From Volume 7, Issue 5 of EIR Online, Published Jan. 29, 2008

Western European News Digest

'Land-Bridge Express' Arrives in Record Time

Jan 25 (EIRNS)—The "Beijing-Hamburg-Container-Express" pilot train has arrived in Hamburg, Germany, in just 15 days, after an 9,780-km journey from Beijing, China. The train left Beijing Jan. 9, to test the feasibility of new agreements to ensure that the Eurasian Continental Bridge between China and Europe could function in a timely way—and this was proven when the train arrived yesterday, five days ahead of the expected 20-day schedule. This is less than half the time it would take to transport goods by sea, and within the time frame for transport that Deutsche Bahn officials considered would make the rail service "viable."

This record rate of transit was ensured by cooperation between Deutsche Bahn AG, and all the countries along the route—Mongolia, Russia, Belarus, and Poland—to ensure that customs, gauge change, and other factors did not delay the container train. Deutsche Bahn chief executive officer Hartmut Mehdorn has said that regular European-Asian rail traffic could start by the end of the decade, although Chinese rail officials are much more optimistic, saying that, barring any complications, a scheduled container train should be shuttling between China and Germany "in a year's time."

The train was greeted in Hamburg by officials including Russian Railways CEO Vladimir Yakunin. Some matters such as allowed train length—much longer in China and Russia than in Germany—have to be resolved. Deutsche Bahn said goods produced in the Chinese interior could be transported more cheaply on the Beijing-Hamburg route than by way of China's east coast ports.

Deutsche Bahn logistics chief Norbert Bensel was quoted by AFP today saying that the "test train was a success. We have demonstrated that we can transport goods by rail between China and Germany safely, reliably and yet twice as fast as compared with ships. At the same time, we are considerably cheaper than air freight for many types of cargo."

Hungary To Receive 20,000 Chinese Containers a Year

Jan. 19 (EIRNS)—Hungary is preparing to become part of the new China-Europe land-bridge container train agreements, and is promoting the port of Zahony, on the border with Ukraine, as the gateway to western Europe for the trains now speeding Chinese goods to Germany by train in under two weeks.

Today, the Hungarian-Austrian owned GYSEV container company signed an agreement with China's Far East Land Bridge (FELB), GYSEV and the Hungarian Ministry of Economy and Transport announced. Hungary is building up Zahony's capacities very rapidly to make this possible.

It is not yet decided whether Hungary, or Poland or Slovakia will be the primary entrance port to western Europe.

European Leaders Desperately Cling to Their Delusions

Jan. 23 (EIRNS)—European political and financial leaders are still trying to pretend that the breakdown of the global financial system is an "American problem" which Europe may survive. We present some specimens of this deadly denial:

* French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde said that the global stock market swoon was just a "sudden correction," insisting that the European economy was still growing, according to Xinhua. A U.S. "recession," she claimed, would not be a tragedy for France.

* German Chancellor Angela Merkel went even further, asserting that "there is no sign of a recession in Germany.... Citizens should under no circumstances make hasty decisions" about abandoning the financial markets. "We are discussing whether any measures need to be taken," Merkel told the Financial Times, "but remember, financial markets are independent."

* Jean-Claude Junker of Luxembourg, chairman of the European Union finance ministers group, said yesterday that "We have to be concerned, but a lot less than the Americans, on whom the deficiencies against which we have warned repeatedly are taking bitter revenge. We are much better placed in the eurozone and in Europe than our U.S. friends are."

* EU monetary affairs commissioner Joaquin Almunia insisted that the crisis "is not about global recession. It's about a recession in the U.S.," and cited the "solid, sound fundamentals" of the European economy. "We are well prepared to weather this situation," he asserted yesterday.

Bertelsmann Foundation Calls for EU To Turn Imperial

Jan. 22 (EIRNS)—Among recent think-tank proposals calling for upgraded European defense, "Beyond 2010 European Grand Strategy in a Global Age," published by the German Bertelsmann Foundation, deserves special attention, because Bertelsmann is the think tank with most influence on the German government. The paper was written by the Venusberg Group, an informal group of experts from several European countries, this being the third such paper prepared by them. The 72-page proposal urges the restructuring of defense in Europe, to cope with the new challenges allegedly posed now—climate change terrorism, failing states, etc.—by forming an EU-7, made up of those states with the biggest military budgets.

The paper ends each chapter with the warning "the clock is ticking," and portrays "acute threats" to the Europeans which they must "respond to, now or never." Caught between a "weakening" U.S.A. and a "rising" China, Europe must position itself globally, the Venusberg Group says.

U.K. Government Braces for Revolt vs. EU Lisbon Treaty

Jan. 21 (EIRNS)—British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is facing a revolt by Euro-skeptic Labour rebels who are considering joining forces with the Conservative Party to force a referendum on the European Union's Lisbon Treaty. While more than 60 Liberal Democrats plan to abstain from the vote, the government's majority appears safe, unless rebels can mobilize 100 backbenchers, whom they say would support a referendum.

Speaker of Parliament Michael Martin has to decide tonight whether to accept the referendum amendment from Labour's Ian Davidson and 18 colleagues—in the absence of one from the Tories.

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor—Well, Who Cares?

Jan. 21 (EIRNS)—"The rich are so very, very rich. The West End [of metropolitan London] can't get enough diamonds. But the poor are getting poorer," Marks & Spencer CEO Sir Stuart Rose said earlier this month. "I have never seen such a polarized U.K. economy."

A survey by the Institute for Fiscal Studies last week said the very rich have grown richer at twice the rate of the middle class over the last decade, the Guardian reported today. Those riches are so concentrated in the financial services sector that London is 41% richer than the U.K. average in 2006, despite the accelerating poverty of so many Londoners.

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