Western European News Digest
Berlusconi Coalition Badly Beaten in Regional Elections
The Italian governing coalition of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi suffered a smashing defeat in regional elections on April 4, losing six out of eight regional governments it had held, including Piedmont, Puglie, and the important Lazio region which includes Rome. Of a total of 13 regions that went to the polls, the opposition won 11, while the "House of Freedoms" coalition won only two, confirming the Lombardy and the Veneto regional governments. However, Lombardy Gov. Roberto Formigoni, who was re-elected, had distinguished himself from the government policy on several issues, including the Iraq war, which Formigoni opposed.
From the initial results, it seems that Alessandra Mussolini's neo-fascist party did not win the expected votes, keeping under 2% at the national level. This result is expected to have an effect on the national government, where, already, minor coalition partners have started to blame Berlusconi for the defeat.
Blair Calls Elections
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called elections for May 5, the long-expected date. Blair said Labour has a "driving mission" for a third term in office. Although there is not much support for the Tories, a lot of people want to give Blair an "electoral kicking," and it is very possible he will come out of these elections with a much-reduced majority.
Blair wants to make the economy the central issue of the election, but this poses problems. While Labour's ratings in the polls went up right after Chancellor Gordon Brown presented his budget last month, they have fallen again. Two weeks ago, Labour had an eight-point lead in the polls, but that lead is at most three points now, with Labour getting 37%, the Tories 34%, and the Liberal Democrats 21%. One poll, of those who said they are "certain to vote," put the Tories 5% ahead of Labour.
Parliament will be dissolved soon, but many MPs have already been campaigning. Some key legislation, which the government announced in the Queen's Speech last fall, will have to fall by the wayside, since there is little time to get it through Parliament. These include the controversial "identity cards" bill.
Prince Charles Postpones His WeddingUnder Orders?
Prince Charles decision to put off his wedding to Camilla Parker-Bowles, due to the funeral of the Pope, represents an upheaval in British institutionsand was not likely Charles's own choice. It is a big change, that the next Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and heir to the British throne, would put off his wedding (which took place April 9, the day after John Paul II's funeral) for a day, to attend the funeral of the head of the Catholic Church, as many commentaries note. But Charles had little choice.
First, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, who was to bless Charles's civil wedding, made it clear he would go to Rome for the funeral, no matter whatitself an upheaval. Pope John Paul II was the first Pope to meet with the Archbishop of Canterburythen Dr. Robert Runciesince Henry VIII, 500 years ago. Then, Prime Minister Tony Blair, a supporter of Charles, also made it known he was going to Rome, and would have missed the wedding.
The Queen herself, reportedly not too happy with the marriage, told Charles he should put off his wedding and go to the funeral to represent her, according to press reports in The Times and the tabloid Daily Mirror. Charles was "said to be 'furious' after learning he had to represent the Queen at the Pope's funeral in Rome," the Mirror reported. The Times' headlines (later changed in the Internet version) said "Queen tells Charles to delay wedding," and reported that the Queen "personally intervened" to ensure that Charles obeyed. "The decision to postpone the royal wedding came after a conversation between the Prince ... and the Queen.... Buckingham Palace said that the Prince would be representing the Queen at the Vatican. 'That must take priority,' a Palace spokeswoman said."
Ecologist Super-Hoax in Germany
A resolution calling for 200 billion euros to be invested in renewable energies was passed April 6 by ecologist groups, firms engaged in the alternate energy sector, and others, called the "Declaration of Essen." In what comes as an ill-bred counter-move against BueSo's (the LaRouche-aligned party in Germany) ongoing Northrhine-Westphalia campaign for nuclear power, the declaration, signed in the presence of the Green Party's German Environmental Affairs Minister Juergen Trittin, calls for investments of 200 billion euros, to secure 20% of the German energy supply from "renewable" energy sources like wind, solar, tidal, and whatnot, by the year 2020.
For the same sum of money, Germany could instead build 40, or even 50 nuclear power plants, which would then supply close to 100% of the national energy needs, by the same year. The Greens are not only crazythey are also rather expensive, as one can see.
Germany's Potential in Indian Infrastructure Development
If German industry wanted to, it could have a major share in the giant Indian National Infrastructure Development Program. At a session of the Joint Indian-German Economic Commission in New Delhi April 4, India's Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said that his country wants to spend more than $150 billion over the coming ten years, for development of transport, energy, and other infrastructure. Foreign direct investment of $150 billion could be absorbed, in sectors like roads, ports, airports, power, housing, and telecommunications. Health and bio-tech are included as well. German industry's engagement has been "disappointing," however, in recent years, Chidambaram added, pointing to low average German direct investments of $125 million per year.
Other, even less-developed countries than Germany, are much more engaged: with only 34.7% increase of German exports to India, in 2004, Germany's trade volume with India surpassed Saudi Arabia's trade volume, with $8.2 billion against the Saudis' $6.6 billion. Chidambaram will, by the way, visit Saudi Arabia, in April.
Spanish Parliament Debates 'Sell-Out' to France and Germany
In the aftermath of the European Union Heads of State debate two weeks ago, which ruled against a strict deficit-criteria interpretation of Maastricht (under pressure from France and Germany), a heated parliamentary debate erupted in the Parliament of Spain on April 7: The leader of the Partido Popular (PP), Mariano Rajoy, accused Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of having sold out the "interests of Spain, in order to defend the interests of Chirac and Schroeder." Rajoy fully supported fulfilling the deficit criteria of the Stability Pact: "You did not open your mouth on such serious subjects," he accused Zapatero, "except when you were smiling at the photographers." Zapatero attacked Rajoy as a man characterized by radicalism, fundamentalism, and conservatismliving outside of reality. "We came back from Brussels with excellent news, which helps set into motion the European economy again," Zapatero answered.