Category Archives: Europe

Might Britain Really Leave the European Union?

London under construction

Construction cranes for new building in central London give clue to that city’s role in the world economy, a matter of grave concern to the financial world as Britain votes on June 23d on a referendum to leave or stay in the European Europe. (Photo by Rowntree)

Next week on Thursday, June 23d the British will vote in a referendum on whether the country will leave the European Union (EU), a process referred to as “Brexit”. Regardless of the outcome the ramifications are huge for Britain and Europe. Though the arguments for and against leaving the EU get rather complex they basically come down to the proponents arguing Britain will have more control over its borders and finances by leaving the EU while those against the referendum say Britain will suffer dire economic consequences from leaving the world’s largest trading bloc. While the British government itself is against leaving the EU, there is enough public support for Brexit that right now, seven days before the vote, pollsters say it’s too close to call. Want more info? Here are links to recent Brexit articles in the New York Times, along with the lead paragraphs of those articles.

Brexit Plan for the Financial World? Cross Your Fingers“. NY Times, June 15, 2016

By PETER S. GOODMAN Among those who manage gobs of money, the possibility that Britain might actually disavow the European Union seemed until recently like a remote and even outlandish possibility. But about a week before voters go to the polls to determine their future, masters of finance are suddenly absorbing the prospect that Britain might really walk, unleashing anxiety and uncertainty throughout the global economy. Like local responders readying sandbags as a hurricane menaces their shores, financial industry overseers have been quietly drawing up contingency plans while surveying the expensive havoc a so-called Brexit is already wreaking. Central bankers from London to Washington have been monitoring the tempest while making preparations to unleash credit should markets seize with fear.

• “Brexit Vote Has European Workers in Britain Unsure of Future” New York Times. June 13, 2016

LONDON — Filipe Graca hovered over an espresso machine at the British food chain Pret A Manger and frothed out a cafe latte for a waiting customer. Until last year, he had struggled to find any kind of a job in his native Portugal. But when he arrived in London, he was able to work almost right away. So were the young women from Hungary, France and Albania who cheerfully tended the cash registers. And the staff from Poland, Spain and Italy cleaning tables and preparing sandwiches for the lunch crowd. Only one thing seemed to bother them: the prospect that Britain might actually leave the European Union.


Photos from The Berlin Wall, Yesterday and Today


The 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Opening of The Wall

Berlin border guards watch over crowds of people celebrating (prematurely as it turned out) the opening of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989,

Berlin, Germany, and perhaps all of Europe are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s opening the weekend of November 9, 2014. The Berlin Wall was built in August 1961 to stop the flow of people leaving communist East Germany for democratic West Germany. As such this  monstrous concrete and barbed wire barrier to migration was an integral part of the 866 mile Iron Curtain that physically divided Germany into two distinct political entities from 1946 to 1990. But in early November 1989, in response to civil unrest the East German government began easing travel restrictions to West Germany by funneling those wishing to leave the country through a remote border station in the country’s southwest corner. However, a bungled press conference announcing these new regulations was misunderstood by Berlin residents (as well as the shoot-to-kill East German Wall guards) as also applying to the tightly control Berlin Wall border crossings. As a result thousands of joyful East Berliners crossed into West Berlin during the night of November 9th (mainly in the early morning hours of November 10th) resulting in an accidental opening of The Wall that the East German government could not stop. Not only did this lead to the physical destruction of the Berlin Wall within weeks but also to the fall of the East German government and, within a year, the unification of Germany, East and West. At a global scale this radical political change in Berlin and Germany was closely linked to political changes in Moscow leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union and, further, to a wave of political and economic change in the former Soviet satellite states of Eastern Europe.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall the city will mark the path of the former barrier with a string of white balloons

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall the city will mark the path of the former barrier with a string of white balloons

More Information on the Berlin Wall:

• Wikipedia’s entry on the Berlin Wall is here

• Numerous photos of the Berlin Wall are found here.

• A n excellent 43-minute National Geographic video on The Wall is here.

• The 25th Anniversary celebration website (in German and English) is here.

