Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

EUROPE – WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

June 24, 2016

Living in Europe for 35 years, I greatly appreciated the people and their various ways of life. I was happy to return to live in England, since I imagined that within the European Union we could be one. So now that Britons have dropped a nuclear bomb on the relationship with Europe, I am devastated.

That we should have a constitutional crisis, utter confusion, no government and no plan for the future was eminently foreseeable. Yet a majority of voters, including friends of mine, embarked on this apparently reckless course. Why did the Remain camp fail to convince?

Voters knew David Cameron was no friend of Europe, so he had no credibility in declaring he would campaign “heart and soul” to stay in. No more persuasive were statesmen who urged Britain to stay inside the Union to play a leading role in reforming it. If Britain could not fix the defects before, why hang around? As for experts’ prophecies of economic disaster, voters clearly thought economic forecasting had too bad a track record.

A Leave friend wrote on Facebook “Now we will be back in the driving seat again!!!” Indeed so, and the responsibility rests primarily with Leavers to draw up strategies, act and take care of the people of Britain. Just now, they have no Prime Minister, no government and no plan. We Remainers however must realise that the European Union cannot continue as the framework for relating to the continent. Leavers and Remainers have a joint responsibility to end the chaos and devise new ways of functioning with our neighbours.

As for European leaders, they should take this bombshell as a warning. It is not enough to dwell on the Union’s success in ending post-war animosities and providing a democratic framework for liberated Eastern Europe. The people of Hungary and Poland have elected governments that patently care little for this.

It is not a time for European leaders to close ranks to hold the Union together at all costs. Britons are not the only people who are dissatisfied. Who today expresses enthusiasm for the Union? Jean-Claude Juncker, Head of the European Commission, has failed to rise to his task. Angela Merkel performs a useful role as a “nice German” at the heart of Europe but will not act decisively as a leader.

However Europe must have smart people able to solve issues such as the bias of the euro system in favour of Germany. Germans’ insistence that other countries should merely act economically as they do is unrealistic. If limited liability laws enable individuals to go bankrupt, renege on debts and eventually return to economic activity, why can this not be done also for Greece?

The European Union has to resolve the chaotic inflows of migrants, the number one issue in the British campaign. There is talk of “defending frontiers”, but the free passage provided by Schengen has been built into infrastructures of airport and road systems, and can scarcely be dismantled. Britain, for all the boasts of the Leavers about regaining sovereignty, has only a handful of coastal patrol craft, and Italy or Greece have even less chance of sealing off their huge coastlines. However Spain does. It pays money to Morocco and Mauritania in return for measures to head off migrants. Such measures do not choke off channels altogether, but manage the flows better.

Financial stability and migration are among the big issues of our time. They need imaginative ideas and cooperation, far more than exasperated reactions to bothersome bureaucrats.

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German economy fuelled by nearly one million immigrants in 2012

May 9, 2013

Figures reported in the German newspaper Die Zeit give an interesting insight into immigration in Europe’s most powerful economy. Massive immigration is compensating the demographic effects of a falling birth rate. Key points:

965,908 foreigners immigrated into Germany in 2012, mostly from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and also southern European countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece, which have been hard hit by their local banking crises. That’s the equivalent of the population of Cologne.

However 578,759 foreigners also left Germany, leaving net immigration of 387,149.

Turks used to flood into Germany, but last year more Turks left Germany than entered, since the thriving Turkish economy offers opportunities at home. Immigration from Islamic countries has become insignificant.

Among German nationals, more left the country than returned.

Because of the declining birth rate, Germany needs net immigration of between 250,000 and 400,000 yearly in order to prevent the population from declining, which would depress economic growth and lead to an ageing population. 200,000 more people die in Germany than are born.

The moral, say Die Zeit, is that this huge immigration is beneficial despite resulting social strains, and Germany should do more to make immigrants welcome.

Meanwhile, in Britain, new legislation is under preparation to make it harder for foreigners to immigrate. We shall see which policy is right …

New Year falls flat in Italian ski resort

January 1, 2013

The ski slopes in the Italian winter sports resort where I spent New Year were as full as ever, and on the streets the odd fur coat could still be seen. Crisis? What crisis?

But come New Year’s Eve, usually an excuse for unrivalled extravaganza, the hotel served up an aperitif from which alcohol was almost entirely absent. The dining room for the “Cenone”, the traditional New Year Eve’s dinner, was half empty. And when the clock struck 12, scarcely a single firework limped into the sky.

Madrid has turned from one of Europe’s most vibrant cultural capitals into a sad desert where young people make tapas to eat in their homes because they cannot afford to go out.

Is Italy now losing its exuberance too? Dread the thought.

