I was fortunate enough to be in West Berlin on that momentous day in November 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, attending one of those round tables of “young European leaders” that were quite popular at the time. Around two dozen ambitious, energetic and for the most part extremely romantic-minded intellectuals and politicians in their early thirties had come from all corners of the continent to try their hand at being the leaders of the European nations for a day or two.
Of course, we wouldn’t have been worth our salt as young leaders if we had ignored the monumental event that was suddenly unfolding before our very eyes, not far from the Kurfürstendamm, where we were staying at the time. So, on the evening of November 9, having put off the future of Europe for a later date, and somehow finding the necessary tools in our hands, our fine company walked cheerfully past the Berlin Zoological Garden through the Tiergarten towards Brandenburg Gate. There we were immediately blended into the motley crowd of people who had, on a whim, decided to tear the Wall down.
“A Celebration of Disobedience”
In fact, tearing down the symbol of a divided Europe proved much harder than anyone had anticipated. It turned out the East Germans had done a fine job when they built the Wall – the high-strength concrete generously packed with steel reinforcement was a tough match for the home tools with which we had all come out. All our hammers, crowbars and sledgehammers could do was chip miserably away at the powerful reinforced concrete structure. We worked in shifts, changing over every 15 or 20 minutes or so.
This feverish activity brought laughable results, not at all consonant with the magnitude of the event we were living through. It was as if the Wall was mocking the feeble attempts of the ants that had clung to it to inflict at least some visible damage. We could get enough shards for souvenirs, but we were not looking for souvenirs – we were making history! We toiled deep into the night until we finally managed to bore a small hole in the wall, at which point we were eagerly greeted by the folk who had been hacking away at the eastern side of the hated structure just as persistently as we had been at our side. Encouraged by this, we redoubled our efforts.
A latecomer to our attack on totalitarianism had brought a cassette player, and the heavy rhythms of Pink Floyd’s soundtrack, The Wall, boomed out in the direction of the majestic quadriga perched atop the Brandenburg Gate. The sounds flowed through the Wall, reflected off the powerful Doric gate columns, splashed onto the endless and poorly lit Unter den Linden and dissolved into the Berlin night air somewhere near the massive building of the Soviet embassy in East Germany. Pink Floyd unexpectedly turned into a kind of tuning fork for our actions that night, providing the rhythm for the blows of the countless hammers, crowbars and sledgehammers that were scatted over hundreds of metres of concrete wall.
If memory serves me correctly, the weather wasn’t exactly festive that November night. To be honest, it wasn’t much better during the day either: the gloomy Berlin autumn brought low morning clouds, and a sharp rain often accompanied the intense gusts of wind. But that night, as we moved into the main phase of dismantling the Wall, it became even colder and windier and altogether more unpleasant. But this didn’t detract anyone. On the contrary, there was a certain glint in everyone’s eyes, as if we had all knocked back a full glass of old brandy.
I will mention in passing that I don’t recall any groups of drunken East or West Berliners staggering around the city that night, or indeed the day after. It wasn’t until much later that the enthusiastic residents of the city really let loose. And nothing was spared, not even the famous quadriga that adorned the Brandenburg Gate; it took over a year to restore the long-suffering Victoria (nee Eirene, the Greek goddess of peace). It was such a historic moment that the people didn’t even need alcohol, as everyone was on such an emotional high, overcome with a feeling of heartfelt unity and mutual affection.
The fact that I still belonged to the “Soviet Empire” did not seem to bother anyone or even cause them any discomfort whatsoever. On the contrary, I felt like it was my birthday. After all, it was my country that had launched the process of European unification, and nine times out of ten, the magic word Gorbachev would elicit a wide and sincere smile on people’s faces.
It was high time for a celebration. Gone were the fears of the past, the mutual suspicions and grievances. And for us, already fully grown adults, the night of November 9–10 was just as magical as New Year’s or Christmas Eve is for little children, when all the bad can be put in the past and a new life, where everything is good and correct, can begin. A road to a new reality had opened up behind the ruins of the wall – a still unknown and mysterious yet immeasurably attractive united Europe – all to the sounds of Pink Floyd. Not just Europe, but the entire immense world that was shaking off the reinforced concrete fragments of a cursed past now belonged wholly and completely to us!
A Farewell to Illusions
In all honesty, we can’t say that the next 30 years were full only of disappointments and that the alluring picture of European unity turned out to be yet another mirage, a product of a fevered imagination. On general, Europe is more united and freer than it was three decades ago.
In 1989, people my age could not have dreamed that they would someday be able to fly to Paris or London just as easily as they could fly to Leningrad or Kazan. Crossing the border into Europe used to carry an air of mystic ritual, now it is an everyday occurrence. European newspapers such as The Times and Le Monde are no longer located in restricted access areas in public libraries and are freely available to read on the internet. My native city of Moscow has become more European than at any point in its history.
