Wall Street Journal: Police arrested four alleged right-wing extremists early Wednesday suspected of planning attacks on mosques and asylum seekers in Germany, the country’s top prosecutor said.
The Federal Prosecutor’s office said the four suspects procured explosives to carry out terrorist attacks in small groups on targets including mosques, accommodation for asylum seekers, and well-known Salafis—people who follow an ultra-fundamentalist branch of Islam.
According to the prosecutor’s office, 56-year old Andreas H., 39-year old Markus W., 22-year old Denise Vanessa G. and 47-year old Olaf O. are suspected of forming a right-wing terrorist group with other suspects called “Oldschool Society,” or OSS, no later than November last year.
Der Spiegel reports: July 14, 2013 was an overcast day. The German chancellor was reclining in a red armchair across from two television hosts with the country’s primary public broadcaster. With Berlin’s Spree River flowing behind her, Angela Merkel gave her traditional summer television interview. The discussion focused in part on the unbridled drive of America’s NSA intelligence service to collect as much information as possible. Edward Snowden’s initial revelations had been published just one month earlier, but by the time of the interview, the chancellor had already dispatched her interior minister to Washington. Having taken action to confront the issue, Merkel was in high spirits.
Merkel’s interviewers wanted to know exactly what data had been targeted in Germany. Reports had been making the rounds, they reminded her, of “economic espionage.” Merkel sat quietly. “So, on that,” she said, “the German interior minister was clearly told that there is no industrial espionage against German companies.”
Only a few hundred meters away from the red armchair, though, more was known. In Merkel’s Chancellery, staff had long been aware that the information provided by the United States wasn’t true.
By 2010 at the latest, the Chancellery had received indications that the NSA had attempted to spy on European firms, including EADS, the European aerospace and defense company that is partly owned by German shareholders. They also knew that the Americans were seeking to join forces with Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), in their spying efforts. It would be astonishing if Merkel herself had not known about these occurrences long before she sat down for the interview. Indeed, she would look even worse had she not known. [Continue reading…]
Reuters: Germany’s top public prosecutor will look into accusations that the country’s BND foreign intelligence agency violated laws by helping the United States spy on officials and firms in Europe, including Airbus group, the federal prosecutors office said.
A spokesman for the prosecutors office confirmed weekend media reports that an investigation had been launched as opposition politicians demanded more information about the unfolding scandal from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.
“A preliminary investigation has been started,” the spokesman said. In a related development, federal prosecutor Harald Range himself will be questioned by a parliamentary committee looking into the affair in Berlin on Wednesday.
Der Spiegel reports: It was obvious from its construction speed just how important the new site in Bavaria was to the Americans. Only four-and-a-half months after it was begun, the new, surveillance-proof building at the Mangfall Kaserne in Bad Aibling was finished. The structure had a metal exterior and no windows, which led to its derogatory nickname among members of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the German foreign intelligence agency: The “tin can.”
The construction project was an expression of an especially close and trusting cooperation between the American National Security Agency (NSA) and the BND. Bad Aibling had formerly been a base for US espionage before it was officially turned over to the BND in 2004. But the “tin can” was built after the handover took place.
The heads of the two intelligence agencies had agreed to continue cooperating there in secret. Together, they established joint working groups, one for the acquisition of data, called Joint Sigint Activity, and one for the analysis of that data, known as the Joint Analysis Center.
But the Germans were apparently not supposed to know everything their partners in the “tin can” were doing. The Americans weren’t just interested in terrorism; they also used their technical abilities to spy on companies and agencies in Western Europe. They didn’t even shy away from pursuing German targets. [Continue reading…]
Jeremy Scahill reports: A top-secret U.S. intelligence document obtained by The Intercept confirms that the sprawling U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany serves as the high-tech heart of America’s drone program. Ramstein is the site of a satellite relay station that enables drone operators in the American Southwest to communicate with their remote aircraft in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other targeted countries. The top-secret slide deck, dated July 2012, provides the most detailed blueprint seen to date of the technical architecture used to conduct strikes with Predator and Reaper drones.
Amid fierce European criticism of America’s targeted killing program, U.S. and German government officials have long downplayed Ramstein’s role in lethal U.S. drone operations and have issued carefully phrased evasions when confronted with direct questions about the base. But the slides show that the facilities at Ramstein perform an essential function in lethal drone strikes conducted by the CIA and the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa.
