Tag Archives: Angela Merkel

Same-Sex Marriage Latest: Germany ‘Pioneers Legislation at the Speed of Thought!’

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When Heroes Go Down: Tyler Brûle and the Fear of the Fictional Other

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It will be no secret to regular readers of this blog that our Creative Director & CSO was and remains a huge fan of Tyler Brûle – the editor-in-chief of what is possibly still the finest magazine in the English language, Monocle – and it was precisely because of this admiration that he was so surprised at the content of one of the iconic Canadian’s more recent Financial Times columns, On the migrant train to Munich (12th-13th September 2015), avidly caught up with over the Christmas and New Year break.

In this late summer piece, Brûle openly questions whether the people of Germany (estimated population: 81,083,600) are as enthused as certain parts of the global news media appeared to suggest by the arrival of a few hundred thousand refugees (a great proportion of whom are likely to be ultimately deported) fleeing the increasingly dystopian military conflict in Syria and Iraq. This could have been exemplary journalism – questioning a seemingly broadly-accepted narrative is rarely a Bad Thing – but then Brûle posited the following:

‘The juxtaposition of kiosks selling lederhosen adjacent to Syrian and Iraqi families boarding buses almost looked like this was part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fast-track programme to get people integrated into German life as quickly as possible. But I’m not sure Ali and Leila from Aleppo were quite ready for Oktoberfest, let alone knee-skimming deerskin shorts or dresses that magically push cleavage up under the chin. And therein lies one of the main issues that are being whispered by Germany’s middle and upper classes but which isn’t out in the open just yet: how much will a wave of largely Muslim refugees impact German society?’

It is genuinely difficult to know where to begin in analysing this excerpt. For one, Brûle’s choice of the fictional Ali and Leila’s city of origin betrays a basic lack of knowledge about Syria: Aleppo is a city which for most of its >7,000-year history has been a byword for innovation, cosmopolitanism and commerce; its denizens are certainly not known for their insularity and are unlikely to be existentially freaked out by a skirt, particularly given that ‘Eastern’ religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Taoism have traditionally embraced the erotic, notably within the context of mysticism.

But wider questions must be raised, not least about Brûle’s knowledge of contemporary German culture. Is he aware that immigrants from Southern Europe – many of them Muslims from countries such as Turkey, Albania and (ex-)Yugoslavia – are credited with making (West) Germany’s postwar economic miracle possible? Does he know that footballers from the Islamic religious community have been attending Oktoberfest with their wives and girlfriends for many years, sometimes drinking the same alcohol-free brews that constitute one of the few growth spots – 200% in the seven years to 2014 – in Germany’s declining beer industry? (Bottled water overtook beer as Germany’s most popular cold drink back in 2002.)

Perhaps most worryingly, is it not simply a little bit presumptuous to assume – purely from someone’s name, place of birth and stated (non-)religious identity, whether Christian, Atheist, Muslim or Shinto – what they think? Because if the genuinely amazingly amazing Tyler Brûle cannot grasp this point, then one of the great illusions of our strange postmodern times has been shattered: spending hundreds of days a year travelling the world on business is no guarantee against parochialism.

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¿Dígame? USA’s NSA Tracks 60.5 Million Spain Telephone Calls in One Month!

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EUphoria: Germans ‘Insanely Optimistic’ About Spending Capacity!

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Greece: Winning the Battle, Losing the Currency War?

As the UEFA Euro 2012 finals edge closer into view, it seems almost fantastical that as little as eight years ago, Greece – the winners of Euro 2004 in a victory so improbable that we still have trouble believing it happened – was something of a poster-child for economic development. Its glittering – nay, chic – Athens Metro, constantly expanding GDP and membership of the elysian eurozone all pointed to a nation-state which had attained End of History status.

Today, Greece has more of a fin de siècle vibe about it, with social, political and economic norms being upended. The legislative elections of 6th May 2012 saw a collapse in the vote for the two traditional powerhouses of Greek politics – the rightist New Democracy and its Panhellenic Socialist Movement counterpart – and a surge in support for the hitherto unknown Synaspismós Rhizospastikís Aristerás or SYRIZA, a radical leftist coalition which was, somewhat ironically, founded in 2004. With the post-election horsetrading having failed to produce a government, another election has been called for 17th June 2012 – and SYRIZA, presently the second largest entity in parliament, could end up as the biggest single representative bloc in a few weeks’ time.