A view of The Wall from the West Berlin side, with an East Germany guard tower on the East Berlin side. The crosses commemorate those killed by border guards as they attempted to flee East Berlin

A view of The Wall from the West Berlin side, with an East Germany guard tower on the East Berlin side. The crosses commemorate those killed by border guards as they attempted to flee East Berlin

A Personal Note

Berlin had been a continual source of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union since WW2’s end in 1945 because the former German capital lay within the Soviet zone of occupation. Like occupied Germany itself, Berlin was also divided into four sectors (British, French, Soviet, and American) with free movement between sectors guaranteed by international treaty. Unlimited access across the Soviet zone to Berlin from the west to Berlin was also a part of this treaty, however this became problematic when the Soviet puppet state of East Germany was created in 1949. One of the first major crises of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union started in June 1948 when Moscow blocked all access to Berlin. (See Wikipedia “Berlin Blockade” here) Although Moscow backed down a year later in 1949 when the western allies gave tacit approval to the creation of the Soviet puppet state of East Germany (which led to a division within Berlin of East and West Berlin, one communist, the other not), the United States’ commitment to the city grew as the Soviet Union expanded its power over all of Eastern Europe. Thus the building of the Berlin Wall around East Germany in August 1961 with its denial of free movement for the city’s residents created an international crisis that many thought would trigger WW3. Indeed, in October 1961 Soviet and U.S. tanks and soldiers faced each other with loaded weapons at point blank range at Checkpoint Charlie, the U.S. entry point to East Berlin. Fortunately no shots were fired and after several days the Soviet armor withdrew. But tensions remained high between the two superpowers as each country expanded its military presence in Western and Eastern Europe.

At that time (and continuing until 1973) the U.S. armed forces relied heavily on the compulsory military service—known simply as The Draft—required of all male citizens. And although college students were usually able to defer their service until after graduation the 1961 Berlin crisis reshuffled these rules so that many young men who had not given much (if any) thought to their military obligation found themselves drafted into the U.S. Army and shipped off to West Germany to prepare for war with the Soviet Union and its East European allies. I was one of those young men taken from college, and after several months of infantry training I found myself in Germany in March 1962 carrying a rifle and preparing to meet the enemy.

Within a month, however, I was able to trade my rifle for a typewriter, as I was transferred (at my request) to the 24th Division headquarters in Augsburg, Germany to work as a newspaper reporter in the Public Information Office (PIO. With reporter’s notebook in hand I saw the Iron Curtain up close, traveled to Berlin to write about The Wall, and crossed through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. My experiences were rich and life-changing, resulting in a lifelong interest in European affairs. I’ve traveled back to Berlin numerous times, and recently returned to the Iron Curtain to hike and bike along the former border that I knew as a soldier. I’ll post more on those recent trips soon.

The Wall separated one of Berlin's most famous landmark, the Brandenburg Gate. This sign from the 1960s says "Attention: You are now leaving West Berlin"

The Wall separated one of Berlin’s most famous landmark, the Brandenburg Gate. This sign from the 1960s says “Attention: You are now leaving West Berlin”


38 Maps That Explain Europe (maybe)

Mathew Yglesias, the force behind the VOX website and frequent cartographic gadfly, recently posted “38 Maps That Explain” Europe. Take a look at this interesting post here. Pay attention to the fact several of the maps are animated to show change over a period of time so be patient and let them run their course. Down below are two innovative maps I particularly liked.


European 2013 unemployment by region

Double-digit unemployment has characterized much of Europe in the last several years, but what’s interesting about this map is that these data are displayed by smaller administrative regions and districts within each nation, thus showing uneven patterns of unemployment. For example look at Germany where one sees that the former East Germany has much, much higher unemployment that areas in former West Germany. And even in that area there’s significant issues between different parts of the country, namely the south (around Munich) contrasted to the Ruhr area in the northwest, which was the former heart of Germany’s industry.  Similar intra-national patterns show up in Finland. Italy. Romania, France, and the UK. Also of interest is the mapping of Turkey, a country that at times would like to be considered part of Europe. No surprise, I suppose that the Istanbul district has more employment than rural Turkey. Also unsurprising is the Kurdish areas in Turkey’s southeast have high areas of unemployment.