The slides were provided by a source with knowledge of the U.S. government’s drone program who declined to be identified because of fears of retribution. According to the source, Ramstein’s importance to the U.S. drone war is difficult to overstate. “Ramstein carries the signal to tell the drone what to do and it returns the display of what the drone sees. Without Ramstein, drones could not function, at least not as they do now,” the source said. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Several hundred leather-clad motorcyclists from the Night Wolves, a club closely allied with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, plan to roar from Moscow to Berlin this month for the 70th anniversary of the Soviets’ victory over Nazi Germany.
Like the Red Army before them, the Night Wolves will have several countries to cross on the way, including Poland. And given the current tensions over Ukraine and widespread worries that Mr. Putin may have other aggressive designs on his neighbors, the prospect of hundreds of Russian bikers’ roaring across the Polish countryside — not to mention Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria or Germany — is not being greeted with joy in all quarters.
“I wish they would never come here,” said Monika Trzcinska, the mayor of Braniewo, a small Polish town a stone’s throw from the Russian border, which will be the first stop in Poland for some of the riders on April 25.
A Facebook page opposing the event had 11,000 likes by Wednesday afternoon with a logo featuring a Polish eagle with a lit match chasing a flaming wolf. Meanwhile, a petition calling for the motorcycle rally to be banned had attracted 4,000 signatures, and some Polish lawmakers were calling on their government to find some way to block the event.
Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz called the rally a “provocation” in an interview Tuesday on Polish radio, and said it would be up to Polish border guards to decide whether Russian bikers would be allowed into the country.
Some Polish biker groups said they intended to take to the highways to block the Russians, but others were more welcoming. [Continue reading…]
Frances Stonor Saunders writes: On 25 January 1933, the 16-year-old Eric Hobsbawm marched with thousands of comrades through central Berlin to the headquarters of the German Communist Party (KPD). When they arrived at Karl Liebknecht Haus, on the Bülowplatz, the temperature was –18°C. They shuffled and waited in the bone-numbing cold for four hours to hear the podium speeches of the party cadres. As Hobsbawm would recall much later, there was singing – ‘The Internationale’, peasant war songs, the ‘Soviet Airmen’s Song’ – with intervals of heavy silence. The red flags and banners could not dispel the greyness – of the shadowy buildings, the sky, the crowd – or the realisation that ‘the inevitability of world revolution’ had been postponed, that what faced the beleaguered movement in the short term was a reckoning: ‘danger, capture, resistance to interrogation, defiance in defeat’. Not the New Jerusalem, then, but a new circle of hell.
Five days later, on 30 January, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. On 24 February, the police, augmented by the newly enrolled ‘auxiliary police’ of stormtroopers grouped under such edifying names as the Robbers and the Pimp’s Brigade, raided Karl Liebknecht Haus. In anticipation of this, the KPD had been exfiltrating its records to private addresses. Its top officials were working out of anonymous premises scattered round the city, and secret post offices had been installed in a piano store and a coal business. But Hermann Göring, minister of the interior, was on to them – ‘My mission is only to destroy and exterminate, nothing more!’ – and few escaped the truckloads of SA and SS who roared through the streets and snatched them, one by one, from their hideouts. They were taken to improvised prisons, beaten up, tortured and killed.
The KPD chairman, Ernst Thälmann, was arrested on 3 March, and later managed to smuggle out details of his treatment:
They ordered me to take off my pants and then two men grabbed me by the back of the neck and placed me across a footstool. A uniformed [political police] officer with a whip of hippopotamus hide in his hand then beat my buttocks with measured strokes. Driven wild with pain I repeatedly screamed at the top of my voice. Then they held my mouth shut for a while and hit me in the face, and with a whip across chest and back. I then collapsed.
‘Arrests upon arrests,’ Joseph Goebbels noted with satisfaction. ‘Now the Red pest is being thoroughly rooted out.’ By April, 25,000 communists were in ‘protective custody’. Dachau, the first official concentration camp, was set up to hold them.
Hobsbawm, whose parents had died within two years of each other, was living with his aunt in the Halensee district. He was not a member of the KPD, but of its dependency the Sozialistischer Schülerbund (Socialist Students Federation), specifically designed for secondary-school students. What now remained of its small, west Berlin cell contrived to hide its duplicating apparatus in the Halensee flat. ‘The comrades concluded that, since I was a British subject, I would be less at risk; or perhaps that the police would be less likely to raid our flat,’ Hobsbawm later wrote. He kept the rudimentary printing press under his bed for several weeks until someone came to take it away, presumably to put it to work for the printing of election leaflets.
