Western European News Digest
Greek Demonstrators: Burn the Banks
Feb. 24 (EIRNS)The Greek trade union movement sent a strong message to the "markets""you pay for the crisis you created," when their 24-hour strike began yesterday morning, virtually shutting down the country. The strike was aimed at reversing the brutal austerity being demanded by the European Union bankers' dictatorship. The Athens mass transit system shut down, leaving 650,000 commuters stranded; 500 flights in and out of Athens international airport were cancelled, and ferry service to the many Greek islands was at a standstill. Workers at government ministries did not show up. Holding banners saying "The crisis should be paid for by the plutocracy" and "Markets should pay for the crisis," 35,000 people attended a mass demonstration in downtown Athens, while small clashes occurred between demonstrators and police.
"This is the red line," Nikos Goulas, head of the union representing airport workers, told Britain's Guardian. "Greece is no Ireland. If the government does not back down there will be huge unrest." He stood next a huge banner reading, "As much as you terrorize us, these measures won't pass."
The strike was called by the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), representing 2 million private sector workers. They were joined by ADEDY, the public sector workers union, which had also held its own strike action on Feb. 10.
200,000 Demonstrate in Spain Against Austerity
Feb. 23 (EIRNS)The first demonstration in a 12-day mobilization organized by Spain's major trade union federations, the UGT (from the governing PSOE party) and Comisiones Obreras (Worker CommissionsCCOO) against the "labor reforms" of the Rodriguez Zapatero government, today gathered 200,000 people in three major cities of SpainMadrid, Barcelona, and Valenciaas well as in other cities. The mobilization is scheduled to cover 57 cities in the next 12 days with the slogans, "In Defense of Pensions," "No to delayed retirement," "Cutting the social net is no solution." These are exactly the demands that the London-run bankers are dictating to Spain, through the EU bureaucracy.
After the demos, the UGT leader in the Catalunya region, Josep Maria Alvarez, said that "If there is no rectification, this will not stop here." And CCOO leader Ignacio Fernandez Toxo pledged to defend labor's rights "tooth and nail." There is a general cover-up of the labor mobilization in the Spanish press.
Banco Santander Demands Spain's People Be Crushed
Feb. 25 (EIRNS)Facing its own bankruptcy after its shock exposure by Lyndon LaRouche two weeks ago, the British-steered Banco Santander's chief, Emilio Botín, demanded Feb. 23 that the Spanish government "get going at once" on the labor and pension "reforms" and budget cuts to loot the Spanish population, in order to save the "values" of Santander's exposed assets. Botín praised the announced reduction of EU50 billion ($70 billion) in the public budget. Botín was receiving a cultural award for owning a sports team, when he called for more of Spaniards' blood to save Spain's sovereign debt.
His ally and Bank of Spain governor Miguel Fernádez Ordóñez, who met Feb. 23 with representatives of the major banks, stated that the labor "reform" takes priority over everything else, and without it nothing would work to overcome the Spanish banks' debt crisis. He called for dismantling the labor organizations, ending collective bargaining.
Pound Sterling Is a 'Basket Case'
Feb. 26 (EIRNS)Jim Rogers, the former partner of speculator George Soros, told the Guardian that the pound sterling is a "basket case" of world currencies. "Other currencies aren't strong and the euro has real problems, with cracks much wider than Greece beginning to show," Rogers said, "but it's the pound that's most vulnerable. In real terms, it's already devalued against virtually every currency, barring the Zimbabwe dollar, and it's especially exposed over the weeks running up to the U.K. election. In a basket of currencies, the pound is potentially a basket case. That will put Britain in an extremely bad position."
Much of this bad debt is from the British housing bubble, which began to collapse two years ago. The slight increase in prices over the last months is proving to have been a dead cat bounce. Housing prices dropped by 1% during February for the first time in 10 months, following a downturn in home sales by 8%.
