Say, do you know Mr Olli Rehn, a.k. in the corridors
of Brussels Power as ‘All I Reign’? (1) No? Well, you really ought to take a
look at him if you happen to be European. For this imperturbable, soft-spoken Finnish
gentleman is probably the most powerful man on the old continent today. He is
the Budget Czar of the European Commission, who wields unlimited power to make
or break national budgets approved by (supposedly) sovereign, elected parliaments.
A man whose ‘recommendations’ are in fact obligations
to member states, whose subtlest hints must be understood as the iron diktats
of an Oriental Pasha in Brussels garb.
The remarkable thing about Mr Rehn is that he has, in
his humble, undercooled Finnish manner, a splendid sense of humour (and I say
this, for once, without a trace of irony). It is a sight to see. For Mr Rehn cracks
these jokes with an alabaster poker face, and then leaves it to the listener to
discover that a joke has actually been made. No fanfare here, no trumpets or
the rolling of drums to announce the stand-up comedy. No: just a quietly spoken
wisecrack that hits home To Whom It May Concern.
Thus, the other day, he qualified the buying up of
Spanish government bonds by the EMS as ‘financial paracetamol’. Which is indeed
precisely what it is: it alleviates the pain, but the disease is nowhere near cured
by popping such pills. Chapeau, Mr
Rehn! An excellent find!
Another one, only recognizable to insiders, is his
insistence, time and time again, that ‘the
Stability Pact is NOT stupid’. Why this somewhat silly choice of words, more
apt for a schoolgirl than a Super-Commissar? Would it not be better to say something
like ‘It is not Ill-conceived’, ‘It is not Inefficient’, or more formal phrases
of that kind? Well, yes, it would; but Mr Rehn uses this precise wording, because
the remark thus formulated takes a neat little pot-shot at no one less than Mr Romano
Prodi, the president of the Eurocommission back in the early days of the Euro, who
barely a year into the common currency, declared – with all the dignity worthy
of his high office – that ‘The Stability Pact is Stupid!’ Which was the signal
for Germany and France to toss all the agreed rules about budget discipline and
fiscal responsibility out the window, and start the happy-go-lucky spending,
lending and bubble blowing which brought Europe to the catastrophe in which we
find ourselves today
Now with a fellow like that, I guess the innocent
observer must always be on his guard. When he makes a statement, is he being
serious or not? The other day I frankly did not know what to think. For Mr Rehn
observed, in public and for all to hear in the Financial Times Deutschland of 6
December, that The Worst Is Over For The
Eurozone. The Crisis, he explained, reached its deepest dell last June,
around the time of the Greek elections. But today, we see the reverse trend,
and there are good reasons for optimism…
Now, I feel no shame to admit that Mr Rehn knows far more
of finance than I do and surely he has much better information available. So
that may be why he sees fresh green shoots where I only perceive a scorched wasteland
burning below the topsoil. And I will gladly believe him it he says things are
looking up, but would it not be a good idea, I wonder, in these uncertain
nervous times, full of violence and despair, to explain WHY he thinks Europe is
climbing out the mire? You see, otherwise the average man in the street - like me
for instance - might get a totally wrong impression from the news items he encounters
daily in the press and the media, based on the opinions of other rather well
prepared individuals and institutions.
Since most of my readers are as allergic to numbers
and averse to statistics, I will not include my examples here, but will put them
in an Appendix to this text tomorrow, for the few courageous readers among you.
But let me just say this: all over Europe, industrial output, building
activity, car sales, investments, consumer spending and consumer confidence,
are DOWN. Down on their scraped knees, as a matter of fact. Growth is nowhere
in sight. Contraction of GDP has come in its place. Bankruptcies are ever more
frequent. Unemployment is at all time highs, and still growing every month. Jobs
are quickly disappearing, due to austerity. They are not being created at all.
Ever more people are living below the poverty line. Many folks, unable to make
ends meet, are selling off family property and heirloom jewels so as to survive;
they are planting kitchen gardens, shun study, sell cars, and sometimes even
economise on clothing and food.
And the famous recovery which throughout the last
four years we were promised time and time again was only 9 months away, is
strangely, this time said to be…. nine months away! The light at the end of the
tunnel is receding as fast as we approach! Einstein could have made something
cute of this Relativity Train.
Europe, in short, is dying a slow death, dear reader.
And – if you ask me – the worst is not behind us, but still to come. Let us
hope I am shockingly wrong…
As I said: Mr Rehn has a fine sense of humour. And I
guess his assurance that The Worst Is Behind Us, is but another example of that
exquisite comical soap opera that Brussels performs for us every day now.
If you won’t take my words for it, but dare to set
your teeth into an even bleaker picture and a harder read: click here to see
one of the latest articles by good old Ambrose E.-P.
(1) Finnish names are of course a complete enigma to
any observer who comes to the language from a normal, boring, run-of-the-mill
Indo-Germanic background. (One of its Prime Ministers was called Juho Kusti
Paasikivi, for crying out loud! Another signed Pehr Evind Svinhufvud! There is
a preacher listening to the name Ruotsalainen, and the roll call knows Kyösti’s
and Väinö’s and Jäätteenmaki’s and if anybody knows how these Scrabble
phantasmagorias are pronounced, I’ll give him a bloody medal!) Having done some
homework, however, I must reject in the sharpest terms the suggestion made by
the Spanish philosopher Hermenegildo Cabeza de Vaca on his blog of November 31st
last, that Mr Rehn’s first name would be short for ‘Oligarchies’. Even Finnish
Non Est THAT Omen!