abril 28, 2009

‘Vitória dos nacionalistas no Norte de Chipre obscurece esperanças de reunificação‘ in The Economist

The prospects of a united Cyprus receded when a nationalist party won the parliamentary election in the north on April 19th. The National Unity Party, led by the hawkish Dervish Eroglu, took 44% of the vote, giving it 26 of the 50 seats. The vote for the ruling Republican Turkish Party, which backs reunification, fell to 29%. This reflects voters’ disillusion over the UN-sponsored peace talks that have dragged on since Turkish troops seized the northern third of the island in 1974 after a failed attempt by ultra-nationalist Greek-Cypriots to unite with Greece.

The result will also damage Turkey’s faltering membership talks with the European Union. Turkey faces a December deadline to open air- and seaports to Greek-Cypriots. It refuses to do so until the EU eases trade restrictions on northern Cyprus. Sweden, which takes on the EU’s presidency in July, is looking for a way to avert yet another train-wreck between Turkey and the EU. One idea is for Turkey to open a symbolic port or two only (though this was also tried two years ago by the Finnish EU presidency).

Hopes of a breakthrough now hinge on talks between the Greek-Cypriot president, Demetris Christofias, and his Turkish-Cypriot counterpart, Mehmet Ali Talat. Mr Talat led the campaign to persuade Turkish-Cypriots to vote in favour of the UN’s Annan plan to reunite the island in 2004. But the Greek-Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected the plan in a separate vote, so Cyprus joined the EU as a divided island. The Greek-Cypriots have been subverting Turkey’s EU membership talks ever since.

The mood improved markedly when Mr Christofias, who like his fellow left-winger, Mr Talat, favours a settlement, was elected president in February 2008. Substantive peace talks began last year with the backing of Turkey’s government, still keen on a settlement similar to that proposed in the Annan plan. This calls for the establishment of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation between Greeks and Turks.

Mr Eroglu publicly espouses the idea of reunification, saying that talks between Mr Talat and Mr Christofias must continue. Yet many suspect he prefers the status quo, which means continued dependence on Turkey and keeping 30,000 Turkish troops. Mr Eroglu talks of sending “a representative” to the peace talks. If he sticks to his campaign pledge to scrap a commission set up under Mr Talat to return occupied properties to Greek-Cypriots, the talks may collapse altogether.

Despite all this, Mr Talat met Mr Christofias again on April 21st. In a show of support, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made clear that he would not tolerate mischief-making by Mr Eroglu. “We will not be supporting any steps that will weaken the hand of the president,” Mr Erdogan insisted. Some fret that Mr Erdogan may yet yield to hawks in his own party. Another worry is whether Turkey’s generals really want a deal.

What is clear is that the EU complicated matters hugely by letting a divided Cyprus join. “Had [the EU] been less rigid and cleverer, it would have lifted the sanctions long ago and thereby minimised the dependency of northern Cyprus on Ankara,” argues Yavuz Baydar, a commentator. It would also have eased Turkey’s accession to the EU. But that is just what Turkey’s detractors inside the EU do not want.

JPTF 2009/04/28

abril 26, 2009

‘Bosnia acredita na adesão à UE em 2015‘ in EUObserver

Despite its many internal problems, Bosnia and Herzegovina could join the EU by 2015, the country's foreign minister has said, adding that he expects Nato accession to materialise even earlier.

"For Bosnia and Herzegovina it will take at least four, five years to get there [achieve EU membership] …If it's not 2013-2014, maybe 2015," Bosnian foreign minister Sven Alkalaj told a group of journalists in Sarajevo on Thursday (23 April).

"By that time the EU will have overcome the economic crisis, it will definitely overcome its internal problems," he added.

Mr Alkalaj's comments come as a certain number of EU member states, including France and Germany, are warning that no further enlargement can take place before the bloc's institutional deadlock is broken and the Lisbon treaty is ratified.

The EU has also acknowledged that the global economic crisis is likely to distract member states from the enlargement process.

