NPC Grief monument, Rock Creek cemetery, Washington, DC 1915
So much for that game indeed. But they’re not done yet.
The ECB proudly announced on Friday that it is erecting a 17-metre-high bronze and granite tree outside its Frankfurt headquarters – an artwork intended to “convey a sense of stability and growth” – and, with its gilded leaves and massive trunk, presumably also wealth and power. But when Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, appeared before the world’s media on Thursday at his regular press conference, it was the limit to central bankers’ power that was on display. Draghi was forced to admit that the outlook for eurozone growth and inflation had darkened considerably as a result of the slowdown in emerging economies and the market turmoil in China – the latter an issue he said he would take up with officials at the People’s Bank of China at this weekend’s G20 meeting in Ankara.
Meanwhile, Federal Reserve policymakers will have to decide in the coming days whether to stick to their carefully signalled plan to push up America’s interest rates at their next policy meeting on 17 September, in the face of growing fears about a Chinese slowdown. Certainly, the IMF made it clear last week that it believed policymakers should be cautious about pushing up rates in the current fragile environment. Central bankers slashed rates to their current emergency levels in the depths of the crisis. They also unleashed quantitative easing on a massive scale, as a short-term measure meant to prevent an outright economic slump and buy time for other engines of growth – trade, investment, consumer demand – to be restarted.
Yet even with rock-bottom borrowing costs, the recovery in many countries has been tepid, leaving central bankers little choice but to keep the cash taps on. The ECB and the Japanese central bank are still quantitatively easing; and the Bank of England and the Fed are yet to raise rates, seven years on from the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Whatever the diagnosis for the less-than-impressive post-crisis recovery – the debt overhang from the boom years, chronic underinvestment, weak consumer demand as a result of deep-seated inequality, or some other as yet undiagnosed economic disease – the cure is unlikely to lie with the central banks.
“..equity price appreciation could decelerate easily to 20 or even 40% based on near zero central bank liquidity..”
Before we continue, we present a brief detour from Deutsche Bank’s Dominic Konstam on precisely how it is that in the current fiat system, global central bank liquidity is fungible and until a few months ago, had led to record equity asset prices in most places around the globe. To wit: [..]
Liquidity in the broadest sense tends to support growth momentum, particularly when it is in excess of current nominal growth. Positive changes in liquidity should therefore be equity bullish and bond price negative. Central bank liquidity is a large part of broad liquidity and, subject to bank multipliers, the same holds true. Both Fed tightening and China’s FX adjustment imply a tightening of liquidity conditions that, all else equal, implies a loss in output momentum.
But while the impact on global economic growth is tangible, there is also a substantial delay before its full impact is observed. When it comes to asset prices, however, the market is far faster at discounting the disappearance of the “invisible hand”:
Ultimately in a fiat money system asset prices reflect “outside” i.e. central bank money and the extent to which it multiplied through the banking system. The loss of reserves represents not just a direct loss of outside money but also a reduction in the multiplier. There should be no expectation that the multiplier is quickly restored through offsetting central bank operations.
Here Deutsche Bank suggests you panic, because according to its estimates, while the US equity market may have corrected, it has a long ways to go just to catch up to the dramatic slowdown in global plus Fed reserves (that does not even take in account the reality that soon both the BOJ and the ECB will be forced by the market to taper and slow down their own liquidity injections):
Let’s start with risk assets, proxied by global equity prices. It would appear at first glance that the correlation is negative in that when central bank liquidity is expanding, equities are falling and vice versa. Of course this likely suggests a policy response in that central banks are typically “late” so that they react once equities are falling and then equities tend to recover. If we shift liquidity forward 6 quarters we can see that the market “leads” anticipated” additional liquidity by something similar. This is very worrying now in that it suggests that equity price appreciation could decelerate easily to 20 or even 40% based on near zero central bank liquidity, assuming similar multipliers to the post crisis period.
The G-20 hires comedy acts these days.
China’s financial markets are expected to remain stable and the renminbi is not on course for a long-term devaluation, while fiscal spending will grow faster than expected this year, the country’s top financial officials told the G20. Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said that central government spending will rise 10% this year, more than the 7% growth budgeted at the start of the year, according to a statement late Saturday on the People’s Bank of China website. China will raise dividend payments from designated state-owned enterprises to make up for any shortfalls. China is headed for its slowest economic expansion in 25 years in 2015 and mainland markets have slumped 40% since mid-June, sending global financial markets skittering.
