Bershidsky's View From Europe
Here is today's look at some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Europe:
Cannes jewel theft now the biggest in history.
French prosecutors put the value of diamonds taken Sunday by a lone masked gunman from the Carlton hotel at $136 million, $4 million greater than the haul at the Diamond Center in Antwerp, Belgium, in 2003. The immediate estimate after the robbery was just $53 million, huge but not a historical high. The Maison Chopard jewelry was owned by Lev Leviev, the Russian-Israeli diamond magnate, who planned to exhibit it at the Carlton to promote his jewelry business. The thief walked into the hotel, strode into to the room where the diamonds were kept prior to the exhibition, threatened Leviev staff with a gun and walked out past the guards with an attache case full of gems. Incidentally, the Carlton was a scene for the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock movie "To Catch a Thief."
Spanish labor costs go down everywhere except in banks.
Newly released statistics show that labor costs have declined in Spain for the first time since the 2008 crisis. They stood at $41,000 per worker per year, 0.8 percent lower than in 2011. This may actually be good for the battered Spainish economy because lower costs reduce unemployment, which has gone down from 27.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013 to 26.3 percent in the second quarter. Yet these developments do little to ease the considerable social tension in the country. Salaries went down last year in health care, education and manufacturing but increased in banking, a sector that has absorbed some billions of European Union aid after a meltdown caused by falling real estate prices.
EU to mediate Mercedes dispute between France and Germany.
Officials in Brussels said on Monday that they would bring France and Germany together for talks on the French ban of several Mercedes models because they use a coolant the EU outlawed in January. According to the French association of Mercedes dealers, the banned models -- the A, B, CLA and SL classes -- account for 30,000 cars sold in the country every year, about half all Mercedes sales. The ban is clearly political: No other country has forbidden sales of cars using the R134a coolant, and older models whose radiators are filled with it would be hard to get off the road. The socialist government of France is trying to kill two birds with one stone, simultaneously cracking down on luxury consumption and trying to help domestic automakers PSA and Renault. Not that they really need this kind of help. Renault, at least, posted better-than-expected financial results last week, fueled by the excellent sales of its low-cost models. Some problems are better left for the market to sort out, but try telling that to François Hollande and his ministers.
German parliament speaker accused of plagiarism.
Bundestag President Norbert Lammert has become the third ranking member of the ruling alliance to be accused of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis. The other two, Defense Minister Karl-Theodor Guttenberg and Education Minister Annette Schavan, resigned from their posts in 2011 and 2013, respecitvely, following accusations from anonymous bloggers. Lammert, whose 1974 thesis involved the role of local party cells in Christian Democratic Union decision-making, denies wrongdoing and has asked the University of Bochum to examine his work. In Schavan's case, such as investigation ended in the annulment of her degree. As the political struggle in Germany intensifies in the run-up to the September general election, Chancellor Angela Merkel's allies are being picked off one by one. The ruling alliance, however, still leads in the polls. (At least the plagiarists have courage to step down: In Russia, a volunteer community called DisserNet has uncovered blatant plagiarism in the theses of numerous politicians from the ruling United Russia party, but no resignations ensued.)
Final ruling near in Berlusconi tax case.
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's appeals in a tax evasion case that resulted in a four-year jail sentence have run their course. Today, the Supreme Court will start final deliberations, and the decision is likely to be announced within the next two or three days. Berlusconi will not actually go to jail, because of an amnesty and his age: the politician is 76. House arrest or community service is more likely. Yet an upheld conviction may mean trouble for the ruling parliamentary coalition, of which thehis party is a member. The wily media mogul has held on to much of his influence despite all his legal problems, which include another recent prison sentence for paying a minor for sex. Berlusconi is likely to avoid jail on those charges, too: Political weight, connections and a strong support base are the best kind of armor. "This is about 10 million Italians who, in case of Berlusconi's conviction, risk not having any political representation," says Daniela Santanchè of Berlusconi's PDL party.
(Leonid Bershidsky, an editor and novelist, is a Bloomberg View contributor. Follow him on Twitter.)