Bosnia's foreign minister remained optimistic, however, stressing that Sarajevo hopes to file its application for EU membership this autumn.

"It will very much depend on us and when we are ready to join the EU. I think there won't be a reason for any further disturbances," Mr Alkalaj said.

According to him, Bosnia's membership of Nato is even closer in time than that of the EU, as "the path to Nato is very much advanced."

"We hope that in May we will present our application to the membership action plan, which is in a way a door knock to full-fledged membership of Nato, which we expect to acquire …most probably in 2011."

Bosnia's demons

Bosnia and Herzegovina – which was 14 years ago just emerging from the bloody war that followed the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in 1992 to 1995 – has two autonomous regions, the Muslim-Croat federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Serb-inhabited Republika Srpska.

Its complicated internal functioning and constitution, as well as the animosities between the country's three leaders, have considerably slowed reforms.

At the end of last year Brussels multiplied warning signs to Sarajevo, criticising the government's lack of "a sense of urgency or responsibility to overcome the stalemate" on most issues.

Mr Alkalaj acknowledged Bosnia had serious difficulties advancing with its key constitutional reform, and added that this is unlikely to change before the next elections in the country in 2010.

The reform is currently blocked by Republika Srpska insisting on keeping a high degree of autonomy, while the federation pushes for a stronger centralised state.

But although this issue should be solved before Bosnia becomes an EU member, it should not hinder the accession process itself, the minister argued.

The international presence in the country in the form of an EU mission and international envoy with strong governing powers is not incompatible with Bosnia becoming an EU candidate either, he said.

Additionally, "the role of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) is definitely diminishing, it's a matter of months I would say for closing it. I don't see it beyond June 2010," Mr Alkalaj pointed out.

Visa deal to avoid 'brainwashing'

The minister also insisted on the need to achieve full visa liberalisation with the EU, saying this is especially important for young people in Bosnia who can be "easily brainwashed" and "lured into nationalistic views" if they are isolated and not allowed to travel freely.

Visa requirements were imposed on the western Balkan countries in the aftermath of the 1990s Yugoslav war, with the EU promising as far back as 2003 to start talks with the countries' governments to reverse this.

Brussels has indicated it could recommend lifting the requirements in the first half of this year for those countries that have carried out enough reforms.

According to its assessment, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro are currently the most advanced in that respect, while Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina are the least prepared.

Isolation risk

But Mr Alkalaj warned that if Brussels proceeds with lifting the visa requirements for other countries of the region and not for Bosnia, this could create problems for the Muslim population of the country.

"Practically all Bosnian Croats" currently have dual citizenship and Croat passports, meaning they can already travel visa-free. If Serbia obtains a visa-free regime, Bosnian Serbs "will do the same and apply for Serbian passports."

"So, the remaining group which will be in a way ghettoised is the Bosnian Muslims, not having this opportunity …This will be a wrong political message," Mr Alkalaj said.

JPTF 2009/04/26

abril 23, 2009

Cartoon: charme de Obama não seduz no Irão

‘Oferta de regresso voluntário apenas foi aceite por dois marroquinos‘ in Le Maroc Aujourd'hui