Ailing Chinese shares dragged down Hong Kong stocks to their lowest close in two years on Wednesday. China’s financial markets were closed on Thursday and Friday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two. China’s overall GDP growth will remain around 7%, as predicted earlier in the year, and the new economic normal may last for four to five years, Lou said. The government will not particularly care about quarterly economic fluctuations and maintain steady macro-economic policy, he added.
China can no longer rely on policy supports to achieve 9-10% growth, as it may already take several years to digest excess industrial capacity and inventories, he said. It will go through “labour pains” in the next five years as it aims to complete main structural reforms by 2020, Lou added. The quality of growth, however, is already improving with 7 million jobs created in the first half of the year, consumption overtaking investment in contributing to economic growth and the balance of payments becoming more even, he said.
The shadow banks need far more scrutiny.
To be sure, there’s every reason to devote nearly incessant media coverage to China’s bursting stock market bubble and currency devaluation. The collapse of the margin fueled equity mania is truly a sight to behold and it’s made all the more entertaining (and tragic) by the fact that it represents the inevitable consequence of allowing millions of poorly educated Chinese to deploy massive amounts of leverage on the way to driving a world-beating rally that, at its height, saw day traders doing things like bidding a recently-public umbrella manufacturer up 2,700%.
Meanwhile, the world has recoiled in horror at China’s crackdown on the media and anyone accused of “maliciously” attempting to exacerbate the sell-off by engaging in what Beijing claims are all manner of “subversive” activities such as using the “wrong” words to describe the debacle and, well, selling stocks. Finally, China’s plunge protection has been widely criticized for, as we put it, “straying outside the bounds of manipulated market decorum.” And then there’s the yuan devaluation that, as recent commentary out of the G20 makes abundantly clear, is another example of a situation where China will inexplicably be held to a higher standard than everyone else. That is, when China moves to support its export-driven economy it’s “competitive devaluation”, but when the ECB prints €1.1 trillion, it’s “stimulus.”
Given the global implications of what’s going on in China’s stock market and the fact that the devaluation is set to accelerate the great EM FX reserve unwind while simultaneously driving a stake through the heart of beleaguered emerging economies from LatAm to AsiaPac on the way to triggering a repeat of the Asian Financial Crisis complete with the implementation of pro-cyclical policy maneuvers from a raft of hamstrung central banks, it’s wholly understandable that everyone should focus on equities and FX. That said, understanding the scope of the risk posed by China’s many spinning plates means not forgetting about the other problems Beijing faces, not the least of which is a massive collection of debt that, thanks to the complexity of local government financing and the (related) fact that as much as 40% of credit risk is carried off balance sheet via an eye-watering array of maturity mismatched wealth management products, is nearly impossible to quantify or even to get a grip on.
Just 50% or so to go?
China’s stock-market rout that erased $5 trillion in value is close to ending, according to the nation’s central bank governor. With the yuan’s exchange rate versus the dollar close to stabilizing and a stock-market correction almost done, China’s financial markets are expected to be more stable, governor Zhou Xiaochuan said. His comments were made in a statement on the bank’s website Saturday after a meeting by finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 nations in Ankara. The Shanghai Composite Index has tumbled 39% since June 12, when the gauge reached its highest level in more than seven years as mainland investors borrowed record amounts of funds to buy equities. China’s shock devaluation of the yuan in August rattled world markets and sparked exchange-rate declines in emerging economies.
Volatility in China’s stock markets is nearing its end, Zhu Jun, director-general in the People’s Bank of China’s international department, said in an interview on Saturday in Ankara, after G20 finance chiefs flagged concerns about potential global spillovers. The Chinese government’s intervention has prevented a free-fall in the market and systemic risk, Zhou said in the statement. The leverage ratio has clearly dropped and the impact on the real economy is limited, Zhou said. Zhou reiterated that China’s economic fundamentals are substantially unchanged, and that there is no basis for long-term yuan depreciation. The country’s determination to deepen market reforms has not changed, he said.
