The Euro, as a single currency, should be abolished
Another black and white motion statement leaving me no option but to choose No. While I agree to the first part I am not prepared to contemplate the idea that the Euro should get abolished. Abolished? Then what? All 17 countries now sharing the single currency would revert back to their old monies? Or a new version of yesteryear's currencies?
Simplistic as I made it out to be packed in a few odd questions, every single serious economic, financial and social consequence is inextricably wrapped up within each. That is where the stakes are high enough to ensure that the Euro is given a new lease on life. It calls for closer European integration. What form and shape this will take is for policymakers and far-sighted politicians to grasp and propose.
It would seem to me that the Euro has many underlying strengths but will not - contrary to the founder's beliefs - assure convergence between all the economies it services. How could it? The divide has been felt acutely lately (1-2 years) the logical consequence of relevant economic under-performance among member-countries.
There has obviously got to be a political solution rooted in realistic economic fundamentals. The road traveled so far proved artificially smooth during the first 10 years I dare say but unsurprisingly very bumpy in the last 1-2. It could not have been otherwise given the structural differences setting these countries apart. And excessive spending pursued mostly by a few Southern European States who could not see beyond the present. Adherence to the Maastricht criteria never again seemed to be taken seriously once countries landed themselves inside the Euro club. Not to mention Greece that never fulfilled the criteria in the first place or ever bothered to balance its books.
Very disappointing to admit but the Euro Zone is indeed right in the middle of a storm testing its main crews to the limit. The latest summit decisions seem to indicate that where there is a will there is a way. It may have just been one first small step in the right direction.
The specifics are very hard to work on. Yet it would seem to me that the 17-member Euro Zone and the larger EU can hardly afford shooting down the Euro. The broader picture needs to come into full view. An hypothetical demise of the single currency would deal another severe blow to Europe's economic fortunes. Its relative decline vis-a-vis the rest of the world would get a further boost.
I do not like misplaced calls for solidarity from Southerners but would rather see the stronger half of the dividing line realize where their medium-to-long interest lies. To that end many balances across the Euro Zone need to be restored at the earliest.
Europe agrees a "shock and awe" bailout for Greece
A rescue package of epic proportions, epic challenges for the Greek government and people, epic uncertainties and epic stakes for the single-currency.
It was the Euro's defence that ultimately forced politicians from Germany to Malta to perform a hard balancing act whose overall success is far from assured.Each finance minister has enough reasons to fret and grumble about.It being the Euro as a common currency, because of Greece despite Greece. Up to now every 'least damaging' approach failed miserably to cool down the financial markets that remained as unimpressed as ever throughout. For its part Greece is effectively the main winner in this high-finance gamble.The country bought time the markets were not willing to give it once confidence vanished.Precious time desperately needed to restore credibility and good governance at home. A daunting internal fix with daunting external implications. Three full years is what the government and Greek society top-down and bottom-up now have to set the record straight in so many ways. Literally and figuratively.
For the other 15 Eurozone countries - each facing own troubles to varying degrees - keeping fingers crossed would be mild to describe the monitoring of Greece's performance over the coming 36 months.Potentially they are all losers, starting out by losing simply to avoid bigger losses! There are so many relevant questions that might be asked to which full answers ought to be provided. They won't get asked or get answered. Tellingly, each and every single one of them would now seem rhetorical or at best an exercise for academia.
The spectre that haunts Europe
I am still hopeful that Greece will not require a bail-out in whatever form pinning my hopes on the PM's own words.
He did sound very bold and brave in the face of such overwhelming odds but until a deal is actually in place I would rather believe the Greeks can and will take care of themselves.
My stance is wholly based not on immediate needs triggered by the Western financial meltdown that led to the economic downturn.This in turn led to a collapse in tax revenues across countries caused by economies shrinking badly.
To a large extent Greece is indeed a one-off case-study for the worst reasons, its latest fiscal deficit the sum total of profligate spending, widespread cultural-rooted tax evasion, underbudgeting, creative accounting, weak notion of public service and duty, etc - all conspiring over decades to bring the country to the brink of bankruptcy.
