A week ago the Eurostat published the latest of the series of EU unemployment . There is good news and bad news. The level of unemployment level fell from December’s 9.9% to 9.8%. On a year-on-year comparison the overall unemployment rate decreased by 0.8% or 1.82 million people. That is certainly not an insignificant figure but at the same time it is hardly a reason for celebration. The situation in Europe remains critical especially in comparison to the United States where the level of unemployment is half of that in the EU (in February 2015 the US unemployment rate stood at 5.5%). Continue reading
A Shifting Landscape
In October 2014, the European Central Bank concluded a year-long assessment of the balance sheets for Europe’s 130 largest banks, known formally as the ‘Comprehensive Assessment’. It revealed a cumulative capital shortfall of €24.6 billion euros among 25 of the euro areas’ largest lenders under ‘adverse’ circumstances. Three out of four of Greece’s largest banks failed to meet the capital requirements imposed by the ECB. While this did not come as a surprise considering the country’s financial troubles, the outcome was in fact less alarming than it would at first seem. Taking capital accretion and projected future earnings into account, only one of the three failed Greek banks were actually expected to fall short in such a scenario – and even then only by a small margin.
However, neither the banks nor the ECB could have anticipated the drastic shift in the political climate signalled by the rise to power of the anti-austerity Syriza party. Its uncompromising stance on the bailout programme coupled with the promise to halve Greece’s debt has frightened many investors. Over 20 billion euros (12 percent of Greek GDP) has already left the country since December. In mid-January, Eurobank and Alpha Bank, Greece’s third and fourth largest banks, sought access to emergency funds from the national central bank. This type of funding, known as emergency liquidity assistance (ELA), is made available to borrowers at a much higher interest rate: 1.55 percent compared to 0.05 percent for ordinary lending. As such, this type of financing is only meant to act as a short-term liquidity bridge, rather than address persistent structural problems such as those facing the Greek banking system.
On the 29th of January, The Representation of the European Commission in the Netherlands organised an expert meeting on ‘Economic coordination in the European Union’. The meeting was organised in cooperation with the Clingendael Institute and &Maes. During this meeting, several experts discussed the successes and failures of the European Semester.
On Saturday 7th February Slovakia will hold a popular vote which, if successful, will further undermine the legal standing of the local LGBT community in the eyes of the state.
4.4 million Slovak citizens will get a chance to express their opinion on three following questions:
- Do you agree that no other cohabitation of persons other than a bond between one man and one woman can be called marriage?
- Do you agree that same-sex couples or groups shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children and subsequently raise them?
- Do you agree that schools cannot require children to participate in education pertaining to sexual behaviour or euthanasia if their parents or the children themselves do not agree with the content of the education?
A popular initiative is undoubtedly part of any healthy democratic system. But because it is a very bland tool, which takes no regard for society’s nuances and complexities, any democracy should limit the scope to which it can be used. Such limits usually consist of a ban on popular initiatives concerning taxes, for fiscal purposes, and human rights, in order to avoid a slippery slope from democracy to tyranny of the majority.