Tag Archives: lagarde

Putin tops world power rankings


It’s far from scientific, but less than 24 hours after Republicans appeared to defeat US president Barack Obama in midterm congressional and gubernatorial elections, Russian president Vladimir Putin defeated him to the top spot on Forbes‘s 72 Most Powerful People in the World.USflagRussia Flag Icon

The rankings don’t really mean that much in the grand scheme of things, of course.

The Forbes rationale?

We took some heat last year when we named the Russian President as the most powerful man in the world, but after a year when Putin annexed Crimea, staged a proxy war in the Ukraine and inked a deal to build a more than $70 billion gas pipeline with China (the planet’s largest construction project) our choice simply seems prescient. Russia looks more and more like an energy-rich, nuclear-tipped rogue state with an undisputed, unpredictable and unaccountable head unconstrained by world opinion in pursuit of its goals.

Hard to argue with that, I guess.

But the rankings represent a nice snapshot of what the US (and even international) media mainstream believe to be the hierarchy of global power. Though I’m not sure why Mitch McConnell, soon to become the U.S. senate majority leader, isn’t on the list.

So who else placed in the sphere of world politics this year?

  • Obama ranked at No. 2 (From the Forbes mystics: ‘One word sums up his second place finish: caution. He has the power but has been too cautious to fully exercise it.’).
  • Chinese president Xi Jinping, who took office in late 2012 and early 2013, ranked at No. 3. (Tough break for the leader of the world’s most populous country!)
  • Pope Francis, ranked at No. 4, even though Argentina lost this year’s World Cup finals to Germany.
  • Angela Merkel, ranked at No. 5, third-term chancellor of Germany and the queen of the European Union.
  • Janet Yellen, ranked at No. 6, the chair of the US Federal Reserve.
  • Mario Draghi, ranked at No. 8, the president of the European Central Bank.
  • David Cameron, ranked (appropriately enough) at No. 10, the Conservative prime minister of the United Kingdom, who faces a tough reelection battle in May 2015.
  • Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, No. 11, the king of Saudi Arabia.
  • Narendra Modi, No. 15, India’s wildly popular new prime minister.
  • François Hollande, No. 17, France’s wildly unpopular president.
  • Ali Khamenei, No. 19, Iran’s supreme leader, especially as Iranian nuclear talks come to a crucial deadline this month.

Continue reading Putin tops world power rankings

Katainen hopes to trade Finland’s premiership for EU presidency


Just three years after taking power as Finland’s prime minister, Jykri Katainen is set to step down both as leader of Finland’s center-right Kansallinen Kokoomus (National Coalition Party) and as prime minister later this month, following the Saturday leadership election of Alexander Stubb as the party’s new leader. finland flag

Though Katainen (pictured above) is just 42 years old, he’s been at the helm of the National Coalition Party for a decade. Katainen stunned Finland in April when he announced he was resigning, with an eye toward pursuing a top job in the European Union. At the time, everyone assumed he was angling to become Finland’s next commissioner within the European Union, replacing Olli Rehn, the influential vice president of the Commission and, since 2010, the commissioner for economic and monetary affairs.

Rehn previously served from 2004 to 2010 as commissioner for enlargement, and he was recently elected to the European Parliament as a member of Finland’s liberal Suomen Keskusta (Centre Party).

But as the wrangling continues among Europe’s leaders over whether former Luxembourgish prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker should become the next president of the Commission, Katainen has tried to position himself as an attractive alternative.

* * * * *

RELATED: The mother-of-all-battles over European integration has begun

* * * * *

Juncker seems likely to command an absolute majority of the European Parliament, but there’s no sure bet that he’ll win the qualified majority within the European Council that he’ll need to win the Commission presidency. Juncker, led the pan-European campaign of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the May parliamentary elections, which won the largest number of seats in the 751-member legislature.