EU fiscal harmonisation – why not? Look at C & E Europe

January 29, 2012

Many doubt that EU member countries would accept fiscal harmonisation, which implies ceding some sovereignty. If you look at the profound changes the ex-Communist countries of Central & Eastern Europe accepted to qualify for EU membership however, this does not seem impossible.

Those countries introduced market economies, democratic rights, the rule of law and safeguards for minorities in order to conform with EU requirements. This was all contrary to their previous practices, and required an enormous upheaval. It hurt, since the change to a market economy caused deep recession and unemployment for a number of years. They did it because membership of the EU is such a powerful draw in the long term. The people voted in referenda in favour of all the EU norms, including joining the euro and Schengen.

Now Greece, and possibly other countries, may be asked to allow the European community in some form or another to supervise its budgets. This would be only to the good, since local politicians have been unable to do what is needed. As in Central & Eastern Europe, Greeks may well recognise it is better for a time to have the EU calling the economic shots rather than their local politicians.

Already in Italy, Mario Monti, a former EU commissioner, is proving popular in an econ0mic reorganisation which the party politicians could not achieve. Sometime, it is easier to accept a tough lesson from an outsider.

As for Greece, European bureaucrats grew used to seeing it flaunt EU norms. They considered it too small to count. They won’t make that mistake again.

Giorgione: unique exhibition, pity about the setting

January 3, 2010

Driving through northern Italy, I come across a unique exhibition of the masterpieces of Giorgione, one of the most inspiring Italian Renaissance painters. He did not paint much, so it is rare to find most of his work together, in this case in the little town of Castelfranco Veneto, where he was born.
     All the more pity to find the exhibition crammed crammed into a tiny building which cannot cope with the numbers of people wanting to see it. Just now, that means queuing for lengthy periods in the cold and rain. Inside, you can hardly move in the crush and the audio devices can only be reconciled to the exhibits with difficulty. Some explanations are just in Italian.                                                                                                                                                      Why is Italy, the country which has created and hosts the greatest works of art in Europe, so mediocre nowadays in presenting art? The Uffiizi in Florence is the same: great works but dreary presentation. You can do better, Italy.

Europe’s message … from an Indian sage

August 23, 2009

I climbed to the mountain top where Italy meets with Slovenia and Austria – the converging point of the Slav, Germanic and Latin cultures.

20 years ago, the place was demarcated with barbed wire. On the Slovenian (then Yugoslav) side, civilians could not approach. It was a military area.

Now, with the European Union, the frontiers are non-existent. A plaque celebrates peace and harmony between nations.

The plaque quotes Indian spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy, who campaigned for tolerance and brotherhood among nations until his death in 2007.

Curious that at this point where hostile European nations finally found themselves in peace, no suitable European can be found to quote on a plaque. In the new Europe, it is safer to look to an Indian to express the right idea.

Creating peace – an underrated achievement of the EU

August 14, 2009

“Sovereignty of the Free Territory belongs to the people living in that territory.” Anodyne words these may seem, but they are loaded. The corollary is that  sovereignty does NOT belong to those not living there … not any more.

The inscription is on a memorial in a fishing village on Slovenia’s Adriatic coast. The village looks Italian: it has a clock tower like St Mark’s in Venice. It WAS in fact earlier Italian. At the end of World War II Tito’s Yugoslav Partisans seized it together with the city of Trieste.

In 1954, an international treaty gave Trieste to Italy and the rest of the coast to the Yugoslavs. The same evening as the treaty was signed, the Italians from the settlements along the coast left their homes, abandoning pots cooking on stoves, and walked over to Italy as refugees.

They were scared for their lives, and for good reason. The Partisans had slaughtered thousand of Italians on the coast in 1945 before U.N. authority was established. It was a reprisal for the cruel, racist occupation of parts of Slovenia and Croatia during WWII, when Italian Fascists burned villages, shot hostages and sent thousands of young men to concentration camps where they starved and died. The Italians were afraid that withdrawal of the U.N. would lead to another bloodbath.

After 1954, tension continued to run high along a border of barbed wire and armed guards. Trieste was packed with thousands of resentful Italian emigrants. The Yugoslavs bristled with Communist militancy.

By 2004, Slovenia and Italy were both in the European Union. The concept  of government by nation states had reached its limits of absurdity. Many inhabitants in the area had had 5 sets of different state identity papers without ever moving from the house where they were born.  And still no real peace.

Now that both Slovenia and Italy are in the EU, people can move freely from one country to another to work, they use the same currency (the euro), and they drive through the old frontier without having to stop (Schengen).

Harmonious co-existence has broken out. A supranational organisation such as the EU may have its drawbacks, but many in the West do not give it the full credit for creating peace where before there was killing and hatred.


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