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

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Greek Consulate in Mariupol Evacuated

The Greek Consulate General in Mariupol, Dimitris Papandreou, stated that all Greeks who live in Mariupol are safe. Mariupol, located in southeastern Ukraine is the epicenter of conflict between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists. According to ...


Eurovision song contest 2014 live!

Will UK entrant Molly do better than last year's Bonnie Tyler? Are France's Twin Twin the new Jedward? Will commentator Graham Norton ever replace Terry Wogan in our hearts? Find out all this and more with Stuart Heritage as he liveblogs the Eurovision final

9.04pm BST

Now SWEDEN, making a flag by getting off with a lilo.

9.04pm BST

Also, a video package that seems a bit like it came from the unseen extras package of an official Eurovison DVD that nobody ever bought.

9.02pm BST

And now we get to hear from the hosts. What's their funny shtick this year? Giving voting information as dryly as they possibly can. OH YOU CRAZY DANES.

9.00pm BST

Germany appears to have entered an accordion and a woman who goes Haw-he-haw-he-haw for a living.

The best guess I have about this singer is that someone once told her that she looks a bit like Pink, and so she dedicated her entire life to mimicking her as closely as possible. How much does she look like Pink? So much that, if she ever met Pink, Pink would laugh at her before whispering to her assistants to injure her as discreetly as possible on her behalf.

8.57pm BST

Who's next? GERMANY. They've made a flag out of a stick of rock. Which they'll then sell at great profit. Relentless capitalists, those Germans.

8.56pm BST

I hope Belarus are cooler with Conchita now, because she's wearing a very tight skirt and I'd worry about her if they tried to chase her up some stairs.

8.55pm BST

Austria's performer Conchita Wurst is a drag act who provoked Belarus into demanding that she be removed from the contest on the basis that they might accidentally find her sexy or something.

I'm rooting for Conchita, purely because she can grow a better beard than me. This song isnt especially memorable even though to the newcomer it seems as if its being performed by Russell Brand but Im pretty sure we can start a petition to have her sing the next Bond theme.

8.53pm BST

Now AUSTRIA. Making a flag out of some dresses.

8.53pm BST

Oh, but it's OK because they're on trampolines now. If this wins, let's force our entry next year to sing on a Space Hopper.

8.52pm BST

So, in short, the Greek entry sounds like the sort of thing that you hear in deserted gyms at 11am on weekdays. Apparently this lot were discovered by Perez Hilton. And just when you couldnt feel any more sorry for the poor people of Greece, right?

8.50pm BST

Next, GREECE, who made a flag that I didn't see because my laptop hilariously decided to freeze up just now.

8.50pm BST

This, though, is BERSERK. One line is Shake what your mamma gave you. Another is We will prepare for you delicious food. Not that anyone's listening because, on the right hand side of the stage, a large-breasted lady is wearing an unsupportive bra and masturbating a broom handle. It's a stroke of genius.

Can this win? I wouldnt mind too much if this won, although I fear that The Guardian might drown under the weight of articles about how sexist it is if it did.

8.47pm BST

This is better. Poland have entered a song called We Are Slavic. I for one hope it wins, if only because itll mean that the UK will next year enter a song called We Are Too Apologetic Because We Hate Ourself, or maybe Jesus, Look At The State Of Our Teeth.

8.45pm BST

Here's POLAND. They're singing their flag. And what noise does the Polish flag make? A sort of off-kilter 'ARGH', since you asked.

8.44pm BST

Following some sort of administrative cock-up, Montenegro seems to have entered one of Irelands old songs by mistake. Its a lovely liting ballad, and itll almost definitely be bludgeoned from your memory a nanosecond after it finishes by a shrieking woman in a funny hat. In fact, I cant remember how it goes and Im listening to it now. Montenegro, we barely knew you.

On the plus side, at least we know what Montenegro's version of Christopher Maloney looks like now.

8.41pm BST

Now for MONTENEGRO. Making a flag out of a jigsaw puzzle in a ballroom while they laugh at how comparative poor everyone else is.

8.40pm BST

Arams not having a great night, though. This is an inexcusably whiny ballad, and if I heard right, he seems to think that kissing turns seeds into trees. Moral: never trust Aran Cassingles sex education classes.

Graham Norton just said that Aram MP3 is a comedian. Imagine if Jason Manford represented us next year? We'd all have to go and hide in a cave for a year until the same dissipated.

