Wednesday, 27 August 2008

UK set to be most populous EU nation by 2060

Here's an interesting note for those in England who complain about immigration. Just a week after new population figures released in the UK showed that the population in that country is growing at quite a healthy rate, figures released for the EU as a whole show the population trend going in the exact opposite direction. In fact, it shows that because of migration, the UK is going to be the only large country in the EU with a healthy population growth rate after 2015.

According to the study by the EU's statistical office Eurostat, deaths will outnumber births in the European Union after 2015. By 2060, the UK is likely to have the largest population in the EU - 77 million, ahead of France and Germany. And though the EU's population is set to fall after 2035, the UK is set to see a 25 percent population growth over the next 27 years, behind only Cyprus, Ireland and Luzembourg.

This will keep the ratio of pensioners to working people at a healthy rate. Though the EU as a whole will see only two people of working age for every person aged 65 or over by 2060, in the UK the disparity is not expected to ne nearly as stark because of a high level of migration.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

US gets its missiles in Poland

It’s official, the United States will install missiles in Poland pointed at Russia. The historic and highly controversial deal was signed in Warsaw this afternoon by Condoleezza Rice, ushering in a new era in Russo-Western relations.

The decision by Poland to allow the US to build its missile base there, and a mirror decision by the Czech Republic to build a twin radar facility in that country, seemingly couldn’t come at a worse time for relations between Russia and the West. Set as it is with the backdrop of the Georgia conflict, the timing is likely to enrage Russia even further.

The US insists the missiles are not directed at Russia but are rather for Europe’s protection from rogue states such as Iran. But there is no denying that the missiles are within easy striking distance of Russia, right at its doorstep. As part of the deal, the Americans will get a permanent garrison of US troops along with an agreement that the US will give Poland complete protection in the event of any conflict. All of this is outside the framework of NATO. Russia is obviously far from pleased that this is happening in its former satellite state. After all, they point out, the US didn't tolerate Russia putting missiles in Cuba. Why should the Russians tolerate this?

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Binge drinking and the 21 limit in the US

One of the most interesting differences I’ve observed between Europe and the United States has been the very different drinking cultures. A lot of those observations have been prompted by the unique experience of my brother, who moved to Switzerland at 16 when my father was transferred there for his job. As a high school sophomore in the US, he would have had five more years before he could legally have a beer.

But since the drinking age in Switzerland is 16, as it is in most of Europe, he was able to drink right from the start. Obviously his high school experience was quite different from mine in many ways, but one of the most notable aspects was his social life. While I had little access to alcohol in high school and my social life was mostly composed of small parties or trips to the local diner, he’s spent his weekends with his high school friends clubbing at some of Zurich’s premier nightspots. And while you might think that an American teenager arriving in a European country where he could suddenly legally drink would overdo it, I’ve observed that he’s been quite responsible and moderate about drinking. He’s been in a culture where binge drinking is not common and teenagers see alcohol not as just a means to getting yourself obliterated but rather a normal part of social interaction.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Ring Around the Russia

Things seem to be getting worse before they get better in Georgia. At the moment, according to Georgia, there is a 100-vehicle tank convoy heading again toward the capital, and Russia now controls 1/3 of the country. The Sarkozy-brokered EU cease fire agreement doesn't appear to be working.

As the world tries to figure out what to do about this mess, I was struck by something in John McCain's editorial, entitled, We Are all Georgians, in the Wall Street Journal today. McCain's editorial was strongly worded and stark, and there's speculation tonight that President Bush's decision to send Secretary of State Condoleeza Rise to Tblisi was driven by not being a desire to not be overshadowed by McCain. Meanwhile Obama seems to be nowhere to be found.

McCain's editorial is almost like a little trip down memory lane, presenting a renewed us-versus-them approach when it comes to Russia. But most interestingly, it seems to display a complete misunderstanding of current geopolitics. Either that or he's being deliberately disingenuous.

Eurozone in trouble

The jury's still out as to whether continental Europe will be partly immune to the financial woes being experienced in the US, but the latest data isn't promising. Figures released today showed that the economies in the fifteen countries that use the euro - known as the eurozone - contracted by .2 percent between April and June. The news is likely to accelerate the steep drop that the euro has been experiencing on currency exchange markets over the past few weeks.

The data is heightening concerns that the eurozone is going to follow the US into a recession. Reacting to the report, a German finance minister said Germany's economy could contract again in the next quarter. That would officially mean Germany is in a recession. And given that Germany is the main driver of growth in the eurozone and the dominating economy, that would likely mean recession for the whole zone.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Russia attacks

It’s certainly been a tense couple days, with the west watching in disbelief as Russia launches what seems to be a full-scale invasion of its Southern neighbor Georgia. Considering this is a country that, theoretically, almost joined NATO at the Bucharest summit a few months ago, this is quite a provocation to the West. Nothing seems clear right now about what Russia’s intentions are or even what they’re doing, but one thing is certain: relations between the West and Russia have been fundamentally altered by the last few days events.

According to witness reports, Russian tanks are now making their way to the Georgian capital of Tblisi, and nobody seems to know what they’re going to do once they get there. The Russian military is denying the claims. At the same time, there have been reports that Russian planes are bombing Georgian ships in the Black Sea.

This is a key test for how Europe and the United States are going to respond, and it will be interesting to see whether they take different paths. French president Sarkozy seems to be trying to take a leading role in dealing with the conflict, even suggesting that there should be an EU peacekeeping force put into Georgia. US president Bush’s reaction has been muddled and strangle by the inability of the US to really do anything about it.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Moving to Paris

Now that I definitively have my Italian citizenship, it’s come time to enter the next phase of my life. What that is I’m not quite sure yet, but in the medium term I’ve decided that it involves moving on from my current job and heading over to the continent. I’ve been writing for my current publisher for two and a half years now, and although I’ve learned a lot and been afforded some great opportunities through it, the time has come to segue over to a different area of reporting.

I took this job, reporting for a monthly business publication and web site, when my assignment as a Washington political correspondent ended back in 2005. At the time, I was finding that my relative lack of business and economic knowledge was often a hindrance in my political reporting, and I was thinking about ways to fix that problem. Journalists, who are notorious for being more left-brained, have often been criticized in the US for their lack of business knowledge (though I’ve found that to be less the case in the UK). So I decided to seek out a financial reporting job in New York City to get up to speed. I was also eager at the time to return to the area I’m from, and the most plentiful reporting jobs in New York are in finance. I received a few offers but went for a position covering private equity investment, something I knew basically nothing about before I started writing on it. Since then I’ve covered buyouts in the US, venture capital investment in intellectual property in Europe, and private equity real estate investment in Asia. So luckily I’ve had the opportunity to get quite a diverse array of financial reporting experience under my belt, even if it was all private equity and venture capital related.