Welcome, 77 artists, 40 different points of Attica welcomes you by singing Erotokritos an epic romance written at 1713 by Vitsentzos Kornaros

Friday, September 20, 2013

European Federalism 2.0: A Fix for Europe?

Co-written by Thanos Papaïoannou Unemployment, intra-national strife, and political and economic stasis are ravaging Europe at the moment. What is there to do? How should we pull out of the morass? Messieurs Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Felix Marquardt, co-founders of the federalist Europeans Now movement, recently suggested bypassing the instruments of European nation states and concentrating political power in the hands of pan-European institutions. Down with national governments, they demand, and up with a "transfer of power to truly European institutions." Increased federalism and direct democracy, the principles behind their proposal, are key for Europe's long-term prosperity and success. The central question for Europe's long-term future is: Should we change the influence of the nation states at the EU level? There are three possible directions the European Union could take: decrease the power of nation states at the EU level (federalism); increase it (dissolution), or keep it constant (stasis). The good people of Europe have enjoyed stasis for quite some time now, and it has been failing them. Europe has been suffering a prolonged economic crisis, her parliaments full of alleged frauds and far-right radicals. The malaise appears tied not only to the global financial circumstance, but to the intrinsic financial and political structure of Europe, and to the common features of the European nations' economic policies: agricultural protectionism, expansive social states, and rule by Brusselian committee. There is hardly a glimmer of hope that the situation would improve on its own in the short or long term. This rules out stasis. We would like to argue for a long-term move towards federalism over long-term dissolution. A shift toward federalism would help Europe move out of the current crisis and protect her against future ones. For the recipient nations, federalism would allow for structural financial support and cheaper credit, but with central political control over how it's spent. For example, federalism requires a banking union, which would give healthy companies in debt-burdened countries access to credit despite their sovereigns' ill health. The current situation is hurtful and nonsensical, as it would be to deny credit to a Silicon-Valley startup because of California's horrifying state finances. For the contributing nations, federalism would mean even more open markets for products and labor, and unhindered competition. Of the European nations, Germany and her exporting machine would stand to benefit the most; indeed, Germany's dominating the common European market with her products has contributed to her sustained growth since the beginning of the European experiment. Combined with the direct democracy envisioned by Cohn-Bendit and Marquardt, Germany would reap multiple benefits. It is hard to imagine a similar path if we moved to dissolve the European Union in the long term. Federalism would dispatch with the old guard in Europe. They have brought us to this standstill; why should they be trusted to pull us out? In fact, in each of the recipient nations -- especially Greece and Spain -- the role of the EU in national politics can be likened to a spigot of money, around which the political old guard have crusted firm. They allow subsidies and sinecures to flow through to supporters in exchange for influence and power. Direct, pan-European democracy would break the crust off. As for the contributing nations, direct democracy would mean direct power, commensurate with population size. No longer would unelected Brussellian bureaucrats have the political whipping hand, no longer would Europe remain as opaquely undemocratic. It is the more flamboyant wings of the euroskeptics that bring up the lack of democracy in Europe most often, but their complaint is very valid nonetheless. Naturally, introducing full direct democracy in the short term would likely be self-defeating for the purposes of the unification: The voters themselves might even vote the Union into dissolution, since Europe's financial situation has bred sharp intra-national antipathies. Besides, no amount of supra-national committees could change the fact that Europe consists of different nations with different interests and cultures. Nonetheless, European politics is rapidly converging. In fact, today we can observe what was difficult to even conceive in 1995: ordinary voters in one corner of Europe inspired by politicians from a different one -- take Cohn-Bendit and his pan-European appeal. Also, macroeconomic thinking comes to the favor of a tighter Union. Conglomerate states appear more economically efficient than their parts, and are becoming easier to manage and sustain as technology progresses. Even at present, it is conglomerate countries that are dominating the international scene: The USA, China, Russia, India, the UK, even Germany and Italy, are products of successive, often painful conglomerations. No European nation would be able to stand up on its own to the world superpowers, but a true European Federation would carry enough weight to matter on the world stage. The strength of our cultures, of our ingenuity, the glory of our civilizations deserves an equally grand and material edifice.Thanos and Luka are researchers at Harvard University. They tweet at @lukaoreskovic and @TDPapaioannou.