Incredibly, given the efficiency of Göring’s ‘iron fist’ in smashing up the KPD, there was still rump enough to organise a campaign for the general election of 5 March (on his first day in office, Hitler had manipulated Hindenberg into dissolving the Reichstag). Participation in this campaign was little short of suicidal, but Hobsbawm embarked on this, his ‘first piece of genuinely political work’, protected by the fantasy that it was like ‘playing in the Wild West’: ‘We would go into the apartment buildings and, starting on the top floor, push the leaflets into each flat until we came out of the front door, panting with the effort and looking for signs of danger.’ In his diary, he confessed to ‘a light, dry feeling of contraction, as when you stand before a man ready to punch you, waiting for the blow.’ The KPD polled 13 per cent of the vote, and was promptly proscribed by Hitler’s ascendant party. Less than a month after this, in early April, an uncle arrived in Berlin to remove Hobsbawm to the safety of London, where his paternal grandfather had settled in the 1870s.
The week Hobsbawm left Berlin, Guy Liddell, MI5’s German-speaking deputy head of counter-espionage, arrived from London. The fearful symmetry in this – history throwing us a stray bone of coincidence – will become clear. [Continue reading…]
Chris Bowlby writes: A new film released in Germany this month highlights one of the great “what ifs” of history. It’s the story of Georg Elser – a 36-year-old carpenter from a small town in southern Germany – who came very close to assassinating Adolf Hitler in the early days of World War Two.
On 8 November 1939, Hitler was making his annual speech at a Munich beer hall. The event commemorated early Nazi struggles in the 1920s. This time Hitler used it to mock his international enemies, and boast about Germany’s successful start to the war.
But what neither Hitler nor the Nazi top brass and loyal audience realised was that, a few feet away from where the Fuehrer was standing, a bomb was about to go off .
Its ticking timers carefully muffled in cork casing, it had been assembled and planted secretly over many weeks by Georg Elser. He had started making his plans the previous year, after deciding that, under Hitler, “war was unavoidable”.
Hitler began this speech at the same time every year, but on this occasion, eager to return to Berlin and his military planners, the Fuehrer left early.
Thirteen minutes later, the bomb exploded, causing eight deaths and massive damage. The ceiling collapsed just above where Hitler had been standing. [Continue reading…]
Der Spiegel reports: It was quiet in eastern Ukraine last Wednesday. Indeed, it was another quiet day in an extended stretch of relative calm. The battles between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian separatists had largely stopped and heavy weaponry was being withdrawn. The Minsk cease-fire wasn’t holding perfectly, but it was holding.
On that same day, General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine — with “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery” having been sent to the Donbass. “What is clear,” Breedlove said, “is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day.”
German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn’t understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn’t the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).
The pattern has become a familiar one. For months, Breedlove has been commenting on Russian activities in eastern Ukraine, speaking of troop advances on the border, the amassing of munitions and alleged columns of Russian tanks. Over and over again, Breedlove’s numbers have been significantly higher than those in the possession of America’s NATO allies in Europe. As such, he is playing directly into the hands of the hardliners in the US Congress and in NATO.
The German government is alarmed. Are the Americans trying to thwart European efforts at mediation led by Chancellor Angela Merkel? Sources in the Chancellery have referred to Breedlove’s comments as “dangerous propaganda.” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even found it necessary recently to bring up Breedlove’s comments with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg. [Continue reading…]
Kenan Malik writes: What is striking about the stories of wannabe jihadis is their diversity. There is no “typical” recruit, no single path to jihadism.
Sahra Ali Mehenni is a schoolgirl from a middle-class family in the south of France. Her father, an industrial chemist, is a non-practising Muslim, her mother an atheist. “I never heard her talk about Syria, jihad,” said her mother. One day last March, to the shock of her family, she took not her usual train to school but a flight from Marseilles to Istanbul to join Isis. When she finally phoned home it was to say: “I’ve married Farid, a fighter from Tunisia.”
