"Maybe we need to go through this damaging experience so that next time we get true democracy in Europe." The comments of a German professor this week about the impending apathy due to strike the elections for European parliamentarians next week.

So, is being cruel to be kind a good solution for Europe? There are certainly some risks.

Such an approach suggests that the elections next week will bring gridlock to European democracy, a punishment if you like. The expected drop in turnout will favour fringe parties with anti-EU agendas. In the UK, this will undoubtedly be fuelled by opinion of a rotten political class and add voices to the argument the UK is better out of the EU.

In practice of course, this is a futile argument. Pulling out is near impossible - we're stuck with it. Not only would it be a complex constitutional nightmare, the costs of which would never be tolerated by an electorate already bailing out the national economy, but would likely to also cost more money than it saves in the long run.

As a result, we'd be left with a totally ineffective institution, promoting an agenda that isn't up for debate and that the Parliament has no hope or power to change.

If Europe's citizens decide to be cruel next week, expect the next four years of European democracy to achieve very little. That will make it all the more difficult to be kind further down the road.


Science v Ethics

When I read the following article, I struggled to believe it. The increased availability of prenatal ultrasounds in Vietnam appears to be behind an increase in male births, as parents choose abortions on the basis of gender.

A curious and uncomfortable trend reported by the New Scientist.


Whilst it may be several months old, this fantastically effective graphic illustrates the otherwise incomprehensible amount of money spent on the Wall Street bailout last year.

Via a more recent series by FlowingData of visualisations of the financial crisis.


The New Chrysler Bankrupt

Quote of the day today comes from Barack Obama on the dire state of Chrysler's finances:


"I don't want to run auto companies, and I don't want to run banks. I've got two wars I've got to run already - I've got more than enough to do."


He's got a point. Granted that thousands of jobs rely upon Chrysler being able to pay it's suppliers, but in the fierce automobile market, a company has to be competitive. The opinion in Europe is that most of Chrysler's range consists of gaz-guzzling, heavy, outdated cars, coated with an interior of cheap plastic. Needless to say, a company that sells products no-one wants to buy is likely to keep sucking on public resources as it struggles to survive.


It's a similar story with Jaguar Land Rover in the UK; although it is not the products at fault but rather the huge legacy problems inherited from Ford ownership. They continue to jostle for an £800m stimulus.


Governments need to approach this issue from the other direction. The only long-term solution to the survival of a car company is selling cars. Initiatives that encourage people to buy appear are surely the most effective stimulus for manufacturers as well as limiting the exposure of governments to companies with uncompetitive products. For example, the scrappage schemes such as those in place in six countries across the continent appear to be working to boost car sales. Renault is a case in point, with such schemes protecting it from a worse performance in the first quarter.


Buyer incentives such as the scrappage allowance scheme are the most cost-effective solution for governments, particularly if they wish to avoid the expense of publicly owned banks and car companies.


Swine Flu

The story of swine flu as told by early winners and losers on the FTSE 100.


Christianity in the Constitution

The 'push' to finalise the main features of the European Constitution before the German presidency ends in June has once again stumbled. Angela Merkel has announced that it is unlikely there will be a reference to the European Christian heritage in the preamble to the Treaty. Personally, I couldn't be happier.

My reasons are twofold. Firstly, such a reference is irrelevant to a union that is only fifty years old and distinctly multicultural in nature. This Treaty is a modern project, born in the 21st century to revise and reform what is no longer applicable in the post-war Treaty of Rome. It should shape the future of the EU-27, not reflect the past; especially not the distant past.

What is now the EU was born out of a war ravaged continent in the mid-twentieth century. As a result, I see no valid reason why the legal text that binds the EU must make reference to the heritage of a continent that dates back at least three or four hundred years. Our Christian heritage is the Holy Roman Empire and the age of englightement, a time when supranationalism was yet to be invented. Such a reference would strike of backdating the constitution to the middle ages and beyond, as if European union (small 'u') has always been around. That just isn't factually correct. If anything the Christian heritage of Europe, whereby church and state were one and the same institution, was when European wars were at their most bloody and a root cause for many of the problems which we have now begun to emerge from.

Secondly, I find it hypocritical of the EU to justify such suggestions, particularly the Commission. This is an institution that attempts to promote cultural diversity, tolerance and equality day and night. According to Barroso, it is important to recognise the 'human dignity' that is comon across Europe, something that is not at all exclusive to the Christian faith. In fact, the blatant indigntiy that surrounded the horror of the Holocaust probably did more to drive European nations together than a Christian heritage ever did.

Finally, one wonders what difference it would make if a reference to the Christian heritage were put in the Constitution. Personally, I believe with a social policy agenda of respect and diversity, it would have very little impact on policy making if it were included - the two topics simply don't appear compatible. With religion being a very personal affair, you wonder whether to recognise a Christian heritage is actually an attempt to bring Europe closer to the people.


I had never considered that the logo to celebrate the EU's fiftieth year of togetherness would appear differently in each language. In hindsight, it makes a great deal of sense ofcourse. How embarassing.

But in case, like me, you haven't seen how the rest of Europe is viewing the Together logo, here is an image (190k) displaying them all, erm...together.



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