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Brexit - How Britain will leave Europe Randall CalvinRandall Calvin

Posted 27/03/2015

By Randall Calvin

Britain makes its choice on Europe, and its future place in the world.

Will Britain leave the EU? Commentators now talk seriously about the possibility of 'Brexit' - a British exit from the EU. At his book launch at the Press Club Brussels, former Labour MP & Europe Minister Denis MacShane set out his stall from the pages of his book, looking at the history of Britain's troubled relationship with Europe, and makes his point that a 'Brexit' has in recent times become ever more likely.





Sense of déjà vu while Greece bailout talks continueRaquel JimenezRaquel Jimenez

Posted 22/03/2015

By Raquel Jimenez

On the eve of Alexis Tsipras first official visit to Germany, it has been reported that Greece has enough liquidity to last only two more weeks before Brussels reclassify its financial situation as “critical”;           One more reason to maintain the collegial spirit during the next meeting between Alexis Tsipras and Angela Merkel.

From April 9, Greece must repay a 467-million-euro loan to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It must also refinance short-term government bonds in the days following the IMF deadline.

The mini-summit on the Greek situation in Brussels this week will surely be useful to reduce the growing tension between the whole of the eurozone and the new leftist Greek government of Alexis Tsipras. However, it risked not bringing enough substance to the discussions that create the disputes: it is imperative that all parties comply with the rules of this joint venture which is the European Union.


With several European Summits on the same subject on each other’s back, there is already a sense of déjà vu in the air and little feeling of accomplishment. Since the agreement of principles of the extension of the second rescue of the Eurogroup of 20 February, French President François Hollande said “regretfully, a lot of time has been lost. The efficient use of time is essential in this case, in order to restore the devastated economy of the Hellenic Republic,” he added.

During the month following this first pre-agreement, the media has been fed a series of provocative statements and declarations that have contributed little to bring positions closer. In official and European government circles the threat of a Greek exit from the euro has been casting a long shadow. A Greexit will ultimately hurt the Greeks and threaten the stability of the euro area.

Greek Minister of Economy, Yanis Varoufakis has even flirted with the exclusion of the euro and the idea of holding of a referendum on the subject; equally his colleague the Minister of Justice threatened the expropriation of German assets in Greece, citing a local judgment on war reparations; and the Government torpedoed the continuation of technical discussions on the basis of disagreements with European Institutions’ data and reports.

No wonder the markets, and its most fickle protagonists, panicked: Greek tax collection continues to fall, bank deposits dodged, debt failures increased and international investment stalled.

This is the worst position from which the Greek government can negotiate, because any further deterioration of the situation will force them to ask for more help, and nobody seems willing to provide further support, and a blank cheque, without strict conditions, warranties and corrective measures, does not seem to be anywhere in our future.

Under these tense circumstances, Alexis Tsipras, will meet German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, tomorrow; amid strained relationships between the two countries over Germany’s hardline stance on Greece’s debt crisis.

Germany is desperately looking for a firm list of reforms to be presented at tomorrow’s meeting, Tsipras first official visit to Germany since his election.

“Tsipras announced he would present a complete list of precise reforms,” Thomas Oppermann, parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats, said in an interview in Der Spiegel. “I expect him to present this list during his conversation with Chancellor Merkel on Monday.”

Tsipras has blamed Merkel’s insistence on tough austerity for his country’s “humanitarian crisis” of poverty and mass unemployment.

One can only hope that the proactive path marked by the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who just improvised a support of  2 billion euros to Greece, will temper the acrimony between politicians and relieve the sacrifices of Greek citizens.

"Greece confronts a serious social problem, a humanitarian crisis," Juncker told a press conference after meeting with EU leaders in Brussels." Although "this will not be used to fill Greece's coffers, but to support efforts to create growth and social cohesion in Greece," he clarified.


By Raquel Jimenez for EU Spectator



Clashes between protesters and police ahead of opening of new ECB headquarters

Posted 18/03/2015

Protesters have been arrested, while several police officers are reported to have been injured

350 anti-austerity protesters have been arrested in clashes outside the new European Central Bank headquarters in Frankfurt. Activists from around Europe have gathered under the "Blockupy" banner to voice their anger over the ECB's role in the implementation of austerity measures in the euro zone.

