EEA

Symon Wiesenthal

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Its getting late but the vital work undertaken by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in uncovering those who were involved in the Holocaust still bears fruit even today.  Once again they have been central in uncovering a 93-year-old alleged to have worked as a guard at the Auschwitz death camp.  The Nazi Hunting organisation have identified the man as Hans Lipschis who they identified as number four on their list of most wanted Nazi’s.

“The arrest of Lipschis is a welcome first step in what we hope will be a large number of successful legal measures taken by the German judicial authorities against death camp personnel and those who served in the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units),” said Efraim Zuroff, head of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Lipschis, was interviewed by German newspaper Die Welt last month, saying he had been a cook in the camp but had left the camp to fight on the Eastern Front, although he could not remember which unit he was in, which sounds a bit too convenient albeit he is 93-years-old.  His arrest by German Police in Stuttgart  was made possible by the 2011 conviction in Munich of Sobibor death camp guard Ivan Demjanjuk, the first Nazi war criminal convicted in Germany, without evidence of a specific crime or a specific victim.

It appears that the Germans (those of whom I’ve known have felt great shame about the country’s Nazi past) are making some real in-roads into making good and this sort of action should be applauded, loudly.

Stuttgart prosecutors have said the man (Lipschs) arrested on Monday had worked at the extermination camp during the war, from 1941 until its liberation in 1945. Authorities had searched his flat, taken him into custody and were preparing charges against him.  This plainly brings into doubt Lipschis version of fighting on the Eastern Front.

News of the arrest came on the same day that the only surviving member of a Neo-Nazi cell went on trial for the racially motivated murder of people of Turkish heritage.

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Simon Wiesenthal stands as a hero for his unstinting work in bringing Nazi’s to justice.  Born the last day of 1908, died 20 Sept. 2005 age 96.  He is best known for his work for the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and Jewish Documentation Centre.  After both the U.S & Soviets lost interest in chasing Nazi’s the offices were closed and the over 3000 depositions were sent to Yad Vasham.

His motivations are obvious and to my mind stark; when the German invaders entered his home town Galicia,  Ukraine half the population was Jewish, 150,000, when they left just 5 remained.  If anybody ever needed any explanation of why its important to hunt Nazi’s that’s it right there.  I don’t, will not, can not, differentiate between the Nazi’s of the 1930’s & 1940’s and the more recent incantations we see spreading across an ever inward looking Europe.

Nazi’s should and must be brought to justice.

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Il n’ya pas d’argent

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France’s economy, the second largest in the EuroZone, has been getting deeper into trouble in recent months. Unemployment is almost equal to the record level of 3.195 million people out of work and able to work last reached in 1997 and worse still the spending power of typical French households fell in late 2012 for the first time since 1984.

Little wonder then that the small greetings card company Edit66 based in the southern French city of Cabestany is facing mounting financial difficulties.  Dutch owner Mercurius decided that staff cuts were necessary and prepared the workforce for the inevitable redundancies. The company employed upwards of 60 people in the 1990’s which steadily declined to 37 more recently of which 19 were to be dismissed for lack of enough work to do.

However, trouble began Friday (29 Apr. 2013) when the management told those to be laid off that they would not be given their severance payments agreed earlier “as there is no money”.  So in typical Gallic fashion the workers took matters into their own hands and promptly protested by taking the company bosses Paul Denis and Merthus Bezemer hostage.

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Danielle Casanovas, from the company’s works council said the two men were being allowed to freely move within the company premises.  The town’s socialist mayor Jean Vila said he also backed the action taken by the sacked workers (how very French and civilized all at the same time).

“I find it immoral,” he told journalists. “There are laws in France and they have to be respected.”

Protest in France is a feature of life, but is much more prevalent where the local politicians hold several elected offices and are at risk of losing everything.  The French public know this to be the case and will when pushed use the system against itself to get a “fair” outcome as they see it.  Its not a bad way of going about things, its just different (and can be extremely frustrating if caught-up in a protest and you don’t know whats actually going on).  The way the French protest is symptomatic of a populace at ease with itself, sure of what it deserves and expects from life in general but never-the-less accepting of the hierarchical, elitist government system in place.