Les chiffres relatifs au plan de retour volontaire des immigrés résidant en Espagne sont très en dessous des chiffres qui avaient été annoncés par le ministre espagnol du Travail et de l’Immigration, Celestino Corbacho. «Jusqu’au mardi 24 mars, 3.926 demandes ont été présentées selon les chiffres du secrétariat d’Etat espagnol à l’Immigration. Les trois communautés étrangères les plus nombreuses ont été les Equatoriens (1.688 demandes) suivis des Colombiens (713) et les Argentins (393). Pour ce qui est des Marocains, aucun chiffre n’a été dévoilé. Cependant, selon les statistiques qui avaient été présentées il y a 2 mois par ce département, seulement 2 Marocains ont présenté leur demande. Ce chiffre ne fait que confirmer que les Marocains rejettent catégoriquement cette initiative», déclare à ALM Kamal Rahmouni, président de l’Association des travailleurs et immigrés marocains en Espagne (ATIME).
Et d’ajouter que «Beaucoup de Marocains voudraient retourner vivre dans leurs pays d’origine mais les conditions imposées par ce plan leur sont défavorables. Et pour cause, le bénéficiaire est condamné à renoncer à son permis de résidence et de travail. Il ne pourra retourner vivre en Espagne qu'après trois années après son départ. Quel Marocain accepterait cette condition? De plus ce plan ne concerne que les immigrés au chômage alors que bon nombre d’immigrés résidant en Espagne sont sans papiers», déplore M. Rahmouni. La veille, la secrétaire d’Etat espagnole à l’Immigration, Consuelo Rumi avait annoncé que 3.000 immigrés ont déposé des demandes pour bénéficier de ce plan de retour. Dans des déclarations à la Radio nationale espagnole (RNE), Mme Rumi a estimé à 7.000 le nombre des immigrés qui devraient adhérer à cette initiative durant les prochains mois. Le plan adopté en septembre 2008, prévoit de verser de l’argent en deux tranches à tout immigré au chômage souhaitant retourner dans son pays d’origine : 40% du total de l’indemnité de chômage lors de l’inscription, et 60% payés dans le pays d’origine, un mois plus tard. «Pour bénéficier d’une somme respectable, il faut que l’immigré ait cotisé pendant 8 ans. Cependant, le retour n’est pas une question lié à l’argent. En rentrant dans son pays d’origine, l’immigré sera contraint de laisser sa famille et ses enfants dans le pays d’accueil», souligne le président de l’ONG. Selon M. Rahmouni, il faut que le gouvernement marocain prenne des mesures pour favoriser le retour des immigrés. «Il n'y a pas de mesures concrètes. La mise en place d’un plan stratégique s’impose».
Pour rappel, le gouvernement espagnol avait décidé d’adopter ces mesures en raison du brusque coup d’arrêt économique subit par le pays. Le plan du gouvernement espagnol concerne des immigrés originaires des 19 pays avec lesquels l’Espagne a déjà souscrit des accords bilatéraux en matière de sécurité sociale, et d’autres pays qui ont des mécanismes de protection similaire. Parmi les pays concernés par ce plan, figurent notamment le Maroc et l’Équateur, gros pourvoyeurs d’immigrés en Espagne.

JPTF 3009/04/23

abril 18, 2009

‘ASEAN: um gigante com pés de barro‘ in Courrier International

L'instabilité chronique dans plusieurs pays membres affaiblit l'organisation régionale pourtant ambitieuse. L'annulation du dernier sommet en Thaïlande en est la meilleure illustration.

L'ajournement du sommet de Pattaya [au sud de Bangkok] entre les dix membres de l'Association des nations de l'Asie du Sud-Est (ASEAN) et les dirigeants japonais, chinois et sud-coréens n'est pas qu'un camouflet cuisant pour le gouvernement thaïlandais. C'est aussi un terrible revers pour ceux qui espéraient que la coopération aide à juguler la crise économique mondiale en Asie. L'incident pourrait en outre servir de catalyseur et entraîner de nouveaux développements dans l'instabilité politique que traverse depuis longtemps maintenant la Thaïlande [voir CI n° 963, du 16 avril 2009].

Le fiasco thaïlandais a aussi mis fin aux espoirs de l'ASEAN de faire de ce rendez-vous, auquel sont également conviés des responsables indiens, australiens et néo-zélandais, l'événement annuel de la coopération panasiatique, sorte de G16 continental sur lequel les regards du monde entier auraient été braqués. L'ajournement vient rappeler à quel point nombre de pays d'Asie sont politiquement instables, et ce bien avant que l'impact de la récession se soit fait pleinement sentir. Si l'Indonésie a organisé, le 9 avril, des élections législatives qui se sont parfaitement déroulées – preuve des progrès remarquables accomplis par sa démocratie depuis le renversement du président Suharto il y a onze ans –, les tensions politiques en Malaisie ne sont toujours pas en voie de résolution, en dépit de la récente nomination d'un nouveau Premier ministre.