Counter-terrorism unit takes on probe into Fyssas murder

The Greek Police on Friday turned over to the counterterrorism service the investigation of the Tuesday night murder of 34-year-old hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas by a supporter of the ultra-right Golden Dawn as a new round of anti-fascist rallies were held across Attica.The probe was handed to the ...


Slain Greek anti-fascist rapper I wont cry I wont fear

The world has become a big prison and I'm looking for a way to break the chains. There is a place waiting for me, there at a high mountain peak for me to arrive. That's why I stretch again my two hands very high, to steal some light from the bright stars. I cannot take it down here and I'm about to choke from this human misery, as much as sorrow. I cannot stand it anymore ...


Greece to take on EU presidency in January with smaller budget

KathimeriniGreece to take on EU presidency in January with smaller budgetKathimeriniGreece will spend no more than 50 million euros to host the six-month rotating European Union presidency, which it will assume in January, Parliament was told on Friday. Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulos told the House's European affairs ...


Moody’s Greek RMBS market continuing to weaken

The performance of the Greek residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) market continued to weaken during the three-month period up to August 2013, according to the latest indices published by ...


Greek bonds rally due to variety of factors

Greek government bonds rallied on Friday as an election campaign in European paymaster Germany neared its end with little clarity about what it might mean for ...


Greek highway fund to be closed over mismanagement allegations

The Infrastructure Ministry is reportedly planning to submit legislation in Parliament to abolish the state highway construction fund after a prosecutor brought charges of breach of faith against unidentified officials in the wake of a report by the ...


Former Greek Defense Ministry official to be tried for graft

Magistrate Spyros Georgouleas on Friday brought charges of graft and money laundering against a former general secretary for procurements at the Defense Ministry, Antonios Kantas, who is alleged to have accepted 500,000 euros from German electronics and engineering giant Siemens in connection with a Greek program for the modernization of the armed ...


Crisis: Greece lost some 40 bln euros in uncollected VAT

(ANSAmed) - ATHENS, SEPTEMBER 20 - Greece lost some 40 billion euros in uncollected Value-Added Tax in the period from 2008-2011, Kathimerini online reports quoting data from a survey published Friday by the European Commission aimed at estimating the so ...


Greece seized by new sense of foreboding as violence flares in streets

Clashes between far-right Golden Dawn and anti-fascists raise fears that crisis has reached new stage

It was not the scene that Greece's international stewards envisaged when they last visited the country at the epicentre of Europe's financial mess. When representatives of the "troika" of creditors arrived in June, book-keeping in Athens had been problem-free and monitors described their inspection tour as "almost boring". The great Greek debt crisis, it seemed, had finally gone quiet.

But when mission heads representing the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank fly into Athens on Sunday – for the start of a review upon which the future of Greece will hang – what they will find is a country teetering on the edge: its people divided as never before, its mood brittle, its streets the setting for running battles between anti-fascists and neo-Nazis. And unions girding for battle.

After six years of recession, four years of austerity and the biggest financial rescue programme in global history, it is clear that Greeks have moved into another phase, beyond the fear, fatigue and fury engendered by record levels of poverty and unemployment.

Along with the teargas – fired on Monday for the first time in more than a year outside the administrative reform ministry – there is a new sense of foreboding: a belief that they might never be "saved" and, worse still, could turn against each other.

This week's murder of the hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas by a member of the far-right Golden Dawn party highlighted that fear.

"It really worries me that political passions have got out of control, that they've surpassed any notion of common sense," said Stamatis Stefanakos, gasping for breath after being teargassed at an anti-fascist rally held in Keratsini, the working-class district where Fyssas was stabbed to death late on Tuesday. "I don't know how it will happen, or when it will happen, or what course it will take but with mathematical precision there will be an explosion here, of that I am sure."

Nervy, bespectacled and intense, Stefanakos is, at 41, typical of the new type of activist Greece's economic crisis has spawned. For the past year the computer scientist has volunteered at food banks and participated in the burgeoning solidarity movement now taking root in local neighbourhoods. He has witnessed, first-hand, the "quiet desperation" of ordinary Greeks pushed to the brink by draconian cuts, escalating taxes and loss of benefits.