Enter Katainen, who’s guided a tenuous six-party (now five-party) coalition in Finland for the past three years, pushing through tough budget cuts, like so many other European governments over the last half-decade, in the face of economic recession. Before his National Coalition Party won the April 2011 national elections, Katainen previously served as finance minister and deputy prime minister, so he would bring to the job — or to any other top EU position — the experiences from governing through the eurozone sovereign debt crisis.  Continue reading Katainen hopes to trade Finland’s premiership for EU presidency

The mother-of-all-battles over European integration has begun


Three days after the European elections, the reverberations are still shaking the entire continent, with leaders at the national and European level firing the first shots in what promises to be an epic battle over European integration — and that will determine who really calls the shots in the European Union.European_Union

Last night, at an informal meeting of the European Council, the leaders of all 28 member-states of the European Union met to discuss how to approach the election of the next president of the European Commission, the powerful regulatory and executive arm of the European Union. The term of current president José Manuel Barroso, who has served in the role since 2004, will end within six months.

* * * * *

RELATED: In depth — European parliamentary elections

RELATED: The European parliamentary elections are real four contests

* * * * *

They poured cold water on the notion that they would automatically propose former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission president. Since Sunday, Juncker has stridently made his case that as the Commission presidential candidate (the ‘Spitzenkandiat‘) of the European People’s Party (EPP), which won the greatest number of seats in Sunday’s EU-wide elections, he should have the first right to attempt to assemble a parliamentary majority. That’s a position that, ironically, even the center-left Party of European Socialists (PES), the second-largest bloc in the European Parliament has endorsed:

Commenting on the leaders’ decision, outgoing Socialist group leader Hannes Swoboda tweeted that it’s “absurd that Juncker has our backing to start negotiations but is blocked in the Council by his own EPP family!”

It’s already starting to appear that, behind the scenes, the EPP, which won around 214 seats, and the PES, which won around 191 seats, are coming closer to forming a ‘grand coalition’ to back Juncker’s candidacy in a bid to assert the precedent that the Parliament should be the institution to determine the Commission presidency, not the Council. Both Juncker and the PES Spitzenkandidat, German social democrat Martin Schulz, have argued repeatedly that the Parliament should reject any Commission president that wasn’t among the original Spitzenkandidaten.

But it’s not so simple. The Commission president must win not only a parliamentary majority. He or she must also win a qualified majority among the heads of government and state that comprise the  Council, and enthusiasm among those leaders seems to be flagging for Juncker.

* * * * *

RELATED: Here come the Spitzenkandidaten! But does anybody care?

* * * * *

The key player, German chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured above), seemed testy in two press conferences since the election when asked about the looming showdown. As the leader of one of the top parties in the EPP, she officially supports Juncker, but her comments should hardly give Juncker comfort:

She also thanked Juncker for the “good campaign” he ran for the European People’s Party, but seemed slightly irritated by the avalanche of questions as to whether she backs Juncker to become the next EU commission president.

“I don’t decide who gets the post. Juncker is our candidate, the EPP candidate, and we will put his name forward in the discussions. It’s always been said that it’s up to the strongest group to put forward the candidate, but just being the strongest group is not enough, a majority is required,” she said.

Here come the Spitzenkandidaten! But does anybody care?

If you believe the hype, the contest between Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured above, right) and Germany’s Martin Schulz (pictured above, left) is the European equivalent to the American election of 1800.European_Union

Fully 214 years ago, American voters (or, more accurately, white, male American property-holders) went to the polls in what was just the second contested presidential election in US history, pitting the incumbent, John Adams of Massachusetts, against Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.

The aftermath of that election demonstrated flaws in the nascent American democracy’s constitution when Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, both received 73 votes in the US electoral college.  The clear intention was always that Burr was Jefferson’s running mate. Yet as a technical matter, the two candidates were tied in the only presidential vote that mattered in the electoral college. Jefferson ultimately prevailed, but only after 36 grueling ballots in the US House of Representatives. Four years later, the United States adopted the 12th amendment to its constitution, separating the electoral college vote for president and vice president.

Which is to say, new political systems often go through growing pains and their fair share of trial-and-error.

So it will be with the European Union. The Treaty of Lisbon, which came into effect in 2009, directs the European Council (the group of 28 European heads of state and/or government) to ‘propose’ a candidate for president of the European Commission (the European Union’s chief executive and regulatory body) to be ‘elected’ by the European Parliament.

* * * * *

RELATEDIn Depth: European parliamentary elections

* * * * *

Each of Europe’s major families of political parties took the new treaty language as a sign to field Commission presidential candidates in advance of this weekend’s European elections. Though five groups ultimately selected candidates, the greatest attention has focused upon those of the two largest blocs in the European Parliament, Juncker’s center-right, Christian democratic European People’s Party (EPP) and Schulz’s center-left, social democratic Party of European Socialists (PES).