I am sure many Greeks will have seen it coming and warned their governments in years past.To no avail as even the present government was elected as recently as late 2009 on a platform to increase spending.
According to EMU rules public finances were clearly to remain national responsibilities.A considerable chunk of sovereignty for States to manage through their democratically-elected governments of the day.
Would the Greeks have liked their Finance Ministry to be ruled or dictated to from Brussels or Frankfurt just so the Maastricht-agreed criteria could not have been so despondently ignored?
Current turmoil is the Euro's hardest test ever but one that will also represent a defining moment in the single-currency's future.
It is a fact that Southern European countries are faced with similar issues though not on the same scale and urgency.Others in Northern Europe, the US and Japan also recorded their biggest fiscal deficits and added up noticeably to their debts in 2009. Each one has its own track-record, however. This is exactly what sets Greece apart from the rest. Each country is unique in its own way, there being obviously overlapping between them.
International rating agencies must make the effort to closely monitor and register those differences and then advise financial markets.
After all it is sovereign countries and sovereign debt one is dealing with.
There is much more at stake than strictly soulless bundling of nations.
There is hardly any doubt that America needs to refocus its internal investment priorities.
Having built a largely successful transport infrastructure, albeit excessively road and air-dependent, the country's political and economic leadership must act now to redress imbalances in the system.
But the needs of the hour cannot be overlooked any more when entire sections of that comprehensive highway infrastructure is reported to have fallen into systematic disrepair.
If transport infrastructure is identified as one critical area only government can address - in partnership with the private sector - the time has come for massive investment to be earmarked beyond mere intent of political rhetoric.
Just as it was made possible from the 50's on to put public money where it was deemed required - adding a few percentage points to GDP growth over the years since - so it has got to be allocated now.
Perhaps to help the economy to grow while addressing what has become a critical necessity. Of repair and economic activity.
A modern economy cannot afford a creaking infrastructural set-up for multiple side costs that add up over time.
As for the railways it would appear that America never quite made up its mind as to whether it wants them or not, besides freight.
The country has fallen consistently behind others around the world.
Not only in the developed world do we now find modern rail lines with sleek fast trains running on them outdoing America's passenger services by a long shot.
A vast resourceful country that remains as dependent as the US is on motor-cars and aircraft to the detriment of the railways has got to have an imbalanced transport system.
I can't think of a single bloc of countries as being an organisation of equals.
Nor should that be looked at in a negative light. Most imbalances stem from factors inherent in each of the countries and in their position relative to one another.
The relevancy of cross-country groupings lies in their ability to overcome difference while focusing on all that binds them.
Also, on a great deal of additional common ground easily identifiable should there be political will, statesmanship and vision.
In the context of Goldman Sach's coined BRIC acronym and notion to which South Africa now appears invited to join in - BRICS, BRIC+S, BRICs or BRIC+s (?) - there's enough overlapping between them across multiple areas to outweigh significant differences too. Conflicting interests - political, economic and even territorial - do exist and may surface now and again.
They have in the past, they will in the future.
The BRICS's main challenge is to keep their economies surging, their disputes at bay and a broad-based positive mutual rapport.
The demand for a new international order to better reflect the world in 2011 going forward seems very reasonable indeed.
Changes have occurred since the end WW2 - normally referred to as the starting point to the prevailing set-up - that are relevant enough.
If not acknowledged and gradually addressed they will inevitably force themselves in over the coming decades.
It is already clear lag-times cannot be avoided. Built-in inertia is embedded in the DNA of international organisations.
But evidence that strong demography is now being matched by fast rising volumes/numbers in emerging economies is so overwhelming that political leadership simpy will not afford overlooking them much longer.
Greater clout multifold is closely linked to stronger economies.
This is exactly where the BRICS - to varying degrees - are strongest.
Their growth prospects remain bullish into the foreseeable future.
The very fact so much more is spoken of them or that their leaders should gather together at all - an unlikely family not long ago - is indicative of a fast moving world.
I have to vote NO wishfully.
A far truer vote would be: I don't know.