Meanwhile, Berlin has undergone a magical transformation into perhaps the most dynamic capital in Europe. It takes my breath away whenever I have the good fortune to visit the newly rebuilt Pariser Platz or pass through the renovated Brandenburg Gate. I can’t shake the feeling that I am on some massive movie set, so different is the city today from the gloomy reality of 1989. And, of course, the atmosphere around these famous gates today is more readily associated with the Beethoven’s immortal Symphony No. 9 than it is with the somewhat outdated psychedelic rock of Pink Floyd.
The many difficulties that have arisen in the course of the reunification of East and West Berlin have not been fully overcome in the three decades since the Wall came down. The process of integrating the “neue Bundesländer” of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia has proved to be even more difficult and painful. There are still serious differences between the eastern and western parts of the country in terms of culture, way of life and political leanings – suffice it to mention the resounding victories of the right-wing populists from the Alternative for Germany in the east as evidence of the latter. But you have to hand it to the Germans, for today Germany is united not only on paper, but in practice too.
However, what about Europe?
The romantic dream of a united and indivisible Europe has remained just that, a dream. The yellow brick road did not lead to the Emerald City. The metaphysical wall dividing the continent into East and West has not disappeared, although the lines may have changed and acquired different forms. More accurately, the Wall has been replaced with a number of ramshackle fences, ill-kempt hedges and flimsy partitions, most of which can be easily crossed or even torn down completely should one so desire. The thing is, however, that nobody appears to have this desire. Or, at least, the needed commitment, stamina and vision. As the years turn into decades, the prospect of a Greater Europe moves deeper and deeper into an uncertain future, just like the horizon moves further into the distance with each step. And not only for those of us who live east of Poland and the Baltic states, but also for many lucky holders of a European passport.
Why is this the case? Is it indeed fair to say that “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”? I don’t think that appeals to Rudyard Kipling are appropriate here. Beautiful lines from poetry and nonsensical geopolitical mantras are of little use when it comes to real life. Incidentally, Kipling’s ballad was about Great Britain and India, not the east and west of Europe. I think the attempts to use “The Ballad of East and West” as a way to justify the failed attempts to unite Europe would have amused its author no end.
Going on my own personal experience of interacting with Europeans across the entire continent from Lisbon to Vladivostok, I would not say that there are fundamentally different or incompatible social structures, cultural archetypes or group identities in this space. And if any fundamental differences do happen to exist, then the boundaries of socio-cultural spaces now lie within individual countries rather than between them.
One way or another, we are all Europeans, and the last three decades have brought us even closer rather than dividing us in our economic, social and cultural relations. This is why the current schism in Europe, in my opinion, is not a historical inevitability, nor has it been caused by the workings of fate. Instead, it is the result of a number of specific subjective missteps, mistakes and omissions on the part of politicians in both the East and the West.
I do not want to get bogged down in detailed analysis of these mistakes and omissions. We are unlikely to get a definite and comprehensive answer to the million-dollar question of “who is to blame?” any time soon. And saying that “everyone is to blame” is just as good as saying no one is to blame. I will confine myself to a single and very general observation. In 1989, my generation was too quick to celebrate, or rather, victory came too easy for us 30 years ago. Victory literally fell into our hands, like a gift of fate or unexpected miracle. It was almost too good to be true.
This is probably why the celebrations that broke out at Brandenburg Gate that night had a distinctive air of the medieval European carnival, complete with masks and pranks, dancing and singing in the streets, a festival atmosphere of liberation, overindulgence and carelessness. Everyone assumed that the fall of the Berlin Wall would signify the end of the most difficult and painful phase of the struggle for a united Europe. And the most complicated, painstaking and, more importantly, technical tasks of building the pan-European house could be put off until later.
Especially because we already had a firm idea of what the plans for this house looked like.
There Ain’t no Such Thing as a Free Lunch
It turned out that the “celebration of disobedience” that took place on November 9, 1989, was not at all the end, but rather the beginning of the long and painful transformation of Europe. The main battles for Europe were still to come. As we all know, the Carnival is always followed by the Great Lent, which none of us in our state of elation wanted to see.
Perhaps the biggest mistake that my generation (those who were around 30 when the Wall came down and who are roughly 60 now) made was that we, that is, many of us, were rather irresponsibly counting on the imminent “end of European history,” the irresistible march of globalization and the impending triumph of European rationalism. The generation of people who were brought up on Friedrich Hegel, Auguste Comte and Karl Marx could not help but be social determinists. We all know that, according to Hegel, “the mole of history digs slowly, but digs well.” This mole undermined the archaic structure that artificially divided the great city and the great country. It was thus with this same sense of logical inevitability that history had to reunite European civilization, which had been similarly divided on artificial grounds.
My generation has been punished for its deterministic way of thinking and its arrogance. And not only in Russia, but also – to one degree or other, and in different ways – in Poland, Hungary, the United Kingdom and Greece, as well as in those very same eastern states that have long since become part of a reunified Germany and in other places across the continent. “Freedom and life are earned by those alone who conquer them each day anew,” Goethe put Hegel to shame once again.