Debt Bomb Around Austrian Bankers' Necks
Feb. 25 (EIRNS)There is much talk about Greece and Spain these days, but the crisis in Eastern Europe, where especially Austrian banks are highly exposed, has not disappeared at all: Quite the contrary, the volume of bad loans is increasing for banks like Raiffeisen International (RI), which has an average bad loan portfolio of 14%, which in Ukraine, where RI owns the Aval bank, is almost 21%. RI shares dropped by 12% when the new figures were made public, on Feb. 24.
Of the EU1.15 billion that western banks lent to Eastern Europe, EU224 billion alone are Austrian loans, and nearly all of that went into consumer and housing loans and not into real industry. Increasing mass unemployment, exacerbated by brutal budget cuts in all East European countries, including the Baltic and Balkan states, and decreased wages of those who still have jobs are driving more and more Eastern European debtors into severe problems with paying back their loans. One might say that the dream of Austrian banks to rebuild the Hapsburg Empire with finances, in the East, has been grounded by reality.
Soros, EC Push for 'Eurobonds' and Dictatorship
Feb. 22 (EIRNS) The London Economist and George Soros writing in the Financial Times, both made a pitch for the British demand that economic dictatorship be established across Europe, to "solve" the collapse of Euroland. Rothschild hit man Soros says that Greece is a tiny problem, which can be dealt with through "makeshift assistance," but "that leaves Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland," putting "the future of the euro in question."
According to Soros: "It is clear what is needed: more intrusive monitoring and institutional arrangements for conditional assistance. A well-organized euro-bond market would be desirable." To achieve this, Europe needs a Treasury which can tax the members of the EU in times of crisis. The problem is that the EU "was brought into existence by putting the cart before the horse"i.e., a political dictatorship was required before the economic dictatorship would be viable.
A European Commission think tank puts forward a similar proposal in the Rothschild mouthpiece the Economist. Daniel Gros of the Centre for European Policy Studies, together with Thomas Mayer of Deutschebank, say that the EU needs the European Monetary Fund (EMF), which, like the IMF, would be "remote from direct political influence," and would "conduct economic surveillance of member countries." It would have "authority to borrow in the markets," but would also raise funds from members who are "in breach of set limits on governments' debt stock and annual deficits," at 1% of their "excess debt" over 60% of GDP, and "excess deficits" over 3% of GDPi.e., the Maastrich Treaty's restraints. Had this been in place for the past decade, these fools write, it would have pooled $163 billion, which could have rescued Greece!
The EMF would then control the borrowing nation's economic policies, and would "allow the country to receive additional funds only for specific purposes that the EMF approved."
Gasoline Shortages About To Hit in France
PARIS, Feb. 23 (EIRNS)Concern is increasing over a nationwide strike blocking the French oil refineries. Yesterday, 132 gas stations (of 12,700) were unable to offer certain types of fuel. According to Jean-Louis Schilansky, the president of UFIP (French Petroleum Industry Union), reserves are only sufficient to deliver gasoline to consumers for the next seven to ten days. Transportation companies are worried.
The strike started in January in the northern city of Mardyck, close to Dunkerque, when workers for the French oil giant Total discovered their refinery was set for closure. When it became clear that there was a global plan to reduce capacity everywhere, 5 other refineries joined the strike. In total, out of 12 refineries, 6 were on strike yesterday, while 31 out of 210 oil depots are blocked after six days of strike. Today, besides the refineries of Total, those of Exxon, BP, and Petroplus (formerly Shell) have joined the strike.
President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet the CEO of Total today to discuss the crisis. If gas supply grows short, the French strategic reserves are planned to be made available.
Death Toll from Cost-Cutting at U.K. Health Service
Feb. 26 (EIRNS)There were 400-1,200 questionable deaths at the Mid-Staffordshire NHS (National Health Service) Foundation Trust Hospital, and 900 cases of potential neglect, reported over the 2005-08 period, according to a report out this week, by a commission for the Health Ministry. The particulars involve lack of nutrition, cleanliness, hydration, and exposure to infection.
This spotlights the effects of the NHS "reforms" initiated by Tony Blair (1997-2007), which are the model for the Nazi health-care reforms in the U.S. now demanded by President Obama.