March 2010: a pivotal month? Or more of the same...

Since I last wrote a month ago, so much has happened in the world...Or is it just more of the same?

Against all odds, Obama got his health reform through. He wrote History. Or did he? Wasn't it more a matter of catching up with History?

What was surprising to European observers (like myself) was the amount of acrimony this issue has generated in America. From a European point of view, it is almost impossible to comprehend that anyone would use arguments like the Republicans did - claiming it would bring Socialism to America, cause a budgetary disaster and costs to shoot up etc and even go so far as to depict Obama in the vest of a new Hitler.


I repeat, from a European point of view, health coverage for some 31 million Americans appeared overdue. Surely, it is a simple matter of ethics. How can the greatest democracy in the world illtreat its citizens in this way? How can a free market ideology that clearly ostracizes millions of people and throws them in poverty be put ahead of the most elementary sense of  equity and even, yes, why not use the term, charity? It simply looks immoral!  And I believe it is. Sure, national health coverage is expensive. Sure, it can easily degenerate into corruption and mismanagement. And it requires close monitoring and control to avoid the most obvious problems. We are well aware of this in Europe, and struggling to address these issues (not always successfully - but that's another story). But, as a matter of principle, national health coverage cannot be put in question. It is a MUST!

The Middle East is the other burning question that has undergone some changes this month - all of them for the worse. True, the Talibans are being chased all over the place in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Obama even made a surprise visit to Karzai on 28 March, but the situation still looks dire and not about to be solved soon. Iran is expanding its nuclear activities and Israel its building activities in Jerusalem which makes a joke out of the American-sponsored "proximity talks" to solve the Palestinian problem.

No, the problems in the Middle East are not about to be solved soon, particularly with the Europeans not too interested in helping the Americans. They have problems of their own and are not looking at anything beyond their own borders. The British are cranking up for their election campaign and (maybe) a change from Labour into (an as yet unclear) Tory government. Continental Europeans are worked up over the Euro's soft underbelly, exposed by irresponsible Greek budget deficits.

There was much gleeful talk about the PIGS or PIIGS, depending whether you included Italy or not in the basic list of culprits constituted by Portugal, Ireland, Greece of course, and Spain. The Germans have come out with some very rude remarks about Mediterranean profligacy in general and the Greek in particular. They called for intervention from the International Monetary Fund  because they were damned if they were going to help out people that had never learned to tighten their belts and do an honest day's work. The French resisted the call, retorting that the IMF was in the hands of the Americans (and from Sarkozy's point of view, in the hands of Strauss-Kahn, a future rival in the next presidential round). Others joined in to argue that it would amount to unwanted  interference in the management of a sovereign currency. Imagine the situation in reverse: it would be like calling on the IMF to save the dollar because California has gone bankrupt. Finally, our politicians reached (as usual) a compromise: if needed, Greece would be saved by a combination of bilateral loans and IMF intervention.

Yeah, if needed.Whatever that means.

One thing is certain: this is a very lame duck management of a sovereign currency. And, not surprisingly, international investors have not been kind with the Greek Government when it sought yet another loan yesterday. It had to pay a hefty interest (6%) and the loan was oversubscribed by a meagre 25 percent, compared with the 300 percent achieved for the previous Greek loan.  It is clear that without serious European coordination there is no Euro.

We're a long way from a real Euro and from a real Europe.Conclusion? On the international scene, there is, as usual, a European void. A desert.

Good luck Ms. Ashton!