The map below of the percentage of a country’s population able to hold a conversation is of interest to me because I first visited Europe in the 1960s when far fewer Europeans knew English. Or if they knew it they spoke it only reluctantly. Except for the French who in my opinion refused to speak English at all. Consequently, because of my linguistic inabilities my early days in Europe consisted of many awkward situations. But that was then, and now is, well, now, where often I find that even if I initiate a conversation in German or French the response is often in English……much to my chagrin as I think about all the blood, sweat, and tears that I spent in language classes. While not sure how data for this map was collected, large parts of the map resonate with my more recent experiences, namely the Scandinavians are essential bi-lingual in English and their own language, as are the Germans. Having spent a good deal of time in Austria I’m frankly a bit wary of that 73% figure, particularly if one’s up in the Alps in someplace that’s not an international ski center. As is the case throughout Europe, rural folk are less likely to know or speak English. Which is just fine with me. At the other end of the scale, well, the French are still the French, resisting English. A bit surprising is the low figure in Spain. No surprises, though for eastern Europe. What are your experiences? Care to share?


Europeans who can hold a conversation in English

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Posted by on September 8, 2014 in Europe


Europe’s Dependence on Russian Natural Gas

As tensions build between Russia, the U.S., and Europe over the Ukraine, the issue of Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas as an energy source once again emerges. The following is from The Economist, April5, 2014, which can be found on the internet here. Here are first two paragraphs of that informative article, along with several illustrations

WHEN Vladimir Putin was bribing Viktor Yanukovych, then the president of Ukraine, to turn down a trade deal with the European Union last year, one of the sweeteners was cheap gas. The copious Russian gas Ukraine burns through every year—it is a profligate user of energy—would be priced at just $268.5 per thousand cubic metres (tcm), which for 2013’s total of 28 billion cubic metres (bcm) works out at $7.5 billion. Since February’s revolution ousted Mr Yanukovych, gas has become a stick, not a carrot. On April 1st Alexei Miller, the chief executive of Russia’s gas giant, Gazprom, said that theprice of Ukraine’s gas was going up by 44%, to $385.5 per tcm. This is ominous news for Europe. Ukraine already owes Gazprom $1.7 billion, according to Mr Miller. If Ukraine continues not to pay its bills—and without outside help, it cannot—Gazprom can cut it off. Such a dispute need not, in principle, have any effect on the gas that flows through Ukraine to other countries farther west (see map). But if Gazprom reduces the flow of gas to reflect the fact that Ukraine no longer has a right to its 28bcm, and Ukraine takes some of that gas anyway, or if Gazprom shuts down the pipelines going through Ukraine completely, Europe’s supplies get hit. Europe gets 24% of its gas from Russia, and half of that—80bcm a year—passes through Ukraine. An argument between Russia and Ukraine led to the pipelines shutting down for two weeks in January 2009, to much consternation downstream.

The % of a country's total gas needs that are supplied by Russia

The % of a country’s total gas needs that are supplied by Russia

A map of the very complex natural gas delivery system, (from The Economist, 4/7/14)

A map of the very complex natural gas delivery system,
(from The Economist, 4/7/14)


Illegal Migration Through Spain’s Enclaves in Africa

Hardly a day passes without a news article about illegal migration into Europe, often about either the tragic loss of life when migrants drown attempting to enter Spain or Italy by sea or the hardships migrants suffer trying to enter an European Union (EU) country overland from Turkey. Here, as an illustration, is a CNN infographic showing pathways of illegal migration into Europe.

In the last month, however, a flurry of news article have called attention to Spain’s two territorial enclaves in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla, where illegal migrants from Africa and refugees from war-torn Syria are using as a backdoor into Europe. Even though both cities are located in Morocco, they are legally Spanish territory, thus if illegal migrants are arrested in either of the two cities the hope is that they will be jailed—and eventually released—-on the Spanish mainland. The dream is that even if they’re still illegal they could construct a new and more comfortable life either in Spain or elsewhere in a European country like France or Germany since there are no longer any formal border controls between Spain and France. And once into France an illegal migrant can pass freely into Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, or Italy. Consequently Spain that the problems in Melilla and Ceuta are not simply Spanish problems but EU problems…..which is probably true.

