Wednesday, November 19, 2008

European Stimulus Package Takes Shape

The EU appears to be preparing a stimulus package of around 130 billion euros, or 1% of GDP for all member states. This was announced by Michael Glos, the German minister of the economy, even though the Merkel government is still divided on the question. Glos appears to have the backing of Paris and may be trying to win a point inside his own government.

“We are not like France, where [President Nicolas] Sarkozy can decide whatever he likes and it goes through parliament the next day,” says one senior civil servant.

Meanwhile, eyebrows are being raised at Sarkozy's headline-hogging in the wake of the G20.

Where Jobs Are Being Lost

A useful map of layoffs, plant closings, and workforce reductions here.

Kouchner on Iran

Le Monde quotes Bernard Kouchner: "Washington can either help find a way out of the current impasse [in negotiations with Iran] or ruin the two-track approach." He is nervous, in short, about direct negotiations between Iran and the US. The Europeans, he says, have learned some things about Iran's negotiating tactics, and the US, if it blunders in naively, could upset the applecart.

Well, sure. But the implicit image here is the tired one of naive Americans lunging in and spoiling things where the wily and sophisticated methods of the Europeans have brought them to the brink of success. I'm not as confident that old-world subtleties have achieved that much, but if there has been progress, surely the next step can only be helped by the comprehensive change in the American approach to the region that everyone expects. The emphasis on talks with Iran was an artifact of the primary season, when Hillary Clinton seized on a remark of Obama's to highlight, or manufacture, a difference between them. But the real change, one hopes, is that the United States will now be willing to talk to everyone: Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, non-state actors, etc. Too little noticed as well is a change in the Israeli attitude, clues to which can be gleaned from the comments of former prime minister Ehud Olmert in this interview:

Iran is a major power that constitutes a serious threat to the international community. And it is the international community that is most responsible for dealing with the Iranian situation. One senses a megalomania and a loss of proportion in the things said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of scale.

The assumption that if America, Russia, China, England, and Germany don't know how to deal with the Iranians, but we, the Israelis, will know, and that we'll do something, we'll act, is an example of this loss of proportions.

This all but concedes that the Iranian nuclear problem will not be "solved" by an Israeli attack. Hence the only "stick" that European negotiators can now couple with their "carrots" is the prospect of movement toward a settlement in Palestine and an accommodation with the Syrians that will deprive Iran of its influence. For that, American engagement is indispensable. The French could well have a major role to play in such negotiations, but it will be first and foremost in Syria and Lebanon, not in Iran.

The Polish Plumber

Jean Quatremer cites several studies purporting to show that unrestricted trade in services within the EU did not have adverse effects on host countries.