From Volume 37, Issue 41 of EIR Online, Published Oct. 22, 2010

Western European News Digest

Switzerland Celebrates Breakthrough in Longest Tunnel in the World

Oct. 16 (EIRNS)— On Oct. 15, the gigantic 3,000-ton tunnel-drilling machine "Sissi" broke through the final 1.5 meters of rock in the Gotthard Base Tunnel. At 57 kilometers, the tunnel is now the longest in the world. An engineering masterpiece, the tunnel passes through the Alpine base of St. Gotthard mountain, between Sedrun in the north, and Bodio in the south. The drilling of the tunnel was completed ahead of schedule. Digging in the neighboring tunnel is expected to be finished early next year. Seven more years will be required to finish work inside the tunnel, fit in the electronic installations, signals, emergency rescue elevators, and the like.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel is part of a network of Alpine transportation projects, including two additional tunnels beneath the mountain range, that is designed to make transportation between northern and southern Europe quicker and easier. The network, known as NEAT, is being built to relieve Swiss roadways of about half of the 1.3 million trucks that pass through each year.

In addition, the tunnel will cut one hour from the passenger rail trip between Zurich and Milan, once regular transport is begun in 2017.

EU's Food Self-Sufficiency Has Become Virtual

PARIS, Oct. 11 (EIRNS)—Addressing the Société des Agriculteurs de France in July, Prof. Harald von Witzke of Berlin's Humboldt University presented his original way of analyzing the new trends in the world food production. Instead of measuring tons of commodities or monetary values of exchange, Witzke translates food production into areas of "virtual" arable land. If a country imports so many of tons of corn, and knowing how many average hectares are required to produce a ton, one can calculate hectares of "virtual arable land" that were imported.

For the EU, the picture is quite grim. Demolishing the myth of "overproduction," Witzke underlined that, since 2008, the EU has become the world's largest net food importer ($173.1 billion), ahead of the U.S. ($115.9 billion), and China ($86.8 billion). In 2008, said Witzke, the EU imported close to 35 million "virtual hectares," i.e., an area of arable land nearly the size of Germany (37.7 million hectares). This is done while thousands of EU farmers are being driven out of business by insane environmental regulations, among other factors.

For the future, Witzke examined three scenarios. First: with pesticides, irrigation, high-yield seeds, etc., productivity is increased by 0.3% per year, implying better use of total land. Second: use 20% of all EU farmland for "biological" agriculture. In the third scenario, farmland is used to produce biofuels to allow the EU to reach its 10% target of "renewable" energy.

German Institutes Back EU Bankruptcy Law

Oct. 15 (EIRNS)—Strong support for a law to permit EU member-states to file for insolvency and cancel part of their debt, came from Germany's six top economic institutes, which presented their semiannual report yesterday. The report strongly criticizes the EU's current "strengthened" debt and deficit rules, saying that this is no deterrent for countries, and that only an insolvency law, where both creditors and debtors are called to make sacrifices, would work.

The report otherwise praises what it claims is a "strong German upswing," and forecasts a spillover effect on income and consumption. It criticizes the European Central Bank's undifferentiated borrowing rate policy. Money costs are too high for countries such as Spain, Ireland, and Greece, and too low for Germany, they argue.

Hungary Bank Tax Irks Erste Bank

Oct. 11 (EIRNS)—It seems only the small countries have the nerve to challenge the banks. The Hungarian government's commitment to raise an additional $1 billion through increased bank taxes has irked Erste Bank, Austria's largest. Commenting on the tax in an interview with the Financial Times, Erste's chief operating officer, Andreas Treichl, said, "We're angry, of course, about excessive bank taxation. That's an unnecessary step. Hopefully, it will be for a very short period of time. It's our home market and we'll stay. We don't leave a country because somebody imposes a tax for a year or two."

Hungary, with a population of 10 million, has more guts than the rest. The U.S. wanted to impose a tax to raise a measly $9 billion a year and then dropped the idea. Britain, whose population is five times greater than Hungary's wants to raise £2 billion in taxes, but seems to be getting cold feet at this point.

Greece Slashes Health Care for Diabetics

Oct. 12 (EIRNS)—Greece's largest government health insurance provider, according to a report in the Greek daily To Vima, told its policy-holders that it would no longer pay for orthotic footwear for diabetes patients. Amputation is cheaper. The new policy was announced in a letter to the Pan-Hellenic Federation of People with Diabetes. In a statement, the Federation challenged the "science" behind the decision, arguing that it is contrary to evidence presented in the international scientific literature. Orthotic footwear is often needed by diabetes sufferers to prevent minor sores—which the patient cannot feel, because diabetes damages the peripheral nerves—from becoming infected and putting the patient at high risk for amputation.

Soros Creates Berlin HQ for Dirty Operations

Oct. 11 (EIRNS)—The British Empire's special agent for economic-financial warfare, George Soros, has created a command center in Berlin, apparently for the coordination of his "green-brown revolution" operations in Germany—for example, the political insurrection against the Stuttgart 21 railway project which is co-funded by the European Climate Foundation and has at least the political backing of the European Council of Foreign Affairs, both being institutions created by Soros.

As reported by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily on Oct. 8, Soros claims he is no longer involved in financial speculation, he is now doing something else, namely "coming and going as an advisor to heads of government of this world.... As a matter of fact, at least in Germany, Soros meanwhile is spending more time in Berlin, where he resides at the Adlon Hotel, than at the banking site Frankfurt."

Stuttgart Protesters Move to Berlin

Oct. 16 (EIRNS)—In Stuttgart, the two sides in the conflict over the Stuttgart 21 railway project agreed yesterday to a "cooling-off period" which involves restraint on protests but also a freeze of the entire construction work for weeks, if not months. The mediation will drag on, as the two sides and the mediator want to meet every Friday to continue discussion.

Whether that agreement will hold, remains to be seen anyway—it is rather doubtful, as the radical faction of the anti-project camp rejects the agreement and is continuing to mobilize, also outside of the city. On Oct. 26, a convoy of chartered buses will take several hundred protesters to Berlin, to be joined by radical greenies and leftists for a rally and "actions" against the railway project. The question is posed, who pays for all these buses?

Trichet's Rejection of Glass-Steagall Reported

Oct. 16 (EIRNS)—The Italian news agency ASCA covered European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet's answer to EIR on Glass-Steagall, in a wire datelined Oct. 7. "I repeat: the European banking system is different from that of the U.S.A.; I do not believe that the model of universal banking, prevailing in Europe, should be abandoned," ASCA quotes Trichet saying, and adds: "Thus spoke Jean-Claude Trichet, answering a question on the reform of the U.S. banking system that could move towards a re-enactment of the Glass-Steagall Act, the 1933 banking law that separated commercial banks from investment banks and was dropped under the Clinton Presidency."

European Car Sales Plunge for Sixth Month

Oct. 15 (EIRNS)— Just a reminder for those who claim to see an "upswing" in Europe: Data published by the European Car Industry Association (ACEA) show that in September, all major markets contracted, from -8.2% in France, to -8.9% in the United Kingdom, -17.8% in Germany, -18.9% in Italy, and -27.3% in Spain, as compared to the same month of last year. On average, the plunge was -9.6%.

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