Bershidsky on Europe: Turkey Blocks YouTube
Here's today's look at some of the top stories on markets and politics in Europe.
Turkey blocks YouTube.
Despite a court ruling against the recent ban on Twitter, the Turkish government has now blocked access to YouTube. The ban follows the publication of a video in which top national security officials appear to be discussing a possible war with Syria. "They have even leaked a national security meeting on YouTube," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told an election rally. "This is villainous, cowardly and dishonest." The video, however, has been watched more than 140,000 times, and the internet bans may backfire on Erdogan during the all-important local election on Sunday. The prime minister is losing his war against a group of former allies, who, after months of Erdogan's efforts to root them out, still have enough access to be able to record top secret conversations and enough confidence in their impunity to publish them on the web. The internet bans are a sign of desperation.
Most Germans critical of grand coalition's start.
The first 100 days of the new grand coalition of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU and the Socialists have not pleased Germans. According to an ARD television poll, 55 percent of those asked are critical of the coalition government, while 41 percent approve of its first steps. In fact, the coalition has been slow to jell, with Merkel forced to mediate between ministers representing the two major parties to overcome their mutual distrust. The poll, however, shows that CDU/CSU is still the most popular party in the land, with 41 percent support, and the Socialists are still second with 25 percent. The coalition still represents the broadest majority possible, and pragmatic Germans will learn to live with it as it becomes more cohesive.
German, U.K. finance ministers call for protecting non-euro countries in EU.
German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and his U.K. counterpart George Osborne published a jointly-bylined article in the Financial Times to demonstrate that the EU's economic leaders are united on the major issues, despite their differences on what powers the bloc should have. Integrationist Germany and cautious U.K., the ministers argue, must join forces to restart the EU's economic growth, which has stalled in the last six years while China grew 70 percent and India's gross domestic product increased by a third. To tackle that challenge, the article says, the EU must be flexible. The language is extremely diplomatic, but it follows from the article that Germany agrees with the U.K. that the interests of those European countries that have not adopted the euro have to be protected from the Brussels bureaucracy that is increasingly taking over economic management. It makes sense for the bloc's treaties to conform to the notion of a "two-speed Europe" in which all countries are in an economic union but not all have joined the currency one, or intend to do so. If growth is the final goal, flexibility is not an obstacle.
Total plans shale deal with Russia's Lukoil.
Just as European and U.S. officials threaten to shrink energy cooperation with Russia, French oil major Total is in talks with Russia's biggest private oil company, Lukoil, about a major shale project in Russia. Lukoil has always preferred to do without Western partners, but in this case Total can contribute technology and experience which Lukoil has not had a chance to develop, in extracting "difficult oil." Add to this news the visit to Moscow by Siemens chief executive Joe Kaeser, much-criticized in Germany, and it may appear that top European business executives are protesting the threat of sanctions against Russia in the only way they can. Clearly, they do not see the annexation of the Crimea as a reason to sever lucrative business ties. Russia, however, should not be too encouraged by this attitude on the part of big EU business: Should it make an armed incursion into continental Ukraine, doing business with Moscow will constitute too much risk.
LME forced to tolerate aluminum queues.
After aluminum can producers complained to the London Metal Exchange that long lines for metal at the exchange-approved warehouses were costing them too much, the LME instituted a rule that said the warehouses, owned by the likes of Goldman Sachs and Xstrata, had to load more metal out than in if they had clients waiting for more than 50 days. Now the LME and the aluminum users face a setback: A major producer of the metal, Russia's Rusal, has had the new rules overturned in a Manchester court. Rusal, which was charging customers extra for forward purchases because of the warehouse queues, claimed the LME had not considered all other options for reducing the wait times. The ruling, which the LME may appeal, puts off the changes indefinitely, allowing warehouse owners to make more money in rent and Rusal, which lost $3.2 billion last year, to keep collecting the forward premiums. Considering the global slump in metal prices, there is a certain justice in helping aluminum producers rather than can makers, but the LME will still find a way to cut the queues because they are hurting the bourse's reputation.
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Leonid Bershidsky writes on Russia, Europe and technology for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter at @Bershidsky.
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