And what we perceived as a detailed and precisely measured schematic drawing of European unification (reunification?) turned out to be nothing more than amateur sketches, pencil drawings that were several pages short of a complete project. Europe lacked the very same qualities that Germany had displayed during reunification: political will and determination; the ability to set clear goals and ensure that they are met in a timely fashion; and the foresight to make sure that plans do not exceed capabilities and check this on a regular basis. Artists and visionaries did not turn into designers and engineers, and their place in European construction was taken by entirely different people who pursued more mercantile and particularistic goals.
It is difficult for me to imagine what needs to happen in Europe to restore the atmosphere of those now very distant days of November 1989, and for the idea of European unity to once again acquire flesh and blood. A truly unique opportunity has been missed, unfortunately, forever. As the saying goes, “no man ever steps in the same river twice.” Our sketches and drafts from 30 years ago are unlikely to be of any use today, just like most of the projects and propositions suggested in the 1960s were untenable a quarter of a century later during perestroika.
Today, our children have to start their struggle against the new European walls in different and far more complicated circumstances than those that reigned 30 years ago. And not only because our wonderful slogans of the time have withered and faded, but also because in the three decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall our generation has accumulated a mountain of new problems that will be exceptionally difficult to tear down or overcome. And it has to be done in a world where Europe has long since ceased to be seen as a symbol of progress and a source of inspiration.
In any case, the new generation of Europeans will find things much harder than we did. It is entirely possible that the idea of “European reunification” will seem archaic in the emerging globalized world, and the leaders of the new generation will no longer be guided by geographical concepts, but rather by something completely different. Perhaps it is a good thing that our children are more sceptical and cynical and less trusting and romantic than their parents were back in 1989. However, if these “young leaders” turn out to be less ambitious than we were three decades ago, then it means we have done a poor job raising our children.
From our partner RIAC
Russian army lends a helping hand to Italy
For the past three days, Russian military transport planes with medical specialists and aid on board have been landing at an air base near Rome to help Italy in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak. Critics immediately started looking for some ulterior motives behind Moscow’s move, describing it as just a political PR stunt, a demonstration to Europe of the Kremlin’s capabilities and its immunity to a global pandemic, completely oblivious of the fact that this unselfish gesture of goodwill is not the first in the history of Russia’s relations with the West. Suffice it to recall how, 75 years ago, the Soviet people selflessly saved the world from the Nazi plague without asking for anything in return.
Russians like to joke about there being no such a thing as an ex-doctor, soldier or police officer, but it looks like in Russia there are no former emergency specialists either. Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu spent many years at the head of this country’s Emergency Situations Ministry, and is the one who dispatched Russian rescuers to Japan in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake there. Russians have a predilection for saving everyone; it’s a sort of a national trait here. Are they doing this to win kudos abroad? Hardly so…The first thing Japan did after recovering from the consequences of that devastating natural disaster was to reiterate its claim to Russia’s South Kuril islands, so Moscow is hardly expecting Italy to make any decisive calls for lifting the EU’s anti-Russian sanctions.
Russia was still very quick to send out 14 planes with 100 military virologists and professional nurses, special equipment and instruments to Italy in keeping with an earlier agreement between President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Russia even sent in its most experienced medics – military doctors, who had earlier experience of tending to potential COVID-19 carriers from China, who had fought the Ebola epidemic in Africa, and who have a long history of participation in humanitarian missions. Whether these few dozen people are able to turn the tide in the fight against the pandemic is another question, but in any case, their contribution will be extremely important.
Meanwhile, as a brief interview with one of the Army nurses, staff sergeant Natalya Krivosheyeva, aired on Russia’s Channel One television showed, the Russian military doctors arrived in Italy to “help the country out of trouble,” and this is exactly what they are all set to do. In any case, 100 professional doctors with vast experience and military discipline are providing urgent vital assistance to Italy, which is struggling with a shortage of medical staff. This assistance is all the more valuable now that the NATO countries have all refused to line up similar support, the Western defense alliance’s mobile hospital has moved to Luxembourg, closer to the center of European decision-making, and there is virtually no support coming from Italy’s EU partners.
Why is Putin lending a helping hand to Italy? Does he really expect any gratitude from Rome? He is a realist. The news about dozens of professional Russian medics being sent overseas will hardly contribute to his popularity back home. Moreover, on April 22, or later Moscow will hold a referendum that would allow Vladimir Putin to remain in power until 2036. Russians are way more concerned about the situation with the coronavirus pandemic in their own country than in faraway Italy.
And still, Beijing and Moscow have so far been the only ones to provide real assistance to Rome. From the standpoint of national mentality, Russia’s actions are fairly understandable. A popular Russian joke says that “if you want to do something well, call the military.” Russian military medicine is one of the best around, and Russian doctors are going to Italy to gain experience and hone their skills. They are going because such missions are part and parcel of the algorithm of the Russian military. They do not expect anything in return, all they want is expertise. Some critics were sure to be like “Why ask for help from the Russians?” “What will the Kremlin want in exchange for helping us out?” The thing is, however, that Putin and Shoigu have created a system, which initially implies emergency assistance even for countries that are not Russia’s best friends. Moreover, if an epidemic of such magnitude flared up in Poland, which reportedly closed its airspace to Russian planes carrying aid to Italy, Putin would still offer similar help to Warsaw. This is how the Russian Defense Ministry works, for the good of the whole world.