L'échec de la rencontre en Thaïlande a par ailleurs empêché que soit finalisé un accord sur la création d'un fonds de 120 milliards de dollars [94 milliards d'euros] visant à protéger les pays de la région des crises monétaires et à leur permettre de maintenir leur croissance économique sans s'inquiéter inutilement de leur balance des paiements. L'essentiel de cette somme aurait dû être versé par la Chine, la Corée du Sud et le Japon. Au bout du compte, le fonds sera très vraisemblablement créé, mais avant tout parce que les trois Etats du Nord-Est asiatique y trouvent chacun leur intérêt. Tous souhaitent en effet diminuer leur dépendance commerciale à l'égard d'un Occident affaibli et ont donc besoin de soutenir la croissance dans la région. Tous entendent utiliser leurs abondantes réserves pour s'acheter une influence politique. Tous veulent montrer que la coopération financière asiatique est une réalité dont le reste du monde doit prendre acte. Et la Corée, qui accueillera le prochain sommet du G20 [en accédant à la présidence du groupe en 2010], souhaite utiliser l'ASEAN comme plate-forme pour promouvoir sa propre influence dans le monde.

Voilà qui en dit plus sur les intérêts de ces trois pays que sur la véritable capacité de coopération de l'organisation panasiatique. Quoi que laissent penser les accords de libre-échange et autres textes ronflants, l'ASEAN n'a plus l'influence de l'époque où elle pouvait compter sur certains acteurs clés, des poids lourds tels l'Indonésien Suharto, le Singapourien Lee Kwan Yew et le Malaisien Mahathir Mohamad. L'actuel président de l'Indonésie Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono jouit sans doute de quelques bonnes références pour assumer un rôle moteur, mais cela n'est ni dans son caractère consensuel, ni dans l'intérêt d'une Indonésie essentiellement préoccupée par des enjeux intérieurs et peu désireuse de jouer un rôle sur la scène internationale. Du côté des autres pays membres, les Philippines sont pour l'heure relativement stables, mais souvent considérées comme un protagoniste en marge. Singapour a perdu de sa superbe tandis que le Vietnam a gagné une certaine ampleur, mais part de très loin.

Cette incapacité à coopérer est criante et s'est même traduite par une absence de front commun face à la Chine à propos des rivalités territoriales en mer de Chine méridionale [voir CI n° 961, du 1er avril 2009]. Ces derniers temps, les Philippines, le Vietnam et la Malaisie ont tous irrité Pékin avec leurs propres revendications territoriales, mais n'ont fait aucun effort pour résoudre les différends qui les opposent les uns aux autres. Les Philippines ont même signé avec la Chine un contrat d'exploration pétrolière enfreignant un accord de l'ASEAN.Les pays d'Asie du Sud-Est ont abordé la crise économique mondiale en position de force, avec de vastes réserves de devises étrangères et sans avoir créé de bulle spéculative majeure. Ces économies très ouvertes sur l'extérieur demeurent toutefois vulnérables face à une récession prolongée. Elles risquent en effet de souffrir de la chute du prix des matières premières et du ralentissement des transferts de fonds de leurs ressortissants travaillant à l'étranger. A présent, il leur est donc indispensable de rassembler le maximum de ressources additionnelles possibles. Par chance, les principaux détenteurs de devises étrangères se trouvent être leurs voisins. Toutefois, l'accès à ces fonds pourrait s'avérer improductif si l'instabilité politique décourageait l'investissement privé, minait la confiance des consommateurs et paralysait les processus décisionnels.