"I can't just watch my country being destroyed by these policies," he said. "Forget about taxes. People can't even pay their rents. When you have a society under such pressure anything could happen, even civil war."

Greek officials make no secret of the fact they are investing hope in Germany, the main provider of bailout funds to date. "After the elections there everything will change," said one well-placed insider. "The new government will be able to relax the pressure." But few are persuaded recovery will be that easy.

With joblessness nudging 28%, Greece's largest labour union, GSEE, this month predicted it would take at least 20 years before employment returned to pre-crisis levels. Prime minister Antonis Samaras's fragile coalition hit back, describing the forecast as the "worst possible scenario, designed to predict catastrophe and create a false impression".

But in a country which has seen its economy contract by 25% since 2008 – a decline not experienced by any advanced western economy since the 1929 Wall Street crash – it is the union and not the conservative-dominated government which has been proved more accurate in its predictions.

The death of hope that has come with the failure to rein in Greece's runaway debt – at the start of the crisis it stood at 120% of GDP, now it amounts to 175% – has been compounded by the news that Athens will almost certainly need a third bailout to plug a €11bn (£9.3bn) funding gap over the next two years. Fresh aid is likely to mean more belt-tightening on top of mass lay-offs in the public sector that Athens's troika of creditors has demanded by the end of the year.

"Had these fiscal policies worked, had they resolved some of the country's problems, we might be more understanding," insisted Ermes Kasses, the newly installed head of the civil servants' union, Adedy. "Instead the situation has gone from bad to worse and now the troika want our blood. Well, they are not going to get it because we are going to put up the mother of all battles. We know that our enemy is methodical, hard and cold, that what we face is a test of endurance … but we won't tire, we will go on, we will fight this battle until the government, troika and Europe change these policies."

The union, which brought the entire civil service to a 48-hour standstill this week, will decide what form further industrial action will take over the weekend. Teachers have already announced five-day rolling strikes to protest against job losses.

Fears are mounting that unless Greece is cut some slack it will tip into the sort of left-right strife that kept the country divided, bloody and poor in the 1940s and internationally isolated during the seven years of military rule that preceded the restoration of democracy in 1974.

No party has profited more from the crisis than the vehemently anti-immigrant Golden Dawn whose insignia resembles the swastika and whose leadership openly admire Adolf Hitler. In the three months since international inspectors last visited Athens, support for the extremist group has jumped from 10% to 15% despite its deliberate attempt to escalate political tensions by targeting leftists.

"Greece today is at the door of the madhouse. Democracy is endangered," the columnist Panos Amyra warned in the pages of Eleftheros Typos, whose views often reflect those of the governing centre-right New Democracy party. "If the social tension that has built up is not repulsed it could lead to an uncontrollable situation that will only serve those who have invested in general disorder … [and] the country's tradition of chaos and raw violence."

Samaras acknowledged this week that Greece was experiencing an "extremely critical time".

Pledging he would not allow the "descendents of Nazis to poison society", he appealed to Greeks to remain calm so that they could get on with the business of mending their economy and seeing their "immense sacrifices" pay off.

The electric atmosphere is not likely to make negotiations with the troika – already being described as the toughest yet – any easier. In addition to mass firings, creditors are demanding the government shuts down loss-making defence and mining companies, presses ahead with controversial privatisations and cracks down on tax avoidance.

Overhanging all of this is the fear that social security funds are on the verge of collapse – a prospect that would mean yet more cuts to pensions. "Politically and socially, the crisis is only just beginning. It's going to be a very difficult winter," said the political commentator Giorgos Kyrtsos. "With unemployment at such explosive levels it is clear that pension funds are about to cave in."

Greek politicians liken their position to being at war. Seated behind his ornate wooden desk, under an oil painting of doves flocking around a Greek flag, the health minister Adonis Georgiadis spiritedly conveys the dilemma.

He doesn't want anyone to think that Athens is unwilling to keep its side of the deal. And perhaps to make the point a sign emblazoned with the words Pacta Sunt Servanda (agreements must be kept) also hangs above his head. But there are limits. His own budget, he says, has been cut by 50% – losses that have prompted concerns Greece is now heading for a public health disaster.