The Russian military specialists are at work now and are sure to save lives. What is more precious than human life? Certainly not politics, and this is exactly what European leaders need to realize.
The Covid-19 epidemics and the issue of Italy’s public debt
How will the E.U. resources be defined in the near future for the coronavirus issue? The issue is, in fact, much more complex than we may think.
The actual European Funds that are theoretically available are manifold: the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund and, finally, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. All of them have been activated by President Von der Leyen in the initial phase of the COVID-19 spreading to Europe.
The resources identified by President Von der Leyen for providing support against the epidemics and its economic effects are all drawn from these budget items, which are also those transferred to the States, usually as pre-financing, i.e. as advances on operating expenditure.
The unspent part of these advances will soon be renamed without any particular bureaucratic problems and these funds will cover at least some past expenses, precisely as from February 1, 2020.
President Von der Leyen’s proposals affect also the General Regulation of European Funds, which will also enable us to use the Regional Development Fund to finance capital and investment, particularly to improve the efficacy of regional health services.
In principle, contributions from these Funds will only be used to cover the losses caused by health crises, climate events, environmental accidents or accidents at sea which, however, account for at least 30% of the turnover of the affected company, calculated on the average of the last three previous years.
For severe diseases and epidemics, this new E.U. system envisages that these Funds can be activated if damage greater than three billion euros or 0.36% of the usual GDP can be proved (well, what next? No end to bad news).
Hence a total of only 8 billion euros are expected to be made available to all the European economies affected, plus further 29 billion euros as cascading effects of investment already being made.
Too little, as is evident to us all.
The 2021-2027 EU budget, however, has not been approved yet. The resources are therefore already scarce and, to tell the truth, completely insufficient for all EU countries. Nevertheless, approximately 850 million euros will be transferred to the Italian regions alone to face the epidemics, in exchange for a not so formal guarantee of “enhancing the managerial approach” to health management – which is already high in Italy – and also to the relationship between spending centres and political authorities.
However, we are back again to the usual routine of a too little too late approach in the E.U., both for the Italian health spending and for the equally high one of the other countries affected by the epidemics, such as Spain, France and Germany, in the very near future.
In the German case, however, the public budget cosmetics – which I am surprised is not well known to the international financial markets – will make it possible to turn a plater, i.e. the German public finance, burdened with colossal debt, into a very fast Varenne.
It will not be with this little money and these post factum bureaucratic criteria that the European Union will rebuild its image in the European productive forces and industrial systems destroyed by the epidemics.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Conte’s government has already funded – – with 25 billion Euros, mostly as debt instruments- the whole package of measures to face the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government bonds that can be issued are valid only as from 2020 – as a starting date – but there will be specific “aid” for Air Italy, the Sardinian airline being closed, and the Solidarity Fund for Air Transport and the airport system will anyway have additional 200 million euros available.
All these measures can be found altogether in the Prime Minister’s Decree, so that we have the feeling that, in the end, with a view to setting again the economy into motion in the productive Northern regions after the epidemics, there will be less money than it is needed just to rebuild the industrial system of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, which – as is well-known to all scholars and experts – have a much shorter time of permanence on the markets than large companies.
These 25 billion euros – which are clearly too little – also include funds for the publishing sector, given the unavoidable decline in advertising revenue, as well as an anti-spread shield for insurance companies to face the tension recorded on Italy’s public debt bonds. This is a very technical issue on which I will not elaborate in this article.
As always happens, however, if investors know it, they discount the insurance value on the amount of bonds acquired or on their price.
It is a painful mystery how, today, we can take a measure like the spread seriously, considering it measures a difference between the ten-year Bund of an ailing country, namely Germany, with the ten-year BTP of an equally ailing country, namely Italy.
Indeed, I have always had little faith in the average intelligence of private financiers.
Prime Minister’s Conte government, however, is ready to implement the E.U. changes to the volatility adjustment, which has always had a very discontinuous trend and a very limited effectiveness.
Thus, by purchasing the tools for estimating the spread parameters, the companies that hold public debt bonds should be in a position to evaluate the functioning of the mass of bonds and calibrate the mix of investment in “paper” instruments, as well as the duration of all the bonds they own. But there is no guarantee in this respect.
With specific reference to business support, the 25 billion additional public spending will allow to apply for the ordinary wage subsidies or for access to the ordinary allowances, but only for a period of nine weeks.
Once again there is not a single word about the companies’ operations to recover market shares, as well as to recover the profit already forecast. All these measures would apply for just nine months, which, even if the pandemic ended immediately, would probably not be enough for the many Italian SMEs affected by the epidemics to recover their place and positioning in the E.U. and international markets which, meanwhile, the others will have already taken.
The fact that economic intelligence exists has not yet been understood by Italian politicians.
