Western European News Digest
Milan Prosecutor To Seek Indictments in Rendition Case
The prosecutor in Milan, Italy, who has led the investigation of the 2003 kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar from that city, has asked a judge to issue indictments of 26 Americans and six Italians in connection with their involvement in the abduction. The seizure of Omar was part of Dick Cheney's "rendition" program, in which targets are kidnapped on foreign soil and are then sent to third countries for interrogation and torture.
The Italians charged include former SISMI (military intelligence) head Nicolo Pollari, his former deputy Marco Mancini, and three other SISMI officials. The judge now has to hold a preliminary hearing to decide if there is enough evidence to go to trial, but even the lawyers for the accused think that it will proceed. If and when it does, it will be the first criminal trial related to the Cheney rendition program.
The Washington Post reported Dec. 5 that some of the same CIA officers who were involved in the Abu Omar case, showed up in Norway two months later, apparently planning another abductionthis time of Mullah Krekar, the founder of Ansar al-Islam, which had been operating in northern Iraq, under U.S. protection. The CIA officers' travel records were traced by Italian investigators.
Royal Makes ECB Policy an Issue in French Elections
Following the latest interest rate increase by the European Central Bank (ECB) Dec. 7, French Presidential candidate Segolene Royal snapped, "It is not up to [ECB president Jean-Claude] Trichet to rule the future of our economies, but to the leaders designated by the people." "That also presupposes that the European Central Bank be subjected to political decisions," she said. Royal made those statements at the European Socialist Party Congress in Porto, Portugal, where she was the guest of honor. Royal, whose position until now has been that a new European constitution should not be proposed in the immediate future, further stated that a Europe of 28 countries needs rules, and indicated that the upcoming German presidency of the EU, and the French one in 2008, would be the right occasion to pursue that.
The entire French political class is furious at Trichet. France's trade deficit has ballooned to 25 billion francs over the last year due to price increases caused by high energy prices, medium-technology goods which compete with emerging countries, and the strength of the euro vis-à-vis the dollar. In mid-November, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin denounced the "too strong euro," Economics Minister Thierry Breton called for "great collective vigilance," and Trade Minister Christine Lagarde called on the ECB not to raise interest rates, because "things were difficult for French exporters at this point."
The government also brought up this issue at the Nov. 27 Eurogroup meeting, but received no support from the other participants. Eurogroup President Jean Claude Juncker of Luxembourg stated that "the present rate of change does not lead to any difficult consequences." Michael Deppler of the IMF Europe came into the debate as well, stating that the euro is "correctly valued." At this point, none of these politicians is prepared to change the system.
German-EC Bank Deal Opens Door to Privatization
An agreement between the German government and the European Commission, reached last week, implies that the EC is dropping its ultimatum that the German credit laws (KWG) be changed; yet it also implies that private investors must be admitted to any planned sale of the publicly owned savings banks. This would allow a private owner to operate a savings bank under its original name, but as a private bank. The KWG insists that savings banks serve the common good, which means they are banned from shareholder-oriented activities. The Berlin municipal administration and the Euro Commission struck a deal, however, that binds Berlin to privatize its savings bank by the end of 2007, at the latest. That, and the modified savings bank legislation pushed through by Berlin, sparked the brawl between the Commission and the German government.
So far, only the Berliner Sparkasse, which is to be sold off, the German government, and the savings banks association, claim that Berlin will remain an "exception," that no other privatization is coming up. Manfred Weber, chairman of the German private banking association, said that "Berlin can happen now everywhere," however.
U.S. Tells British Banks To Shut Down Iran Operations
Bush-Cheney regime officials are reportedly pressuring British banks with operations in the United States to stop acting on behalf of British business clients in Iran, the Independent reported Dec. 3. The banks include some of Britain's largestRoyal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp. (HSBC), and Barclays. Barclays has already reportedly told its corporate clients that it will no longer accept deposits from transactions originating in Iran.
The finance director of one company with significant operations in Iran said: "Barclays told us that it is unable to act as our bank as far as Iran is concerned. We have not been told why." HSBC has said it will no longer accept dollar transactions from within Iran. RBS declined to comment.
Although the British banks involved are listed and incorporated in the U.K., all have either a secondary listing or substantial operations in the U.S. that makes them potentially vulnerable to U.S. government action.
A senior executive at one of the affected banks said: "The consequences of not toeing the American line on Iran have not been made clear, but we were left in no doubt that we might not want to find out."
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Treasury Department confirmed that meetings had taken place with senior U.K. bankers.
Bankers Deplore Efforts To 'De-Franco-ize' Modern Spain
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, in March, had a statue of former fascist dictator Francisco Franco removed, in the dead of night, from Madrid's San Juan de la Cruz Square, and, according to the Wall Street Journal Dec. 4, has gone so far as to prohibit visits to Franco's grave. The Journal frets that a bill now "winding its way" through Parliament would actually force the renaming of "hundreds" of street signs (to remove "Generalissimo Road," etc.), even names of cities, and would finally officially assign the blame for the Spanish Civil War to the fascists. Zapatero is moving to officially declare the Second Republic as the basis for modern Spain. The Journal author grudgingly admits that this short five-year period, preceding Franco's 1936 fascist takeover, "was Spain's first true experiment in democracy," but in his view, it was a "turbulent time" to which the Franco coup finally "restored order."
Zapatero's grandfather, a captain in the "Socialist Army," was executed by Franco's Falagists, despite his having put down a leftist uprising in 1934. What the article does not say, however, is that Jose Maria Aznar, Zapatero's predecessor as Prime Minister, whose father was a Francoist, was a member, along with IMF Director Rodrigo Rato, of the Francoist party that took over Spain after the dictator's death, and worked to carry on Franco's legacy. The article is adorned with a picture of the Generalissimo himself.
Poverty Increasing in Europe's Core Countries
A European Union survey, carried out by the national statistical offices of the member states, found that poverty is on the rise throughout the EU, notably also in the most populous continental countriesGermany, France, Italy, and Spain.
In Germany, 13% of the population, or 10.6 million people, are classed as poor, implying that they cannot support themselves without substantial state support. The three most alarming categories of poverty are Germans age 16-24, jobless citizens, and single mothers. Of Germans with "mini-jobs" (part-time jobs), 23% are rated as "working poor." Poverty in Germany is especially increasing in the East, including Berlin. More than 7% of eastern Germans with a full-time job are poor; about 11% of eastern Germans with a full-time or a mini-job are poor; and 17% of all eastern Germans live in poverty.
About 20% of poor Germans tend not to see a doctor when they are ill; 14% do not turn on the heat in their apartments; 27% do not have a car (and cannot pay for public transportation, either, in many cases).