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Monday, 01 October 2012 12:29

The new engine of Europe

In Warsaw in mid-September, the German led “Future of Europe Group” announced its plans for the next political development of the European Union. Both in that moment and subsequent speeches, the driving force behind this development has not been the traditional “engine” of European integration, a now increasingly fraught Franco-German partnership, but a new coalition led most prominently by Germany and Poland. Whilst eurozone states remain embroiled in financial crisis management, it is Poland, a leading EU member without the euro, that increasingly takes the lead. Germany may hold the immediate financial future of Europe in its hands, but it is Poland that has both the interest and the opportunity to shape a new Europe.

Enter Sikorski

Radosław Sikorski, Poland's foreign minister, made waves in a Berlin speech in late 2011 when he announced that “I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity.” What is less reported is the systematic programme of European reforms that formed the core of his speech. At the end of the Polish Presidency of the European Council, he advocated a smaller, stronger European Commission, with economic oversight for national debt in agreement with parliament; a central role for the European Central Bank underpinning the eurozone; and a pan-European list of candidates for the European Parliament. Sikorksi spelled out more specifically what the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, has broadly spoken of when he describes the solution as “more Europe”.

Entrenched in immediate crisis management of the Euro, Germany has been driven to guard its hand.

Poland has the raw economic interest to further embed itself within a European political framework. The common market has been a major driver in Poland's economic success. At a first glance, its astonishing that the eurozone crisis has not stifled Poland's growth, as around 60 per cent of Poland's imports and 80 per cent of her exports come from within the EU. Yet over a quarter of its trade is formed of bilateral agreements with Germany, a value of between 60 to 70 billion euros. As such, Poland has been largely insulated from the ongoing instability in the eurozone. Poland also benefits from receiving the highest net value of distribution of EU funds; 11.8 billion euros, from a 3.3-billion-euro investment. When the Commission votes on the 2013 budget, it will expect to lose some of its 7.8 billion in cohesion for growth and employment funds, but will nevertheless have enough influence within the Council to ensure it remains significantly better off through its European membership.

Published in The Transnationalist
Tuesday, 05 June 2012 09:04

Good Reads 05/06/12

Each week, two E&M editors share their favourite European reads. From blog posts to essays, it can be anything that amused them, worried them or got them thinking about Europe.

matt

Matt, Sixth Sense Editor

Günter Grass on Israel and Europe

Famed German author Günter Grass was banned from Israel a few months ago for writing a poem which attacked both Israel's policy towards Iran and Germany's plan to sell submarines to them. 'What must be said' remains an interesting case for what "can" and "can't" but should be said about Israel, Palestine, and Iran.

You may have missed a more recent publication by Grass called "Europe's shame" in the Suddeutsche Zeitung this month. Less opaque than "What must be said", I'll leave the interpretation of the poem in your hands. Here's a short description if you don't trust google translate. Let us hope his final line does not come to pass - "You will waste away spiritlessly without the country whose spirit, Europe, conceived you."

Grexodus

Grass brings me to the Grexodus (or more commonly termed the ‘Grexit’), and the words of the Ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus have increasingly resonated in my thoughts. One quote from Agamemnon in particular seems to offer some insight into the current dilemma. Between sacrificing his daughter or failing in his deep (but also beneficial) commitments, Agammemnon, the ancient king of Mycenae, faces an impossible decision, "Pain both ways and what is worse? Desert the fleets, fail the alliance?" Anyway, the play is well worth a read. Equally, Germany's early speculative alternative to the austerity package and Grexit deserves a read.

Don't know your fiscal pact from your 'big bazooka'? Read this excellent and clear article from the European Council of Foreign Relations. Then tackle 'Europe after the Crisis' (Sorry, it's behind a paywall). Any student of Europe will know the name Moravcsik. I've never been a huge fan of his, but this article is one of the best I've read on the overarching problem inherent in the Eurozone. And this approach, a restatement of causes seems to me somewhat unhelpful when trying to figure out how to save (or otherwise dismantle) the Eurozone. Surely, we're past all of that pointing of fingers? At least in approach, this article seems to get it right, and by framing the problem as Saving the Euro without losing the Europeans is much more constructive.

Published in Good Reads
Thursday, 01 March 2012 18:01

Good Reads 01/03/12

Each week, two E&M editors share their favourite European reads. From blog posts to essays, it can be anything that amused them, worried them or got them thinking about Europe.

juliane

Juliane, Diaphragm Editor 

HAS TECHNOLOGY FIGURED US OUT?

I love it when science and technology present easy solutions to complex problems. The notion that you can answer some of life's most troubling questions in one single sentence is deeply appealing to me. Nevertheless, when I first read about complexity scientists having explained the way culture has spread in Europe, I was somewhat... offended. For me, European culture is fascinating, interesting and compelling because it cannot be explained in one sentence. So when a bunch of complexity scientists (which, on a side note, is the coolest academic title I've come across) explain to me that the main reason, or perhaps one of the main reasons, that the democracies of ancient Greece and the Roman empire still remain the most influential and persisting cultural movement in European history is ... that Italy and Greece are located not in the centre, but on the edge of the European continent, I am quite frankly insulted. However, the possibility that they might be right is puzzling and fills me with curiosity. See if you agree here and download the whole paper here if you're interested.  

PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THE FILM OF THE YEAR... SORT OF

This is a movie that I'm more excited about than I care to admit. A few reasons: 1) It's just about as tacky as science fiction will ever get. Which in itself is a reason to love it. 2) It's one of the few examples of real, not just imagined, fan-funding (the movie has been planned for ages, but director Timo Vuorensola did not have the money to make it happen - until he urged people who wanted to make it happen to pitch in, actually funding enough for proper production of the whole thing). In other words, even before the first screening, the movie had a huge and loyal pool of fans, which in this day and age is quite the accomplishment. 3) The movie, which, just to be clear, is about AN INVASION OF NAZIS WHO HAVE BEEN HIDING ON THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON SINCE 1944, opened at the Berlin Film Festival Berlinale this year. I love it. I love what it says about Germany being able to deal with their past in, if not unproblematic ways, then at least openly and with the realisation that the past is actually in the past. 4) It's a pan-European project actually said to have a chance of being a blockbuster in the US, which always is a weird satisfaction for me. Intrigued? Read more about what is perhaps the most inappropriate, yet surely entertaining, film experience of the year here.

Published in Good Reads
Thursday, 16 February 2012 06:20

Good Reads 16/02/12

Each week, two E&M editors share their favourite European reads. From blog posts to essays, it can be anything that amused them, worried them or got them thinking about Europe.

carmen

Carmen, Brain Editor

ENVIOUS OF THE SWEDISH AND NORWEGIAN PAST

While the "Occupy" movement is still silently going on without much media attention, maybe it's time we cool our heads and think about how to distribute the world's wealth better (utopian thoughts – I know) without shedding any more blood. The article "How Swedes and Norwegians Broke the Power of the '1 percent'" not only gives an insight into the under-reported historical struggle of the working and the middle class in Sweden and Norway, but also shows the possibility of achieving an "enviable standard of living" with the 99% in charge. Although I'm sceptical about how this historical movement can be applied to the present situation, at least this is something you can use as a conversation starter with a Swede or a Norwegian at the next party.

HUMOUR KNOWS BOUNDARIES

Ever wonder how humour works differently in different European countries? What a Greek finds funny does not entertain a German; and what the German population has found funny (for decades) seems to puzzle the British. In the article "What's German for funny?", author Philip Oltermann looked into the iconic German Christmas comedy sketch "Dinner for One," which was based on a British production. Ironically, even though the British public failed to understand what's really so funny about it, this same sketch has been played in Germany during Christmas time every year, since 1972! Thought that humour had its own language? Think again!

Published in Good Reads
Saturday, 18 February 2012 14:50

An international atmosphere in my life!

Two years ago my life could be described pretty easily: I was a young girl from a town in Southern Germany dreaming about discovering the world, travelling to Africa or Latin America. But thinking about it more, I realised that I didn't even know Germany's own neighbouring countries. I decided it was time to go to Poland with the European Voluntary Service.

I hadn't heard about the EVS programme before, but found it by accident when I was browsing the web and thought immediately that this was exactly what I wanted to do! So I applied for various projects and chose the one which accepted me first. It brought me to a small village in South-Eastern Poland where I started working in a boarding school together with another volunteer from Istanbul. Frankly, it wasn't always easy. Sometimes we didn't know what our tasks were and sometimes we had to wait forever to get inside our building, because it was a big hassle to get our own keys. 

The year was so different from my life before: I travelled a lot and met so many people from different countries that I was 100% sure that I didn't just want to return to my hometown. During the nine months I got to know Poland from many different sides. I was impressed by the Polish people and their hospitality and learned pretty fast that that not everything always needed to be perfect for me to be happy! During one of the last weeks there I went to a birthday party that would change my life: I met one particularly nice Polish guy… and to cut a long story short, we're still together...

Published in Reader Submissions
Monday, 21 March 2011 13:40

Germany’s Case for Non-Intervention

This post is a reply to Matt (Sixth Sense Editor)'s post yesteday  'Libya, Germany, and the tyranny of definition' that can be found here.

Discussing a no-fly zone over Libya is a particularly hard thing to do. It is easy to argue in both directions and neither side is clearly convincing. This dilemma led to disagreement among Western states on whether or not to intervene in Libya. As Matt points out in his thought-provoking blog post, the United Kingdom and France were clearly in favour of the mission, whereas Germany abstained from the vote. I think however that Germany had palpably good reasons to abstain (or at least not to participate in such military mission) and that it was Germany's communication that could be described as their key flaw.

On Civil War

First, Matt's definition of Libya as a civil war: I think it does not make a substantial difference if we are talking about a civil war or not...

Published in Beyond Europe
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