This is potentially a development of great significance on a number of levels, but we at Mediolana believe that it could be particularly interesting because of SYRIZA’s stance on seeking bailout money from the European Union: it rejects such a policy, with its European policy spokesperson Yiannis Bournos claiming that there is ‘no way’ that Greece will be ejected  from the eurozone; even if the EU were to cut off funding, Bournos affirms that Greece will be able to rely on a combination of its own tax revenues and alternative financing arrangements courtesy of China, Russia and the Middle East.

But for all the novelty of this perspective, is Bournos actually correct? We foresee at least three serious problems with SYRIZA’s position:

1. Risk. The assumption that the Greece would ultimately never be compelled to exit the eurozone amounts to calling the bluff of Germany, a country where bailouts of indebted southern European nations is broadly unpopular: nearly two-thirds of survey respondents were opposed to a fresh Greek bailout package in February 2012, and it seems unlikely that any German leader – even the bailout-happy Angela Merkel – would wish to risk too much political capital on this issue indefinitely.

2. Drachma ≠ Panacea! In the event of a Greek withdrawal from the eurozone, SYRIZA would be forced to rely on the good name of a new currency, presumably a variant on the former national currency of Greece, the drachma. However, with the country’s reputation for relative fiscal rectitude in tatters, the value of any new currency would be subject to severe downward pressures: Greece’s proclivity for deficit spending and current reliance on foreign capital to meet even basic expenditures is now common knowledge, and currency markets are likely to reflect this.

3. Eastern Promise? Leaning heavily on emerging markets and petromonarchies with current account surpluses is not necessarily a viable long-term strategy, either. China’s European financing strategy involves nothing less than the giving by the recipient country of rock-solid collateral, while Russia and many Middle Eastern states are likely to need their largesse to assuage domestic dissent. Root-and-branch tax reform, transparent governance and the construction of an export-defined economy is surely of greater utility – but is an avowedly anti-capitalist collective best placed to deliver these initiatives?

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All’s Fair Except in Love and Currency Wars: US Rating Agency Downgrades European Financial Stability Facility

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Not Just for Wi-Fi: Japanese Hotspots Prove Post-Fukushima Imperative

This blog has made no secret of its opinion on the desirability and feasibility of nuclear power generation in Japan following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, a natural disaster that spawned the nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant in the now-evacuated town of Ōkuma. But recent developments have, if anything, strengthened our perspective that a country which was until recently identified most strongly with ancient martial arts, über-cute animated characters and seas of neon is now in real danger of ceasing to function as a normal entity: high radiation readings in Tokyo-Yokohama are being recorded at hotspots on pavements, atop apartment blocks and in soil, with alarmingly excessive levels of elements such as Caesium and Strontium 90 in evidence.

The implications of this are profoundly troubling. Greater Tokyo is the world’s largest metropolitan region by population and the economic, political and cultural capital of Japan: with approximately 35.6 million people within its borders, it is almost unthinkable that it could be so contaminated as to be uninhabitable. But as the months go by and it becomes more and more undeniable that the fallout from Fukushima did not contain itself to the environs of the prefecture of the same name, the very viability of Tokyo in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster that even the Japanese government’s own Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency admits released an amount of Caesium equivalent to 168 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb looks to be increasingly questioned.

The Japanese administration has come under intense criticism for its handling of the Fukushima Dai-ichi crisis, but Mediolana believes that this maligning will pale into complete insignificance compared to the heat the government of Yoshihiko Noda – the new leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (‘DPJ’) and Prime Minister following the 26th August 2011 resignation of Naoto Kan – may face if it does not move decisively to draw up and implement a strong and credible post-Fukushima plan:

1. Transparency. The official Japanese government radiation measurements are not corresponding with those undertaken by private citizens using their own geiger counters. Sooner or later, the official readings risk losing all value in the eyes of the public; in order for the government to keep the trust of its people, it must adopt a policy of total transparency, even at the risk of short-term economic, political and social shocks.

2. Cleansing. The Noda administration should calculate the cost of a comprehensive clean-up of Greater Tokyo and other affected areas, and spare not a single yen in decontaminating these zones. The necessary expenditure is likely to be stratospherically high, but in terms of restoring confidence in Japan, this would appear to be the only realistic solution.

3. Imagination. To the current Japanese prime minister’s credit, he has affirmed his predecessor’s policy of a shift away from nuclear energy, with no new reactors to be built and existing ones slated for decommissioning; however, he has stressed the gradual nature of this process, which could take decades. Brand Japan does not have decades: it needs an ambitious but entirely doable deadline – such as that imposed by that unlikely visionary, Angela Merkel, for Germany – to phase out nuclear power within the next ten years or so, and to enlist the help of Japan’s numerous renewable energy behemoths, such as Sharp and Kyocera, to lead the charge in meeting it.

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