Kreshnik Berisha, a German born of Kosovan parents, played as a teenager for Makkabi Frankfurt, a Jewish football club and one of Germany’s top amateur teams. He went on to study engineering and in July 2013, boarded a bus to Istanbul and then to Syria. “I didn’t believe it,” said Alon Meyer, Makkabi Frankfurt’s coach. “This was a guy who used to play with Jewish players every week. He was comfortable there and he seemed happy.” Berisha later returned home to become the first German homegrown jihadi to face trial.
There are hundreds of stories such as these, from all over Europe. What they tell us is that, shocking though it may seem, there is nothing unusual in the story of the runaway Tower Hamlets schoolgirls. And that what Emwazi has in common with other European recruits is not so much his harassment as his college education.
The usual clichés about jihadis – that they are poor, uneducated, badly integrated – are rarely true. A survey of British jihadis by researchers at London’s Queen Mary College found no link to “social inequalities or poor education”; most were highly educated young people from comfortable families who spoke English at home. According to Le Monde, a quarter of French jihadis in Syria are from non-Muslim backgrounds.
What draws most wannabe jihadis to Syria is, to begin with, neither politics nor religion. It is a search for something a lot less definable: for identity, for meaning, for “belongingness”, for respect. Insofar as they are alienated, it is not because wannabe jihadis are poorly integrated, in the conventional way we think of integration. Theirs is a much more existential form of alienation.
There is, of course, nothing new in the youthful search for identity and meaning. What is different today is the social context in which this search takes place. We live in a more atomised society than in the past; an age in which many people feel peculiarly disengaged from mainstream social institutions and in which moral lines often seem blurred and identities distorted.
In the past, social disaffection may have led people to join movements for political change, from far-left groups to anti-racist campaigns. Today, such organisations often seem equally out of touch. What gives shape to contemporary disaffection is not progressive politics but the politics of identity.
Identity politics has, over the last three decades, encouraged people to define themselves in increasingly narrow ethnic or cultural terms. A generation ago, “radicalised” Muslims would probably have been far more secular in their outlook and their radicalism would have expressed itself through political organisations. Today, they see themselves as Muslim in an almost tribal sense, and give vent to their disaffection through a stark vision of Islam. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: Ammar Kassir became a refugee to avoid killing fellow Syrians.
In 2012, as pro-democracy marches on the streets of Damascus were increasing, Kassir was a part of a police unit working under the direct control of President Bashar al-Assad. One afternoon, he was ordered to open fire on protesters marching for democracy.
“Assad told us we must kill these people who are making demonstrations. The protesters were shouting ‘Freedom! Freedom!’, and he said we must kill these people. I did not want to do that,” Kassir told Al Jazeera.
The safe choice would have been to follow the orders he was given. The policeman, who was 20-years old at the time, chose to resist, even though he knew refusing orders meant he would have to escape for his own safety.
Kassir became a refugee, one of three million Syrians who have fled their country in the past three years.
He left Damascus, heading north to his family’s home in Idlib. From there, he made his way alone to Turkey, crossing the border by foot.
Since the Syrian uprising began, 95 percent of the Syrians who fled their native country remained in the region, mainly in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.
Kassir had other plans.
He wanted to get to Europe, to reach a safer country that would give him a chance to restart his life.
Legal pathways to Europe for Syrian refugees are rare and Kassir – like many other Syrians who sought refuge in Europe – was forced onto dangerous and expensive smuggling routes. [Continue reading…]
The Local: One in five Germans believe that a revolution would be the only way to truly reform society, a study released by the Free University of Berlin on Monday shows.
Anti-capitalism, anti-fascism and anti-racism were all are prominent positions according to the study entitled ‘Against state and capital – for the revolution’, which has revealed a public much further to the left than previously thought.
In the report, 20% of the people surveyed agreed with the statement that “Living conditions won’t be improved by reforms – we need a revolution”.
A similar percentage of people said they saw the rise of a new fascism in Germany as a real danger, while as many as a third agreed that capitalism inevitably leads to poverty and hunger.
Philippe Legrain writes: Ever since the initial bargain in the 1950s between post-Nazi West Germany and its wartime victims, European integration has been built on compromise. So there is huge pressure on Greece’s new Syriza government to be “good Europeans” and compromise on their demands for debt justice from their European partners — also known as creditors. But sometimes compromise is the wrong course of action. Sometimes you need to take a stand.
