3 hours ago
The new government’s first decision was to enact a bill on pension reform, which was immediately passed by the Chambers. As a result, the Italian pension system, one of the biggest drains on public finance, was put under control, providing automatic adjustment not only to economic growth (and, by the same token, to fiscal revenues) but also to population ageing. However, with the pension reform came a swathe of new taxes on property and income, and a VAT rise.It is particularly interesting to note that the centre-right objected to the liberalization of professions and the centre-left to the liberalization of the labour market - a neat summary of the difference between the two in Italy (and a number of other Continental countries) or, in other words, no difference at all.
In the weeks that followed, the tensions on the financial markets eased, while the opinion polls suggested that Mr. Monti enjoyed wide support. Buoyed by this, the Cabinet then started to implement the recommendations to the Italian government specified by the ECB in August 2011 and reinforced by the EU Commission President, Olli Rehn, in November 2011: these required not only the reform of the pension system but also a number of measures of privatisation and liberalisation, particularly of the labour market.
It was then that the honeymoon between the government and its multi-coloured majority ended: while the centre-right objected to measures directed at liberalizing professions (such as notaries, lawyers, chemists, taxi-drivers, etc.), the centre-left found it almost impossible to accept an easing of the hire-and-fire rules on the labour market, strongly opposed by the leftist CGIL union. The result was a much watered-down ‘liberalisation’ law and an impasse on the labour-reform bill.
In the meantime, Mr. Monti tried to soften the German stance on fiscal rigour and the introduction of Eurobonds: but these attempts, which for a few weeks at the turn of the year had looked almost successful, appeared at last to have failed. The tensions on the financial markets rose again, with the spread on the Italian public debt climbing up and the Italian stock exchange losing all the gains it had accumulated in the first weeks of the year.
what assessment they have made of whether their proposal for minimum pricing on alcohol is compliant with European Union law.The answer was:
The legal advice which the Government have received on this issue is subject to legal privilege. We do not, therefore, believe it appropriate to disclose this advice (or any summary of it).
The Government are currently in discussion with the EU Commission on this issue.Or, in other words, it will be the Commission that will make the decision but we are going to say as little as possible about that. People might find out that we do not legislate in this country.
Leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon told a post-vote rally that they must unite together on May 6 to beat the incumbent president, without mentioning Hollande by name. Socialist contender Hollande has already received the endorsement of Green candidate Eva Joly.That could have been predicted and, indeed, was by all. Similarly, Bayrou's supporters will now move over to Sarkozy.
The liberal and conservative Dutch government cabinet holds an emergency meeting on Monday after talks on a £7 billion cuts package, demanded by the EU under eurozone budget deficit rules, broke down at the weekend. Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, a Liberal, will try to find support for austerity measures with the opposition Labour Party this week but will have to offer early elections in September in return.Apparently, the crisis was caused by Geert Wilders withdrawing his support from the government, arguing "against Europe, against the euro". If he has seen the light, I am going to take some credit for that, as I was instructed by Lord Pearson during Mr Wilders's visit to enlighten the man about the EU. I did my best but did not think I had succeeded. Who knows? I may have been more successful than I had realized.
All the more reason to note a cable just in from our erstwhile Paris correspondent, Michel Gurfinkiel, who is not so certain that M. Sarkozy is doomed. “In Right-Left terms,” he writes, the outlook is “that all non-Left parties combined garner about 53%, and all Left parties combined 47%.” So, he says, “the question is how many Le Pen and Bayrou voters will rally Sarkozy on the second ballot. My guess is that 2/3 of them at least will. Which, on the face of it, would bring Sarkozy to 46 % only or so.” On top of that, though, “there is another dimension to the picture: so far, some 30 % of the voters say they will not vote, or they are still undecided. I am sure that at least half of them will vote on the second ballot. And most of them are conservative voters who got utterly disappointed by Sarkozy during his first term, but still hate the Left even more.”Taking all the variables into account, Sarkozy might yet win in the second round though only by the narrowest of margins. The New York Sun has another axe to grind as well:
All the more reason to wonder whether an American president who had a better grasp of the European drama, a clearer commitment to the idea of American exceptionalism, a more emotional connection to the possibilities of France than President Obama has on any of those points, whether such a president could have played a more constructive role in incenting the French away from the disaster that socialism would, if it comes, be for them. We comprehend that it’s a long shot, but one way to think of a France bereft of inspiring leaders is as an opportunity for a strong and articulate American president to inspire the French in our direction.My own view, for what it's worth, is that it would have made little difference though it would have been helpful to all of us to have an American President who was aware of the rest of the world and, if not knowledgeable himself, would listen to those who were instead of surrounding himself with his equally narrow-minded cronies. Sadly, no matter who wins, France will be saddled with a socialist President.
