European Affairs

Italy’s malaise shows in public opinion polls. In spring 2007, the Pew Global Attitudes Project surveyed 47 countries, and on a variety of issues —life satisfaction, national conditions, immigration —Italians had a distinctively negative outlook.

Despite its reputation for la dolce vita, when it comes to rating their current lives and looking to the future, Italians are generally gloomier than their fellow Europeans as well as Americans and Canadians. When asked to place themselves on a “ladder of life,” (where zero represents the worst possible life and ten the best possible life), fewer than half of Italians (48 percent) rate their life as at least a seven. People in other Western countries put themselves higher on the ladder (more than a seven), in Sweden (72 percent), Canada (71 percent), Spain (66 percent), and the United States (65 percent).

Italians are also the least optimistic among eight Western countries surveyed. Only 37 percent of Italians think they will be at a higher spot on the ladder of life in five years.

Culture is the exception. Italians are much more likely than their fellow Westerners to believe in their country’s cultural preeminence. About two third of Italians agree with the statement “Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others.”

Richard Wike, senior researcher
Pew Global Attitudes Project, January 17, 2008

 

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MADRID: New Political Mold for Old (Catholic) Spain

Four years ago, bombings rocked Madrid’s commuter train line just days before the national election, handing an upset victory of Socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as prime minister. In March, he won re-election by a statistical sliver.

What has changed under his rule? Madrid-based NPR journalist Jerome Socolovsky reported that his election in 2004 gave Zapatero “not a free hand, but quite a bit of latitude” to do what he wanted with the country. So “he took Spain on a sharp left hand turn,” pushing through legislation that would have been unthinkable before: provisions for gay marriage, easier paths to divorce, access to abortion, massive amnesty deals for undocumented workers. Perhaps most shockingly in terms of Spanish history, the new leader clashed with the Catholic Church, threatening to cut its government funding and in 2006 declining to attend a mass said by Pope Benedict XVI during a papal visit to Spain. Socolovsky says that, while Spain nominally remains 90 percent Catholic, the church’s role in daily life is becoming more and more ceremonial. Most Spaniards get married in church; most baptize their children. But church attendance is among the lowest in Europe. When Zapatero legalized gay marriage, Spanish opinion favored the step by as much as 70 percent — a level that seemed to indicate that church doctrines were no longer at the core of Spain’s governing ideals.

National Public Radio, March 11, 2008

 

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BERLIN: Corruption Index: Europe Comparatively Clean

Transparency International, an independent non-governmental organization, issues annual rankings of countries by their degree of honesty as places to do business. Put another way, the list measures local corruption, at least as seen by people doing business in each country. The rankings are based not on any actual evidence but rather on the views and opinions of businessmen and officials about the practices they believe prevail in the countries where they work. European countries are consistently grouped at or near the top of the list as “least corrupt.” In 2007, the countries that showed up best were Finland and Denmark, which were tied at the top of the 179 countries that were covered. The Netherlands and Switzerland tied for 7th place, the United States ranked 20th (just below France). China ranked 72nd (just above India). The surveys show that the poorest countries tend to be the most corrupt, but there are no findings in these surveys about how Western companies use corruption in their business in poor countries.

In the survey, countries were rated on a scale from one to 10, with 10 being the least corrupt. Here are the findings for selected countries in 2007.

Corruption Index

 

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LONDON: Some Sharia law in Britain is “unavoidable,” says Anglican Church head

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, triggered controversy in Britain when he said that the country needed to accept Islamic Sharia law in some instances when Muslims wanted it in handling legal problems such as marital disputes. He told BBC Radio Four that the UK should “face up the fact that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system.” In the circumstances, permitting people to resort to parts of Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion. Offering examples of what he meant, he said that Muslims should be able to choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court.

His comments have fueled the debate over “multiculturalism” as a social model in the UK. Leaders in the Church of England hierarchy rallied in support of Dr. Williams, the church head, after he publicly said he was sorry for the “distress and misunderstanding” over his remarks.

During the outcry, the Bishop of Rochester, Pakistani-born Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali said that Britain’s multicultural policies had proved divisive. In some parts of the country dominated by the ideology of Islamic radicals, he said, non-Muslims were exposed to “hostility” and the young people in these zones were growing up “alienated” from the country they live in, Britain. Dr. Nazir-Ali then received death threats and has been placed under police protection.

Dr. Williams said later that “nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that’s sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states; the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well.” But, he added, “there’s a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do with some other aspects of religious law.”

BBC, February 7, 2008
Financial Times, February 12, 2008

 

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NEW YORK: Record U.S. Jail Numbers Dwarf Rates in Europe

The United States is the world leader in “incarceration” —t hat is the percentage of the population that is in prison. More than one in every 100 American adults is in jail or prison, according to a report tracking what it calls a surging U.S. inmate population.

The U.S. total — 2.3 million adults held in prisons or jails — put the country far ahead of more populous China, which says it has 1.5 million people behind bars, and ahead of Russia, with 890,000 inmates. In circulating the statistics, the Washington-based Pew Foundation cited figures for January 2008 from the World Prison Brief released by the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College, London.

Going beyond the figure of one percent of adults as inmates, the figure usually employed for international comparisons is based on the incarcerated percentage of the entire population. For the U.S., that figure is 750 per 100,000. The comparable numbers are dramatically lower for western European countries: Britain 148, Italy 104 and France 85 per 100,000.

Analyzing the U.S. trend, the report said the higher and rising incarceration rates did not reflect a parallel increase in crime. Instead, it said, more people are behind bars mainly because of tougher and longer mandatory rules on prison-sentencing designed to avoid leniency or early parole.