The border fence between Melilla and Morocco, over which illegal migrants will climb in order to be arrested on Spanish territory. (Wikipedia photo)

The border fence between Melilla and Morocco, over which illegal migrants will climb in order to be arrested on Spanish territory.
(Wikipedia photo)

African migrants camped outside of Melilla. NY Times photo by Samel Aranda

African migrants camped outside of Melilla.
NY Times photo by Samel Aranda

Here are some extracts from a recent NY Times article “As Africans Surge to Europe’s Door, Spain Locks Down”:

“Ten years ago Spain spent more than 30 million euros building up the barriers around Melilla and Ceuta, its two enclaves surrounded by Morocco on the northern coast of Africa, which offer the only land borders between the promise of Europe and the despair of Africa. And for a while the investment seemed to work.

“But in the past year, large groups of sub-Saharan immigrants have been charging the rows of seven-yard-high chain-link fences here with increasing frequency, or trying to swim around them, believing with good reason that if they can just get past they will ultimately end up in Europe. They often end up injured, not just from falls and the newly laid concertina wire, but at the hands of the Moroccan and Spanish authorities trying to stop them.

“It is a question that has hounded Europe for years, as immigrants fleeing wars or simply wanting a better future have tried to break through its borders, sometimes dying in tiny boats headed for the Canary Islands, part of Spain, or the Italian island of Lampedusa, sometimes trying to walk from Turkey to Greece or Bulgaria. Or, as they are doing now, charging the fences of these enclaves, seeking out even the smallest doorways to Europe

“Even so, their excitement is hard to miss because they are well on their way to getting what they hoped for. Most have had brutal journeys and now will probably spend a year or more in the immigration center as their applications for asylum are processed. Few will get such status. But most will end up transferred to the mainland before being handed an order to leave Spain.

“Most cannot be deported because Spain does not have treaties with many of the countries they come from. So in the twist that has confounded Europe’s efforts to secure its borders for decades now, many of those who make it to Melilla and Ceuta will be largely free to remain in Spain or other European nations that offer them the prospect of better lives.

“Getting over the fences is not the only route into the enclaves. Experts say sub-Saharan women tend to come by boat. More recently, the enclaves have also attracted growing numbers of Syrians, who, because they look more like local Moroccans and often have some money, are able to buy or rent Moroccan passports and simply walk quietly across the border with other day workers.”

UPDATE: Here is the latest NY Times article on the topic, “Spain Struggles to Halt Migrants at Two Enclaves


Policial Tensions in the Ukraine

Ukraine Protest

Anti-government protestors in Ukraine prepare on Tuesday morning for an expected operation by state forces. The police have surrounded the camp to stop the influx of people. (photo: AP/dpa, from Spiegel Online article,

An excellent article in Spiegel Online International on the current tensions in the Ukraine over their relationships with Russia and the European Union. You can find the complete article here. Several paragraphs from that article follow:

“The fight for Ukraine has now become a contest between the Russian president and the German chancellor. Putin won the first round. But Merkel and her fellow Europeans are grooming professional heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko to be their new strongman. 

Russia has defeated the European Union in the latest round of the fight for Ukraine. To be more precise, Chancellor Merkel lost the round against Russian President Vladimir Putin, with the Russian defeating the German in a technical knockout. Within several weeks, Putin had brought Ukrainian President Yanukovych into line with a mixture of overt pressure and tempting promises. As a result, Yanukovych did not sign an association agreement with the EU at the EU-Eastern Europe summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, despite months of negotiations. For the time being, his country is now a part of the bloc of countries bordering Russia that Putin plans to join together into a Russian empire of sorts, from Vladivostok to the eastern border of the EU.

“The door remains open for Ukraine,” Merkel repeatedly emphasized after the debacle, noting that the Europeans were still willing to talk. It sounded like a losing contestant’s painstaking effort to save face. But it also suggests that the issue is not a done deal. And before the next round begins, the chancellor plans to bring a new player into the game: Vitali Klitschko. The tall heavyweight-boxing champion is to be groomed as the pro-European opponent of pro-Russian President Yanukovych, and the hope is that he will be the one to sign a pro-EU treaty, which they still believe will materialize.

While “regime change” is too strong a term for what Germany is seeking, it’s not entirely off base. Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the European People’s Party (EPP), a family of European conservative parties, have chosen Klitschko as their de facto representative in Ukraine. His job is to unite and lead the opposition — on the street, in parliament and, finally, in the 2015 presidential election. “Klitschko is our man,” say senior EPP politicians, “he has a clear European agenda.” And Merkel still has a score to settle with Putin.”

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Posted by on December 14, 2013 in Europe, The Russian Domain