It was less that one year ago that Denmark decided to reintroduce controls on its borders with Germany and Sweden, a move, Copenhagen said, that was necessary to put a stop to illegal immigration and organized crime. The reactions from Berlin and other European capitals were immediate and unequivocal. The step taken by Copenhagen marked a "bad day for Europe," said German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. Europe's border-free travel regime, said the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, "cannot be infringed upon."
Now, just nine months later, it is Germany itself that is looking to weaken the Schengen Agreement, the treaty signed in 1985 to remove inner-European border controls. According to a report in the Friday edition of daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany and France are seeking to change the treaty to allow for the temporary reintroduction of border controls.
The paper reports that German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich and his French counterpart Claude Guéant have formulated a letter to the European Union demanding the change. The reintroduction of controls, they wrote according toSüddeutsche, should be possible as "an ultima ratio" -- that is, measure of last resort -- "and for a limited period of time" should border controls in southern and eastern Europe prove unable to prevent illegal immigration. Later in the letter, the two write that controls could be re-established for periods of 30 days.The proposals will be discussed at next week's meeting of various Interior Ministers but, as is the way of these things, no decision can be expected till June, which means that the proposal cannot be simply a way of assisting Nicolas Sarkozy in his apparently hopeless bid for re-election as the more cynical German commentators have suggested. (I say "apparently" because one can never quite predict what might happen in the French presidential elections, the first of which is due this Sunday.)
But the proposal is far from harmless and would throw Europe back decades. Since 1995, the citizens of Schengen-zone countries have gotten used to freely traveling within Continental Europe. Next to the euro common currency, free movement is probably the strongest symbol of European unity. Indeed, for many people, it's what makes this abstract idea tangible in the first place.
To throw this achievement into doubt now is a vote of no confidence in Europe. The fact that this proposal is coming in the middle of the French election campaign makes it even more suspicious. With his back to the wall, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is pretending to take a tough-guy stance toward immigrants. And the fact that Germany's interior minister is allowing himself to get caught up in this charade is regrettable. Still, if you take a look at his party affiliations -- as a member of the center-right Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) -- it's hardly surprising.Worse even than that:
But this symbolic act could have drastic consequences. It is a relapse into the type of nationalist thinking that many viewed as part of the past. And it brings to mind a country that continental Europeans like to make fun of for its obsession with its own borders: Great Britain.Well, of course, Herr Volkery is welcome to peddle this idea that Britain is the EU's most dissident member. We on this blog know better: nothing dissident about this government as far as the colleagues in Brussels are concerned. The Boy-King and his little mates wouldn't dare. But France and Germany? That's quite a different kettle of poisson.
Let's change policy to achieve that laudable aim. We should copy the Finnish education system, for example – it is, after all, the number one such system in the world. There they divide into academic and vocational at 16 and there's none of this nonsense that all must go to university – that's reserved for the small fraction that are indeed academic. Or the Swedish system of education vouchers. Parents decide on the school they want children to go to and the local council stumps up the fees – whether it's a public or private school.
From Denmark we'll take a couple of policies. Privatise the ambulance and fire services certainly. They've been working well there for nigh on 90 years. We'd want their taxation system as well: the national income taxis 3.76% and the top national rate is 15%. True, total income taxes are high but the rest is levied by the commune, a political unit as small as 10,000 people. At that scale, taxation is subject to the Bjorn's Beer Effect. If you know that it's Bjorn who levies your taxes, Bjorn who spends your taxes and also know where Bjorn has his Friday night beer, then he's going to spend your money wisely. Otherwise he can't go out for a beer on Friday, can he?
From all of them we'll take the abolition of the national minimum wage, fornone of the EU Nordics has one.
Sweden has also abolished inheritance tax, gift tax and the wealth tax. Those sound like three excellent ideas to copy.
We'll have to raise VAT as well, of course: for this is something that people don't seem to realise about Nordic tax systems. In many ways they are more regressive (yes, regressive, not progressive) than our own. This is because those countries follow the basic economics of taxation. You need low corporate and capital taxation, moderate income taxation and high taxes on consumption.I suspect Ms Toynbee will have fit if she reads that. I also suspect that she will go on peddling her nonsense without bothering to find out any facts.