8.39pm BST

This song is being performed by a man called Aram MP3. He has a long personal history when it comes to Eurovision because his father, Aram Cassingle represented Armenia 15 years ago. You see? Because an MP3 is a modern music format, and a cassingle is an older music format. Get it? Oh, whatever. I'm wasted here.

8.38pm BST

Who's next? ARMENIA. More handcrafted hipster handmade flag shenanigans. Someone's going to make a flag out of a unicycle by midnight, aren't they? Bler.

8.36pm BST

Oh, how fantastic. A boy/girl duet. And, in true Eurovision tradition, there is almost zero chemistry between them. More importantly, though, what are they singing about? Somethings a miracle, but I dont think theyve said what yet. Maybe theyre talking about how the male singer has managed to balance a thimbleful of hair on top of his head like that. That seems vaguely miraculous, doesnt it?

This performance is also notable for a man playing a piano that loops around him in a giant circle. It strikes me that if another entry had rotated the piano by just five degrees, this song would turn into a hilarious off-key Les Dawson parody of itself. But nobody did. This is why I should do Eurovision next year.

8.33pm BST

Time for ROMANIA to make a flag with some explosives next to a lake. So far, all of these videos have looked like adverts. Not a compliment, by the way.

8.32pm BST

Well, isnt this very grown up? Just a piano, that hipster from earlier, and the obligatory hipster beard. Oh, and the silent storm thats apparently inside the man. Which, to be fair, is probably gastroenteritis. But whod call a Eurovision song Gastroenteritis? Thatd be madness. The lesson to take from this? Dont call a Eurovision song Gastroenteritis.

"Ask myself what comes next" he sings. My advice would be to run out and buy some Immodium so that this never happens again.

8.30pm BST

Now it's NORWAY, who has paid a hipster to handcraft a flag out of glass and paint. He's probably going to upcycle it later. I am immediately suspicious of him.

8.29pm BST

Disregard whatever I just wrote. They just did a synchronised guitar dance and now I want them to win. I want them to win quite hard. Iceland: I cannot work out your currency for the life of me, but I like your music. A bit.

8.27pm BST

Now, I like Iceland a lot. But what on Earth is this? Its like watching The Wiggles participate in a Fall Out Boy tribute band competition. The message of this song is that we should all, like, get together and be friends. Tolerance is bliss! they yell, either because they hate racial discrimination or because theyre all latent dictators who want to impose their nightmarish whims on an unsuspecting continent. Who knows?

8.26pm BST

ICELAND now. Projecting a flag onto some snow.

8.25pm BST

"Make love not war", she says at the end. Nobody's listening dear. They've all fallen asleep.

8.24pm BST

Whats going on this year? This is a song called Start A Fire, which means it should be relatively energetic. But listen to this. Its basically just a woman sighing while someone falls asleep on a piano. Listen Azerbaijan, either make a more energetic song or give this song a more appropriate name, like Watch Paint Dry or Contemplate Going To Ikea But Ultimately Think Better Of It.

8.22pm BST

Next, AZERBAIJAN! She's constructing a flag out of neon and timelapse photography. She looks awfully chuffed about it, too. She needs to learn to be less easily pleased.

8.21pm BST

What the hell is THIS? This sounds like a nightmarish version of Mambo Number 5 thats been performed on several novelty clown horns and sung by a three-year-old with a goatee that's been drawn on in mascara. I cant possibly trust a man with a beard that precise, especially since he's paired it with an untied bowtie. If you're going to spend that long getting your beard right, the least you can do is tie your poxy bowtie.

Also this is a song about Cheesecake and now I want some cheesecake. Its a no from me.

8.18pm BST

Now BELARUS. He's making his flag with hockey pucks. That's literally all there is to say about it.

8.17pm BST

Still, even in troubled times, you can always rely on Ukraine to do something entertainingly daft at Eurovision. And thats what this is. Its a woman saying Can you hear me go tick-tock? again and again, when its obvious that we can because shes saying it through her mouth through an amplified sound system. Honestly, have a bit more faith in us.

There's also a man running in a hamster wheel behind her. It's nothing we haven't seen before though. Surely if they wanted to follow a hamster theme, they could have done something new like stuffing a man's cheeks with millet or making him hide behind a sofa until people give up looking for him and he dies. See? I should have this job.

8.14pm BST

And now the songs. First up is UKRAINE! Each song is preceded by a video where the act makes their own national flag. This woman's done it with Post-It Notes. I know Ukraine's got a lot on its mind at the moment, but a bit more imagination probably wouldn't have hurt.

8.12pm BST

The judges are all being drowned out by the crowd. Hopefully this is all just early enthusiasm on the crowd's part. They'll be catatonic twelve songs in. I know I will be.

