Western European News Digest
Merkel's New Year's Message Has Major Weaknesses
In her New Year's message to the German nation, Chancellor Angela Merkel called on citizens to work with the government for the dubious agenda for 2006: to "consolidate, reform and invest." The message is being put out in newspaper ads, by radio and television, as well as the Internet.
Merkel's omissions are already grave enough: No mention of the fact of world economic depression, no sign that the abolition of the euro/Maastricht system is being discussed in any serious way. The Merkel "program" consists of many minuscule steps, like tax rebates here, small incentives there (for Mittelstand firms), and there is no idea of concentrated state intervention. The "program" continues to worship the gods of the free market.
The most absurd aspect of the government's orientation is not even mentioned in Merkel's messagenamely, that she and corporate management expect the soccer world championship in Germany to be the main "creator of jobs" in 2006, with a seasonal added employment of 60,000 jobs in security, communications, garbage removal, and the like.
Former Ambassador Says Brits Receive Intel from Torture Victims
Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray claims that the British government regularly receives anti-terror intelligence obtained from torture victims, according to documents he has published, the Telegraph reported Dec. 31. Murray is a controversial figure; he was removed as Ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2004 (the time frame for all the "color" revolutions) because of his public accusations that the goverment of Islam Karimov was brutally torturing prisoners. Murray risks prosecution under the Official Secrets Act for publishing internal documents which he had been told could not be published in a book he is writing on Uzbekistan.
The documents include several confidential telegrams he sent to the Foreign Office from Tashkent. In July 2004, he wrote: "We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the U.S. We should stop. It is bad information anyway.... I gather a recent London interdepartmental meeting considered the question and decided to continue to receive the material. This is morally, legally, and practically wrong."
Hartz IV Threatens Further Wage Cuts in Germany
In a survey for the government presented shortly before Christmas, several econometric institutes documented that the Hartz I-III labor market "reforms" have been a complete failure, having neither created jobs nor reduced labor market intervention expenses, but instead creating additional expenses for the government. The survey still projects that Hartz IV may be successful, but among experts, it is an open secret that it will be abolished soon. The proposal made by Munich-based monetarist Hans Werner Sinn, however, for a combined low-wage system, is a dangerous fraud and sophistry. Sinn claims that with his proposal for state-subsidized low wages on a broad scale, coupled with drastic, 30% cuts in unemployment pay for those who still remain unemployed under this scheme, around 2.3 million new jobs will be created.
This implies that all those present recipients of Hartz IV pay who fail to get any job, even jobs at less than the minimum level of 3 euros per hour, will face a drop in Hartz IV monthly pay from 345 to 230 euros. With several million jobs simply missing in the economy, the Sinn scheme means that at least 2.5 million Germansthe difference between his alleged 2.3 million "new" jobs at subsidized wages and the official jobless figure of 4.8 millionwill be punished by 30% pay cuts.
British Personal Debt Hits 1.13 Trillion Pounds
Now that British personal debt has hit 1.13 trillion pounds, bankruptcies are predicted to double in the coming years, the Independent reported Jan. 3. Christmas spending will "push thousands of individuals into crisis and cause record bankruptcies in coming months," they say, at least 20,000 by March in England and Wales. A record 66,000 people are expected to go bankrupt this year. Some 20% of this huge debt is unsecured loans and credit, and the UK accounts for 66% of EU credit card debt.
EU Energy Crisis Session Points to Necessity of State Role
Among the topics discussed at their meeting in Brussels Jan. 4, the 25 members of the European Union's "gas coordination council" was the just-concluded compromise in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Doubts about the ability of the privatized energy sector to secure sufficient supplies were voiced at an EU crisis session on the gas issue.
The question was also posed as to whether the energy supply of Europeat present, mostly in the hands of private-sector firmswas secured at times of crisis, like the conflict over gas between Ukraine and Russia. A bigger role of the state in securing energy supplies, as well as a bigger institutional role of the EU (a supranational solution, not necessarily the best way), is being considered.
Atomic energy was discussed as well, but, as EU Commissioner on Energy Andris Piebalgs said, only as an option for "those countries where the population supports it." Meanwhile, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) concluded its annual leadership conference at Bad Kreuth with a call to draw conclusions from the most recent trouble over gas supplies, by discussing longer permits for existing nuclear power plants in Germany.
Germany To Develop Fusion Research Project
With the Griefswald stellarator project, Germany will enter a pioneer area of fusion research. In an article almost two-thirds of a page, the Frankfurter Allgemeine in its "feuilleton" section Jan. 6 reports that the northeastern region of Germany around Greifswald not only will be the site where the North European Gas Pipeline will berth in 2010, but that there will also be a number of pioneer research programs in place there, for bio-tech and fusion technology development.
Prominently, the article mentions that the Stellarator project, or Wendelstein VII-X, which Germany is constructing at Greifswald, will begin the first high-powered microbeam testing in 2012. The 300 researchers and engineers there are working on a technology that is more complex than the Tokamak generation of present-day fusion reactor types, as used in the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), built in Cadarache, France, now. The Tokamak-generated plasma is like a "wild horse," the Greifswald team thinks, difficult to tame for industrial and commercial use in the future; their Stellarator type is expected to help solve the problemsand solved they must be, if fusion reactors are to go on the grid by 2050, the scientists say.
The FAZ article comes as yet another aspect of high-quality energy-policy debates, after certain anti-atomic taboos have recently been broken in Germany.