“..when China liquidates its reserves, it sucks liquidity out of the system. That works at cross purposes with the four RRR cuts the PBoC has implemented so far this year.”
One of the most important things to understand about China’s doomed attempt to simultaneously manage the stock market, the economy, a deleveraging in some sectors, a re-leveraging in others, and the yuan is that it’s bound to produce all manner of conflicting directives and policies that trip over each other at nearly every turn. One rather poignant example of this is the attempt to rein in shadow lending without choking off credit growth. Another – and the one that will invariably receive the most attention going forward – is the push and pull on money markets by the PBoC’s FX intervention and offsetting liquidity injections. Recall that Beijing’s open FX ops in support of the yuan necessitate the drawdown of the country’s vast store of USD reserves. In other words, they’re selling USTs.
The effect this historic liquidation of US paper will have on global liquidity, core yields, and Fed policy has become the subject of fierce debate lately although, as we’ve been at pains to make clear, this is really just a continuation of the USD asset dumping that was foretold nearly a year ago when Saudi Arabia killed the petrodollar. In any event, when China liquidates its reserves, it sucks liquidity out of the system. That works at cross purposes with the four RRR cuts the PBoC has implemented so far this year. In short, Beijing, in a desperate attempt to boost lending and invigorate the decelerating economy, has resorted to multiple policy rate cuts, but to whatever degree those cuts freed up banks to lend, the near daily FX interventions undertaken after the August 11 deval effectively offset the unlocked liquidity.
What this means is that each successive round of FX intervention must be accompanied by an offsetting RRR cut lest managing the yuan should end up completely negating the PBoC’s attempts to use policy rates to boost the economy – or worse, producing a net tightening. What should be obvious here is that this is a race to the bottom on two fronts. That is, the more you intervene in the FX market the more depleted your reserves and the more you must cut RRR until eventually, both your USD assets and your capacity to deploy policy rate cuts are exhausted.
There are only two ways to head off this eventuality i) move to a true free float, or ii) implement a variety of short- and medium-term lending ops to offset the tightening effect of FX interventions in the hope of forestalling further RRR cuts. Clearly, this is a spinning plate if there ever was one, as attempting to figure out exactly what the right mix of RRR cuts and band-aid reverse repos is to offset FX interventions is well nigh impossible. It’s against this backdrop that Barclays is out with what looks like one of the more cogent attempts yet to outline and illustrate the above and explain why it simply isn’t sustainable.
Make that thousands.
A photograph of Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian child, lying face down and lifeless in the sand on a Turkish beach, has sparked anger and anguish worldwide. It’s raised a difficult question: Why did Aylan’s family leave Syria and decide to take the journey that led to his death? The answer to that question is equally uncomfortable: By staying in Syria, Kurdi would have risked becoming one of the hundreds of other 3-year-olds killed by the civil war there. These children’s deaths are little acknowledged by the international community, but a variety of activist groups have recorded their deaths in the hope that they won’t be totally in vain.
One group which tracks the deaths in the war, the Syrian Revolution Martyr Database, has detailed records for the deaths of at least 232 children aged 3. The real number may be far higher: The organization, which is run by opponents to the Syrian regime, notes that in many cases the age of the child is not known and thus cannot be recorded. In other cases, the death itself is never even recorded. A closer look at the database’s details reveals more horror. Of the 232 known deaths, almost half were killed by artillery fire. Most of the rest were killed either by aerial bombing or gunfire, with a smaller amount reported to have died from a variety of other causes – including, in one case, a slit throat.
Children of other ages suffered as well. In total, the Syrian Revolution Martyr Database found evidence of almost 2,000 children under the age of 10 who had been killed since the fighting began. Estimates from other groups may skew far higher – the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain, has said that at least 11,493 children have died since the war began. These estimates do not include children like Kurdi who died after fleeing the chaos.
“..the supply of immigrants is endless.”