Let’s face it: no advanced economies in living memory have been as catastrophically mismanaged as the eurozone has been in recent years, as I document at length in my book, European Spring. Seven years into the crisis, the eurozone economy is doing much worse than the United States, worse than Japan during its lost decade in the 1990s and worse even than Europe in the 1930s: GDP is still 2 percent lower than seven years ago and the unemployment rate is in double digits. The policy stance set by Angela Merkel’s government in Berlin, implemented by the European Commission in Brussels, and sometimes tempered — but more often enforced — by the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, remains disastrous. Continuing with current policies — austerity and wage cuts, forbearance for banks, no debt restructuring or adjustment to Germany’s mercantilism — is leading Europe into the ditch; the launch of quantitative easing is unlikely to change that. So settling for a “compromise” that shifts Merkel’s line by a millimeter would be a mistake; it must be challenged and dismantled.
While Greece alone may not be able to change the entire monetary union, it could act as a catalyst for the growing political backlash against the eurozone’s stagnation policies.
For the first time in years, there is hope that the dead hand of Merkelism can be unclasped, not just fear of the consequences and nationalist loathing.
More immediately, Greece can save itself. Left in the clutches of its EU creditors, it is not destined for the sunlit uplands of recovery, but for the enduring misery of debt bondage. So the four-point plan put forward by its dashing new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, is eminently sensible. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Ending an acrimonious standoff, European leaders hashed out a deal on Friday to extend Greece’s bailout by four months, giving the troubled country a financial lifeline and avoiding a bankruptcy with potentially destabilizing consequences for the region.
The agreement, reached at an emergency meeting of eurozone finance ministers here, paves the way for Greece to unlock further aid from its bailout, worth 240 billion euros, or $273 billion. But the creditors will dole out the funds only if Greece meets certain conditions, setting the stage for tense negotiations that could unsettle the markets and create more political friction with Germany and other European countries.
If Athens moves slowly, it might not get the money for months. Or the deal could fall apart altogether, again raising the prospect of a messy Greek departure from the euro currency. [Continue reading…]
After all night talks in the Belarusian capital Minsk, the outcomes of the four party talks in the so-called Normandy format (Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany) have neither brought a major breakthrough or a complete disaster. As a deal, it is not a solution, but perhaps a step towards one.
It almost seems to be business as usual – yet another ceasefire deal and commitments to further negotiations on a more durable political settlement – but, by the standards of this crisis, this is not the outcome Ukraine’s people may have hoped for. Not least because the deal, as soon as it was announced, ran into its first set of problems with rebels demanding Ukrainian forces withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve before they would agree to the ceasefire.
At the very least, this might mean two more days of heavy fighting before the ceasefire starts on 15 February, at worst it might mean the deal will never be implemented at all.
In the run-up to last might’s summit, the crisis in Ukraine seemed to head towards a major juncture, along with relations between Russia and the West and within the Transatlantic alliance. The weeks before the summit in Minsk has seen intensifying diplomacy, escalating rhetoric, increased fighting on the ground, and a worsening humanitarian situation.
Kabir Chibber: In recent months, a street movement called Pegida — Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident — has emerged from nowhere in Germany, seeking to “protect Judeo-Christian culture” and halt to what it calls the spread of Islam. Though it denies being xenophobic or racist, its leader quit after being pictured dressed as Hitler. Pegida’s rallies have attracted tens of thousands of people in Germany.
And now the group is spreading abroad. Pegida held its first march in Vienna and is to hold its first British rally in the city of Newcastle on Feb. 28, with more planned in the UK. Britain already has anti-Islamic groups such as the English Defence League, a small but vocal force. Only this weekend, the EDL attracted as many as 1,000 people to a march against the building of a mosque.
The Guardian reports: The leaders of Germany and France abruptly announced a summit with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow on Friday in response to overtures from the Kremlin, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the year-old Ukraine conflict.
The sudden and unusual decision by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the president, François Hollande, to travel to Moscow, with the French leader talking of decisions of war and peace, increased the stakes in the crisis while also raising suspicions that the Kremlin was seeking to split Europe and the US. Putin was said to have made “initiatives” to the European leaders in recent days.
Merkel and Hollande met the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, in Kiev on Thursday evening but left without making any comment. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, said on Twitter that the leaders had discussed “steps so that the Minsk agreement can start working”. A ceasefire signed in Minsk in September froze the frontlines at their positions at the time, but never held.
