BEIJING, July 15 -- The railway which winds its way from Piraeus and Athens northwards to Thessaloniki and on towards Macedonia has a certain antiquated charm.
Passing Thermopylae off to the north and Mount Parnassus away to the south, passengers can reflect that they are trundling slowly through the very heart of Western civilisation’s cultural cradle. There is more recent history too. Rattling across the spectacular Gorgopotamos viaduct, passengers can clearly see where in 1942 the vital supply route was blown up at its most inaccessible point by a ragtag band of Greek partisans and British agents. Travellers of a nervous disposition may not wish to look too closely, however. Some three-quarters of a century later, the repairs effected after the war still look alarmingly temporary.
One country is winning the trade war. It’s not the US and it’s not China. Now, if you believe the hype, history is once again knocking. It may surprise passengers snoozing their way north towards Mount Olympus, but the railway line along which they are sedately swaying is a key link in a grand strategic infrastructure initiative known as the China-Europe Land-Maritime Intermodal Express Route. The idea is to create a freight transport corridor that links the Chinese-operated container port at Piraeus on the Mediterranean with the investment-hungry countries of central Europe. Train services between Piraeus and the Hungarian capital Budapest began last year. Cosco, which operates the transshipment port at Piraeus, says the route shaves a week off the month-long freight journey that connects China with central Europe via ports on the North Sea, such as Rotterdam and Hamburg. But the train services are only part of a broader plan – a plan which is causing considerable disquiet in the European Union’s corridors of power. Over the last few years, China has signed up 12 EU members and five prospective members, all from central and eastern Europe in a band running from Estonia on the Baltic to Greece on the Mediterranean, to its “17+1” forum. To Beijing, this grouping brings together at one table the eastern European participants in its Belt and Road Initiative influence-building programme. All the members have endorsed the initiative.And to the European countries that have signed up, China represents a source of much-needed infrastructure funding – funding that they have struggled to obtain at home in Europe. “Central Europe needs capital to build new roads and pipelines,” Hungary’s combative prime minister Viktor Orban told European leaders in Berlin last year. “If the EU is unable to provide enough capital, we will just collect it in China.”
And, on paper at least, China is happy to oblige. In recent years Chinese state companies have pledged funding for dozens of projects across Central Eastern Europe. The US$1 billion and more that Cosco has spent to transform Piraeus into the Mediterranean’s second busiest container port is merely China’s most high-profile investment in the region. Chinese companies have also been contracted to build highways in Poland, a railway between Belgrade and Budapest, a bridge across the Danube, and a giant power station in Serbia, among other projects. China’s involvement in the region is making waves in Western Europe. In Brussels, EU officials fear China is pursuing a divide-and-rule strategy towards Europe. They worry Beijing is dangling the lure of investment dollars before the bloc’s poorer eastern members to secure the diplomatic influence needed to water down EU criticisms of its protectionist economic policies and human rights abuses.
In short, the concern is that Beijing is using its investments to drive a wedge between EU members in order to neutralize European policy towards China.
ATHENS, July 8 -- Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of Greece's conservative New Democracy party, was sworn in on Monday as the country's new prime minister after winning Sunday's national snap elections.
Born in Athens in 1968, Mitsotakis is a scion of a Greek political dynasty. His father, Konstantinos Mitsotakis, was a former Greek prime minister and his older sister, Dora Bakoyannis, former mayor of Athens, also served as Greek foreign minister and culture minister. Having studied in Harvard University and Stanford University, he worked in the area of investment banking and financial analysis in the U.S. and UK before entering the political arena. Mitsotakis has long served as a member of the Greek parliament. In 2004, he ran as an MP with the ND party in the general elections. In June 2013, Mitsotakis was appointed Minister of Administrative Reform and e-Governance of Greece in Antonis Samaras' cabinet. Following the resignation of Samaras as party leader and the disappointing defeat of the ND in the September elections in 2015, he announced his candidacy for the party's leadership. In January, 2016, he was elected president of the ND, portraying himself as a liberal reformer that would rejuvenate the party in terms of policies and members. A supporter of privatization, Mitsotakis backs government spending cuts and opposes to higher taxes. To support the real economy, he has underlined during his campaign that Greece needs more investments and a national development plan. In the name dispute deal with North Macedonia, the ND did not ratify the Prespes Agreement, describing it as "shameful" for the country. "The Macedonia name dispute deal would create more problems for Greece than it would solve," Mitsotakis has stated. In the European Parliament election in May, his party secured 33.11 percent of votes against 23.76 percent for the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA party.