The way financial markets operate influenced by those enlightened rating agencies has convinced me that anything is possible.
This view is not rooted in what has happened to Greece, Ireland and now Portugal, each took different roads to bail-out.
It is rather on the dynamics and logic embedded in the rapacious capitalist system left to operate wholly unchecked.
Spain is simply too big to fail. It would spell the end of the Euro as we know it. The bazooka designed and later reinforced by Eurozone and larger EU would not be powerful enough to kill off a sustained market onslaught against Spanish government bonds.
That being the bottom line leads me to believe that while anything can happen nowadays, no matter how obnoxious or far-fetched, a very different storyline would ensue should Spain get boxed in.
Perhaps that is also the unsaid expectation of EU politicians: Spain looks more promising, diversified, competitive, is big enough and has done some housekeeping already.
The underlying huge issue however remains how to get peripheral economies to grow their way out of current financial squeeze(?).
It is a question that must be answered at national level first and foremost but at Eurozone level too.
A two or three-speed European Union is a win-lose scenario whose outcome is ultimately unpredictable.
A downward economic spiral is unsustainable by definition. The longer it lasts the greater the dangers of other risks ballooning.
A tough motion statement that hardly falls into the rigid yes, no format.
There are any number of arguments that might be raised against nuclear power as those for it.
This debate has been triggered by the ongoing troubles at Fukushima but the topic is recurrent in many societies. It will remain so as mankind seeks ways to power the development paradigm it finds itself trapped in.
That is to my mind the larger issue central to the debate.
Simply put, the world - The Blue Planet - would definitely be better off without nuclear power.
But it is hard to imagine - for all known energy alternatives in place or undergoing steady growth - the world economy moving on without the nuclear generated energy input. Especially in countries that rely more heavily on it like France(80%) or Japan(30%) for their electricity supply.
Then again the world - The Blue Planet - would equally be better off without use of a number of other forms of energy for electricity and heating.
The environmental, social and safety costs associated to those are not brought up often or a comparative analysis with nuclear attempted.
A clean, honest debate has to factor in every component pro and against each energy source.
One aspect though seems to gather near universal agreement but for a few nuclear power insiders whatever their reasons:
No other energy source is as scary as nuclear fission. When things do go and may go wrong.
This is mainly because in effect man loses control over his creation, if only temporarily.
Damage is long-term, unpredictable and unseen leaving people at a huge loss multifold.
Therefore I cannot make a sound contribution by voting the motion statement as presented.
The development model in place is energy-thirsty It does not allow for writing off nuclear power outright trading it for a non-admissable green dream within current assumptions.
The Blue Planet would certainly pull down every nuclear reactor in operation and scrap every single one under construction or proposed.
But so it would other infrastructure built to extract or use multiple energy sources.
For this to happen mankind would need to change the economic and social model in defining ways.
If ever there was a shred of doubt, Portugal's pathway to bail-out request shows financial markets had long gained the upper hand.
Troubling indeed to note how so many countries in the developed world got addicted to borrowing year on year simply to get by.
If smaller fish like Greece, Ireland and now Portugal have been caught in the net, albeit sailing different waters, the case is yet to be made as to where market fishing shifts to next.
Spain has been much talked about as the sequential domino. Lately decoupling is used to describe some of its fiscal successes.
Whatever happens the EU, the Eurozone in particular, need a visionary plan to get economies to grow healthily soon enough.
Faced with multiple challenges internally and externally there is no escaping from core structural issues affecting each of its members.
There being inevitably some overlapping each weaker economy has to jumpstart growth by focusing primarily on good government and wealth creation. Broadly that means production long neglected by societies whose leadership badly failed to retain vital balance across sectors of the economy.
Portugal is now in a very tight spot trapped between a rock and a very hard place.
If politics is to remain meaningful seeking to resolve collective problems then an altogether new approach is called for.
One that will over time strengthen productive sectors of the economy, cutback on wasteful spending - beyond words and gimmicks - and achieve better management of public sector companies. All will have to be done concurrently in a major multipronged clean-up operation with clear goals in sight.