"We are ready to enact all the reforms that are needed but there is not one single member of our parliament who would vote for further measures that would destroy our society," he said. "The last three years have been really very difficult, maybe the most difficult our country [has endured] since world war two … now we have to give Greeks hope. Morale is a very big thing in battle." It was imperative that hope was given to the young because with youth unemployment at 65% it was they who were flocking to Golden Dawn, he said.

Four years of relentless cost-cutting has not been without result. Greece has balanced its budget to the point it is now on track to achieving a primary budget surplus once debt repayments are made. That, says Samaras, will allow it to return to markets and relinquish dependence on international aid.

"Politically it's the most sensitive time because we are nearing the end of our huge effort and, like athletes in a marathon, the last two to three kilometres are always the most critical," said Georgiadis.

Greek officials hope that once a new government is installed in Germany, Berlin will also agree to discuss debt forgiveness – widely seen as the only possible way of making Athens' €321bn debt load sustainable.

But much will depend on political stability and that is far from given.

"Greece's exit from the crisis is being made much more politically difficult and socially painful than is needed," said Prof Kevin Featherstone, director of the London School of Economics Hellenic Observatory. "The spread and depth of austerity that lenders have insisted on has been much too severe. There has been success, but success at what price? If this is success, who wants to be rescued like this?"

GreeceGolden Dawn partyEurozone crisisEuropeThe far rightEuropean UnionEconomicsFinancial crisisHelena © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Global Markets Are Not Prepared for the German Election

Investors are expecting an eventual reduction of support by the Fed, and Merkel winning the election this weekend. However, what stock markets have not priced in is the resurgence of Eurozone troubles into the headlines. So what are the options, why is this important and how will this effect markets?3 Options, Same Market Risk The least likely outcome is that Merkel does not get re-elected and instead the Social Democrats form a ruling coalition with the Greens. This would create a lot of uncertainty and shock the markets. However, the other two options could also be cause for concern. Even if Merkel is reelected and joins together with either the Liberals or the Social Democrats, the rising euro-skepticism and opposition to further bailouts severely limits her ability to support struggling Eurozone countries.Resurgence Of Economic Risk The reason this is important is that troubles in the Eurozone are resurfacing. Skeptics have claimed Merkel has done a good job in keeping issues out of the headlines in the run up to the election, but either way there may be trouble ahead. Greece may need further funds, Portugal is struggling with borrowing rates hitting the dreaded 7 percent level and Slovenia may become the sixth country to request a bailout.Beware Broad-Based Investing So what does this mean for markets? In recent weeks we have seen European investments come back into favour. U.S. investors have pumped capital into these markets at a rate not seen since 1977. Investors are, in particular, looking for high beta (higher risk, higher return) ways to either capture the market rally or in many cases catch up after being too cautious. However, these higher risk investments, based in the periphery European countries mentioned above, may come under particular pressure as funding needs are identified and struggle to be met. Strong companies generating revenues outside of the troubled region will be more protected.


Suicides Spiked One Year After Great Recession: Study

The Great Recession resulted in 5,000 additional suicides worldwide in 2009, according to a recent study -- the first to look at suicide trends globally in the wake of the crisis. The study found a “clear rise” in the number of suicides globally in 2009, one year after the global financial crisis first hit -- the number was higher than expected based on data from 2000 to 2007. Researchers from the University of Hong Kong, University of Oxford, University of Bristol and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, analyzed World Health Organization data and information from the Center for Disease Control in 54 countries and found that the additional 4,884 suicides occurred largely in Europe and the Americas where the crisis was most severe. Though researchers can’t say for sure that the rise in suicides is a direct result of the financial crisis -- they found a correlation, not a causation -- the findings mirror other research indicating that economic downturns tend to lead to an increase in the suicide rate. As this most recent study, published in the journal BMJ notes, the economic crisis in east Asia in the 1990s resulted in more than 10,000 additional suicides in Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea. A 2011 study from the Centers for Disease Control found that in the U.S., the suicide rate has historically spiked during times of economic crises and dropped during boom economies. In Greece, where unemployment soared to a record high 27 percent earlier this year, the suicide rate has jumped by 45 percent over the past few years, an Athens-based aid group found. In Europe, where youth unemployment has soared to crisis levels, the increase in suicides was largely concentrated among men aged 15-24, according to the study. In the Americas, the impact was felt most strongly among men ages 45-64.