Mitsotakis is married to Mareva Grabowski and they have three children.
Author: Lora Smith
ROTTERDAM, February 4 -- 2019 kicked off with lots of tornadic activity across southern Europe and the Mediterranean. A total of 61 reports are available in the European Severe Weather Database.
Southern Europe, particularly the coastal areas and in general most of the Mediterranean region is typically prolific with tornadoes in January. The surface temperatures of the Mediterranean remain comparatively warm, producing steep lapse rates, particularly during intrusions of cold, polar airmass from the north. Both mesocyclonic and non-mesocyclonic tornadoes are frequently observed, although non-mesocyclonic are more common. By far the most important events were the tornadoes in Antalya province, SW Turkey first on January 24 and then again on January 26. In total at least 7 tornadoes hit Antalya and its vicinity, with 2 reported to have hit the city center and one hit the airport. Several fatalities and widespread damage were reported. Several additional events were reported in the vicinity of Rhodes Island, Greece.
KOLN, February 22 -- Better a miserable end than an endless misery. Despite requesting further assistance, the Syriza government in Greece should compromise soon or step down to avert a Greek euro exit, DW's Bernd Riegert says.
Germany's rejection of Greece's request to extend its current aid program has surprised and even worried many in Brussels. The radical left-right coalition in Athens had finally deigned to lodge its vital application to request the extension - and thus ensured there would be some hope for an agreement with its creditors. But conservative German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble immediately pounded the table with his fist. He exposed the application as sham: Greece said it was committed, at least in principle, to meeting many demands of the Eurogroup, but Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis remained too vague about the details. Too many loopholes. Rejected!
EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who had mediated over the past few days and helped the Greeks to formulate the application, are somewhat perplexed about Berlin's harsh No, which Helsinki has since come out in favor of. It would have been better to consult only once within the Eurogroup and then ask Greece for improvements. Even within the German government coalition in Berlin, Schäuble's negotiation tactics have faced criticism. However, Social Democratic leader Sigmar Gabriel says Schäuble is right: Athens' application will be rejected in its present form. Ahead of what will now be the third meeting of the Eurogroup on the latest Greek drama, the mood is as bad as can be imagined.
Last Friday is probably the last chance for the radical coalition led by Alexis Tsipras to come to its senses. And it's probably the last chance for the tough guys in the Eurogroup to find common ground with the Greeks and do something to protect the cohesion of the euro, which is still the heart of European integration. The fact that the Greek side has ruled out making changes to its application suggests that negotiations will be protracted and difficult. Results are by no means guaranteed. Greek insolvency is moving inexorably closer.
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has lost patience with Varoufakis' wild financial ideas. Greeks are putting their money into safe havens, tax revenues are plummeting and economic development is paralyzed. But the Greeks seem to have their pride back. That was a bad swap. Greece already totally depends on life support from the ECB. Without emergency aid for Greek banks, Greece's exit from the euro area and all existing sources of finance is only a matter of days.
The application to continue the ongoing aid program, the object of so much conflict, really only addresses one minor problem. Extending the program only ensures that the last installment, amounting to nearly 7 billion of the total 240 billion euros in loans, can be paid in accordance with long-agreed terms over the next six months. First, the troika - which isn't supposed to be called that any more - must examine the books.
The application was therefore not about the great new restructuring, reform and welfare program the Greek government promised its constituents without any idea how it could be financed. It didn't address the larger issues of debt restructuring and debt relief. That discussion is yet to come!
After six months, a new deal with the Eurogroup and the International Monetary Fund would have to be negotiated. From today's perspective, that seems almost impossible. It is more likely that Greece would finally go bankrupt in the interim. The Syriza-Anel team should fail as soon as possible on the basis of their own campaign promises. Their magic should disappear and they should be voted out democratically. That too would be hard for Greece, but still better than being ruled by a left-wing radical bigmouth, an economic dilettante and a nationalist switch-hitter and being ejected from the EU.