Czech Republic

Poverty, poverty on the wall, the French aren’t even the worst of all

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Why are we surprised at the yellow vest uprising across France? Poverty/risk of social exclusion across Europe has continued to spiral upwards since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). There were 78mn living below the poverty line in 2007. At last count, Eurostat notes that number was 118mn  (23.5% of the European population). In the Europe 2020 strategy, the plan is to reduce that by 20 million.  37.5mn (7.5%) are living in severe material deprivation (SMD) , up from 32mn in 2007.

The SMD rate represents the proportion of people who cannot afford at least four of the nine following items:

  • having arrears on mortgage or rent payments, utility bills, hire purchase installments or other loan payments;
  • being able to afford one week’s annual holiday away from home;
  • being able to afford a meal with meat, chicken, fish (or vegetarian equivalent) every second day;
  • being able to face unexpected financial expenses;
  • being able to buy a telephone (including mobile phone);
  • being able to buy a colour television;
  • being able to buy a washing machine;
  • being able to buy a car;
  • being able to afford heating to keep the house warm.

The French are merely venting what is happening across the EU. The EU could argue that at 18% poverty, the French should be happy compared to other nation states. Europeans aren’t racist to want a halt to mass economic migration when they are the ones financially struggling as it is. Making economic or compassionate arguments aren’t resonating as they feel the problems first hand.

Is it a surprise that the UK, at 22.2% poverty, wanted out of the EU project to take back sovereign control? Project Fear might be forecasting Armageddon for a No Deal Brexit but being inside the EU has hardly helped lift Brits from under a rock. Why would anyone wish to push for a worse deal that turns the UK into a colony?

Why is anyone surprised that there has been a sustainable shift toward populist political parties across Europe? Austria, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Germany…the list goes on. Even France should not forget that Front National’s Marine LePen got 35% of the vote, twice the level ever achieved. Is is a shock to see her polling above Macron?

The success and growth of EU-skeptic parties across Europe will only get bigger. The mob is unhappy. Macron may have won on a wave of euphoria as a fresh face but he has failed to deliver. He may have suspended the fuel tax hikes, but the people are still on the street in greater numbers. He has merely stirred the hornet’s nest. Perhaps UK PM Theresa May should take a look at the table above and realise that her deal will only cause the UK to rise up. At the moment sanity prevails, and when it comes in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn that is perhaps a sign in itself.

Slovenia slaps the EU too

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Slovenia has joined the list of populist movements. In 2000, there were 4 countries in the EU that had populist coalitions/majorities (Lithuania, Latvia, Switzerland & Austria). Scroll forward to today we have 15 (the previous 4 countries + Poland, Norway, Czech Rep, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Crete, Bulgaria, Romania). Neighboring Bosnia and Serbia are also populist led. We shouldn’t forget the in the populist/nationalist party surges in The Netherlands, Germany and France . Perhaps more amazing is that the EU still isn’t getting the message, most highlighted by the push to get the President of Italy to put in charge a non-eurosceptic former IMF employee as PM. That’ll work.

So to Slovenia’s election. The Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) topped Sunday’s election on 25%, handing the anti-immigrant party 25 seats in the parliament. Center-left LMŠ, led by comedian and political satirist Marjan Šarec, came in second on 12.7% (13 seats), and the Social Democrats third on just under 10% (10 seats). SDS leader Janez Janša acknowledged forming a governing coalition will be difficult.

Juncker typified all of the arrogance that has propelled so many anti-establishment parties to power. He said, “Italians have to take care of the poor regions of Italy. That means more work, less corruption, seriousness.” Stereotyping rarely helps. Juncker also made clear that Italy’s problems are not the EU’s fault.

Time and time again, when studying poverty within the EU, the overwhelming number of countries inside the bloc remain worse off than in 2008. Growth rates remain anemic. If you were to look at a map of the floodgates of illegal immigration (which Deutsche Bank published) it isn’t a surprise that the local populations are voting for those governments that will seek to look after the citizens first. So before casting aspersions on a growing number of EU citizens’ assessment of the human rights of asylum seekers, the reality is that the socialists within the EU are clearly utterly dreadful at messaging and even poorer in execution. Then again Baroness Thatcher warned them of that in 1990.

Italy votes – will it mimic the referendum?

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Remember the 2016 Italian referendum which was to decide on  whether to grant more power to the incumbent party to accelerate decision making? Well it ended up being a vote on ousting then PM Renzi who put his resignation on the ballot if it failed. The split between the yes/no was largely decided by economic condition. The poorer southern regions were distinctly red while a smattering of wealthy areas voted green (yes).

It is kind of telling that the furthest province in the north (Bolzano/Bozen) had the highest YES vote (63.69%) in the country while the Province of Catania (south-east Sicily) had the highest NO vote at 74.56%. Bolzano/Bozen was diligent with a 67.41% turnout vs 57.41% in Catania. It is a rich/poor divide by the looks of things. If you wish to dig into the details look no further than this site for who voted how.

The last poll showed Beppo Grillo’s eurosceptic M5S party leading with 28%. Berlusconi’s centre right Forza Italia alliance with the anti-immigrant The League is expected to get around 29%. The incumbent PD is looking at around 20%.

Since the collapse of Lehman in 2008, Italy has added 3mn to poverty (now 18mn or 29.7% of the population; EU average is 25%) with the unemployment rate above 11%. Since Merkel’s open door policy 600,000 illegal immigrants have flocked to Italy from Libya.

Italy is the 3rd largest economy in Europe and 30% of corporate debt is held by SMEs who can’t even make enough money to repay the interest. The banks have been slow to write off loans on the basis it will eat up the banks’ dwindling capital. It feels so zombie lending a la Japan in the early 1990s but on an even worse scale.

Monte Dei Paschi De Siena, a bank steeped in 540 years of history has 31% NPLs and its shares are 99.9% below the peak in 2007. Even Portugal and Spain have lower levels of NPLs. The IMF suggested that in southern parts of Italy NPLs for corporates is closer to 50%!

However one views the rising wave of nationalism in Europe, Italy will likely follow the pattern of Austria, the UK, Germany, Holland, Poland, Hungary and France. A growing number of European citizens want to be first in line rather than feel they have an EU directed obligation to bow down to political correctness. How else do we explain the AfD’s surge past the SPD?

If the eurosceptic/anti-immigrant patties get up  we shouldn’t be the least surprised. More Europeans want their own countries to be made great again. The house of cards is crumbling.

How many more EU-skeptics can one squeeze in a selfie?

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Last week a 31yo Austrian Sebastian Kurz swept to power in Austria with a strong anti-EU bias. Following the growing strength in nationalist parties in The Netherlands, France, Germany, Catalonia, Britain, Hungary, Italy, Poland it seems that the Czech Republic may be the next country to say, “who do you think you are kidding Mr Juncker

Tomio Okamura (far left in the picture) of the Czech Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (SPD) has experienced a huge surge in popularity in the polls on the eve of the vote suggesting he could secure 10% and form part of the governing coalition of which the center-right Ano Party is set to win.

He said that “Over the last couple of years, the EU has shown itself to be un-reformable… The elites are incapable of showing the flexibility needed to react to current and crucial problems such as terrorism and the migration of Muslim-African colonisers to Europe.

So where have we heard that before? Once again regardless of whether a growing number of people in Europe are viewed as unsympathetic, racist or bigoted towards refugees they are ‘still’ voting for these nationalist parties which can only be seen as another vote of no confidence in the EU project. How could it be anything else?

As to the anti-EU selfie, they may need a drone camera to squeeze them all in next time.