May 2009

A glance around Europe

With the European elections almost upon us, I figured I’d present a quick round-up of what stories are being covered by the media throughout the continent. Based purely on a single, unscientific glance at what currently has the most “related stories” on that country’s google news page. Given that this can literally change from minute to minute, it’s hardly something to which a lot of meaning should be attributed. So fair warning, and on with the round-up…

Britain: Julie Kirkbride and Margaret Moran to quit at next election

Two MPs locked in high-profile battles with their constituents over expenses claims ended their parliamentary careers within 10 minutes of each other yesterday when Tory Julie Kirkbride and Labour’s Margaret Moran announced their intention to stand down at the next election.

I myself have been preoccupied with the expenses katzenjammer of late, so I can hardly blame Britain for it’s preoccupation. I’ve found it endlessly fascinating from the standpoint of group psychodynamics as well as psychologically interesting on the level of individual MPs. See, I have some theories about the nature of political power and the effect it can have on both groups and individuals. And this scandal is like a public demonstration of my views. All wrapped up in a thick blanket of genuine absurdity… with moats and duck-islands and claiming back unpaid taxes on expenses. I think it’s fab. But while lots of people are speculating about the impact this will have on the election results, there’s not many people actually discussing the elections themselves.

Well… excluding all the talk about how well the ultra-nationalist BNP might do. The elections are being covered from that angle, sadly enough. I don’t see the BNP as quite the threat that many view them as. Not because I don’t think they’re reprehensible. They are, and I do. But because I think they’re incompetent. If they were to get an MEP or two, I suspect it would result in the party splintering within a couple of years. Of course, I want to see them do badly. But I think a small taste of power could do serious damage to them. Clouds and silver linings and what have you.

France: Scientology on Trial in France: Can a Religion Be Banned?

As a fiercely secular nation, France has always had an awkward relationship with religious groups. Officials often find themselves struggling to strike the delicate balance between maintaining church-state separation and honoring the right of citizens to express their faith. But in the current case against the U.S.-based Church of Scientology, authorities have abandoned their usual attempts at fine-tuning religion’s standing in French society — instead, they want to ban Scientology from France altogether.

I’m doing something of a disservice to the French here. The elections have a media profile (according to my own unscientific assessment of the google news sites) slightly higher than the scientology trial. Sarkozy appears to be talking tough on crime because of the rise of the far right. So we’re unlikely to see a Gallic drift leftwards during this election. Isn’t it weird how the far right so easily sets the agenda for the centre right, but for the past three decades the centre-left has been steadfastly distancing itself (policy-wise) from its ideologues? I’m (honestly) not making any value judgment there; it’s just an observation.

Germany: Opel talks break down in Berlin

All-night talks in Berlin about the future of Opel and Vauxhall have broken down without reaching a decision about who should buy GM’s European unit.

It’s all about the economy in Germany, but it’s not really feeding into the elections all that much with the whole nation, government, opposition and population united in their frustration at General Motors. Seems like they were in the process of signing the contracts that would allow the German government to begin financing Opel when someone noticed that a GM representative had scribbled “oh, and another €300m as well. Plees.” onto the document in crayon.

Greece: Greek pair develop swine flu on return from visit to the Capital

The country’s health minister yesterday said a 21-year-old man had been confirmed as having the virus after his compatriot, also 21, tested positive on Tuesday. A third man, who had been travelling with the infected pair, tested negative for the virus.

The Greek media is focussed equally on the elections and swine flu. They seem a good deal more concerned about the virus than anywhere else in Europe. Hard to tell why as they’ve not had a disproportionate number of cases. As for the elections; it’s a familiar story. The party in power is being accused of corruption and running the economy into the ground. A backlash is expected. In this case it’ll be a lurch to the right. All depends on who is in power really. If Pasok was the party of government, then the lurch would be leftwards. Greek, Dutch, Irish, British, German… we are all of us an unimaginative lot when it comes to casting our ballot.

Ireland: President calls for Ryan report prosecutions

President Mary McAleese has said she believes there should be criminal prosecutions as a result of the Ryan report into institutionalised child abuse.

Here in Ireland, understandably enough really, the focus has been on the Ryan Report. Seems the institutions of the Catholic Church have managed — somehow! — to emerge from the Ryan Report looking even worse than anyone imagined. It’s harrowing. My own time with the Christian Brothers (one of the congregations covered by the report) contained nothing remotely close to the severe and sustained abuse revealed in the report. But I’ll never forget the atmosphere of the place. The constant threat of “the leather” keeping us all in line. It’s perhaps unsurprising, so, that in a time when the nation is reliving its collective childhood trauma, the media aren’t as interested as they might be in the European elections.

Italy: Berlusconi’s popularity slides as Letizia mystery deepens

The Italian newspapers have been preoccupied with one subject and one subject only: the relationship between prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and a young woman from Naples called Noemi Letizia.

OK, seems like the Italians don’t really have their eye on the ball right now.

Netherlands: World scrambles to find response to North Korea

The major powers were last night scrambling to find a credible response to North Korea’s increasingly brazen sabre rattling — one that would punish the renegade Communist regime without triggering a second all-out war on the Korean peninsula in little more than half a century.

For reasons I can’t explain, the Dutch are far more worried about the whole North Korea thing than anyone else in Europe. Leastways if my glance at google news Netherlands is anything to go by. They are waaay more preoccupied with news from Pyongyang than they are with who they’ll be sending to Brussels. Let’s all hope they’ve got their priorities wrong on this one.

Poland: Polish shipyards sold after rules breach

The government agency in charge of disposing of two of Poland’s shipyards on Thursday signed an agreement selling the bulk of their assets to Netherlands-registered United International Trust. The yards were forced into liquidation by the European Commission, which found they had received illegal government aid. The Commission ruled that the yards had to be broken up into smaller units, which were offered for sale via auction.

The Polish media seems to be talking about the elections alright. And like in Germany there’s a heavy emphasis on the economy (hardly surprising in the midst of a global recession). The shipyards story is really the first time that Pawel Public has had a decent excuse to get pissed-off with the EU, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of effect this has on the polls.

See what I did there?

Spain: Brilliant Barcelona outclass Man Utd

And as Ferguson grimly accepted the truth that Manchester United were dismantled by Barcelona, additional pain came from the knowledge that he knew what was coming and still his Premier League champions were ill-equipped, tactically and technically, to deal with it.

The day after Barcelona wins the Champions League probably isn’t the best time to do a quick survey of what’s happening in the Spanish media. A closer look, however, would seem to suggest that in truth, the Spanish media are all over these elections. There appears to be a national debate underway between the socialists and the free-marketeers. The outcome of this debate will doubtlessly heavily influence the kind of MEPs that’ll be making the trip between Spain and Belgium.

Either that, or the Spaniards will just vote against the government like everywhere else.

Anyhoo, that’s it for now. I know that only covers a small number of the nations voting, but this was only a glance around Europe after all.

Posted in: Opinion