Hungary could deploy its military along its southern border to stem the influx of refugees, Viktor Orban, the country’s prime minister, has said. Mr Orban said that police would be deployed after the 15 September and that military units could follow if parliament approves the proposal. “We’ll bring the border under control step by step,” he said. “We’ll send in the police, then, if we get approval from parliament, we’ll deploy the military.” He said the proposed move was because there was a potentially “endless” number of migrants and refugees heading for Europe. He was quoted by Reuters as saying: “It’s not 150,000 [migrants and refugees] that some want to divide according to quotas, it’s not 500,000, a figure that I heard in Brussels, it’s millions, then tens of millions, because the supply of immigrants is endless.”
Hungary has faced days of tension with thousands of refugees attempting to cross the country to reach other parts of Europe. The authorities eventually opted to bus the refugees to the Western border with Austria, after Austria and Germany said that they would accept them. Amid the refugee crisis, the Hungarian prime minister has previously indicated he plans to send military to his country’s border with Serbia, where a 100-mile long fence is already under construction. He has also several times antagonised his European colleagues over the crisis, claiming that it should be seen as a “German problem” since the majority of migrants want to settle in Germany, due at least in part to Germany’s willingness to accept them.
“Turkey has taken in two million Syrian refugees over the past four years..”
“I am not willing to register for anyone until I get to Germany” says Alaa, who refused to give his last name. Until last week, he had been working as a chef in a Damascus hotel until he decided to leave because “I’m simply too afraid to walk down the street for fear Assad’s men will arrest me and make me disappear.” Alaa traveled with his wife Maryam and their 8-month-old son Tayim, to Lebanon and from there to Turkey. Like almost all the Syrian migrants reaching Europe, he paid Turkish smugglers $3,000 for himself and his wife – he did not have to pay for Tayim. The boat capsized and the family floated for five hours, until they were rescued by the Greek Coast Guard, Alaa said. The family lost almost everything except the clothes on their back when the boat overturned.
Tayim has only his shorts, a shirt and one pair of socks to face the cold Hungarian autumn. Tayim and his parents are now sitting by the roadside, a few hundred meters from the Hungarian-Serbian border, on the Hungarian side. Alaa is trying to hide from the Hungarian police patrols who are trying to pick up the thousands of refugees who every day try to walk across the old Belgrade-Budapest train tracks. The thousand Euros he managed to save from the sea he gave to a man who said he would drive them to Budapest. “He took us to the end of the road, threw us out and disappeared with the money,” Alaa said. Refugees are easy prey. The fact that tens of thousands of them can find a smuggler so easily in the streets of Turkish cities to take them to Greece shows that the authorities are turning a blind eye to the operations.
One refugee said: “If I, who have never been to Turkey, can find a smuggler so quickly in the street in Izmir, I imagine that they are bribing the police to continue their operations.” Turkey has taken in two million Syrian refugees over the past four years. Smugglers have already been responsible for thousands of deaths. Meanwhile, the Hungarian government seems unable to formulate a policy regarding the refugees. At one point, police look the other way, in another, they are welcoming and give out food collected by volunteers. But in many cases, they beat the refugees with their batons and use pepper spray to force them into registration camps. When the refugees who agree to go to the camps arrive there, they find installations too small to accommodate them and the police give no information as to what to expect.
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/news/world/.premium-1.674670
The WaPo doesn’t understand what happened at all. It’s not a defeat for Orban, but a victory. He got Merkel to give in.
A column of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty made it to Western Europe on Saturday, after forcing Hungary’s anti-immigrant leaders to yield in a days-long campaign to turn them back. But with a fresh rush of migrants at Europe’s borders, the broader refugee crisis only looked to be worsening. The Hungarian reversal was a defeat for the country’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, who had declared himself a defender of Europe’s Christian heritage against the mostly Muslim families seeking entrance. He has vowed to seal the country’s southern border by Sept. 15. But with passage to Europe soon to grow more difficult, the number of newcomers has only expanded in the continent’s worst refugee crisis since the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
New asylum-seekers were arriving in Hungary as quickly as they were draining out Saturday, highlighting the absence of a unified European plan for their accommodation. Germany and Sweden have thrown open their doors to people fleeing Syria’s war. Other nations have barred themselves shut. The turnabout began in the early hours of Saturday, when Hungary’s leaders dispatched blue city buses to pick up migrants who had paralyzed traffic when they set off on the hundred-mile trek to Austria after spending days in squalid conditions in Budapest. By midday, the asylum-seekers were limping across the border into the arms of Austrian volunteers.