As the Europe-wide candidates of their respective parliamentary groups, Juncker and Schulz have become the standard-bearers of the most pan-European election campaign in history. They’ve traveled the breadth of the European Union, and they’ve faced off in debate after debate. The challengers have become delightfully known as the Spitzenkandidaten in Germany, a neologism that’s caught on throughout the European Union.

But beyond the symbolism and the novelty, does anyone in Europe care? Continue reading Here come the Spitzenkandidaten! But does anybody care?

Time names Barack Obama Person of the Year. Is that too US-centric?

cover.digital version.indd

So Time Magazine’s decision to anoint a Person of the Year since 1927, for reasons unknown, holds a rapt audience among folks in the United States, myself included.

This year (oh the suspense!), Time chose U.S. president Barack ObamaUSflag

In those 85 years, of course, Time has chosen every U.S. president (except Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and poor Gerald R. Ford), and in recent years, it’s made some pretty silly decisions (‘You’), but even as recently as 2007, chose Vladimir Putin as its Person of the Year.

Indeed, over its long history, it’s identified many world leaders as Person of the Year — Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi in 1930, Ethiopian emperor Haile Sellasie in 1935, (controversially) Nazi German leader Adolf Hitler in 1939 and  Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1940, (less controversially) U.K. prime minister Winston Churchill in 1941 (and again in 1949), Iranian president Mohammad Mossadegh in 1951, West German chancellors Konrad Adenauer in 1953 and Willy Brandt in 1970, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1957, French president Charles de Gaulle in 1958, Saudi King Faisal in 1974, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1977, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1978 (and in 1985),  Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979, anti-Communist Polish Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa in 1981 and even the anti-Marcos Filipino president that toppled the Marcos family, Corazon Aquino, in 1985.

Many of those decisions were thoughtful and, perhaps, even courageous.  As a platform for highlighting key issues and illuminating the mechanics of how cultures, politics and economics shape our world, the ‘Person of the Year’ concept isn’t a bad one.  

But before Putin in 2007, you have to go back to 1987 and 1989, when reform-minded Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev was chosen twice.

Is it really true that Time can’t find anyone in the world (outside the United States, of course) in the past 25 years worthy to be ‘Person of the Year’ other than Russian autocrats?

Certainly, Obama’s reelection was an important moment with wide implications for world affairs, but is Time really being too US-centric?

Consider all of the other options:

  • German chancellor Angela Merkel, who has nudged and cajoled the eurozone to bailouts of Greece, Portugal and Ireland that have kept those countries in the eurozone, while centralizing more fiscal policy and banking policy decision-making powers in the hands of the European Union.  In doing all of this, she’s maintained or even gained in popularity in Germany.
  • European Central Bank president Mario Draghi, whose commitment to stabilizing the eurozone in no uncertain language last summer may well have turned the page on the eurozone’s ongoing crisis.
  • International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, for assistance in cleaning up most of Europe’s economic mess and the rest of the world’s besides, all the while trying to initiate a discussion about balancing austerity with the need for higher growth.
  • Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood now controls the government of the world’s most populous Arab country in the wake of the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year, and whose rule, above all over this week’s constitutional referendum, remains subject to increasing uncertainty and doubt among secular liberals?
  • Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas achieved recognition of Palestine as a state in the United Nations last month.
  • The incoming leader of the world’s most populous country, Xi Jinping, as the new general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party.  Hell, Time could have chosen the entire new seven-member Politburo Standing Committee.
  • Time could have been timely — and creative — and chosen the four new leaders of four East Asian countries — Xi, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Japan’s incoming prime minister Shinzo Abe and South Korea’s incoming president Park Guen-hye, the latter two being elected just this week.
  • México, poised to overtake Brazil as the largest economy in Latin America in the 2020s, has returned the longstanding PRI to power under the leadership of new president Enrique Peña Nieto, who promises tax reforms, privatization and development of México’s oil industry and a new approach to drug violence and security.
  • Maybe even Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, who’s staked his presidency on peace talks with the longtime rebel guerilla group FARC?
  • How about Aung San Suu Kyi, who after years of house arrest is now serving in the parliament of Burma/Myanmar, with the once nearly-autarkic regime engaged in reforms to not only its economy, but human rights and democracy as well, garnering the re-establishment of relations with the United States?