8.11pm BST

Here we go. Finally, it's time to meet the judges. I've heard one of them vomiting. You wish you could move in the sort of glittering circles I do, don't you? It's OK, you can admit it.

8.10pm BST

It's still going. What sort of unbearable sadist BEGINS a singing contest with a recap?

8.09pm BST

For some reason, the show begins with every single contestant being introduced one by one. My guess is that the producers wanted this to be like the Olympic opening ceremony. But in truth it's like playing a 15-year-old Japanese track and field-based videogame where you can't work out how to skip cut scenes and you end up stamping on it with your foot because you can't stand the sheer relentless sincerity of it all.

8.07pm BST

Just joking. The theme of the show is 'JOIN US'. In capitals. Like a zombie would say it.

Meanwhile, a really long close-up of some scaffolding. This is BRILLIANT.

8.05pm BST

And now, a short film where a variety of Danish people travel to the Eurovision arena in a variety of different vehicles past a variety of Danish landmarks. If this Eurovision Song Contest has a theme, it's commuting. Hopefully the halftime interval will be an elongated musical number about the glories of perambulated travel.

8.03pm BST

Now, last year's winner ascends an illuminated staircase into the darkness. She really is dead, isn't she? This is morbid. Happy Eurovision! Life is futile and nobody will ever accomplish anything meaningful! Woo!

8.01pm BST

We start one year ago in Malmo. A flashback. This is just like Lost. I hope it doesn't end up with everyone dead.

8.00pm BST

Ladies and gentlemen, here we go. Your television belongs to Denmark now.

7.58pm BST

Get ready, Europe. The next three-and-a-half-hours are really going to be very three-and-a-half-hoursy indeed.

7.52pm BST

Seven minutes to go. If you're going to go to the toilet, go now. This is going to last for several of your Earth years.

7.43pm BST

To warm up for Eurovision, I'm watching the National Lottery quiz on BBC One for the first time ever. By doing this, I have discovered that:

1) Dale Winton has grown a beard.

7.25pm BST

But where are my manners? I havent set out the rules for a drinking game yet. I apologise. How about this drink something whenever:

* A woman yells into a wind machine.

7.11pm BST

Actually, now Im here, why not brace yourself for tonight's spanglefest by reading what happened when I interviewed Eurovision host Pilou Asbaek? (Tl;dr - he threw up everywhere). Or reading my briefing about this years competition? Or reading anything else Ive ever written, since I appear to have hijacked this entire flipping liveblog and turned it into a vehicle for my own rabid egomania? How about that? Huh? Huh?

6.59pm BST

Good evening and god aften, people of Europe! Welcome to this years Guardian Eurovision liveblog. Tonights competition comes live and direct from Copenhagen, so it only stands to reason that Ill be writing this liveblog from a tatty sofa in a block of flats quite near Catford. Its more or less the same thing. Dont break my heart. It is.

What's important is that Ill be here for you throughout tonights festivities, offering commentary on every song, every costume, every botched link, every regrettable piece of geographically-specific performance art masquerading as a halftime interval. If it happens onscreen, Ill be trying to think of something funny to say about it. And failing. And then crying. If tonight goes as well as last years competition, Ill end the evening sweating, exhausted, looking a full decade older than I actually am and teetering on the cusp of a fairly brutal emotional breakdown. Itll be fun, promise.

Continue reading...


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Do you trust this man?

by  Ariti-Marina Alamanou

On 25 May next, the European voters will for the first time have their say in the appointment of the Commission president. However, the likelihood that this would improve the ‘corporate governance’ of the EU Commission is nil. The European citizens will remain as powerless as today against the appointment of the members of the future Commission to the various portfolios. As today, they will continue to suffer the consequences of inadequate policy decisions taken by below average politically appointed Commissioners.

A recent illustration of such inadequate decision is the green light given end last year by the Commission’s Vice-President in charge of competition policy, Joaquín Almunia, to a merger between both Greek airline companies at the time, Olympic and Aegean, creating a monopoly on domestic routes in Greece.

The U-turn of Joaquin Almunia

Three years ago, end January 2011, Joaquín Almunia blocked an attempted merger between Olympic Air and Aegean, after nearly a year of discussions. The Commission said that the merger would create a “quasi-monopoly” in Greece and that the merger would have led “to higher fares for four of the six million Greek and European passengers flying to and from Athens each year”. But surprise surprise, two years later Joaquín Almunia made a U-turn, on the basis of an astonishing reasoning.

