from a trip to Iraq, Jordan, and Israel with Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), was received by President Nicolas Sarkozy at the French Presidential palace, the Élysée. Yesterday, he had a fundraising dinner in London and met with Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The man who overcame McCain's francophobia was former French Ambassador to Washington Jean-David Levitte, today Sarkozy's main foreign policy advisor. Levitte, who joined McCain on Ted Koppel's late-night TV news program "Nightline" in 2003, told him at the end of the broadcast, in English, "You are my American hero." And Levitte convinced McCain to join the Congressional "French caucus," in the months leading up to the Iraq War. McCain agreed, under condition that his membership be kept secret. "His anti-French sentiment is a little bit irrational," said Levitte.
Sarkozy, for his part, was close to the networks of former Republican Presidential contender Rudy Giuliani, and spent his vacation in New Hampshire with the Agostinelli family, early financial backers of the Giuliani campaign.