As the day ended, thousands were pulling up on trains in Germany, where they were receiving sustenance, shelter and welcome in a nation that has declared no limit to the numbers it will aid. As many as 7,000 were expected Saturday. “I had a smile to both my ears. I was finished with Hungary,” said Omar Mansour, a 24-year-old Syrian physical education teacher, who sat Saturday on a large stone in the border-station parking lot in the pastoral Austrian town of Nickelsdorf, warming himself against the September chill with a green sleeping bag before he continued on to Germany. He said he had spent the past week at Budapest’s main train station, where a makeshift refugee camp accumulated after authorities blocked migrants’ paths to Western Europe on Tuesday.
Back to ‘migrants’. No more refugees, Reuters?
Austria and Germany threw open their borders to thousands of exhausted migrants on Saturday, bussed to the Hungarian border by a rightwing government that had tried to stop them but was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers reaching Europe’s frontiers. Left to walk the last yards into Austria, rain-soaked migrants, many of them refugees from Syria’s civil war, were whisked by train and shuttle bus to Vienna, where authorities promptly arranged for thousands to head straight on to Germany. German police said the first 1,000 of up to 10,000 migrants expected on Saturday had arrived on special trains in Munich. Austrian police said more than 6,000 people had entered the country by Saturday afternoon.
Munich police said Arabic-speaking interpreters helped refugees with procedures at emergency registration centres. The seemingly efficient Austrian and German reception contrasted with the disorder prevalent in Hungary. “It was just such a horrible situation in Hungary,” said Omar, arriving in Vienna with his family. In Budapest, almost emptied of migrants the night before, the main railway station was again filling up with new arrivals, but trains to western Europe remained cancelled. So hundreds set off by foot, saying they would walk to the Austrian border, 110 miles away, like others had tried on Friday. After days of confrontation and chaos, Hungary’s government deployed over 100 buses overnight to take thousands of migrants to the Austrian frontier.
Austria said it had agreed with Germany to allow the migrants access, waiving asylum rules that require them to register in the first EU state they reach. Wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags against the rain, long lines of weary migrants, many carrying small, sleeping children, got off buses on the Hungarian side of the boundary and walked into Austria, receiving fruit and water from aid workers. Waiting Austrians held signs that read “Refugees welcome”. “We’re happy. We’ll go to Germany,” said a Syrian man who gave his name as Mohammed, naming Europe’s famously biggest and most affluent economy that is the favoured destination of many refugees. Another, who declined to be named, said: “Hungary should be fired from the European Union. Such bad treatment.”
“The majority of MSF’s 36,000 employees are not European. We are not Europe, we are people and many of us have no illusions about European double standards..”
In a recent opinion piece, the Director of MSF UK states that “we are Europe – we should do better”. The logic of the argument is that because Europe promotes human rights abroad, it should uphold the values of human rights at home in its response to the refugees risking their lives in crossing the Mediterranean into Europe. But what is implied in this logic is that Europe should do better because Europe is better. This is not the case. Almost all states preach and promote the respect of human rights, and very few respect and act according to such rights at home or abroad. For example, Saudi Arabia is currently the chair of the Human Rights Commission and yet can hardly be considered to practice the values it is tasked to uphold both abroad and in its approach to its own population.
“Europe [is] – a continent that respects and protects human life and dignity”, asserts this opinion piece – the problem with this assertion is that it ignores the fact that Europe has rarely upheld its virtuous rhetoric in its foreign policy practice. The inadequate response to the Syrian refugee crisis, the war in Iraq and the failure to condemn the Israeli occupation of Palestine, all issues set within a history of European colonisation of the Middle East, are just a few examples that illustrate Europe’s complicity in the crises that animate the region today. Here are some important questions and real reasons why Europe “should do better” in its response to the current refugee crisis:
What role has Europe played in contributing to the conditions from which people flee? Whether through the history of colonialism and the arbitrary drawing of borders, the propping up for decades of dictators, or in the case of Libya and Iraq, direct involvement in a military offensive. Historical amnesia is used to turn the act of welcoming refugees and migrants from a responsibility to an act of charity that has its limits. Contrary to international conventions and legislation signed by European governments, the European Union decided to have an active policy of restricting and denying refugees safe and legal routes to Europe, and this is why people are drowning at sea.