Associated Press, February 29, 2008

 

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WASHINGTON: U.S. Government Cancels Clean-Coal Experiment

The Bush administration dropped its support for a $1.8 billion coal-gasification plant that was supposed to herald an era of emissions-free electricity. After four years of study, a total of $50 million spent, the abandonment of the project in January 2008 was a major policy reversal. The department of energy cited big cost overruns — and more in the offing — as its reason for canceling government plans to invest in the new technology.

The public-private project, FutureGen Industrial Alliance Inc., was announced in 2005 with great fanfare as part of the Bush administration’s plan to fight global warming with technological innovation rather than with ceilings on carbon. The U.S. government (alongside private partners, including some from Germany and Britain) planned a pilot facility capable of turning coal into hydrogen-rich synthetic gas for generating electricity.

Currently, the U.S. gets more than half its electricity from coal-fired plants and its dependence has grown in recent years. Coal releases large amounts of CO2, so there is no practical way the U.S. can significantly reduce overall CO2 emissions without a clean-coal program.

Some European countries, notably Germany, face similar problems due to heavy reliance on coal for power plants. In Germany’s state, Saxony, an experimental power station is planned for 2015 around “sequestration” — capturing carbon emissions from a coal-fired plant and storing the CO2 underground. The question is: will the technology be financially competitive, even with some government subsidies?

New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, February 2008

 

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WASHINGTON: Web Startups Pose Risk to Job Numbers on Both Sides of Atlantic

In past centuries, Western technological revolutions created a lot more jobs than they destroyed, but that doesn’t seem to be happening with computerization. . . . There’s a new breed of Internet company on the loose: they grow like weeds, serve millions of customers a day and operate globally. And they have very, very few employees.

Look at YouTube, the video network. When it was bought by Google in 2006, for more than $1 billion, it was one of the most popular and fastest-growing sites on the Net, broadcasting more than 100 million clips a day. Yet it employed a grand total of 60 people. Compare that to a traditional TV network like CBS, which has more than 23,000 employees.

Or look at Skype, the Internet telephone company [founded in Estonia]. When eBay acquired it, also in 2006, it had already signed up 53 million users — more than twice the number of phone customers served by venerable British Telecom. Yet Skype employed just 200 people, about 90,000 fewer than British Telecom had in the United Kingdom alone.

Nicholas Carr, National Public Radio’s “Marketplace”, January 14, 2008

 

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WASHINGTON: Global Warming Not an Issue in U.S. Election Campaign

During a U.S. presidential campaign viewed as one of the liveliest in recent years, the often-heated political debate seems to have frozen-out a major international concern: global warming. The League of Conservation Voters analyzed transcripts of 171 televised interviews and debates with the Democratic and Republican candidates. Out of 3,000 questions asked by interviewers, only six of them concerned climate change.

“Global warming is unequivocally one of the biggest issues facing the nation and the planet, and one of the issues that the next president will have the greatest impact on. And yet we’ve gone through the longest presidential primary in our nation’s history, and these reporters are ignoring this most pressing issue,” according to Navin Nayak, director of the global-warming program of the pro-environmental lobby, the League of Conservation Voters.

Even Americans not identified as environmentalists or progressives seem to want action from their leaders on global warming. An October 2007 Democracy Corps poll found that “doing nothing about dependence on foreign oil and global warming” was cited as one of the top five reasons among Democrats and independents who said they think the country is headed in the wrong direction. However, according to data from a Pew Center survey, Republicans do not seem to share this agenda. Just 12 percent of Republicans say that “dealing with global warming” should be a top priority for the administration and Congress, making it by far the lowest-ranking issue in their list of concerns.

Salon.com, January 28, 2008

 

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NEW DELHI: EU-India Trade Talks: “Hell to Pay” for U.S. Companies?

What if the world’s largest market and the world’s second-largest emerging economy deepen their trade relationship — and Washington sleeps through it? While Democratic presidential candidates regularly bash trade, and the White House and Congress spar over an economically insignificant free-trade deal with Colombia, the European Union and India are quietly negotiating an unprecedented commercial relationship.

U.S. companies, at least, are paying close attention. “If Carrefour gets better access to the Indian market than Wal-Mart, there will be hell to pay,” said Angela Marshall Hofmann, Wal-Mart’s director of international corporate affairs. She reflects Wal-Mart’s recent frustration with attempts to penetrate the Indian market and the company’s apprehension about the potential gains that Carrefour, the French retail giant, might realize from the EU-India negotiations.

Wal-Mart’s concerns seem well founded. Within two decades, half a billion Indian consumers will have sufficient income to buy a television and other accoutrements of a middle-class lifestyle. That market will be a commercial plum for whoever gets there first…

American businesses could be affected [by a number of pending issues in the proposed deal], including the exclusion of [any limits on agricultural trade], a bigger slice for Europe of India’s burgeoning public procurement spending and new market opportunities for European bankers and insurance companies…

An EU-India free-trade agreement is far from a foregone conclusion. . . European officials freely admit that no more than nine of the 27 member states of the European Union have much interest in the deal. Moreover, neither Europe nor India has a good track record with such agreements. . . . Still, the United States will discount the current EU-India negotiations at its peril. If a U.S.-India negotiation ever takes place, New Delhi will never concede to Washington more than it has given to Brussels.

Bruce Stokes, National Journal, January 12, 2008: “Europe Hungrily Eyes India”

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 9, Issue number 1-2 in the Winter/Spring of 2008.