With specific reference to the healthcare sector, the 25 billion euros – which, as can be seen, are becoming ever less available – also include only 150 million euros for the increase in overtime for the medical and paramedical staff.
Based on the Decree enacted, the potential of specialized military medical staff will be increased by 320 doctors and nurses, but more money will be invested in local control offices for checks on goods and people.
Moreover, a total amount of 340 million euros will be available to use the beds in the private healthcare facilities’ intensive care units. What about the already available direct funding for private healthcare facilities?
It should also be recalled that the Supreme Defence Council has not yet been convened, which would be the minimum in the current situation.
Once again, too little too late. There is no reliable data on the permanence of the virus and its distribution throughout the country.
For SMEs, however, the Central Guarantee Fund will have only one billion euros available, which is still too little.
If we overlap the maps of the infection areas, from the province of Lodi to the Veneto region, we can also have the map of the development area of Italy’s Small and Medium-sized Enterprises in the North.
They face the international markets “barehanded”, just as Karate or Judo men fight. Whatever happens, the COVID-19 epidemics has put an end to Italy’s particular system of development and industrial organization, precisely in the most productive regions.
Now for Northern Italy there is a possible future either as a “guaranteed” area or as an area completely dependent on the other countries’ economic cycles. This is the real game at stake. Especially for Germany, which thinks strategically about its economy within the EU.
The guarantee, however, will in any case be increased up to 5 million euros per company. For those who are still in difficulty, there will also be easy access to the “Gasparini Fund” for the suspension of mortgage payments. Said Fund has been increased with as many as 500 million euros for the whole 2020.
For the usual nine months after the entry into force of the Decree, access to this Fund will be provided also to the self-employed and freelancers who self-certify – and it will be very easy – a drop in turnover higher than one third which, however, shall be connected with the COVID-19 emergency (although no clear details are provided on how this correlation shall be proved).
For banks, as well as for the other companies’ creditors, the turning of debt into tax credits is envisaged for a maximum amount of 2 billion euros.
Hence we are well over the 25 billion euros initially envisaged, as debt instruments, by the Prime Minister’s package of measures, well knowing the debt conditions of many and often excellent SMEs in Northern and Central Italy.
For restaurants, cafés, gyms, entertainment and culture, as well as transport services, there is an exemption at source of withholding tax payments on income. However, real income support would be needed rather than the usual tax exemptions on income that is no longer there.
Finally, there is income support for freelancers only to the tune of 500 euros per month. Income support is envisaged also for those who have an active VAT number, as well as for the Made in Italy sector, which has always been the key for the SMEs’ economic penetration abroad. As to the latter, this income support – the amount of which is not specified – will be managed by the Institute for Foreign Trade (ICE). What about SACE for the companies which are already active overseas? In this case, everything is too vague.
However, there are already all the signs of the E.U. trip.
In one day the alleged gaffe of current ECB Governor Lagarde has already destroyed the Italian Stock Exchange, which, indeed, is owned by the London Stock Exchange, but the Franco-German banking axis has been speculating for years on the difference between the interest rates paid by Germany and France and the Italian ones.
This is a real industry. Hence Lagarde’s alleged gaffe can be easily understood.
Obviously all this is also a prelude to a sale of Italian companies and real estate sector, while it is increasingly likely that the rating agencies will downgrade Italy to junk from the current valuation of its public debt bonds, as a result of the 25 billion euros – albeit insufficient – spent as debt instruments to face the COVID-19 emergency.
As already mentioned above, while describing President Von der Leyen’s plan, nobody within the E.U. is still outside the old “austerity paradigm”, which works badly even when things go well. Let us not delude ourselves, in the future, about what the Popperian epistemologists called “paradigm shift”.
Hence de facto industrial stoppage due to the epidemics and E.U. Member States’ subsequent joint speculative action on the Made in Italy companies, as well as downward operations against all listed SMEs. In this regard, we should also recall the 2019 ruling of the Strasbourg Court on insolvent Municipalities, in which it was decided that the whole amount of local debt plus interest shall be taken over directly by the central State.
This is already a huge blow. Currently there are, in fact, 66 large insolvent Municipalities, with 54 small administrations in the Calabria region and 409 medium and small Municipalities in crisis, for various reasons, as well as 111 insolvent Municipalities in Sicily, all for amounts which are currently difficult to assess but, however, very close to the famous 25 billion euros invested as debt instruments to face the COVID-19 epidemics.
This is an evident manoeuvre to circumvent our fiscal and economic crisis, which will be used at the right time by our E.U. and non-E.U. competitors.
Furthermore, if – as many current leaders of the ruling parties maintain – there will be Italy’s access to the European Stability Mechanism, a European Court will judge whether private assets should play their role in the default procedure, in addition to the public ones.
It should also be recalled that 91% of Italian Municipalities are at risk of landslides and soil crumbling.
Hence, for all public assets and companies, there would be the classic bankruptcy procedure, which may also involve private assets. Just as happened with Greece.
And as was the case with Germany in Versailles, at the end of the First World War, thus paving the way for Nazism and the Second World War and, above all, for the European one.