La Thaïlande, qui s'appuie pourtant sur une économie diversifiée, a déjà pâti des récentes luttes de pouvoirs. La situation pourrait encore s'aggraver alors que les "chemises rouges" pro-Thaksin entendent poursuivre leur mouvement, paralysant ainsi l'actuel gouvernement d'Abhisit Vejjajiva ainsi que l'avaient fait les "chemises jaunes" (anti-Thaksin) avec le gouvernement précédent. En Malaisie, le nouveau Premier ministre a pris ses fonctions avec une cote de popularité encore plus faible que son prédécesseur, tandis que le parti au pouvoir, discrédité par les soupçons de corruption, de meurtre et de ventes d'armes, essuyait une sévère défaite à des élections partielles [le 7 avril]. Dans ces deux pays, les questions fondamentales de gouvernance restent très disputées. Même s'il n'existe aucun risque de voir se répéter le scénario de la crise asiatique de 1997-1998, le fiasco du sommet de l'ASEAN de Pattaya montre clairement que les problèmes politiques de l'Asie du Sud-Est ne concernent pas seulement la région.

JPTF 2009/04/18

abril 14, 2009

‘A candidatura turca divide Barack Obama e Nicolas Sarkozy‘ in France 24h

Le président Nicolas Sarkozy a réaffirmé dimanche sur TF1 son hostilité à une entrée de la Turquie dans l'Union européenne, après le soutien apporté par le président américain Barack Obama à une telle adhésion.

"Je travaille main dans la main avec le président Obama, mais s'agissant de l'Union européenne, c'est aux pays membres de l'Union européenne de décider", a déclaré M. Sarkozy, interrogé sur la déclaration de son homologue, en duplex depuis Prague où il participe au sommet UE-Etats-Unis.

"J'ai toujours été opposé à cette entrée et je le reste. Je crois pouvoir dire qu'une immense majorité des Etats membres (de l'UE) est sur la position de la France", a-t-il ajouté.

"La Turquie, c'est un très grand pays allié de l'Europe et allié des Etats-Unis. Elle doit rester un partenaire privilégié, ma position n'a pas changé", a déclaré le chef de l'Etat.

M. Obama avait estimé un peu plus tôt devant les dirigeants de l'UE à Prague que l'entrée de la Turquie dans l'Union européenne "constituerait un signal important" envoyé à ce pays musulman.

Les pourparlers d'adhésion de la Turquie au bloc européen, entamés en octobre 2005, marquent actuellement le pas. Certains pays comme la France ou l'Allemagne sont opposés à la perspective de voir ce pays entrer dans l'UE et privilégient une association étroite avec lui.

Les Etats-Unis et le Royaume-Uni, en revanche, militent depuis longtemps pour une adhésion.

Vendredi et samedi, au sommet de l'Otan à Strasbourg/Kehl/Baden Baden, la Turquie s'était opposée à la nomination du Premier ministre danois, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, au poste de secrétaire général de l'Alliance avant de s'y ranger. Le Premier ministre turc, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, avait indiqué samedi que ce revirement suivait le fait que le président Obama se fût porté "garant" d'un certain nombre d'engagements, qu'il n'a pas précisés.

La désignation de M. Rasmussen, "posait des problèmes à nos amis turcs, parce qu'il y avait l'histoire des terroristes kurdes avec le PKK et puis l'histoire des caricatures (de Mahomet NDLR). Mais nous nous étions déterminés à ne pas céder parce que M. Rasmussen est un homme démocratique, un homme de grande qualité", a dit M. Sarkozy.

Interrogé sur d'éventuelles concessions, il a répondu qu'il "a fallu convaincre nos amis turcs de notre fermeté. Le président Obama a joué un rôle considérable, s'est montré comme un vrai leader, et à la sortie, à l'unanimité, on a décidé que ce serait Rasmussen".

La Turquie reprochait au candidat son soutien à un journal danois qui avait publié des caricatures de Mahomet en 2005 et son refus de fermer la chaîne de télévision Roj TV, considérée par Ankara comme porte-voix des rebelles kurdes du Parti des travailleurs du Kurdistan (PKK).

Selon plusieurs journaux turcs, Ankara a obtenu l'assurance que Roj TV sera prochainement interdite d'émettre depuis le Danemark, que M. Rasmussen allait adresser "un message positif" sur l'affaire des caricatures, ainsi que la désignation de responsable turcs à des postes clés de l'Otan.