[..] The majority of MSF’s 36,000 employees are not European. We are not Europe, we are people and many of us have no illusions about European double standards – especially for those of us whose families, friends, and communities have been affected by these double standards. Europe should do more because it has a responsibility that comes with power that has been built on the backs of the mothers and fathers of those now seeking refuge on European shores and it has duties that come with international laws and conventions. Most of all Europe should do more for the same reason everyone else should do more: not because ‘we’ are Europe, but because ‘we’ are people.
Even Kristof is right sometimes.
Watching the horrific images of Syrian refugees struggling toward safety or in the case of Aylan Kurdi, 3, drowning on that journey I think of other refugees. Albert Einstein. Madeleine Albright. The Dalai Lama. And my dad. In the aftermath of World War II, my father swam the Danube River to flee Romania and become part of a tide of refugees that nobody much cared about. Fortunately, a family in Portland, Ore., sponsored his way to the United States, making this column possible. If you don’t see yourself or your family members in those images of today s refugees, you need an empathy transplant. Aylan’s death reflected a systematic failure of world leadership, from Arab capitals to European ones, from Moscow to Washington. This failure occurred at three levels:
• The Syrian civil war has dragged on for four years now, taking almost 200,000 lives, without serious efforts to stop the bombings. Creating a safe zone would at least allow Syrians to remain in the country.
• As millions of Syrian refugees swamped surrounding countries, the world shrugged. United Nations aid requests for Syrian refugees are only 41% funded, and the World Food Program was recently forced to slash its food allocation for refugees in Lebanon to just $13.50 per person a month. Half of Syrian refugee children are unable to go to school. So of course loving parents strike out for Europe.
• Driven by xenophobia and demagogy, some Europeans have done their best to stigmatize refugees and hamper their journeys.
Bob Kitchen of the International Rescue Committee told me he saw refugee families arriving on the beaches of Greece, hugging one another and celebrating, thinking that finally they had made it unaware of what they still faced in southern Europe. This crisis is on the group of world leaders who have prioritized other things, rather than Syria, Kitchen said. This is the result of that inaction. Antonio Guterres, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, said the crisis was in part a failure of leadership worldwide. This is not a massive invasion, he said, noting that about 4,000 people are arriving daily in a continent with more than half a billion inhabitants. This is manageable, if there is political commitment and will.
We all know that the world failed refugees in the run-up to World War II. The U.S. refused to allow Jewish refugees to disembark from a ship, the St. Louis, that had reached Miami. The ship returned to Europe, and some passengers died in the Holocaust. Aylan, who had relatives in Canada who wanted to give him a home, found no port. He died on our watch. Guterres believes that images of children like Aylan are changing attitudes. Compassion is winning over fear, he said. I hope he’s right. Bravo in particular to Icelanders, who on Facebook have been volunteering to pay for the flights of Syrian refugees and then put them up in their homes. Thousands of Icelanders have backed this effort, under the slogan Just because it isn t happening here doesn t mean it isn t happening.
Germany wants to lead. And then doesn’t. Yeah, after 20,000 deaths, and photos in the media. Sure.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is belatedly taking a leadership role in pushing the European Union to solve its refugee crisis, but the EU’s difficulty in acting together is largely a result of policies championed by Germany. It is Germany that has blocked every effort to name an EU leader of any stature to a top post for the union, because it prefers for national leaders to call the shots. So Poland’s Donald Tusk, who has little international experience but was Merkel’s choice, is president of the European Council, while Jean-Claude Juncker from tiny Luxembourg, also Merkel’s choice, is the hapless president of the European Commission.