Agora The Original Marketplace Of Ideas

Special to The National Herald From time to time, an issue emerges and inspires various minds to converge, often at odds with one another, to discuss it. Hopefully, collective enlightenment will result from such conversations. The Ancient Greeks did that in the Agora, the original marketplace of ideas, and we, their modern-day descendants, aspire to continue that tradition. ...


10B Annual Loss in Uncollected VAT

According to a European Commission report published on September 20, within the period 2008-2011 Greece lost some 40 billion euros in uncollected Value-Added Tax. According to Greek media reports, Greece had the second-worst performance, following Romania, among the countries that have seen their VAT gap grow since the start of the financial crisis. Spain, Greece, Latvia, Ireland, Portugal and ...


Greece 3rd Among Top World Destinations

The largest travel agency in the world, TUI Travel, analyzed the data collected from 13 countries which export tourism in Europe and compared their similarities and differences regarding summer holiday reservations. The results showed that the top holiday destinations for England and Ireland during the summer of 2013 were Turkey, Greece and the Balearic Islands, with Mexico taking the lead among ...


Greece Targets Far-Right Party

Greece's government is moving to effectively outlaw the Golden Dawn political party by having it declares a criminal organization after a self-professed member of the group was implicated in a killing.


Is It Finally the Right Time to Invest in National Bank of Greece?

... filled themselves with plummeted in value as Greece's credit rating was downgraded and speculation of a default spread through the markets. And even as the banks tried to preserve capital, the instability of the system spooked many ...


Government's all Greek to us

Government's all Greek to usKansas City StarPresident Barack Obama comes to town today. Perhaps he'll snack on some Gates while scanning the chatter about his recent problems — Syria, failed gun legislation, bad speeches. More News. Read more Politics. The complaints may or may not be ...


Counterterrorism squad brought into Fyssas murder investigation

The Greek Police turned over to the Counterterrorism Service the investigation of the murder on Tuesday night of 34-year-old hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas, the state-run Athens-Macedonia New Agency (AMNA) reported Friday, saying that it was the opinion of police officials that the anti-terror squad is better equipped to investigate the telephone calls that are believed to have led up to the fatal ...


Tensions remain as lenders return to Greece

"It is normal" said the staff at one of Athens leading hotels as they pulled up the shutters after about 500 anarchists ended their protest against the death this week of a rap artist at the hands of a supporter from the far-right Golden Dawn party.


Soft porn TV show used in advert for 'beautiful' France by far-Right party

A promotional clip for the far-Right National Front party entitled "France is beautiful" has sparked widespread mirth after it emerged it contains images from South Africa, Russia, Greece and a Slovak soft porn reality TV show.    


Update-Moodys Greek RMBS performance continues to deteriorate in August 2013

Fri Sep 20, 2013 6:53am EDT Greek residential mortgage-backed securities For the full text of this story please click the following ...


Greece Tries To Strangle Golden Dawn

ATHENS (AP) -- Greece's government moved to crack down on the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party after the fatal stabbing of an anti-fascist rapper, as Europe's top human rights official warned in an interview that Greece was the most worrying example of a wider European drift toward radicalization. The death of 34-year-old Pavlos Fyssas on Sept. 18 shocked the country and led to ...


Why Greece Is Not The Weimar Republic

ATHENS - In the subdued streets of the Greek capital, where a vague menace hangs like a pall, tempers are frayed. The economy is turning slowly, after draconian cuts and two bailouts totaling EUR240 billion, but not enough yet to be felt. The cry of the extreme right resounds: We, the fathers of civilization, have been sold out by the international loan sharks! These are familiar insinuations. It ...


Golden Dawns Darkness Over Greece

The murder of Pavlos Fyssas, a 34-year-old anti-racism rapper, has shaken Greece out of a dangerous complacency. Ever since the extreme right Golden Dawn took 18 seats in parliament last year, the government has failed to address in any serious way the violent excesses of its members. Officials have feared to take on in public a party that is rapidly becoming an important force in Greek politics. ...