I wish the protesters well, but my instincts are that they will lose their jobs and not be paid what was agreed initially, perhaps a bit less but I still wouldn’t bet against them.

Stolen Future, Stolen Past

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Right so the Easter Holidays are over and its back to work and the news just gets… well worse actually.

Official figures published by Eurostat Statistics Agency earlier today (Tuesday 02 Apr. 2013) showed the number of unemployed people in the Euro-Zone had risen by 33,000 between January and February 2013, putting unemployment in the Euro-Zone at a staggeringly high 12% or 19.07 million people of working age and able to work.  this is just an average as well.

Among states within the Euro-Zone, (not including the UK), the highest increases in unemployment compared with a year ago were in Cyprus (10.2% to 14.0%), Portugal (14.8% to 17.5%) and Spain (23.9% to 26.3%).  So the bail-outs worked? No!

Worse still youth unemployment (the under-25’s) rose to 23.9%, up from 22.3% a year ago.  But the stark contrast happen when you compare Germany with the others.  German youth unemployment 7.7%, Italy 37.8%, Portugal 38.2%, Spain 55.7 and the winner is… Greece 58.4%.  This is not good, German style austerity is NOT making jobs in those countries that most need them.

That’s the old-style bail outs.

The new Cypriot style bail out, you know the one where the Government is forced to agree to a levy of up to 60% on savings over €100k (this looks like theft to me), well they are going work a treat don’t you think? No, I didn’t think so either.  The Germans have come over all happy that national debt problems, national banking problems are not going to be dealt with at the cost of the German tax payer.  I’m sure they are very happy with this arrangement, they all join a big jolly club, make like they’re all big pals but as soon as the going gets a little tough Oh no, nobody’s wants to help.

So here we have it; Countries in the Euro-Zone that fall foul of banking failure or spiraling national debt who thought they could rely on their partners actually cant.  But not only that what help that is on offer comes with a hefty long term price to pay.  No jobs for the foreseeable, definitely no jobs for the youth and anybody who had a will to save for the future well they gonna take that as well.  Genius idea!  Stop the poor from earning a living and stop the wealthy from enjoying the benefits of their labours.

Can I venture that the actual effects of all this austerity and levy’s and joblessness might actually lead to the long-term deterioration of Germany?

The Germans have enjoyed really low interest rates for a looooooong time, they have a manufacturing industry still in tact and sell to the rest of Europe.  So far so good, good products sold to those who want them.  Trouble is, those customers of the German manufactures were borrowing money from each other to buy these goods and now the Germans want everybody to pay up.  The German success is built on the very shaky foundations of everybody else’ debt.

It just cant be me that can see the flaw in the plan can it?

The Germans are going to have to face up to their dilemma at some point.  Either start playing along a bit and helping those others who’ve got them selves in a bit of spot or go it alone and collapse the European project altogether.

New Model EU

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By the end of Monday this week, The UK FTSE 100 had closed down 0.2%, the German Dax down 0.5% & France’s Cac dropped 1.1%. later in the day New York, the Dow Jones closed 0.5% lower.

Why?

The agreement between Cyprus and EU Finance Ministers, that’s why!

Under the agreement finally made in the early hours of Monday morning, people who have more than €100,000 in Cypriot banks will have to contribute directly to the €10bn rescue package.  The Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said later that the approach could form the basis of a new model for stopping the collapse of European banks, rather than asking taxpayers to bail them out.

The reality of what Mr. Dijsselbloem is saying is that there is apparently no conceivable reason why anybody would want to have more than €100,000 in savings in a European bank.  Not a single reason as far as I can see.  This wont be a problem for the vast majority of European Citizens and especially those in Cyprus because they soon wont have any money anyway if the EU carries out this plan (threat).

Naturally Germany (Ms Merkel) is happy with the deal in the Cyprus case.  They were less than impressed by Cypriot reliance on Tax Haven status, an over-reliance on the banking sector (I wonder what other EU country relies heavily on banking?  The UK perhaps?).

Its not that I disagree that EU countries should have balanced economies, not overly reliant on any one sector but, like all things Austerity speed is of the essence it would seem.  The Cypriot economy may only take 2 or 3 years to bounce back but living standards are likely to be affected for more than 10 years, and that’s a long time to be unhappy at treatment by those who you don’t know.

