German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück has left ministers in London aghast with his undiplomatically forthright comments about the British stimulus package. Many British newspaper editors, however, are citing German prudence with approval.
Speaking to Newsweek, Steinbrück described Gordon Brown’s bid to borrow his way out of recession as ‘crass Keynesianism’. Mockingly, he pointed out that the cut in value added tax from 17.5 to 15 percent would leave a DVD player 80 pence cheaper – hardly enough to entice people to hit the malls.
Steinbrück’s comments were a blow for Brown and his chancellor (finance minister) Alistair Darling, providing as they did a pointed reminder of how much better prepared Germany is than Britain for the tough times ahead. Germany’s budget surplus contrasts with Britain’s large deficit; the high levels of personal debt in the UK contrast with low debt and high levels of savings in Germany.
Needless to say, today’s UK papers have been poring over the entrails of the Newsweek interview – before picking them up and slinging them at the British government.
The tabloid Sun newspaper, never a great friend of understatement, was quick to paraphrase the finance minister; ‘Germans: Gord is a total failure’, it shrieked.
Over at the centrist Independent, Jeremy Warner wondered whether the Steinbrück might like to take over his column: ‘In two words, he’s managed to articulate what many of us have been struggling to say ever since the [British] Government announced a £20bn VAT giveaway in the pre-Budget report – namely that trying to spend your way out of recession after years of preaching fiscal rectitude is not only a U-turn of quite astonishing proportions, but also that in the manner proposed it probably won’t do any good either.’
The right-wing populist Daily Mail agreed. It found itself in the unusual position of summoning the ghost of uptight sitcom hotelier Basil Fawlty to side with a German Social Democrat. In an article headlined ‘Don’t Mention the Fiscal Stimulus’, the paper admitted it wouldn’t usually take advice from Steinbrück, a man ‘known to frown on Anglo-Saxon free markets who earlier this year starred in a rap video wearing an Afro wig.’ But, it said, this time he was right:
All around the world, governments are rushing to spend and borrow their way out of the recession, despite no country in history ever managing to do this.
The Financial Times cautioned that the German finance minister may have spoken too soon. Reminding readers that Steinbrück is ‘not known for keeping his thoughts to himself,’ it describes his anger with Britain as ‘understandable, but misplaced’. Understandable, because Steinbrück has spent the past few years diligently bringing the German public finances back into the black. Misplaced because the economic downturn elsewhere is having a massive impact on German exporters. The time will come for Germany to lecture the rest of Europe on prudence, the paper says. For now, though, ‘Germany must start spending. The consequences otherwise will be dire.’
Other columnists were warning that it would be more correct to apply the ‘crass’ label to German policy. The economics editor of the Daily Telegraph, Edmund Conway, argued that German ‘inaction and restraint’ could have much worse consequences than the hyperactivity of the British.
During the 1930s it was the resistance of the world’s surplus nations to large-scale rescue packages that caused the economic misery to spread so virulently around the world.
Right or wrong, Steinbrück’s comments have done little to improve German-British relations. Still less have they sold German economic prudence to British ministers and their supporters in the press. But they have certainly given ammunition to Gordon Brown’s detractors.
Today German tabloid daily Bild ran a story that claimed to confirm the long-standing speculation that Adolf Hitler had only one testicle. As is our custom at The Local when dealing with Bild coverage, we went looking for the facts behind the story. Our search revealed that UK tabloid The Sun actually broke the story – which was quoted by a number of news organisations around the world, including Bild (though without attribution).
The problem, though, is that in their eagerness for a few Hitler-driven clicks, these news sites failed to mention a source for the information.
The Local called The Sun in London and they passed us off to a freelancer who provided some details, but he didn’t exactly make things clear. When we pressed for more, the freelancer got testy and said, “It was good enough for The Sun.” Of course. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
So while emasculating an evil dictator seems harmless enough, we’d rather let The Sun deal with all the bollocks about Hitler.
E-commerce was supposed to break down borders, but try buying something from a website overseas and you’ll frequently find that there’s some lawyer who says you can’t.
A tune might be available on iTunes in the UK or France, but if your iTunes account is in Germany or Sweden you will often find yourself barred from buying it. Sometimes, the European Single Market is little more than an illusion – and for expats in particular, it can be frustrating.
The European Commission is now trying to bang a few heads together. Competition commissioner Nellie Kroes has brought together Apple’s Steve Jobs, the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and the CEO of eBay to try to work out what can be done.
Still, isn’t it odd that Eurocrats should be needed to persuade companies to sell their products to consumers who want to buy them? Surely good capitalists should want to find a way to make this happen?
Germany’s Eurovision entry No Angels have been accused of plagiarising another artist, Steffi List, in a case being investigated by radio station NDR. It’s unlikely they’ll get far, though – accusations like this are two-a-penny in Eurovision.
Indeed, during last year’s heats in Sweden The Local reported accusations that The Ark, which went on to represent Sweden in Athens, had plagiarised its song from a sixties hit. The claims went nowhere, though, and it seems unlikely that No Angels have much to worry about either. Judge for yourself:
German television is finally to show ‘Allo ‘Allo, the British TV comedy about the Resistance in World War II occupied France.
The 1980s classic BBC series is essentially a farcical look at European countries’ stereotypes about each other, and manages to warmly mock not only the Germans, but also the French, Italians and the British themselves. In ‘Allo ‘Allo, the French and Germans understand each other perfectly, while the Brits (speaking a kind-of Wodehousean English), are unintelligible for all.
The middle-ranking German officers are a bit venal (they spend much of the series trying to smuggle out a painting, ‘The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies’, wrapped up in a knockwurst), but are as scared as everyone else of the senior generals and the Gestapo. The Gestapo agents are kinky, limping, leather-clad pervs. The French, with stereotypically complicated sex lives, resist the Germans by night and collaborate by day. The Brits, dropped in as undercover agents or stranded as downed airmen, are portrayed as twits, speaking such bad ‘French’ that they constantly risk blowing their cover.
It’s as much a comedy about Europeans’ views of each other as about the war or the resistance. The humour might have dated a bit by now, but there’s plenty here to make a German audience laugh. Here’s a clip of one episode that illustrates the point nicely:
As reported on The Guardian’s web site on Tuesday, Germany has temporarily won an EU battle to be allowed to call certain domestic cheeses ‘Parmesan’.
The Commission, the EU executive, argued that Germany should not have allowed non-Italian cheese to be labelled “Parmesan”. But Germany, Europe’s second-largest producer of that type of cheese, said “Parmesan” had become a generic term over the centuries for grated hard cheese, and entirely unrelated to the specific Italian product from the Parma region.
If any country should be allowed to hijack the name of another nation’s cheese, surely it is the land of the hamburger and the frankfurter?
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