Anastasiades Mulls Firing Bank Chief

Cyprus' Central Bank Governor Panicos Demetriades is asleep at the wheel, President Nicos Anastasiades says. Cypriot banks lost $6 billion in bad loans to Greek businesses that failed and vast holdings in deeply devalued Greek bonds. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said he's considering asking the country's Supreme Court to remove central bank Governor Panicos Demetriades from ...


Loan Interest Rates Drop 1-1.5

The National Bank of Greece decreased business loans interest rates by 1.5 percent. A relevant decision is expected to be taken regarding other kinds of loans, while Piraeus Bank and Eurobank also proceeded to the same reductions on interest rates. The management Board of NBG announced that the interest rates on working capital loans for financing fixed plant and equipment is decreasing by 1.5 ...


Nearly half of Greeks believe that Merkel reelection would be bad for Greece

If Chancellor Angela Merkel were to win federal elections in Germany on Sunday, the consequences on Greece's interests would be "somewhat negative" according to 47 percent of Greeks questioned as part of Public Issue opinion poll published on Friday.A sizable 79 percent of respondents also said they have a negative opinion of the German chancellor, who has insisted on a policy mix ...


Rail link to Alexandropouli Port gets go-ahead

The company in charge infrastructure projects for the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) on Friday announced that an agreement has been signed to link the port of Alexandroupoli in northeastern Greece to the national rail network, facilitating the transport of cargo, especially to Bulgaria.Ergose said the project has been budgeted at 3.1 million euros and is scheduled for completion in one ...


Greece cracks down on rightist party

ATHENS – Greece’s government moved Thursday to crack down on the ultranationalist Golden Dawn party after the fatal stabbing of an anti-fascist rapper. The death of 34-year-old Pavlos Fyssas early Wednesday in Keratsini, west of Athens ...


It's Almost Autumn, Take A Bliss Break

This Sunday marks the first day of autumn. Are you excited for the fall? We're already loving the crisp weather, the resurgence of all things pumpkin and the revival of our favorite fall fashions (boots! sweaters! scarves!). For your Friday bliss break, we present some stunning photos of the new season. Take a quick moment to scroll through the photos and transport yourself to your favorite fall destinations!Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, TennesseeHarz National Park, GermanyNavarra, SpainVärmland, SwedenTrikala, Thessaly, GreeceLaugardalur, Reykjavík, IcelandLake Kleifarvatn, Reykjanes, IcelandSão Joaquim, BrazilShiramizu-Amida Temple, Fukushima Prefecture, JapanPenticton, British Columbia, Canada


Greece: Anti-Terror Police Probe Far-Right

Greece: Anti-terror police probe far-right after rapper stabbed        


Stournaras Readies For Troika Talks

Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, who said all will be well with the economy beginning next year, will begin a new round of critical talks with the country’s international lenders beginning Sept. 22, meeting the top envoys from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB). Before that he was scheduled to meet on Sept. 20 with ...


Greek skier Antoniou revealed as first Sochi 2014 Torchbearer

September 20 - Greek alpine skier Ioannis Antoniou has today been revealed as the first Torchbearer of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Torch Relay. The 18-year-old Winter Games hopeful will carry the Torch once it has been lit by the sun, using a parabolic mirror, at a special ceremony in Ancient Olympian on September 29 as it begins its 65,000-kilometre journey to the Opening Ceremony on February 7 next ...


Greek skier first torchbearer for Winter Olympics

Greek Alpine skier Ioannis Antoniou has been named as the first torchbearer of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Torch Relay. The 18-year-old will carry the torch once it has been lit at a special lighting ceremony, which will take place in Ancient Olympia Sep 29. The ceremony will see several 'priestesses' perform a traditional celebration at the Temple of Hera in which the torch will be kindled by the ...


Greece losing some 10 bln euros a year in uncollected VAT, says EC report

KathimeriniGreece losing some 10 bln euros a year in uncollected VAT, says EC reportKathimeriniGreece lost some 40 billion euros in uncollected Value-Added Tax in the period from 2008-2011, according to a report published Friday by the European Commission aimed at estimating the so-called VAT Gap, defined as the difference between the expected ...and more »


Greek defence industry to spend $9.6 billion between 2013-18

The Greek defence industry al locates a substantial part of its national income to defence and its defence burden is the highest among EU and NATO members. Greece is one of the largest importers of.......


