Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Press Review 27 July

Here's the latest installment of my press review for European Voice newspaper. Enjoy...

HOLIDAY time is upon us, bringing with it a kind of hazy, sangria-fuelled news siesta. So once again this column revisits what that street bard Will Smith, aka The Fresh Prince, called “a new definition of summer madness”.
Le Monde looks at a military action waged by France’s most lethal fighting force: anti-GM food campaigners. Protesters invaded yet another field of genetically modified maize on a test site in southern France, uprooting the plants and causing general mayhem – at least until the lunch break. Anti-globalization leader José Bové is warning that more GMO crops will be destroyed in the coming weeks.
Le Figaro points to a report by the French Health and Food Safety Board made public on Friday. According to the paper, “It highlights, albeit cautiously, the fact that certain GMOs could be beneficial to health, reducing the use of pesticides... and possessing improved nutritional qualities.” Put that in your pipe and smoke it, José.
Actually, Bové might have to turn his Luddite sights onto a new bakery in Paris that offers bread to customers in a hurry. It’s a drive-through boulangerie.
Several wire services describe the courageous venture, which is set in a former service station on a busy road west of the French capital. “’Drive-in Joly’ boulangerie is the first in France and caters to about 200 customers per day,” Reuters reports, quoting the owner as saying customers are increasingly rushed and need convenient service. This kind of thinking just reeks of efficiency.
Meanwhile, Madrid’s El Pais reports that former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar paid a lobbyist $2 million in public money to secure a medal from the US Congress.
“This episode shows that Aznar has confused himself, his post and the state,” the paper says.
A current prime minister who takes it on the chin from his national press is The Netherlands’ Jan Peter Balkenende. De Volkskrant describes some bizarre comments he made during a visit to Germany to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Balkenende told an audience of Bundeswehr recruits that the incident “was an important link in the creation and development of European cooperation and integration”.
Radio Netherlands’ press critic sums it up this way: “One of the great advantages of being a prime minister is that you can travel abroad and say things there that you could never say at home without being dismissed as a bit off the wall at best and, at worst, a blithering idiot.”
Not as long as What the Papers Say is in business you can’t!
But even sun-addled leaders can’t compete with ordinary Europeans when it comes to downright weirdness. Consider this grab-bag:
* Reuters reports that Irish airline Ryanair has sacked two of its workers who sat in an overcrowded plane’s toilets for a flight from Spain because there were no other seats. The captain of the packed flight from Girona, near Barcelona, to Dublin airport resigned after he gave the two cabin crew permission.
* Norway’s NRK radio tells of a four-year-old boy who caused chaos at a Norwegian airport this week when he hopped aboard a luggage conveyor belt as if it were a merry-go-round.
“Ole Tobias crawled onto the belt next to an unmanned check-in desk Monday, continued unnoticed through a trapdoor along with bags and suitcases about his size, then passed through an X-ray scanner and into the luggage hall,” according to wire reports.
* The Italian town of Monza has banned pet owners from keeping goldfish in bowls, according to Agence France Presse. Explains a town official, “A fish kept in a bowl has a distorted view of reality...and suffers because of this.”
That’s all from the Brussels goldfish bowl. Have a great summer!



Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Press Review

My weekly press review column appears in European Voice newspaper, which is available by subscription only, so I've decided to start posting a sort of enhanced version here. I can add links to the stories I mention, which I can't do in a good, old-fashioned newspaper.

So, here you go. Enjoy. Still working on a better name than the one European Voice gives it ("What the Papers Say")....