It is Germany, and Merkel specifically, that has systematically turned France into an unequal partner, paying French Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande little heed except when they were needed as a fig leaf to make Merkel’s chosen policies more palatable. And of course it was Germany that inflexibly led EU negotiators to impose a new load of unsustainable debt and more economic austerity on Greece in July’s bailout accord. Germany is indeed opening its doors to a much larger share of the refugees from the Middle East and Africa than other EU countries and is offering more generous settlement conditions. It is the only EU country that has provided financial aid to Greece to help it bear the brunt of the flow of refugees.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of Germans are genuinely motivated by altruism to aid these displaced persons. But German political leaders can hardly complain of the lack of solidarity and compassion in the EU after railroading through the exceedingly harsh treatment of Greece. They can scarcely make an appeal to EU humanitarian values after ruthlessly fomenting a humanitarian crisis in a member state. While some commentators see the German response to the refugee crisis making up in part for its brutal treatment of Greece, it is rather the case that Berlin’s loss of moral authority from that crisis prevents it from forging any sort of unity on refugees. And Europe, with its postwar history of stinginess and not-in-my-backyard myopia, would require strong moral leadership to come together on an issue like this.
It exposes EU for what it is.
Deep divisions over how to cope with a flood of migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia pose a threat to the European Union’s values and global standing and may diminish its ability to act jointly to reform the euro zone and ease Greece’s debt. With harrowing images of drowning children, refugees being herded on and off trains and beaten by police, and barbed-wire fences slicing across Europe, the migration crisis is the moral equivalent of the euro zone crisis. In both cases, the principle of solidarity is being sorely tested. By making the EU look ineffective, disunited and heartless, pitting member states against each other and fuelling political populism and anti-Muslim sentiment, the latest crisis is undermining the ideals of European integration.
However, it often takes a bout of disarray and recrimination before the EU finds a joint response to a new challenge. Policy may be shifting in reaction to unbearable pictures of suffering, and to fears that the Schengen zone of open-border travel among 26 continental European countries may otherwise fall apart. “The world is watching us,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week as she tried to persuade European peers to share the burden of taking in people fleeing war and misery in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and beyond. “If Europe fails on the refugee question, its tight bond with universal human rights will be destroyed, and it will no longer be the Europe we dreamed of,” she said.
Merkel’s bold attempt to exercise leadership, in contrast to her deep caution in the euro crisis, has won only cautious support from close allies like France, where domestic opposition to more immigration is strong, and been rejected outright by countries such as Hungary and Britain. For many European politicians trying to keep in tune with voters, preventing unwanted immigration is a greater priority than welcoming hundreds of thousands of haggard, uprooted foreigners, especially if they are Muslims.
It’s all turning into one giant blame game.
Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is the cheerleader of the “Europe is useless” chorus, but Robert Fico, the Slovakian premier, and President Milos Zeman in Prague are not far behind. Ewa Kopacz, the prime minister of Poland, sounds more moderate, but she looks likely to lose an election next month to the nationalist right. Her hands are tied. When Europe’s leaders last met to grapple with the crisis, in June, they argued until 3.30am and dispersed without agreement, bringing Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, to lament: “If this is Europe, you can keep it.” Entirely predictably, things have worsened considerably since then.
Governments are floundering, pirouetting on policy in response to front-page pictures of tragedy on a Turkish beach, engaging in a blame game which, coming on top of five years of division over Greece and the euro, is exposing major divisions. If the euro proved to be a fair-weather currency whose structures and rules buckled and nearly collapsed in a storm, the same is now evident on immigration. The system is flimsy, not fit for purpose in an emergency. There is no “European” immigration policy or regime. There is a mish-mash of national policies, a patchwork of systems and criteria which are contradictory, incoherent, fragmented. Italy is very far way from Finland, not only geographically, but when it comes to immigration and asylum.
France and Germany have quite different historical approaches to integrating newcomers. Sweden and Denmark are neighbours with a close shared history, but their immigration policies are chalk and cheese. National governments guard these prerogatives jealously. “Europe” in the form of the EU authorities in Brussels has minimal say over policymaking. Almost all power here lies with heads of national governments and interior ministries. Yet, in this crisis, Brussels-bashing has become routine, the cheap and easy option for shameless national leaders acting unilaterally, blocking every suggestion that comes out of Brussels and then blaming it for the ensuing chaos.