Greek bonds rally as German election draws near

Funding gaps facing Athens and the risk Portugal may not return to markets when its bailout runs out next year will be among European policy challenges for Germany's next government. But as Greek yields fell to one-month lows, Portugal's held ...


Greece: gov't to step up legal pressure on Golden Dawn

(ANSAmed) - ATHENS, SEPTEMBER 20 - More than 30 criminal cases involving Greek neo-nazist party Golden Dawn MPs and members are to be investigated by the judiciary, possibly under stricter laws relating to criminal organizations, as the government seeks to ...


Greek police want to check Golden Dawn phone calls over rapper death

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek police have asked a prosecutor for permission to check Golden Dawn lawmakers' phone records as part of an investigation into the killing of an anti-racism rapper by a supporter of the far-right party, police and court sources said on Friday.


Greek National Opera Season Opens with Free Rehearsal in Piraeus

Greek National Opera presented its programme for the new season at a press interview that also included an appeal by its directors to the state for raising its funding to last year’s levels. The Opera has reduced its accumulated debt from 17 million euros in 2011 to under 4.7 million, but a reduction in state funding from 16.8 million euros in 2012 to 9 million this year has put the ...


Greek skier kicks off torch relay

An 18-year-old Greek skier will be the first athlete to run with the Olympic flame in the torch relay for the Sochi Winter Games. The Winter Olympics in Sochi are less than a year away. See which American athletes to watch as we count down to ...


Calls to ban Greek far-right party after murder of anti-fascist rapper

RTCalls to ban Greek far-right party after murder of anti-fascist rapperRTThe Greek PM vowed to keep Nazism from “poisoning” the country's life as more than 2,000 mourners paid their final respects in an Athens cemetery to Pavlos Fissas, the anti-fascist rapper who was stabbed to death by a suspected Golden Dawn sympathizer.


Greek skier to be 1st torchbearer of Sochi relay

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) -- An 18-year-old Greek skier will be the first athlete to run with the Olympic flame in the torch relay for the Sochi Winter Games.


Angela Merkel: The Authorised Biography by Stefan Kornelius – review

On the eve of the German election, Philip Oltermann solves the Merkel mystery

On a recent trip to Washington, I went to the Newseum, one of those American museums dedicated entirely to the history of one thing, in this case news reporting. In the foyer is an entire segment of the Berlin Wall, the largest outside Germany. Walking around that concrete slab, I marvelled at the scale of the thing, its gunshot pockmarks and the arabesque graffiti: real history, written in a kind of cryptic braille.

And then I looked at the plaque alongside, which tries to explain the wall's meaning in the language of journalism. The graffiti on the Berlin Wall, it says, was sprayed on by "freedom-lovers" – a phrase so ideologically overcharged it sounds absurd. The more times I read it, the more meaningless it seemed: what if the sprayers just simply loved graffiti?

Reading Stefan Kornelius's biography of the German chancellor, I was reminded several times of the display in the Newseum. Angela Merkel may currently be the most discussed and least understood ruler in the world. Likely to be re-elected on 22 September for the third term in a row, she is as despised as she is admired. Some think she is a neoliberal zealot, others reckon she is a closet Marxist; she's both an austerity addict and the first conservative social democrat, a scientifically minded rationalist and a religious ideologue. The true nature of the Merkel phenomenon is as elusive as North Sea fog. For some reason, this makes it irresistible for journalists to wheel out the equivalent of the "freedom-lover" tag.

Kornelius, for one, can't resist. In an attempt to explain what makes Merkel tick, he points to her speech at the Christian Democrats' party conference in October 2003. This is considered the moment she came closest to baring her ideological soul, but it's quite hard to tell what she was going on about: "Without freedom there is nothing! Freedom is the joy of achievement, the flourishing of the individual, the celebration of difference, the rejection of mediocrity, personal responsibility."

Another speech, from 2010: "On one side stands freedom from something; on the other, freedom to do something. So when we speak of freedom we are always speaking of someone else's freedom." Freedom lies in the release of the individual from the collective, but also the solidarity individuals feel towards the collective.