What about temporary solutions? A double circulation of the old lira, which should be made interchangeable with the euro – something that, in fact, former Prime Minister Monti prohibited in 2012 and that Germany never dreamed of abolishing – or the circulation of forward and futures contracts, as done by Hjalmar Schacht, the Jewish and Freemason brilliant President of the German Central Bank under Hitler’s rule, who invented the MEFO bills to ward off the last blows of Weimar Republic’s hyperinflation.
With specific reference to public debt, the Bank of Italy speaks about an increase in debt – precisely with additional 9.8 billion new liquid assets of the Treasury, which brings it to 55 billion euros – with a further central government’s debt that has increased by 7.2 billion euros and that of local governments – whose bad financial situation has already been mentioned above – by 0.5 billion euros in 2020.
For the long-standing theory of Eurobonds, called for by many more or less experienced economists, there is still a key question.
What if, in fact – as a result of a possible persistence of the COVID-19 epidemics – the investors, skilfully manipulated – and we can well imagine by whom – turned to other bonds, such as BTPs?
Currently Italy’s public debt is held by 80% of private markets/operators, by 33% of European institutions and central banks and by 20% of “other entities”, namely small and medium savers or other organizations.
According to the European Commission, with a zero economic growth, at the end of this year the Italian public debt could reach, ceteris paribus, 2,435.7 billion euros out of a total EU-27 debt of 12,814 billion euros.
If the Italian economy is set again into motion at the end of May, as forecast by Cerved, our companies could recover a level of turnover even 1.5% higher than the one recorded at the beginning of the epidemics.
In essence, between 2020 and 2021 the COVID-19 epidemics is expected to cost companies 275 billion euros.
Certainly too much, but nothing that cannot be spread by a public debt carefully managed in its main components, if this data is disseminated among international investors. Hence we can definitely expand the range of buyers of our public debt bonds, carefully calibrated and even renewed, to open up to the financial markets in which we have ventured little in recent years: Great Britain, which certainly has a political, strategic and financial interest in opposing the E.U. policies, now that it is no longer a E.U. Member State; the United States, a market in which we have been present with our large companies, but much less with listed SMEs and other excellent companies; obviously China, but even India, not to mention Australia and New Zealand which, thanks to the London Stock Exchange – which knows the Milan Stock Exchange very well – could buy our bonds confidently.
Hence, we should no longer ask for charity from the E.U. financial markets, which have not shown any interest in our internal and economic situation. We should begin to make high-level propaganda and skilful promotion of Italy’s “image”, not with a tourist-oriented approach but with excellent financial expertise.
Moreover, there are those who – not heeding danger and experience – propose to turn the European ESM into the E.U. “Economy Ministry”, which could issue the famous Eurobonds or other instruments that, hopefully, would “sell like hot cakes” on the markets.
Does anyone know that nowadays countries compete, by all means, on their public debt bonds?
This operation – as debt instruments of the whole EU-27 – could raise the whole E.U. budget, so as to help the less “fortunate” countries.
The idea is good, in principle, but it does not take for granted what now seems obvious: the E.U. project to make Italy end up just like Greece – as in slow motion, like in sport events such as football and athletics.
Moreover, the famous one trillion euro budget for the Green Compact, equal to seven years of the E.U. whole budget, was in fact an advertising idea, but we cannot even imagine where we can get this huge amount of money.
According to other reliable banking sources, the situation of Italian SMEs in the COVID-19 epidemics phase will have an impact on the working capital of our Small and Medium-sized Enterprises equal to over 18 billion euros, out of an already calculated total of 342 trade receivables and payables.
Nevertheless, only for the whole 2020, the requirements for SMEs could reach 46 billion euros, including repayments of debt coming due and investment.
50% of this amount regards companies in Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna.
Creating debt to set again the economy into motion is of no use in the long run – if not as a stopgap measure. A direct interest-free financing from the Bank of Italy is needed but – and this is going to be tough – also from the ECB, an institution in which experts study the old microeconomics and believe that it is the whole economic theory.
With a view to solving the COVID-19 crisis, the State Rescue Fund – the well-known ESM – could resort to its “toolbox”, albeit this is very dangerous.
Within the ESM, there is the possibility to activate the Precautionary Conditioned Credit Line (PCCL), i.e. loans granted quickly to avoid the default, but which are NOT conditional upon a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of mandatory cuts in public spending and “structural reforms”.
This would mean a significant increase in unemployment, further compression of the internal market, as well as subsequent and obvious impact, as well as knock-on effects, for Italy’s companies. For an indebted government it is enough to sign a Letter of Intent, which is similar to a MoU, but is less imperative. Hopefully so, although no one has experienced it yet.
Furthermore, in the case of an Enhanced Conditions Credit Line of the ESM, with MoU-style reinforced guarantees which, I imagine, would be required from Italy, the effects would be directly proportional to the amount of credit granted and the average return time.
The ESM is therefore a trap and, in the long run, it would create the same disasters it would like to solve.
