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Wednesday 17/12/2014

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatseniuk, along with a number of ministers, came to Brussels this week for talks about ongoing reforms in Ukraine, the Association Agreement and the security situation. Ukraine now has a new parliamentary coalition and therefore, a new government.  Hopefully, we will now see real reform.

But the long process of negotiation between the parliamentary elections on 26 October and the actual appointment of ministers has left many with a somewhat ambiguous impression. Before anyone actually started to get to work, the whole process became mired in intrigue. All of us remember 2005 and the ensuing unraveling of the Orange Revolution. Nobody wants to see that story repeated.

Before the election, President Poroshenko had hoped that he would be able to nominate a government of his choosing. But that became impossible with the unexpectedly high electoral support for "Narodnyi Front". Its leaders, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleksandr Turchynov, led Ukraine through the complicated period of spring 2014 and their party has thereby gained a degree of national sympathy.

Tuesday 16/12/2014

Book review: European Spring: Why Our Economies and Politics are in a Mess and How to Put Them Right, by Philippe Legrain

The efficiency of Europe’s reaction to the post-2008 economic crisis continues to fuel a vibrant debate. Was austerity the best solution to the problem or did it make things worse by creating a vicious circle of underdevelopment? Did European leaders respond effectively to the challenge or did they get carried away by developments which they just couldn’t control? And what about the European Union itself? Was the crisis a positive test for its coherence or did it prove that it was ill-equipped and badly prepared to deal with extraordinary conditions?

Monday 15/12/2014

"Mantra" (Sanskrit मंत्र) means a sacred utterance… or group of words believed by some to have psychological and spiritual power. -  Wikipedia

As 2014 is drawing to a close, let’s take a look at how the West has debated its reaction to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. With all the controversy, there is nevertheless a number of statements that more or less everybody can agree on, at least in Europe. I call them the four mantras of the Ukraine debate. I don’t claim they are false or mistaken. But the way they are formulated, none of them stands closer scrutiny, because they all are more or less massively beside the point.

1. ‘The West has made mistakes, too’:

Monday 08/12/2014

There is an ongoing debate about budget cutting in the world today, because revenue coming in is not matching the promise Governments made to their people of availability of pensions, unemployment support and health services.

This problem is particularly acute in countries whose populations are getting older faster, like Finland and Germany. Who would suffer most if crude, across the board cuts in Government social spending were made? The table below, which appeared in a recent OECD report, shows some surprising results.

In some countries the top fifth of income earners are the biggest beneficiaries of social supports in the form of cash payments from Government! In fact, France, Italy, Austria, Portugal, Ireland and Spain give a higher share of their cash social supports (pensions, unemployment and disability supports) to the top fifth of their population than to the bottom fifth. 

Thursday 27/11/2014

David Cameron has staked much of his credibility as prime minister and leader of the British Conservative Party on a quixotic crusade to achieve ‘reform’ of the European Union.

Under pressure from a surging UKIP and the increasingly vocal eurosceptic wing of his own party, Cameron has repeatedly staked out a position supporting British membership of a reformed Europe. On 10 November, speaking at the Confederation of British Industry Conference, Cameron declared that the EU ‘isn’t working properly for us at the moment. That is why we need to make changes’.

Having promised EU reform, Cameron must deliver. Failure to do so will significantly weaken his already tenuous position. And yet, success seems unlikely. A sizeable number of his internal opponents are already preparing for a push against his leadership or defection to UKIP.

Rather than picking winnable reform issues, Cameron’s issues of choice are unlikely to produce success: he has attacked the principle of the free movement of people and roundly criticised the single currency. It is notable that these two issues are central to UKIP’s political narrative. As with his campaign against Juncker’s Commission Presidency over the summer, Cameron appears to have gambled his reputation on yet another unwinnable fight.

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