Up to 10,000 demonstrators are expected to take part in rallies to coincide with the opening of the ECB's € 1.3 billion tower. Tear gas and water cannons have been used in an attempt to break up the violence.

Roads have been blocked, cars have been set on fire, and several police officers are reported to have been injured. Clashes took place near Frankfurt's Alte Oper opera house.

Police have erected barbed wire and other barriers in front of the new ECB headquarters. However most of today's demonstrations are expected to be peaceful.

The bank has said it will still be operating fully despite the protests, although some staff might be working from home.


Unfair to blame ECB for austerity - Draghi

In a speech at the headquarters, ECB Chief Mario Draghi thanked the authorities for their efforts to end the disturbances. 

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said it was "not fair" to label the ECB as the main perpetrator of unpopular austerity in Europe as protesters clashed with police outside.

"As an EU institution that has played a central role throughout the crisis, the ECB has become a focal point for those frustrated with this situation," Mr Draghi said.

Speaking at the inauguration of the bank's new twin-tower headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, he said: "This may not be a fair charge - our action has been aimed precisely at cushioning the shocks suffered by the economy. "But as the central bank of the whole euro area, we must listen very carefully to what all our citizens are saying." Speaking to around 100 invited guests, Mr Draghi acknowledged that "people are going through very difficult times," and pointed to surveys showing that people felt life had become worse since the crisis.

"I understand what motivates these views, why people want to see a change," he said.

The ECB has decided to keep the inaugural celebrations relatively low-key in face of the renewed flareup in the sovereign debt crisis in Greece.
"Our protest is against the ECB, as a member of the troika, that, despite the fact that it is not democratically elected, hinders the work of the Greek government. We want the austerity politics to end," Ulrich Wilken, one of the protest's organisers, said."We want a loud but peaceful protest," he added. a spokesman for the protesters, Hendrik Wester, told DPA news agency.

In a bid to control the violence, authorities have mobilised one of the biggest ever police deployments in the city.



New political party formed in Ireland

Posted 13/03/2015

After more than a year of political procrastination, and perhaps symbolically on the eve of the St. Patrick’s festival independent Irish MP Lucinda Creighton officially launched her new political party - Renua Ireland - in Dublin this morning. The party's policies and its 'declared candidates' line-up so far have been revealed today after two months of planning and regional tours.

Deputy Creighton - who will lead the new party - was joined by a group of declared candidates at the Science Gallery on Pearse Street.
Declared candidates include Mrs Creighton, economist Eddie Hobbs, Jack and Jill foundation co-founder Jonathan Irwin, Wicklow MP Billy Timmins (who will also serve as the party's deputy leader) and Offaly County Council's John Leahy.

Renua Ireland has also revealed party policies on issues such as role of the state, agriculture, Europe, welfare, justice and public service.

On abortion, the party says "we will be the only political party in Ireland and across Europe that has an open party position on Abortion... we do not believe party politics in Ireland has a place for issues of conscience."

On the infamous question of Irish Water, the party explains, "we are in favour of investment in our water infrastructure. It has been allowed to decay for generations. Access to safe, clean water is a basic necessity of life. We fundamentally disagree with how water charges have been introduced and will continue to do so until Irish Water has been radically reformed, and public waste eliminated."


Renua promises no secrets in bright political future

The language was at times vivid. There was talk of cutting rotten anchors to the past and promises to govern in the sunshine, wrote RTÉ's Mícheál Lehane.

The packaging was slick albeit with a name that makes little sense if looked at solely in English or Irish, but all the trappings of a well produced Public Relations product were on show. Things like: live video streaming, a mixed zone to talk to party candidates, an efficient MC and soft mood music as the party leader walked down the steps of the Trinity College Science Gallery.

Indeed there was almost a wedding feel to it all when Lucinda Creighton wearing ivory, I think, made that walk to the podium.

And just like a wedding the words ‘new’ ‘the future’ and ‘hope’ were repeated constantly.

Watching on was an audience made up of a mixture of old and fresh political faces.