Microeconomics is not the whole economic theory. Today there is no soup, like the Marginalists’ one, having the maximum marginal value at the first spoon and the minimum value at the last one. Usually, you finish earlier.
Another nonsense, albeit very widespread, is the wealth tax called for by the IMF and other scarcely experienced economists.
The first house owned does not produce income, but an increase in taxation is created immediately during an economic recession and you do not need to be John Maynard Keynes to understand what would happen next.
Meanwhile, the big financial information agencies say far and wide that “there are 40 billion U.S. dollars of reasons to avoid the Italian public debt”.
Hence the real and future struggle will also be fought with the careful and authoritative explanation of how the Italian public debt is made, and above all by avoiding the counter-propaganda of some of our scarcely affectionate E.U. friends.
Germany: CDU – three in one
Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) will hold an extraordinary congress on April 25 to elect its new chairperson, who is almost certain to lead the party to next year’s federal elections to culminate in the election of the country’s new Chancellor in lieu of Angela Merkel, who has already confirmed that she will not be running again. Meanwhile, judging by the current alignment of political forces in Germany, the CDU remains the main candidate for victory, although not as indisputable as it was a year ago.
The CDU’s decision to look for a new face at the helm was prompted by the resignation of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, whose handling of last year’s elections in eastern state of Thuringia resulted in an acute political crisis alienating the Christian Democrats’ partners in the ruling coalition (CSU and Social Democrats), and many within the CDU itself.
In October 2019, the Left party landed a historic victory in elections to the regional assembly (Landtag) in Thuringia, scoring 31 percent of votes. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) came in second with 23.4 percent, leaving the CDU in third place with just 21.8 percent. The Social Democrats (SPD), the pro-environment Greens and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) garnered five percent, but in the February 5 vote in the Landtag for the head of the regional government, the FDP’s candidate Thomas Kemmerich surged ahead of his main rival, the Left party’s hopeful Bodo Ramelow thanks to the support that the candidate from the FDP and the CDU had received from the AfD as a result of an earlier agreement.
The outcome of the Thuringia vote sent shockwaves through political Germany because up until then the ruling coalition had banned any party-level cooperation with the extreme right. The SPD leadership accused its coalition partners of violating ethical and inter-party standards, and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said that the local branch of the CDU violated the party’s requirements. At a February 6 press conference while on a visit to South Africa, Angela Merkel said that it was “unforgivable” that a state premier had been elected expressly because of the support of the far-right AfD, and accused the Thuringia CDU of abandoning the “values and beliefs” of the party.
Resignations followed shortly after, with Thomas Kemmerich saying he would step down on February 8, and already on February 10, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer informed the CDU leadership of her decision to stand down as party leader. The crisis around the elections in Thuringia reportedly came as a shock for Angela Merkel, since Kramp-Karrenbauer was her protégé and was supposed to ensure a seamless power transit within the CDU after Merkel herself resigns in 2021 and after she earlier left the post of CDU leader in October 2018. As for Kramp-Karrenbauer, she did not enjoy the unconditionally support within the CDU. During the CDU congress in December 2018, she was elected its new leader, getting 517 votes, narrowly beating her principal rival, the ex-leader of the Christian Democrats’ parliamentary faction, Friedrich Merz, who trailed closely behind with 482 votes.
Friedrich Merz, who is widely viewed as one of the three (and so far the likeliest) contenders for victory in the 2020 Christian Democratic Union leadership election set to take place during the party’s upcoming extraordinary congress on April 25. Even though he has recently stayed out of big-time politics focusing on his business interests, Merz still enjoys significant support among the CDU. As to his political views and priorities, they are pretty vague and even contradictory, including when it comes to Russia. On the one hand, he supports President Vladimir Putin’s idea of a single economic space between the European Union and Russia stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok, and wants Germany and the EU to “play ball” with Moscow, arguing that without Russia in Europe there can be no long-term stability, and that in the 21st century “there should be more and more points of contact” between partners.
On the other hand, Merz is fully supportive of NATO’s policy of “containing Moscow,” and criticizes Russia’s policy in the Middle East, considering it just one of the “warring sides” in the Syrian conflict. Overall, he believes that “right now Russia is making life very difficult for us.”
Even more critical of Russia is another candidate – a CDU foreign policy expert and the head of the Bundestag foreign relations committee, Norbert Röttgen, who is constantly accusing Russia of “war crimes” it is allegedly committing in Syria, and calling for new sanctions against Moscow. Moreover, while considering France as a key foreign policy partner in Europe, Norbert Röttgen does not share President Emmanuel Macron’s desire to mend fences with Moscow. However, he has the least chances of being elected to the head of the CDU.
The most pragmatic attitude towards Russia in the upcoming elections of the CDU leader is projected by North Rhine-Westphalia’s state premier, Armin Laschet, who still lags behind Merz in polls. Notably, he is going to the polls in tandem with the young Health Minister Jens Spahn, who enjoys a great deal of popularity within the party. Moreover, while Laschet generally shares Angela Merkel’s main domestic and international priorities, Jens Spahn is critical of her alleged departure from “conservative values.”