Balanced economies are a good thing and are a step (probably bigger than we realize) towards integration.  If all economies are acting in the same way then why not integrate?  No reason at all, in fact economies of scale will come into play and off we go.  Balanced economies with a centralized homogenized government will in all likelihood put the EU back into the game on the world stage, maybe.

So, do I think this will happen? No, of course not.

What I think will happen is that local, national priorities will take precedence.  10 years to recover, not improve, just recover living standards is not a winning pitch in my view.  Its a recipe for silo thinking, self pity (I have some sympathy here) and maybe even separatism so defeating what the EU is supposed to be all about.

The Germans are a bit like the Incredible Hulk, you wont like them if they get angry, but they really need to work on some chill-out therapies.  It seems for the time being they are getting their own way but I have fear that they’ll get used to it.  The Greeks and Italians are very unhappy bunnies and only just missed the boiling pot.  Who next I wonder?

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Well it doesn’t take a village idiot to work out that at some point the UK is going to come in for a bit of close financial inspection and when it does who knows how badly they will react.  After all the Brits can hardly be described as fully paid up members of the European project, skeptics at best!  No, I think that the EU should draw back a bit and see if there are any more localized workable alternatives.  They may take a bit longer to work through but will probably get much better buy-in from those directly affected.

Net result: local solutions to local problems and no tears in the European JV.

Coffeeeeeee!

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iFAMINEI’ve been to Africa countless times and there are plenty of reasons that I can see that the Continent should not be in the position it finds itself.  I’ve met a multitude of talented, ambitious, thoughtful and yes entrepreneurial people.  In fact there are parts of Kenya or Tanzania or Uganda I would happy settle and make my life.

The reason Africa is dependent on aid is really a very simple one.   Less than 20% of African exports are manufactured, value added goods, the other 80% are raw materials.  But 65% of the continents imports are manufactured goods.  Africa therefore is a producer of what it does not consume and a consumer of what it does not produce.  The irony of this perverse situation I’m sure isn’t lost.

In Uganda for example coffee is grown in small quantities by about a million households.  In fact Uganda is the 5th largest producer of coffee beans, but it doesn’t have any capacity for processing those beans.  Frankly I was amazed when I read that stat!  This means that less than 1% of the retail value of coffee originated in Uganda is retained by the very farmers who produced the beans.  But here’s the real kick in the proverbials, go to any large hotel in Uganda or Kenya or pretty much any other East African nation and see what brand the coffee is that you get served in a hotel.  My bets are that you get Nescafe and not much else.

Don’t get me wrong here, Africa is blighted by Big Man Politics.  But even this cultural bent is related to how the old colonials left the continent.  For the most part European countries carved-up the continent in search of raw materials, installing a small but well armed band of so called Diplomats & Governors to run the countries they invented (Africa is a continent of nations who do not have socially natural boundaries  check it out there are just too many straight line borders for this to be deniable).  What they didn’t do was educate.  So when the countries found freedom from colonial rule they just didn’t have the educated elite to run the country that was left.  Nett result; a few rose to power and were quickly corrupted.

So we now support Africa with endless aid.  In fact the continent now has a chronic dependence on aid and I don’t see how it actually contributes to or acts to stimulate sustainable economic growth.  The powerful donors have tied the aid to concessions, making the leaders of African nations more accountable to corporate America and EU than to their own people.  In short the structural inequalities generated in the 1950’s & 60’s are perpetuated, promotion of  labour exploitation ensures that the export of primary commodities remains central to the bare survival of those in power.

How to correct this situation?

My suggestion is 3-fold:

  1. Transfer of knowledge, train the people in how to manage their environment to best effect
  2. Provide the technology to do the jobs; this of course is linked intimately to point 1
  3. Build institutional capacity; this is the really difficult one actually.  Good governance, good banks, good savings schemes… the things we probably take for granted

There are without question no shortage of entrepreneurs in Africa, all you have to do is visit Nairobi or Lagos or… you will be accosted with people selling their wares.  No, no shortage here.  The real question is access to funding.  About 3% of adults in sub-Saharan Africa can access funding, the other 97%+ are on their own.