It will be an uphill climb that would have to be undertaken anyway.
Events were only speeded up by the markets and those remarkable rating agencies.
Portugal will muddle through at the end of a fiction-like 20-year long movie of easy money.
Whether or not the leadership and wider society here change the country's fortune is yet to be seen.
Who the markets target next - Spain, Belgium or Italy - in their profit-driven risk assessment will be most interesting to watch too.
Lastly, the main lesson is that nations must never put themselves in a position of overdependency on market financing.
Even with EU backing, Eurozone membership and ECB support politicians of the day found themselves in a woefully dejected mode.
They had the lower-hand throughout.
Whatever defensive supports were in place buckled under the overwhelming weight of numbers...
Massive development projects like this are hardly ever dented by corruption, embezzlement and other forms of crime commited by seniors closest to the money pot.
The pot being as huge is itself tempting to unscrupulous officials who must be removed as soon as evidence of wrong-doing is fact-checked.
But over the timescale of major national projects such occurrences may temporarily hamper team efforts. They are unlikely to relevantly upset internal dynamics in a machine that has already gathered enough momentum however.
Indeed a slightly slower pace in track-laying might even prove welcoming in the face of China's incredible surge forward in overall transport infrastructure building.
On the rails it is hard to fathom how the country managed to grow the high-speed network nearly thirteen times from an impressive 650Km in just over two years.
Assuming quality and safety have not been compromised in the least China is doubtless a can-do powerhouse.
To me it would appear that the country has made the right strategic choice.
It is in the process of becoming - as a matter of fact it already is - the first among the very large countries to boast a comprehensive and far-reaching high-speed railway network.
Pricing will inevitably need reviewing if maximum benefit is sought for the greatest number of Chinese people.
Investment on this scale may only make ultimate sense should trains run near/at capacity between A and B.
A fast people-mover competing fairly on price, schedule, frequency, safety and comfort with other transport modes.
It is a little known fact that former US President Jimmy Carter had had first-hand personal experience with a nuclear reactor and radioactivity.
I never heard of it or perhaps didn't pay enough attention back in the late seventies when the Three Mile Island accident took place.It is likely such a matter will have been brought up then in the context of JC's decisions.
Never mind all of that I am appalled now at the conditions those Fukushima workers have been working under. As if their work were not inherently perilous enough!
Indeed I find it unbelievable that the only people who can stabilise the plant should have lacked essential protective and monitoring gear to get on with their job.
They are required to know and feel confident they are as fully protected as is humanly possible.
In Safety no cost should be waived well before a critical situation develops. The aim is to ensure maximum protection and efficacy to the only people who ultimately have to fix problems as complex and hazardous as these.
If the reports out are accurate Tepco's leadership, company culture and Safety planning all need a complete overhaul.Besides every other legal liability the company may face once 'first things first' have been successfully dealt with.
Also, Japan's government and larger political establishment need to accomplish total separation between oversight, advisory panels and operators.
Furthermore, strict enforcement of safety practices and safety reviews must be assured by setting up as many redundant independent bodies or procedures as deemed required. The goal being to ensure that what needs doing is actually done at any one time during the lifetime of nuclear power stations.
Lessons have to be drawn from ongoing troubles at Fukushima.
I do not underestimate the inherent difficulties - some of which are likely unpredictable - in the aftermath of a natural event as devastating as the March 11 one.
What I have found deeply disturbing - not quite matching up to Japan's broad reputation - is to learn Tepco has had a blatantly chequered safety record of despondency and deceit.
Unacceptable at any one level in any company least of all in an industry as sensitive as nuclear power for wider public implications when things do go wrong.
By the very nature of things only a few people with technical expertise and hands-on knowledge can bring the crisis at the Fukushima plant to an end.
Team effort is critical so too is leadership rooted in technical understanding not many will have mastered.
But as with all things human outright success rests on essential actions getting done right for the right reasons.
More than ever before transparency, objective reporting and factful flow of information are paramount getting the power plant under control in every sense.
Restoring shattered public confidence and trust will take considerably more.