JPTF 2009/04/14

abril 08, 2009

A cimeira da NATO: cartoon de Marquard Otzen no jornal Politiken.dk

‘O significado da liberdade‘ in The Economist

At first glance, the resolution on “religious defamation” adopted by the UN’s Human Rights Council on March 26th, mainly at the behest of Islamic countries, reads like another piece of harmless verbiage churned out by a toothless international bureaucracy. What is wrong with saying, as the resolution does, that some Muslims faced prejudice in the aftermath of September 2001? But a closer look at the resolution’s language, and the context in which it was adopted (with an unholy trio of Pakistan, Belarus and Venezuela acting as sponsors), makes clear that bigger issues are at stake.

The resolution says “defamation of religions” is a “serious affront to human dignity” which can “restrict the freedom” of those who are defamed, and may also lead to the incitement of violence. But there is an insidious blurring of categories here, which becomes plain when you compare this resolution with the more rigorous language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 in a spirit of revulsion over the evils of fascism. This asserts the right of human beings in ways that are now entrenched in the theory and (most of the time) the practice of liberal democracy. It upholds the right of people to live in freedom from persecution and arbitrary arrest; to hold any faith or none; to change religion; and to enjoy freedom of expression, which by any fair definition includes freedom to agree or disagree with the tenets of any religion.

In other words, it protects individuals—not religions, or any other set of beliefs. And this is a vital distinction. For it is not possible systematically to protect religions or their followers from offence without infringing the right of individuals.

What exactly is it the drafters of the council resolution are trying to outlaw? To judge from what happens in the countries that lobbied for the vote—like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan—they use the word “defamation” to mean something close to the crime of blasphemy, which is in turn defined as voicing dissent from the official reading of Islam. In many of the 56 member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which has led the drive to outlaw “defamation”, both non-Muslims and Muslims who voice dissent (even in technical matters of Koranic interpretation) are often victims of just the sort of persecution the 1948 declaration sought to outlaw. That is a real human-rights problem. And in the spirit of fairness, laws against blasphemy that remain on the statute books of some Western countries should also be struck off; only real, not imaginary, incitement of violence should be outlawed.

In much of the Muslim world, the West’s reaction to the attacks of September 2001, including the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, has been misread as an attack on Islam itself. This is more than regrettable; it is dangerous. Western governments, and decent people everywhere, should try to ensure that the things they say do not entrench religious prejudice or incite acts of violence; being free to give offence does not mean you are wise to give offence. But no state, and certainly no body that calls itself a Human Rights Council, should trample on the right to free speech enshrined in the Universal Declaration. And in the end, given that all faiths have undergone persecution at some time, few people have more to gain from the protection of free speech than sincere religious believers.

The United States, with its tradition of combining strong religious beliefs and religious freedom, is well placed to make that case. Having taken a politically risky decision (see article) to re-engage with the Human Rights Council and seek election as one of its 47 members, America should now make the defence of real religious liberty one of its highest priorities.


JPTF 2009/04/08

abril 04, 2009

‘A overdose fatal do Ocidente‘ por Gabor Steingart in Der Spiegel

The G-20 has agreed on plans to fight the global downturn. But its approach will only lay the foundation for the next, bigger crisis. Instead of "stability, growth, jobs," the summit's real slogan should have been "debt, unemployment, inflation."

Now they're celebrating again. An "historic compromise" had been reached, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the conclusion of the G-20 summit in London, while US President Barack Obama spoke of a "turning point" in the fight against the global downturn. Behind the two leaders, the summit's motto could clearly be seen: "stability, growth, jobs."