Orbán proved the point in Brussels last week. “Europe” had failed, its leaders had irresponsibly created this mess, their response was “madness”. He has put up a razor-wire fence on the border with Serbia and announced he was fasttracking legislation to establish a zero-immigration regime within 10 days, with the army deployed on the border. Brussels cannot stop him because these powers are national. If need be, he said, he would put up another fence on the border with Croatia, a barrier between two EU countries. On Friday Brussels shrugged and said it did not like this, but couldn’t do anything about it.
This will be used against all Greeks all the time for a long time to come. And therefore also against refugees, by default: no budgets to help them.
Trust in the Greek government has yet to return after months of wrangling to secure a third bailout deal for the debt-struck country, the head of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said Saturday. “In the last half year with the Syriza government, trust has gone away completely…So what we need now is a serious government which is implementing (reforms) seriously and that will bring back trust and I think that’s the key issue…trust, consumers, producers, investors trust that’s key,” Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem,told CNBC on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Ankara, Turkey. Dijsselbloem, was a key figure in negotiating Greece’s bailout in return for the country implementing reforms.
The Dutch politician also had a number of clashes with Greece’s leftist Syriza government and in particular, the firebrand ex-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. The debt saga saw a breakdown in relations between Greece and many of the negotiators, including Dijsselbloem, who said that trust has still not returned. The Eurogroup president said that the Syriza government wanted to reject “the whole fundamentals of the euro zone” which was not acceptable. “In the end, the Tsipras government decided we want to stay in the euro zone, we will accept the basic arrangements of that, and commit to a basic program which they need. So if you ask me has trust returned, that will be a bit quick to say that, it’s going to take time,” Dijsselbloem said.
“..if we don’t try to implement it, they will chuck us out of the euro zone. What? Is this what Europe has come to?” “It’s the height of irrationality..”
Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has flagged his interest in a political comeback after the Greek election – but only if the new rulers ask him to administer “bitter medicine” rather than “poison.” The parties fighting the election are backing the reform package because they’ve been blackmailed, Varoufakis told Bloomberg TV, in an interview at the Ambrosetti Forum in Cernobbio, Italy. “If ever there is a government interested in bitter medicine and it is not simply committing to administering poison, then I am on board,” he said. Asked if he might play an active role in the new government, Varoufakis replied he would insist that the reform program “be very harsh.”
The former finance minister has since his resignation in July sought to justify his controversial sparring with European Union counterparts including Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble through interviews and public speeches. Varoufakis said political parties are hiding their opposition to the reform package. “You only have to listen to the parties themselves. All of them disagree with the program, but they vote on it on the basis of blackmail. The argument is: this is a terrible program, it will not work but if we don’t try to implement it, they will chuck us out of the euro zone. What? Is this what Europe has come to?” “It’s the height of irrationality,” Varoufakis said.
“Its reaction to Junts pel Sí has been to rush through an amendment to the constitution so that any politician who declares independence can be imprisoned.”
Catalans go to the polls at the end of this month to choose a new regional government in what is shaping up to be a showdown between the secessionists and central government in Madrid and between Catalans themselves, who are split on independence. The majority of pro-independence groupings have come together as Junts pel Sí (United for a Yes Vote), a single-issue coalition that includes Artur Mas, the incumbent Catalan president. The poll has been billed as a plebiscite, and Mas has said he will declare unilateral independence if the group wins a majority of seats, even if it has not obtained a majority of the popular vote.
The first test will be the turnout on Friday, in what has become an annual show of force by the secessionists on Catalan National Day, as tens of thousands will converge on the capital to demand independence. This year the demonstration has been billed as “The Open Road to the Catalan Republic”. In spite of polls showing waning support for independence, Raül Romeva i Rueda, the ex-communist who leads Junts pel Sí, says a unilateral declaration of independence is justified because “they [Spain] have beaten us with unjust laws and huge fines”.
The Madrid government has refused to enter into a dialogue on independence and has adopted a hardline stance throughout. Its reaction to Junts pel Sí has been to rush through an amendment to the constitution so that any politician who declares independence can be imprisoned. Mas says there is no option but to treat the election as a plebiscite, as central government has refused to allow a referendum. He says that if Junts pel Sí wins the Catalan elections on 27 September and goes on to win in Catalonia at the general election expected on 20 December, “that will serve as a second plebiscite that will send an extraordinary message to Europe and the rest of the world”.