Plus ça change….

25 April, 2012

This cartoon was reproduced in The Irish Times on 25th April 2012.  It was originally published in Punch in 1909.

Instead of John Redmond, just substitute David Boyd Barrett or Joe Higgins or any multi-purpose rabble-rouser, and instead of Saxon tyranny let’s think of the “oppressors” in the ECB or the troika.  We want their money, but they can keep their policies.


Todays Financial Times has an interesting comment piece from Bill Clinton’s former Treasury Secretary, Lawrence Summers.  Here is a small extract.

 ….no country can be expected to generate huge primary surpluses for long periods  for the benefit of foreign creditors. Meeting debt burdens at rates currently  charged by the official sector for credit – let alone the private sector – would  involve burdens on Greece, Ireland and Portugal comparable to the reparations’ burdens Keynes warned about in The Economic Consequences of the Peace ….  The twin realities that Greece, Italy and Ireland need debt relief and that the  creditors have only limited capacity to take immediate losses, mean that all  approaches require increased efforts from the European centre.

Given the comparison used by Summers, it’s ironic that it is the Germans that are in the vanguard of attempts to avoid sensible burden-sharing among the wealthier Eurozone nations.  Current ECB policy is trying to impose a “Carthaginian Peace” on the Eurozone, which will have severe consequences for all, not just the bailed-out countries.

As an aside, I wonder does German Chancellor Angela Merkel (a highly-qualified physicist) agree with Summers’ controversial remarks in a 2005 speech where he suggested that the under-representation of women in science and engineering could be due to a “different availability of aptitude at the high end,” and less to patterns of discrimination and socialization?  His remarks are believed to have contributed to his resigning his position as president of Harvard University the following year.

Now here’s a story to give you a warm glow, especially if you are a taxpayer in the European Union.

The European Union’s highest court officially reprimanded France on Thursday (9 June) for not doing enough to care for hamsters.

Ruling on a case brought by the European Commission three years ago, the  European Court of Justice determined that the French republic had shown a lack  of due care towards its dwindling population of the black-bellied rodents.

Wild European hamsters, which can live for four years and grow to more than  20 cm in length, are considered farmland pests, but are threatened with  extinction in their small habitat in Alsace, eastern France.

The court found France had allowed harmful crops and unchecked urbanisation  to destroy nearly 1,000 hamster burrows between 2001 and 2007.

“The court holds that the measures to protect the  European hamster in Alsace, implemented by France, were not adequate” to protect  the species, it said a statement,  adding that France needed to address the situation immediately.

Under the ruling, France must adjust its agriculture and urbanisation  practices or face daily fines from the European Union. As the European Court of  Justice is the EU’s highest court, France has no further right of appeal.

There are an estimated 800 wild European hamsters left in France, although  there are plentiful populations elsewhere on the continent.

Hamsters are protected under the EU Habitats Directive, which requires  countries to protect animal species “of Community interest,” including the  European hamster, the court recalled.

The mind boggles at the cost of this exercise, involving highly-paid Commission officials and armies of lawyers and officials.  No wonder that the European Union’s annual budget for administering its institutions, including the Commission and the European Court of Justice, is €8 billion (out of a total EU budget of about €140 billion) and rising.

I concede that there is some price that we should be willing to pay for biodiversity, and I acknowledge that the Commission has a mandate to take action against a Member State which has failed to comply with its obligations under European Union law.  But surely, when it comes to allocating resources to this role, there are greater priorities for the Commission than looking after a few hamsters?


Bini Smaghi at it again

13 April, 2011

In today’s FT our “friend” from the ECB, Lorenzo Bini Smaghi,  is saying that Irish taxpayers shouldn’t complain if they have to bear heavy burdens which arose from failures in local financial regulation.   This is the same tune we have heard him singing before: ‘Ireland’s meltdown is the outcome of the policies of its elected politicians’

Just because it’s true doesn’t mean he has to keep rubbing it in….

There has developed a popular theme (meme?) in Ireland of late: namely that Germany, France and other countries must share the pain with us because it was their banks that lent boatloads of money to our banks to throw at property developers.

It certainly suits the Irish case (and character) to maintain that others must share responsibility, and only the very hard-hearted (which no doubt includes Lorenzo) would see no merit whatsoever in that argument.

But it’s a bit like the argument as to whether a bar owner bears any responsibility if he keeps selling drink to a clearly inebriated customer who then smashes himself up in a drink-driving car accident.  Is the drinker fully to blame, or does the bar owner have any legal (or moral) liability? 

In most States of the USA, under what are known as dram shop laws, a bar that lets an obviously drunk customer drive away can be held financially responsible for damage caused by that customer.   The principle has yet to be established, or legislated for, in Ireland.

Nevertheless, perhaps the Irish taxpayer should mount a lawsuit against the ECB to establish that they share responsibility for the damage caused by the Irish Government’s and Irish banks’ fiscal drink-driving.  If it would shut Lorenzo up, it might be worth a try.


The most recent post on the blog of BBC Newsnight’s economics editor Paul Mason is called “Timetable of the euro-showdown” and is very informative, albeit slightly worrying.

 As an aside, it includes this quote: “So the difference in this phase of the crisis is that what is driving the problem is not economic collapse and abject political mis-accounting (as per Greece) nor the collapse of a kleptocratic banking and property elite (as per Ireland), but collapsing confidence in the Eurozone’s authorities.”

Interesting to see Auntie Beeb’s man describing what we had as a kleptocracy.


From The Economist:

Italians, unlike the British, French and, increasingly, the Germans, do not see the EU as an arena for the resolution of conflicting national interests. Instead, “Europe”, always referred to as if it were somewhere else, is a supplement to—and maybe, one day, a replacement for—their own government, which is axiomatically bad. The EU is like one of those benign but stern creators that reach out of the clouds in Renaissance masterpieces.

To successive Italian governments, “Europe” has been a convenient excuse for imposing unpopular measures. It is why Italians must sort their rubbish, give up their farmland and let in foreign goods. “Europe” is also the reason why certain things cannot be done—in the bureaucratic slang of Rome, it is the vincolo esterno (external constraint).


I have commented before (for instance here, and here) on how the EU pays lip service to the principle of subsidiarity, while in practice it seeks to expand continuously the range of areas over which it takes action.  Almost every month there are fresh examples of matters that should be dealt with at national level, but on which the EU sees fit to initiate legislation.  A good example surfaced today.

Belgium wants to use its EU presidency to underline the key societal role played by companion animals like dogs and cats, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister for Health and Social Affairs Laurette Onkelinx announced yesterday (9 September)…… “During our country’s presidency of the Council, we are underlining the important role of companion animals in civil society,” said Onkelinx, speaking at the launch of a website on dog welfare in Brussels.  “Dog and cat overpopulation creates a lot of suffering for unwanted animals,” she added, explaining that “sharing information and experience is the basis for every development in animal welfare, and here, for a Europe-wide solution and strategy to create an appropriate and responsible attitude by us humans towards animals”.  Onkelinx pointed to the Treaty of Lisbon, Article 13 of which reads “the [European] Union and the member states shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals,” as a possible basis for further EU action in this area.

It’s no wonder that EU citizens have to stump up €8 billion a year (out of a total EU budget of €130 billion) to pay for the cost of administration – it must take a lot of Commission officials to look after Fido’s welfare.

Disclaimer follows …..  In citing the above example, I am making no statement as to whether or not I think the effect of any proposed legislation is good or bad (it would presumably be good, on balance); only that I think national legislatures should be responsible for enacting it (or not enacting it).   So please don’t attack me, dog-lovers and cat-lovers!