What is the cultural glue that holds Europe together, she was asked in 2007, three years before the first Greek bailout: "Freedom in all its form[s]: freedom to express opinions, freedom to believe or not believe, freedom to trade and do business, the artist's freedom to shape his work according to his own ideas." Freedom means everything to Merkel, but possibly also nothing; it's impossible to tell.

Luckily, Angela Merkel isn't really an attempt to explain Merkel's true political convictions, but a biography about foreign policy and Merkel's political decision-making process – and in that respect Kornelius, whose career as a journalist has tailgated hers since they first met in 1989, proves an illuminating guide.

Born in 1954 to a Protestant pastor and an English teacher, Angela Merkel nee Kasner moved from Hamburg in the west to the village of Quitzow in the east when she was just a few years old: it bears repeating that by the time the Berlin Wall went down she was 35 years old. "The Merkel mystery," Kornelius writes, "is rooted in the failed east German republic."

She is revealed in this book as more culturally eastern European than we tend to think. Her Stasi file noted that while she viewed the Soviet Union as a dictatorship, she was also "enthusiastic about the Russian language and culture". In her early teens, she was selected as third-best Russian student in the GDR. My favourite of Kornelius's anecdotes is that she learned English not by secretly reading Orwell under the covers, but with the help of the British communist newspaper, the Morning Star.

References to Merkel's past are often used to smear her character, and for that reason, more respectable profiles focus on her training as a physicist or her religious household when explaining her political style. But Kornelius draws conclusions from her upbringing that go beyond the cliches. East Germany's progressive attitude to women at work, he suggests, may explain her distaste for "the tendency that certain male politicians have constantly to assert themselves", as she once put it. Her most influential and longest-serving adviser is a woman, and Kornelius claims she would have preferred a President Hillary Clinton to Obama, with whom she has a rather frosty relationship.

She showed little scruple abandoning her father figure Helmut Kohl, who had recognised her talent when she was still the press officer of the GDR's Democratic Awakening party and given her a first ministerial post in 1990. On 22 December 1999, in a newspaper comment piece, she called for her party to let go of the man who had led it for 25 years – a nice Christmas present.

Those 35 years to the east of the iron curtain may also hold a clue to her reluctance to take a lead during the eurozone crisis: the philosopher Jürgen Habermas has criticised her for "dozing on a volcano". Merkel's critics have said she does not feel passionately about European unity in the way her predecessors did, that it takes third place to her cultural yearning for Russia and her ideological admiration for America. But Kornelius argues convincingly that she has a clear sense of the value of European culture – it's just she believes sentimentality won't guarantee its survival. "I know what living in a collapsing system feels like," she has said, "and I don't want to go through that again."

This aversion to misty-eyed idealism, her refusal to score cheap goals, commands admiration; nothing demonstrates it better than when she was asked by a Der Spiegel journalist whether she was proud to be German. "I don't think the Germans are particularly bad or outstandingly wonderful. I am fond of kebabs and pizza, I think the Italians have a nicer alfresco cafe culture, and I think there is more sunshine in Switzerland." But of course likable people can make terrible decisions: in Merkel's case, a strategy of aping social democracy at home while demanding austerity of the EU may be at the centre of Europe's current social imbalance. Kornelius mentions this theory, but seems reluctant to explore it further. The problem with this "authorised biography" is the problem of any book by an active correspondent: too much frank talking is risky. Thus the praise drowns out the criticism.

So we have to make do with reading between the lines. At the start of her chancellorship, Kornelius writes, Merkel was keen to seek advice from external experts. More recently, however, she has allowed her circle of confidants to close around her. As a result, "she now rules largely unchallenged, particularly in foreign policy". It's all too reminiscent of a recent British prime minister, whose control of his backbenchers she so admired that on taking office in 2005 she dispatched her own head of staff for two-weeks' work experience in Downing Street. Just under a decade later, Tony Blair could perhaps teach Merkel another lesson: one disastrous foreign-policy decision can undo almost everything.

• Philip Oltermann is the author of Keeping Up with the Germans, published by Faber.

PoliticsAngela MerkelGermanyEuropePhilip © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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