Germans work longer hours and retire later than many of their brethren in Europe, and after many years of shrinking real wages, they don’t even get paid that much anymore. But it succeeded, at least temporarily, and the dour mood of yore has been superseded by exuberance about their superior economic model. And what do Germans get for their hard work? Well, probably a lot—but the one thing they’re not getting is extra time to live.
“Target 2” used to be a mundane part of the European System of Central Banks that people didn’t pay attention to. The ECB would borrow from the central bank of one Eurozone country and lend to the central bank of another. But in 2008, as capital flight from peripheral countries heated up, credit flows became one-sided and mushroomed with each outbreak of the crisis. And now it’s threatening Germany.
To save $2 billion in some distant year—at least that’s the official story—GM bought 7% of French automaker PSA Peugeot Citroën. Perhaps it hoped that the alliance would bail out its bleeding subsidiary Opel. But what GM bought into was one of the most uncompetitive automakers in one of the toughest auto markets in the world. And there is no happy end in sight.
The crowd at the Place de la Concorde in Paris on Sunday, one week before the first round of elections, had come to hear French President Nicolas Sarkozy beg for his job. And politicians were listening warily … in Germany. He’d already shocked them in March when he’d declared that he wanted to renegotiate the Schengen Treaty. Now he went after the independence of the European Central Bank. Germany’s answer was swift.
The meltdowns at Fukushima that have caused so much havoc have also paralyzed Japan’s nuclear power industry. The last of its 54 reactors will be taken off line in May. “Deindustrialization” grips power-starved Japan. TEPCO, owner of the plant, is bailed out with trillions of yen in taxpayer money. And now, halfway around the world, in the EU, nuclear power is lining up to suck at the teat of the taxpayer, but ingeniously, those in other countries.
It’s not like the hapless Greeks—and by extension their foreign sponsors—don’t already have enough problems on their hands. Now comes the Hellenic Statistical Authority with its just released Labor Survey that showcases a job market and unemployment issues that were the ugliest ever. And within this sobering picture there was one number that knocked the breath out of hope itself.
The first quarter of 2012 was brutal for businesses in France: 16,206 filed for bankruptcy. A trajectory that may demolish the prior annual record set in 2009 during the financial crisis when 61,595 firms went bust. Since then, bankruptcy filings eased off. Now the direction has changed—and worse, it is hitting larger companies and a lot more jobs. But the French have a solution, one that would violate fundamental rules of the EU.
Transparency International just published the results of its National Survey on Corruption in Greece, which tried to sort out the kind of bribery and petty corruption that households had to deal with in their daily lives. The results were sobering, as they tend to be with corruption surveys—but in an unexpected way: for those asking for bribes, an outright depression has commenced.
On April 20, finance chiefs and central bankers of the G-20 hold a shindig in Washington DC. At issue is money. Bailout money for the Eurozone. The IMF wants to dig deeper into its pocket, but the amounts are skyrocketing, and … “We certainly need more resources,” explained IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde. Bankrupt countries try to bail out bankrupt countries. And taxpayers everywhere get to foot the bill.
Economic reforms are tough. While they’re supposed to open opportunities, put budgets on sounder footing, or make the country more competitive, they invariably cut into the flesh of some groups, who then react with demonstrations and strikes to put pressure on the reformers to preserve the status quo. But in Italy, pharmacists have come up with an ingenious and tongue-in-cheek strike aimed straight at the reformers personally.