Hours before the launch the papers that gave birth to a new political party were lodged in Leinster House - the seat of the Irish Parliament.

Renua was born on a sunny spring day with a notoriously unlucky date.

Lucinda Creighton insisted they were not superstitious. Instead they want to offer voters something new and free of fear.


This will see the party possibly run between 50 and 60 candidates at the next General Election.

They will offer promises to end the secrecy around Government including the publication of cabinet minutes.

These secret notes will be released within two days. Currently there is a 30 year wait.

Ministers will only be able to serve two terms in office and a code of ethics will be put in place for senior officials and office holders.

Any Renua MP elected to the Irish Dáil (parliament) will have a free vote on matter of conscience.

That could pose a problem for a Government Chief Whip down the road if the party gets into power.

On future coalition partners Lucinda Creighton would only rule out Sinn Fein.

What policies would future Government partners have to agree to?

Renua want to redesign the property tax. It is open to the idea of water charges if they are genuinely about conservation.

Tax relief is promised for childcare costs and it wants a scheme to get pension funds to invest in building houses here. Additionally, the speakers at the launch asked to be judged on deed not rhetoric and that is what Eddie Hobbs wants too, yet he cannot say whether he'll run for Renua in the Election.

That once again seems like a strange starting point for one of the party's most prominent spokespeople. With or without Hobbs this party looks to have the ability to win seats. Lucinda Creighton, Billy Timmins, Terrance Flanagan are proven election winners, while Paul Bradford too was elected to the Dáil three times.

Others like Ronan McMahon in Dublin South West and John Leahy in Offaly are councillors with a solid support base; Jack and Jill founder Jonathan Irwin also has a high profile.

If it all went a certain way this party could well be the small cohesive cog needed to form the next Government, as the opinion polls stand that could mean supporting a slimmed down Fine Gael and Labour coalition.

The radical plan to quickly publish Cabinet Minutes may not make it into Government Buildings but it is possible Lucinda Creighton will.



Eurozone ministers to discuss Greek reform proposals

Posted 09/03/2015

Eurozone finance ministers are meeting in Brussels today to examine a list of reform proposals submitted by Greece which could trigger the release of funds the country needs to repay a significant IMF loan this month.

However, Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis warned that the far-left government could call a referendum or fresh elections if its reform proposals were rejected by the Eurogroup of finance ministers.



Last month eurozone finance ministers reached an 11th-hour agreement to extend Greece's bailout.

The deal meant that Greece would be entitled to € 7 billion in bailout funds, but only by the end of April.

However, because of falling tax revenues Greece could run out of cash sooner.

The government was therefore asked to submit a detailed list of proposals which would foresee some of the funds being released early.

The letter sent to Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem, however, has already prompted fears of a fresh stand-off between Athens and the eurozone.

One suggestion, which has reportedly prompted derision in some eurozone capitals, is that tourists could effectively act as spies by reporting tax evasion to the Greek authorities.

In an interview with an Italian newspaper, the Greek finance minister warned that the government could call a referendum or fresh elections if its proposals were rejected by eurozone finance ministers.

A finance ministry spokesman later clarified that this would be a referendum on the reforms the country was being asked to carry out, and not on membership of the euro.

Against that background, the ECB to begin quantitative easing programme

The European Central Bank is set to begin its long-awaited € 1.1 trillion quantitative easing programme aimed at fending off deflation and stimulating growth in the euro zone.

The multi-billion-euro package will see the European Central Bank buy around € 60 billion public and private bonds each month until September next year.

The strategy behind the ECB's programme is similar to that of schemes introduced by the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England to pump money into the economy.

The head of the ECB, Mario Draghi predicted that economic growth in the eurozone would strengthen slowly to reach 2.1% by 2017.

He also said there may be a chance that the QE programme would continue beyond September 2016.



To Debate or Not to Debate!Randall CalvinRandall Calvin

Posted 07/03/2015

By Randall Calvin

With just a couple of months to go to the British general election in May, unless one has been living under a rock recently, one could not but stand back in total bewilderment at the arguments between the parties and the broadcasting authorities regarding who might be invited to participate, under what conditions, or if any televised debate will ever materialize, and not a party manifesto in sight!