When the celebrations have died down, it will be easier to look at what actually happened in London with a cool eye. The summit participants took the easy way out. Their decision to pump a further $5 trillion (€3.72 trillion) into the collapsing world economy within the foreseeable future, could indeed prove to be a historical turning point -- but a turning point downwards. In combating this crisis, the international community is in fact laying the foundation for the next crisis, which will be larger. It would probably have been more honest if the summit participants had written "debt, unemployment, inflation" on the wall. The crucial questions went unanswered because they weren't even asked. Why are we in the current situation anyway? Who or what has got us into this mess?

The search for an answer would have revealed that the failure of the markets was preceded by a failure on the part of the state. Wall Street and the banks -- the greedy players of the financial industry -- played an important, but not decisive, role. The bank manager was the dealer that distributed the hot, speculation-based money throughout the nation.

But the poppy farmer sits in the White House. And during his time in office, US President George W. Bush enormously expanded the acreage under cultivation. The chief crop on his farm was the cheap dollar, which eventually flooded the entire world, artificially bloating the banks' balance sheets, creating sham growth and causing a speculative bubble in the US real estate market. The lack of transparency in the financial markets ensured that the poison could spread all around the world.

There are -- even in the modern world -- two things that no private company can do on its own: wage war and print money. Both of those things, however, formed Bush's response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Many column inches have already been devoted to Bush's first mistake, the invasion of Baghdad. But his second error -- flooding the global economy with trillions of dollars of cheap money -- has barely been acknowledged.

No other president has ever printed money and expanded the money supply with such abandon as Bush. This new money -- and therein lies its danger -- was not backed by real value in the form of goods or services. The measure may have had the desired effect -- the world economy revived, at least initially. And US consumption kept the global economy going for years. But the growth rates generated in the process were illusionary. The US had begun to hallucinate.

The addiction to new cash injections was chronic. The US had allowed itself to sink into an abject lifestyle. It sold more and more billions in new government bonds in order to preserve the appearance of a prosperous nation. To make matters worse, private households copied the example of the state. The average American now lives from hand to mouth and has 15 credit cards. The savings rate is almost zero. At the end of the Bush era, 75 percent of global savings were flowing into the US.

The president and the head of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, knew about the problem very well. Perhaps the Americans even knew just how irresponsible their actions were -- at any rate, they did everything they could to hide them from the world. Since 2006, figures for the money supply -- in other words, the total number of dollars in circulation -- have no longer been published in the US. As a result, a statistic which is regarded by the European Central Bank as a key indicator is now treated as a state secret in the US.

Only on the basis of independent estimates can the outside world get a sense of the internal erosion of what was once the strongest currency in the world. These estimates report a steep rise in the amount of money in circulation. Since the decision to keep the figures confidential, the growth rate for the expansion of the money supply has tripled. Last year alone, the money supply increased by 17 percent. As a comparison, the money in circulation in Europe grew by a mere 5 percent during the same period.

But the change of government in Washington has not brought a return to self-restraint and solidity. On the contrary, it has led to further abandon. Barack Obama has continued the course towards greater and greater state debt -- and increased the pace. One-third of his budget is no longer covered by revenues. The only things which are currently running at full production in the US are the printing presses at the Treasury.

At the summit in London, delegates talked about everything -- except this issue. As a result, no attention was given to the fact that the crisis is being fought with the same instrument that caused it in the first place. The acreage for cheap dollars will now be extended once again. Only this time, the state is also acting as the dealer, so that it can personally take care of how the trillions are distributed.

The International Money Fund was authorized to double, and later triple, its assistance funds -- by borrowing more. The World Bank is also being authorized to increase its borrowing. All the participating countries want to help their economies through state guarantees, which, should they be made use of, would result in a huge increase in the national debt. The US is preparing a new, debt-financed economic stimulus package. Other countries will probably follow its example.

We live in truly historic times -- in that respect, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is right. The West may very well be giving itself a fatal overdose.

JPTF 2009/04/04

abril 01, 2009

G20: ‘Divididos nos mantemos‘ in The Economist

World leaders are descending on London, just as anti-capitalist protesters prepare to unfurl their banners. Barack Obama, who remains widely popular at home and abroad, met Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, on Wednesday April 1st. Mr Obama conceded that “We're not going to agree on every point”. On the eve of the G20 summit the two men should be concerned that too little is being done to respond to the worst economic slump since the 1930s. This week the OECD, for example, concluded that global output will shrink by 2.7% in 2009, sharply down on previous estimates.