Friday’s visit will be Merkel’s first trip to Russia since the outbreak of violence in eastern Ukraine, which has now cost more than 5,000 lives. The increase in diplomatic efforts came as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, also met Poroshenko and other top officials in Kiev.
At a joint news conference with Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Kerry sounded lukewarm about Merkel and Hollande’s visit. [Continue reading…]
Shaun Walker writes: In Kiev, John Kerry had a clear message for Russia and Vladimir Putin: the Kremlin should respect Ukraine’s territory, negotiate constructively and stop funnelling weapons and troops into the east of the country.
The problem is that it is the same message the US secretary of state and other western politicians have been delivering for more than half a year, to pretty much zero effect.
The issue for western negotiators has been how to force Russia to stop doing something that, even in private, it won’t admit it is doing. Washington is now grappling with whether it should back up its messages to Putin with an “or else” and seriously begin negotiations on supplying arms to Kiev.
In an editorial, The Guardian says: Europe does have leverage, if it chooses to use it. Russia may be a geopolitical giant but its GDP is no bigger than Italy’s. It is dependent on Europe’s financial structures. Yet next to the plunging oil price, the EU sanctions thus far have had a virtually symbolic impact. Cutting Russian banks and companies from the Belgium-based Swift international transaction system would, by contrast, impose a serious jolt. It could be done quickly, but then also rolled rapidly back. It has worked before, against Iran, which entered nuclear negotiations soon after being banned from Swift in 2012. Many businesses would balk at the costs. But these would surely be easier to bear than the enduring damage done by a widening war on the European continent.
Mr Putin regards the EU as a strategic midget. He will respect it only when Russia’s predatory oligarchy is confronted with some red lines. When Mrs Merkel and Mr Hollande head for Moscow, they should put Swift on the table.
Peter Eavis reports: Europe’s most powerful policy makers dismiss the idea, investors fear it, and it would almost certainly face fierce resistance from within the Continent’s richer countries.
Yet talk of slashing the government debt loads of European countries, starting with Greece, is back. For all the opposition, the idea has resurfaced with a vengeance in recent days as the new government in Athens, facing a cash squeeze and aiming to make life easier for its citizens, looks for immediate ways to reduce what it owes. The pressure on Greece increased on Wednesday when the European Central Bank cut off direct funding to Greek banks, forcing them to rely instead on emergency loans from the country’s own central bank. The move followed a meeting in Frankfurt between Mario Draghi, the central bank’s president, and Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s new finance minister, and appeared to signal a hard line in negotiations over debt. The E.C.B.’s announcement roiled markets in the United States late in the trading day.
At the heart of Greece’s problems is its eye-popping government debt load, equivalent to 175 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Now, as Greece’s nightmare grinds on, some economists fear that high debt levels could hamper recoveries in other countries. That is why they are pressing for policies that would alleviate the debts of other European nations, to help get the region out of its rut.
“Greece is more acute, but it is not as completely different as it is portrayed,” said Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard. The economies of Spain, Portugal and Ireland, he added, might benefit from such “haircuts” to their obligations. Podemos, a Spanish political party that has surged in popularity in recent months, wants to restructure the country’s government debt to make it less of a burden. [Continue reading…]
Simon Jenkins writes: A yawning gulf has opened in the world of financial diplomacy. It is not whether to bail out Greece yet again. It is how a Greek finance minister should dress when visiting a chancellor of the exchequer. Yanis Varoufakis arrived in Downing Street yesterday in black jeans, a mauve open-necked shirt that was not tucked in, and the sort of leather coat Putin might wear on a bear hunt. If George Osborne still didn’t get the point, Varoufakis had a No 1 haircut. What was going on?
What was going on was real life. If I were a banker and had seen Varoufakis arrive in the same dark suit as Osborne was wearing, what would I think? I would think here was a man eager to be accepted into the club. He dresses like a banker, therefore he thinks like a banker, which is how today’s finance ministers are supposed to think. I would be reassured.
We don’t want bankers to be reassured by Varoufakis just now. We want them to be terrified. Don’t mess with me, he is saying. I have a sovereign electorate behind me, and I have a bankrupt country. When your banks go bankrupt you bail them out. When your businesses go bankrupt you write off their debts and let them start again. Do the same to me. Your banks have lent my country crazy sums of money, way beyond the bounds of caution or common sense. Now you honestly think you will get it back. You can’t. Read my lips, look at my jeans, feel my stubble. You can’t. Get real. [Continue reading…]