U.S. power isn’t infinite, especially in the increasingly multipolar 21st century — and at some point, it’s a little ridiculous for Time to focus on Americans to the exclusion of those outside the United States.  Maybe it’s time to call it what it’s become — the Person of the Year Most Relevant to the United States.

Photo credit to Nadav Kander for Time.

Greek government, troika reach agreement on Greek bailout

It seems all but done — Greece’s government and the ‘troika’ of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission have reached an agreement on the latest disbursement of funds that Greece needs to finance government operations, in exchange for a series of budget cuts and labor market reforms

In an additional twist, there are quasi-official reports from both Germany and Greece that the bailout program will be extended from the end of 2014 to the end of 2016, which will give Greece until at least 2016 to whittle down its budget deficit to the 3% required under EU rules, though it seems unlikely that Greece’s budget will be anywhere near to closing in on that target by even 2016.

The details are essentially as described over the past four months — €13.5 billion in budget cuts over the next two years, €9 billion of which will take effect in 2013.  The bottom line for Greek finances is that a Greek exit from the eurozone, which seemed virtually inevitable through much of 2012, has now been delayed, and delayed for a significant amount of time (Citi, for example, lowered its odds of a ‘Grexit’ to 60%, and predict it could still happen, but only in the first half of 2014).

That’s a significant victory for Greece’s prime minister, in office for barely four months, Antonis Samaris (pictured above, right, with Euro Group president and Luxembourg prime minister JeanClaude Juncker), and it will now give him some breathing space to turn to Greece’s economic depression.

For me, there are three notable political aspects to the deal worth noting:  Continue reading Greek government, troika reach agreement on Greek bailout

Merkel tops Forbes list of top 100 powerful women

German chancellor Angela Merkel is the most powerful woman in the world in 2012, according to Forbes magazine.

It’s a bit whimsical, but that’s probably the right call, considering that no one person has more power, probably, to determine whether the eurozone sticks together or falls apart.

Also on the list are several women of important to world politics:

  • U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton (#2),
  • Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff (#3),
  • Indian National Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi (#6),
  • International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde (#8),
  • Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (#16),
  • Burmese National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (#19),
  • Australian prime minister Julia Gillard (#27),
  • Malawi president Joyce Banda (#71),
  • Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (#80),
  • Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (#81), and
  • UAE minister of foreign trade Shiekha Lubna Al Qasimi (#92)

Predictions, questions and thoughts:

  • Where is Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt? Robbed!
  • And where is Icelandic prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, the world’s first openly lesbian head of government? Also robbed!
  • Josefina never had a chance.
  • Too soon for Pussy Riot, I suppose.
  • Might Parti québécois leader Pauline Marois make it on next year’s list if she wins the Sept. 4 election in Québec and schedules a referendum on Québec’s independence?
  • Next year, Park Geun-hye could well be South Korea’s new president, which would make her automatically top 20, I presume.
  • Also next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hannelore Kraft become Merkel’s chief opposition.
  • If Silvio Berlusconi makes a comeback in Italy, why not his favorite MP Michaela Biancofiore and the rest of Silvio’s angels?

Worries about Greece’s immediate eurozone exit are extremely overblown

Earlier this week, as the chances of a pro-bailout Greek coalition fell apart, you would think that the failure to cobble together a coalition was tantamount to Greece withdrawing from the euro and reintroducing the drachma.

Sure enough, signs of a “bank jog” emerged this week, as Greeks pulled out over €1.2 billion in deposits from Greek banks on Monday and Tuesday amid the political tumult.  An article in Der Spiegel declared that it is time for Greece to leave the euro and even Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund said that, although it would be “quite messy,” it is time to start thinking about how to engineer a Greek exit from the euro.

But with an interim caretaker prime minister, Panagiotis Pikrammenos, being sworn in today, and new elections scheduled for just over a month from today, the warnings of Greece’s immediate exit from the eurozone are extremely overblown. Continue reading Worries about Greece’s immediate eurozone exit are extremely overblown