But patterns of authoritarian behavior—particularly nepotism, corruption and rent-seeking—are hard to put down in the absence of the accountability mechanisms China so notably lacks: a vigorous free media, periodic elections, economic competition, a bias toward transparency, the rule of law. Instead, the only mechanism the regime has is the purge. It may work in the short-term for eliminating enemies or satisfying bloodlusts. It won't work in the long-term for shoring up the regime's waning legitimacy.
Meantime, China's economy is slowing as income inequality grows—historically an explosive combination. Foreigners in China report that trying to do business is often futile when it isn't outright dangerous. Wealthy Chinese are leaving the country in growing numbers, a de facto vote of no-confidence in an economy whose prospects are supposedly limitless.Not a country on its way to economic dominance; instead it can cause a great deal of trouble.
Today, average Americans, who have been working every day for the sole benefit of the tax authorities, can finally have a beer and rejoice that, for the rest of the year they are working for themselves. It means Americans have to work 107 days of the year to earn enough money to pay this year's federal, state and local taxes.Well, lucky Americans. For we have a way to go before we can start working for ourselves.
Tax Freedom Day in the Britain, calculated annually by the Adam Smith Institute, does not come round for another six weeks – not until the 29th of May, to be precise. That means the average person in the UK will spend 149 days this year working for Chancellor George Osborne's tax gatherers. Including the extra Leap Year day, that is two whole days more slave labour than last year, when Tax Freedom Day fell on the 28th of May. (According to the Treasury's adjusted figures.)We also have a government that believes that the money we earn rightly belongs to them and anything we keep is a sign of their generosity. So, I suppose, we should be grateful that we have a Tax Freedom Day at all.
The invitation, accepted by the prime minister, represents a political coup for Cameron, who has stuck to the government's commitment to increase overseas aid to 0.7% of UK GDP, despite the recession.
Cameron's agreement makes certain that he will resist any rightwing efforts to cut UK aid, but it may also mean a significant reshaping of the millennium development goals.
The goals decide the international targets of global aid channelled bilaterally and multilaterally through organisations such as the World Bank and the IMF.
The current eight goals range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/Aids and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015. Many will be missed.I wonder if coup is quite the word to be used here.
Part of Dr. Jim Yong Kim's acceptance speech as the new World Bank President read "My discussions with the Board and member countries point to a global consensus around the importance of inclusive growth. We are closer than ever to achieving the mission inscribed at the entrance of the World Bank – Our Dream is a World Free of Poverty" NO! We ordinary citizens of the developing world want you and the World Bank to map out an exit plan to get out of the way for poverty to be solved by entrepreneurs without governmental borders!Why do I have the feeling that neither Dr Kim nor the Boy-King will listen to those sane words?
The inaugural meeting of the 120 elected members of the first ever European Jewish Parliament (EJP), described as a new and innovative forum to voice the thoughts, beliefs and ideas as well as concerns of European Jews, took place on Thursday at the European Parliament building in Brussels.
The Parliament members, who represent 47 countries, have been elected by more than 400,000 people from East, Central and Western Europe who voted online and showed an unprecedented interest and demand across the continent for a new, fresh, up-to-date, transparent and democratically elected organization in Europe, says the European Jewish Union (EJU), the organization which initiated the creation of this parliament.
Among the elected MEJPs are several well-known leading figures of European Jewry such as Pierre Besnainou from France, Cefi Jozef Camhi from Turkey, Nathan Gelbart from Germany, Oliver Mischon from the UK, Joel Rubinfeld from Belgium, as well as an important number of young emerging personalities and leaders."New, fresh, up-to-date, transparent and democratically elected" - what on earth has that to do with the European Union? Or hasn't it anything to do with it? On the whole, I do not care how many different European Parliaments there are though, naturally, I can quite see the argument that if there is a Jewish one, then why not a Catholic one or a Muslim one.
The decision, made quietly last week, is the latest twist in a case that has become an international symbol of Russia’s troubling human rights and rule of law record.
State prosecutors said they have ended their investigation of Larisa Litvinova, the chief physician at Moscow’s infamous Butyrka prison, citing a recently approved two-year statute of limitations in such probes.How very convenient. Presumably, all other outstanding charges (and there are not all that many) will also be dragged out until the statute of limitation expires.
Yale Professor Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, which won the National Book Award in 2003, wrote this letter and submitted it to the Irish Times in response to plans by the city of Galway to erect a statue honoring Che Guevara. The Times demurred, but it was published in the Galway Advertiser, and Professor Eire has given National Review permission to reprint it.It is very succinct. Shame on the Irish Times.