While supporting the EU’s sanctions on Russia, Armin Laschet would still like to see them lifted as soon as possible if the Minsk process of ending the crisis in eastern Ukraine “starts developing constructively,” and he is generally holding out for a more active search for a way out of the deadlock in relations between Europe and Russia. Moreover, he takes a fairly constructive view even on the issue of the “annexation” of Crimea, arguing that Germany should be able to “look at everything through the eyes of its partner in a dialogue.” He believes that “Russia is necessary to resolve many international issues,” which makes it imperative to jointly look for mutually acceptable solutions, including when it comes to the conflict in Syria. Armin Laschet is against the “demonization” of Russia in German political and public circles and the media, dismissing this criticism as “one-sided,” and the overall picture of the Syrian conflict being projected in Germany as “too superficial.”
Meanwhile, clearly disappointed by the entire background of this whole issue, Angela Merkel herself is trying to stay away from the election of her new successor.
“I won’t interfere in the issue of who will lead the CDU in the future or who will be the candidate for chancellor,” Merkel told a recent news conference. She emphasized that her experience tells her that predecessors should not interfere in such processes, although she does not refuse to “talk” with candidates. Earlier, Bloomberg reported, citing German sources, that Angela Merkel had been too quick (even before the scandal in Thuringia) to “doubt” that her previously tipped successor as CDU leader and candidate for chancellor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, would be up to the job, and therefore, she will take a more cautious position during the current campaign by distancing himself from the pre-election debate.
The ongoing crisis and divisions within the CDU come against the backcloth of even more dramatic collisions in the ranks of its partner in the “Grand Coalition” – the Social Democrats (SPD), whose electoral rating is down to 13 percent – the worst in Germany’s entire post-war history. This may prove fatal for the SPD’s chances of staying in power if, according to the party’s former leader, Sigmar Gabriel, early elections to the Bundestag are held.
According to the US-based publication Project Syndicate, “the crisis in the CDU comes on the heels of the SPD’s own implosion.”
“The SPD will likely be replaced by the resurgent Greens, who have enjoyed a remarkable rally in the polls since the May 2019 European Parliament elections. Over the last year, the duo at the party’s helm – Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck – have increasingly been mooted as potential future leaders of Germany. Habeck currently is the country’s second most popular politician, just behind Merkel. If the CDU’s current crisis persists and the party fails to win the largest share of the vote in the next general election, then the coveted right to nominate the chancellor will most likely fall to the Greens,” Project Syndicate writes.
“A green-black coalition government in which the CDU was the junior partner would be a political first in Germany, and highly unpalatable for the party,” CNBC reporter Carolin Roth warns.
“With both of Germany’s ruling parties now in turmoil, a quick resolution to the CDU’s leadership crisis is essential. Prolonged paralysis could be highly damaging for both Germany and Europe,” she concludes.
In view of the above, new internal contradictions within the European Union itself look very much likely now that it is losing one of the key drivers of European integration. This, in turn, may prompt European leaders to take an attentive and constructive view of the need to restore interaction with Russia, all the more so if such a signal comes from the new CDU leader. From our partner International Affairs
Harmonizing and Improving Statistics in West Africa
The Board of the World Bank Group has allocated today a total of $379 million in International Development Association (IDA)*...
The reforms and the current situation of the State budget and accounts
As we have all realized, since the COVID-19 epidemics broke out the number of regulations enacted – especially by the...
Covid-19 crisis and Earth Hour: An opportunity to reflect on the deteriorating health of the planet
Earth Hour 2020 on Saturday 28 March presents a unique opportunity this year: shining a light on biodiversity loss and climate change during the coronavirus outbreak. All of us will be...
Battery Storage Paves Way for a Renewable-powered Future
Battery storage systems are emerging as one of the key solutions to effectively integrate high shares of solar and wind...
The rapport between Iran and Turkey over Syria: Liaisons or tussle?
The two powers of Iran and Turkey constitute a crucial feature on the map of the Middle East. The influence...
The Thucydides’ Trap: the Avoidable Destiny Between the US and China
The controversial “Thucydides trap” argument has sparked a heated debate since 2013, when President Xi Jinping of China told a...
Somalia to Receive Debt Relief under the Enhanced HIPC Initiative
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank’s International Development Association have determined that Somalia has taken the necessary...
Terrorism2 days ago
Covid-19 and Threat of Bio-War
Southeast Asia3 days ago
In the midst of a pandemic, the EU must suspend its proposed palm oil ban
Defense2 days ago
Dynamics of Escalation in South Asia and Pakistan’s Nuclear Threshold
Europe2 days ago
The Covid-19 epidemics and the issue of Italy’s public debt
International Law1 day ago
China’s aggressive moves in South China Sea
Americas3 days ago
Why the Justice Department Dropped Charges Over “Russian Interference”
South Asia2 days ago
SAARC against COVID-19: Is everybody in?
Newsdesk3 days ago
OECD Secretary-General: Coronavirus “war” demands joint action