The key to this lock I believe lies with the Western Supermarket Chains.  It wouldn’t take that much effort I’m sure for them to go to Africa, seek out those producers who can make what they need, invest some of their vast wealth in creating capacity and give a listing to those producers who make the grade.  I have no doubt that many will, make the grade that is and I would not complain if I had to pay a penny or two more to get great value, high quality products knowing that a farmer or a producer or co-operative somewhere in Africa is able to feed itself, educates itself, and looks after its own health care.  Now that to me sounds like a win-win all-round.

Its a well used phrase but Trade not Aid is to the point and accurate.  All we have to do is find the will to want to change how Africa is run, how we can economically engage with the vast wealth talented people.  I make but a few suggestions and I’m sure there are people cleverer than me with greater insight than me who can shed much more light on what appears to be a complex problem but actually is quite simple, just immense.

EU Oh Oh!

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The most powerful trading bloc in the world today, the EU and the UK is in it but for how long? The UK’s relationship with the EU can be tetchy at times it has to be said, in fact its utterly hostile at times.

The EU in the UK is painted as the source of horror; out of control red tape, completely over the top human rights laws and to top the lot immigration (inward to the UK that is).   Its these overstated negatives that have influenced the group think in the public at large moving towards a view that EU membership should be put to an in-out vote.

Public and popular concerns are often stated in terms of un-thinking rashness summed-up in a handy sound-bite.  If its not short, punchy and to the point (often wide of the mark actually but you get the drift I’m sure) its not worth making it.  Its actually the responsibility of Government, that would be from all parties, to put the benefit of membership and of the obvious self-interest of remaining a member.  Grandstanding, sabre rattling, shouting about  in-out referendums will bring nothing but contempt from our EU/EEA partners.

Bill Clinton put it as “it’s arithmetic!”  A market that’s 500 million people with a GDP of around £11/€13 trn, no tariffs, customs duties and right next door has got to be the opportunity of a life-time, several life-times actually for jobs, business, prosperity and safety.

Around 3.5 million jobs are directly & indirectly linked to EU/EEA in the UK.  So basically a massively compelling reason to stay put, not rocking any boats of any kind.  The economic fortunes of the UK are undeniably linked to the EU/EEA.

Business has been absolutely consistent in supporting continued membership and really cannot understand the uncertainty created by the prospect of a referendum.  Who in their right mind would want to invest in the UK knowing the prospect of trade with the EU/EEA is almost certain to get more difficult in the future I ask you? A No vote in 2017 and you can close the City of London; financial trading will move to Paris or Frankfurt.

We are already on the outskirts having passed on the Euro and the Schengen Agreement. We have an opt-out on the Working Time Directive and point blank refused to sign-up to the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights or the presently proposed Banking Union.

No-wonder then that our European partners are frosty sometimes.  They must be exhausted with our constant hedging of bets. Change is best effected from within, we all know this but we stand firmly outside staring in, complaining bitterly that its not they way we would do things; childish tantrums.  As a position of influence its doomed to failure, often does fail as well.

And what happens after we’ve left? the next day? who would be our partners then?

The US has made it more than clear that we are only important in the EU.  Any perceived ‘special relationship’ over, immediately.  The Americans have questioned the exit strategy and found it wanting.

So what about the Commonwealth?  Lord Howell of Guilford, father-in-law of George Osborne recently said “The Europeans are our neighbors, the Americans our friends, but the Commonwealth is our family.”  Regrettably he was looking out over the Commonwealth wearing his very special rose coloured glasses.  And how do I know this? Well India is buying £12/€14.5 bn worth of French fighter jets instead of the UK (Commonwealth partner) jets despite the millions of pounds of aid that the UK has continued to contribute to one of the fastest growing economies on the planet.  I don’t get a sense of family here!

No, the Commonwealth is the place that Brits go for a better way of life; Austrailia, Canada, New Zealand… But I don’t see too many going to India, South Africa or Pakistan, just not appealing.

I’m quite sure that the EU/EEA isn’t perfect and much change is needed, this will be on-going.  But standing squarely up to the EU/EEA and demanding change or off we go probably isn’t the best way of going about getting what you want, what’s important. What ever the differences are, no matter how strongly held opinions are consensus is ultimately in the best interests of all; EU/EEA and UK.