After years of mismanagement under successive socialist governments, Olympic was privatized in 2009. At that time, it was costing the Greek taxpayer about €1,500 a day. The new owner could however never turn the tide and transform Olympic into a profitable company. This was already clear in 2011. But this time the owner of Olympic could convince Joaquín Almunia that if the latter did not approve the merger, the former would pull the plug out, creating further social unrest in Greece and raising animosity against the EU.

However, Joaquín Almunia needed to find a legal justification for its U-turn, what he did not fail to do with the help of the brilliant in house lawyers employed in the well staffed Commission legal service. The legal argument sounds: Olympic will go out of business and once Olympic will be out of business; Aegean would become the only significant domestic service provider and thus acquire a monopoly. Conclusion: since Olympic would anyway disappear as a competitor on the Greek market, the merger caused no harm to competition that would not have occurred anyway. Joaquín Almunia, explained: “It is clear that, due to the on-going Greek crisis and given Olympic’s own very difficult financial situation, Olympic would be forced to leave the market soon in any event. Therefore we approved the merger because it has no additional negative effect on competition.” It was like a criminal court acquitting a murderer of a cancer patient on the grounds that since the victim was anyway going to die, the murderer had caused “no additional negative effect”.

This being said, Joaquín Almunia did not come back on its finding of 2011 that six million Greek and European passengers flying to and from Athens each year will have to pay higher fares. He said that not the merger but the difficult financial situation of Olympic would be the cause. In addition, Joaquín Almunia stressed that due to its financial difficulties Olympic had already closed a number of routes. In 2011, Aegean and Olympic provided competing services on 17 routes. When the Commission approved the merger between Aegean and Olympic, they had overlaps on seven routes only, of which the following five domestic routes are served only by them: Athens–Chania; Athens–Mytilene; Athens–Santorini; Athens–Corfu; Athens–Kos. Why would the Commission risk causing new social turmoil in Greece for a few Greek routes. After all, Greeks and tourists can also take the ferry if they find the plane too expensive.

The dressing up

Clearing a merger on grounds of the “failing firm defense” – as the reasoning is known by lawyers –is very unusual.  David Anderson from the law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner says that Olympic-Aegean merger is only the second merger approved by the EU Commission on the “failing firm” reasoning.  Moreover, the Olympic-Aegean merger is the first merger ever cleared on a second attempt.

Aegean’s team of lawyers who obtained the Commission’s approval for the Greek carrier acquisition of its rival Olympic Air, lead by Mark Powell and Dr Assimakis Komninos, both from the International law firm White & Case, therefore proudly issued a press release stating that “While the decision should be viewed in light of the current economic context in Greece, it nonetheless represents a first for EU merger control”.

This being said, the only information currently available on the reasoning of the EU Commission is that in the press releases from the Commission and the lawyers of Aegean, since the Commission has not yet made public the wording of its decision of 9 October of last year.

Not the first file

The Olympic-Aegean merger is not the first file for which Joaquín Almunia will be remembered in Greece when he retires at the end of this year.

Greeks do not forget that soon after Joaquín Almunia’s appointment on 26 April 2004 as European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, the news came out that Greece had been reporting souped-up deficit figures every year since 1998 in order to flout the Stability and Growth Pact. The Greek budget deficit for 2003 was revised upwards from 1.7% to 4.6% of GDP. The following year, the country’s deficit reached 6.6% of GDP. But what did Joaquín Almunia do beyond correcting statistics? Beyond observing, as he did in a speech in Athens on 5 October 2005, “the determination and commitment of the Greek government to restore fiscal discipline and speed up the reforms in order to be better equipped in the face of the new needs of our modern and open societies”? Today and for many years, the Greek population pays and will continue to pay for the inertia of the Spanish EU Commissioner when in charge of Economic and Financial Affairs. But President Barroso rewarded him in 2009 for his handling of the Greek file – had Joaquín Almunia not successfully ensured that no one blamed the Commission for what happened? – with a promotion as Commissioner in charge of competition, one of the most powerful and sought after positions in the Commission.

Happy pensioner

Joaquín Almunia will be 66 at the end of the year and will likely retire when leaving the Commission. Contrary to so many pensioners in the EU who have seen their pensions cut under the EU promoted austerity, he will as former Commissioner receive an EU pension of more than 10.000 Euro per month, with the low EU tax. He will accumulate this pension, with no reductions, with his national pension as a MP (during 25 years) and minister. If he ever visits Greece and flies from Athens to Corfou, he will likely hardly suffer from the souped up tariffs from the monopoly that he brought about.



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