As worrying, the various leaders gathering in London are not agreed on how to sort out the economic mess. One risk is that the group, if it seeks consensus, will produce an anodyne statement that adds little or nothing to the existing efforts to respond to the global slump. A greater risk is that the summit is so badly divided, and the outcome is so feeble, that dashed expectations actually worsen confidence.

Broadly, the leaders are trying to tackle five sets of issues. The first, and perhaps least contentious, is the need to recapitalise banks and get credit flowing. All big countries with troubled banks have acted assertively on this. America, long the laggard, at last has a detailed plan that has been, mostly, well-received. Now it is a question of waiting to see whether and how the bail-outs, more lending and other initiatives will help to stimulate economies.

But no consensus exists on the need for fiscal stimulus. Just how much governments of rich countries should borrow and spend to boost their economies is disputed. America would like them to commit to stimulus packages of 2% of GDP for this year and again for 2010. But Germany and France disagree vehemently. They argue that their economies rely much more on what are known as “automatic stabilisers”—tools such as unemployment insurance payments, which increase automatically in a recession—thus they do not need as much discretionary stimulus spending as countries, such as America, where welfare payments are much less generous. Deep differences remain. On Tuesday the Japanese prime minister, Taro Aso, said that Germany’s reluctance to use public spending aggressively stemmed from its lack of understanding of the importance of fiscal mobilisation.

A failure to agree on co-ordinating fiscal plans opens the door to forms of protectionism in stimulus packages motivated by worries about stimulus benefits “leaking” abroad. Such policies could complicate the G20’s efforts to come up with ways to deal with what is already the biggest collapse in trade since the second world war. That collapse is not the result of countries imposing tariffs or devaluing currencies, as happened in the 1930s. Still, the World Bank has tracked the actions of the G20 countries in recent months and found that 17 have taken steps that retard trade, often by subtle means. Thus the leaders in London need to commit to much more than a vague promise to resist protectionism. Ideally, they will lay out a comprehensive list of measures going beyond tariffs and export subsidies—to include, for example, domestic subsidies and discriminatory procurement provisions in stimulus packages—and commit to not use them even where permitted by their existing international trade commitments. A general commitment to free trade, though welcome, would not suffice.

On financial regulation, transatlantic differences have narrowed, with America agreeing to broaden its scope to encompass institutions such as hedge funds. But open disagreement remains possible. Mr Sarkozy’s reported threat to “get up and leave” rather than endorse a G20 statement that promises too little on regulating financial markets could make it all the harder to get a deal on fiscal stimulus.

The last big issue for the G20 is what to do about the dramatic collapse in financial flows to developing and emerging economies, the largest of which are represented in the group. The least contentious part of the response is likely to be commitments to meet aid budgets and support more lending by institutions such as the World Bank and the regional development banks, possibly through greater rich-country lending to these institutions.

More fraught, though within reach, are efforts to augment the resources of the IMF and to get the fund to deploy this money rapidly, something which emerging ones are ambivalent about. Success will probably involve getting China to offer to lend the IMF a large sum of money from its massive reserves. But this is unlikely without at least a clear promise of more say in running the fund, hitherto an institution dominated by Europe and America. Reform of the fund will mean giving emerging members more vote shares. Inclusion as part of the Financial Stability Forum, a group of regulators and central bankers charged with the technicalities of financial supervision, may also make them more willing to support an expansion of the fund. But China and other large emerging economies want more than incremental reform. Aware of the complexity of negotiating far-reaching changes to vote shares at the IMF, they would like interim measures demonstrating good faith, such as a commitment to let the leadership of the fund to be decided “irrespective of nationality”. But this is something that G20 finance ministers failed to endorse at a meeting in March.

JPTF 2009/03/02