Dizzy from trying to keep up with the fiasco I have decided for this article to distract from whether or not any debates take place or with whom and instead shine a little light on the history of the linguistic term "hustings" and an account of where and when this famous TV debate concept started - the most famous of all broadcast confrontations!


At election time we use the word "hustings". Where did it come from?

Everyone is having hustings at the moment - not just staged by all sorts of locations and interest groups for May's general election, but also in America where the election isn't for ages yet. It sounds a bit onomatopoeic, with the rival candidates standing on a platform and husting angrily at each other.

The most famous election in literature, at Eatanswill, in Dickens's The Pickwick Papers, sees the unfortunate Mr Pickwick accidentally pushed up on to the hustings platform where he looks down on a scene "from whence arose a storm of groans, and shouts, and yells, and hootings, that would have done honour to an earthquake".


The word has a tantalising Nordic tang of herrings and smorgasbord to complement the rotten tomatoes of the traditional British poll. In most Scandinavian languages "ting" or "thing" means assembly, as in the the names of the parliaments of Denmark, Norway and Iceland.

As for the "hus" (or house) part, some say it meant an assembly held indoors, some that it was a gathering of the retainers of a leader's house or family.

But the word didn't go straight from ancient Scandinavian politics to modern politics. First the hustings came to mean the main civil court of the City of London - perhaps from as early as Alfred the Great. It may have been founded by Danes living in London - it was certainly confirmed in its powers by the Danish kings of England in the 11th Century.

From the 15th Century the word picked up a final "s"; by the 17th Century it had started to mean the platform on which the City dignitaries sat during the court, and then any official platform.

The nearest equivalent today is the TV debate - but nothing could be more staged and artificial. To echo the rough-and-tumble of the Eatanswill hustings you surely need to go out on to the streets, to the American stump, John Major's soapbox and John Prescott's egg.By the 18th Century it was the platform on which election candidates were nominated, and from where they addressed the voters.


The televised debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in the 1960 American presidential election was the classic case of verbal skills versus visual appeal. It was a milestone in television broadcasting on that September 26th evening, the first ever US presidential debate.

The polls had Nixon and Kennedy neck and neck; Nixon 47 per cent, Kennedy 47 per cent. Nine out of ten American families owned a television set, and the viewing audience would be the largest ever assembled – the TV confrontation was expected to be decisive.

Nixon knew he had problems with television, his five o’clock shadow made him look grim and pallid, even after shaving. Nevertheless, Nixon believed he could rely on his verbal skills. In face-to-face debates he rarely lost.

JFK prepared diligently, spending hours answering possible questions prepared by his staff. His stubborn opponent from California refused to practice; no one would tell him what he needed to know against this young, spoiled Irish-American upstart from Massachusetts. The signs were ominous for Nixon from the time he arrived at the television studio, the gathered photographers flocked to take pictures of the young good-looking Kennedy.

When the moderator introduced the two candidates, Nixon looked – according to author of Kennedy and Nixon Christopher Matthews, like an “ill-at-ease, unshaven, middle-aged fellow recovering from a serious illness; while Jack Kennedy, by contrast, was elegant in a dark, well-tailored suit that set off his healthy tan.”

Verbally Nixon handled himself well. Americans who tuned in to their radios rather than their television sets later rated Nixon the clear winner, but this was the age of television, and the images – the non-verbal body language – that were projected across millions of TV screens had a dramatic impact!

According to Matthews: Each time Kennedy spoke, Nixon’s eyes darted toward him in an uncomfortable mix of fear and curiosity.” In stark contrast, Kennedy’s body language projected strength and confidence. Nixon’s close adviser Henry Cabot Lodge, watching the last few minutes of the debate, remarked despondently: “That son of a bitch just lost the election.”

As we know Kennedy went on to win the debate decisively; a total of 43 per cent of the viewers gave it to Kennedy, 29 per cent called it even, and only 23 per cent favoured Nixon in the all-important opinion polls. On election day Nixon lost by just 103,000 votes out of more than 68 million votes cast.

They say that for the rest of his life Nixon would refuse to even look at the tapes, and it would take another sixteen years before there would be another US presidential TV debate.

By Randall Calvin