British papers go ga-ga over what appears to have been the biggest news out of the opening session of the expanded European Parliament: a newly installed British MEP’s unexpected discourse on gender issues.
Once again (remember when Silvio Berlusconi, almost exactly a year ago, likened a German MEP to a Nazi concentration camp guard?), a sideline incident satiates the public’s already bird-like appetite for news from Strasbourg.
The Independent’s Stephen Castle describes the scene: “Nominated by UKIP for the Parliament’s Women’s Rights Committee, Godfrey Bloom, newly elected MEP for Yorkshire and Humberside, made a bizarre series of comments that seemed destined to dent his party’s credibility as a serious political force [sic].
“Speaking on the fringes of a press conference Mr Bloom joked that women ‘don’t clean behind the fridge enough’ adding: ‘I would represent Yorkshire women who always have dinner on the table when you come home.’”
Writing in The Guardian, Martin Wainwright adds a literary twist to the saga. “While the shades of Amy Johnson, the Brontë sisters and other famous Yorkshirewomen whirled beyond the grave,” he writes, “Mr Bloom unrepentantly went on local television - promptly syndicated - to make sure that his mission statement was understood.
“‘The more women’s rights you have, it’s actually a bar to their employment,’ he said, citing his experience in the Territorial Army and a London investment firm for which he still works as a researcher. ‘No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age.’”
Hmm, I wonder how he would know that.
The Daily Mail sees fit to mention in the last sentence of its account of the Bloom incident that “Spanish socialist Josep Borrell, 57, was elected as the new president” of the Parliament. Glad we could fit in that piece of information.
Speaking of the latest Iberian to secure a top EU post, Spain’s El Pais calls Borrell’s election the product of the “complex balancing acts” which have come to typify the institution. “He is a politician with great management experience, who spent a long period in the wilderness and who faces a task which is less partisan than being a deputy in the Spanish parliament,” it says.
But Polish papers think Liberal group candidate and Solidarity legend Bronislaw Geremek should have won.
“There could hardly have been a better candidate to lead the European Parliament,” says Rzeczpospolita, “in which for the first time we have deputies from the part of Europe that was once cut off by the Iron Curtain.”
The paper complains that many MEPs still think in terms of a division between “old” and “new” Europe.
Trybuna argues that the choice of Borrell over Geremek reveals the true balance of power in Europe. “It’s very unfair, but it is the strongest who decide on the order of the world and its institutions,” it writes. “The largest groups in the European Parliament agreed long ago who its president was going to be and shared out the offices between their candidates. So the outcome of the vote was a surprise only to those who believe in willpower overcoming the laws of political physics.”
The International Herald Tribune's Thomas Fuller wonders about the choice of Borrell after the selection of Portuguese prime minister José Barroso as Commission president and Spaniard Javier Solana as the EU’s first foreign minister.
He notes: “The Iberian domination of the EU’s top posts is coincidental but somewhat incongruous, analysts say [translation: it is obvious to this writer and everybody else], given that leaders from the Union’s western fringe are taking office two months after the Union expanded eastward.”
Never mind the Iberian domination of top posts. Despite what UKIP has to say about it, let’s do something about the masculine one.

Friday, July 16, 2004


No real blogs yet, but here are some articles I've written recently:
My Ode to Spam, in the Washington Post

A banana as the symbol of freedom, from the Wall Street Journal

Czechs, We Have No Banany
By Craig Winneker
Sometimes, to misquote Freud, a banana is not just a banana. Sometimes it is a symbol of freedom.
Such is the case in the Czech Republic, where in the decade and a half since the fall of communism, the banana has become the fastest-selling fruit at the green grocer. Per capita annual consumption of bananas in the country has risen from almost zero in 1990 to more than 15 kilograms per person, one of the highest levels in Europe.
And it's not just the Czech Republic; all of Eastern Europe loves bananas.
Legend has it that during the Cold War, West Berliners used to throw them to their neighbors on the other side of the Wall. When the Wall came down in 1989-and again when Berlin marked the anniversary of that dramatic event 10 years later-bunches of bananas were passed around as if they were celebratory bouquets. In former communist countries bananas are seen not just as a tasty and nutritious snack but as an exotic delicacy that freedom has made easy to obtain.
Enter the EU. That's what the Czech Republic and nine other countries have just done, to much deserved fanfare. But one of the many soon-to-be-felt side effects of this historic reunification of the continent is that the banana will change from a symbol of sweet liberty to an emblem of a spoiled rotten trade policy way past its sell-by date.
Followers of EU affairs will recall that bananas were at the center of one of the longest-running and, let's face it, most complicated and insufferably boring trans-Atlantic trade wars. Put as simply as possible, the EU protects banana producers in its former colonies by limiting access to its markets for others, such as Latin American growers. This artificially controls supply and keeps banana prices high all across the union. The new member states started operating under this regime on May 1-and the price hikes will hit soon.
"Suddenly, Czechs are going to have to line up for bananas . . . again," complains a friend from Prague. That's an overstatement. What they will have to do is pay more for banany than they have been, and a lot more than they should have to.
Chiquita, the U.S. banana giant that fought the EU quota system (achieving only minor success) has a big market share in Eastern Europe and recently sought assurances from the European Commission that it would be able to retain it once the quotas take effect there. "Consumers in those countries will be exposed to greater market dynamics," says a Chiquita spokesman. That's putting it delicately.
What's even more galling is the secondary effect this will have on shoppers in the 15 pre-enlargement EU member states, who are by now used to paying too much for bananas (and sugar, and a lot of other products). They'll benefit from what one industry lobbyist referred to as a "blowback" from the still cheaper prices in East European countries.
In other words, in the richer West, people will pay less for bananas than they have been, but still more than they should have to.
Thanks a bunch, Brussels.
My weekly column in European Voice can be read here, but only with a subscription.

My artices on TechCentralStation.com can be read here, for free!


Testing, one, two, three... testing... hello? First blog entry!