What an MEP really costs

Nigel Farage, Ukip
Courtesy of Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

Now that Nigel Farage is in the news again this week over his row with The Times about their claims he abused his European parliament expenses account, I decided to look up  what an MEP can and cannot claim in expenses. But frustratingly there doesn’t seem to be many clear and simple journalistic breakdowns on the internet, beyond a few MEP websites and the BBC. Therefore I decided to do it myself:

Last year, the Daily Mail reported the average MEP took home an annual income of £182,00 per year once expenses, perks and salaries had been accounted for. The report, by German price comparison website preisvergelich.de, estimated that over one five year parliamentary term, an MEP could bring home over £1 million.

I took a look at the individual figures of the maximums MEPs could claim as well as their basic salary and found it was as clear as mud. Here is how they breakdown:

Basic salary: €95,484 per annum (roughly £79,000)

Prior to the start of the 2009 parliamentary term, members were paid the same rate as the MPs of their home countries (e.g. UK MEPs would be paid the equivalent of £66,396 per year today).

This was reformed as there was a wide discrepancy in the pay of different members. For instance, in 2002 Italian MEPs earned €130,000, while Spanish MEPs only earnt €32,000.

General Expenditure Allowance: €4,299 (roughly £3500) per month.

This is the allowance that all the fuss is about. Working out at €51,588 (£42,588) per year, this is an allowance paid directly to MEP to manage office costs. It is typically used for rent, electricity, telephone, post costs and IT costs.

However, it can be halved if the MEP fails to attend at least half of the sessions of the European parliament.

Parliament Assistance Allowance: €21,209 (£17,500) per month

This is a fund for to pay for staffing and admin costs; it covers pensions, national insurance, intern and volunteer expenses, and the basic salaries of staff. It is €254,508 (roughly £210,000) per year.

None of this money is allowed to go to the MEP directly; Brussels staff costs are administered by the European Parliament and UK costs are administered by a paying agent.

However, this allowance has been the source of near constant controversy as several MEPs (including Nigel Farage) have been accused of exploiting the budget by employing family members as office assistants and secretaries. In January, the Sunday Mirror reported Kirsten Farage earnt up to £30,000 per year from the European parliament.

Travel

MEPs can claim for travel between Brussels and their home constituency. They can claim for up to 24 return journeys but not exact figure is given as a maximum amount they can claim.

However, they have a separate allowance for travel on official trips to other destinations, €4,243 (£3,505). This is to be used for events and talks they attend/give as a representative of the European parliament. For example, there are parliamentary delegations to countries outside the EU such as Palestine or Afghanistan for which MEPs taking part can claim expenses. All MEPs have to provide receipts.

Subsistence

There are two basic types:

A €304 (roughly £250) daily subsistence allowance. This is supposed to cover cost of renting a hotel or a flat and pay for meal while in Brussels. It can only be claimed by signing in the official register at the parliament or the attendance list at an official meeting.

There is a second subsistence allowance of €152 (roughly £125) a day plus accommodation and breakfast costs for attending meetings outside the European Community. However it is only available, provided the MEP signs an official register for the meeting.

This means it is impossible to know for sure just how much the maximum amount of money an individual MEP can wring out in expenses. It depends on how often the MEP turns up, how often they travel, where they travel and if they hire any family as staff.

Overall, I’d say it is pretty hard to work out one exact figure for how much an MEP can take home once the variability of travel and subsistence costs are taken into account. Currently as there is no legislation forcing MEPs to declare their spending (though many do it voluntarily) it is hard to know if the snouts are in the trough or not.

Sources:

Jean Lambert MEP
Keith Taylor MEP

Advertisements

Mark Carney and the start of Britain’s economic recovery?

image
Image courtesy of CTV News Canada

Today the keys to the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street passed over to Mark Carney and Sir Mervyn King will bow out after 10 long years.

Between 2003 and 2013, the Bank of England saw this country’s financial sector rise so high and then fall further than ever before.

A week on from George Osborne’s Spending Review, which cut £11.5bn from public spending, there are more rumblings of uncertainty as Croatia joins the European Union with record unemployment and the possibility of yet another bailout. Further afield, there is speculation over the gradual end to quantitative easing in the US and concerns over a potential credit crisis in BRIC powerhouse China’s economy.

By any stretch of the imagination,  the UK economy is not out of the woods yet.

At this critical time, Mark Carney is getting some mixed reviews. Dubbed “the outstanding banker of his generation” by George Osborne, Carney was fast tracked into the role back in November and secured a massive pay packet to sweeten his departure from his previous role as Governor of the Bank of Canada.

Expectations are high for the so called ‘banking messiah’ to get Britain’s sluggish recovery going properly.

Canada was one of the only OECD countries to avoid a major banking crisis or subsequent recession which is probably why he is one of the best paid central bankers in history.

But while he has avoided the taint of the financial crisis and the subsequent Libor scandal last year his record is not entirely unblemished. His years in the toxic environment of Goldman Sachs and speculation that the calm state of Canada’s finances may be due more to its natural energy resources, its fiscal surplus and a more tightly regulated financial sector than its monetary policy, knocked his halo eschew slightly.

Indeed, according to the New Statesman, one of the other rejected candidates for the post said Carney was competent but “no messiah”.

No one should expect him to be. As exciting as it is to have someone young and glamorous (for a banker anyway) in the Governor’s chair, the hero worship which has crept up in certain corners will only set him up for a fall.

Because he has a fight on his hands. Not only did his predecessor fail to persuade the MPC to instigate more quantitative easing to keep the economy liquid, but Barclays Bank is threatening to “restrict” loans to households and businesses (£) in protest at the Bank’s new capital rule to rein in lenders.

Add to that the warnings of the outgoing Governor King, who said the economy was “nowhere near” ready to return to higher interest rates and that it could lend to younger people with large mortgages being unable to pay.

King’s warning gets to the heart of the problems in the British economy. It is a country desperately in need of cheap credit but desperately afraid of it because of what happens when it is too abundant.

Whatever people may say about the financial sector and how the country should be ‘making things’ we need credit and the necessary hot air it comes with.

Excessive risk maybe be poisonous but so is excessive caution.

There is only so far the country can recover with monetary policy alone. What the British economy needs now is a bit of faith.

So maybe, while Britain isn’t out of the woods, Carney could boost the recovery without really meaning to. Additionally, regardless of whether the Coalition’s austerity measures are the correct way to fix the finances of the country, the news that more people are coming to terms with three years of government spending cuts could precipitate a new sense of grudging confidence in the new normal.

Although borrowing and spending are still high, public perception of how the Government is managing its finances has improved. Perhaps if they feel they are through the worse of it now, they may make those tentative steps towards booking that holiday or investing in that start up.

It may be small but it is this confidence, regulated properly by the Government and a stronger financial services regulator, which can get Britain going again rather than fearfully treading water as it has been doing for several years now.

Chinese New Year: How far China have come and how far they still have to go

Chinese-New-YearChina has come a long way in 101 years.

Back in 1911 (during the year of the pig), China’s final dynasty, Qing collapsed after nearly a  150 years of gasping for breath. The encroachment of the Western powers (and later Japan) with their unequal treaties, opium wars and favourite nation clauses had been met by ‘head in the sand, fingers in the eyes’ approach by the de facto ruler Empress Dowager Cixi for over fifty years before her death in 1908.

Although yesterday marked the start of a new lunar year and a new chapter of China’s history, tomorrow marks the 101th anniversary of the edict forcing child Emperor Puyi from the throne in 1912.

This measure led to the brief dictatorship of General Yuan Shikai and the beginning of the Republican era.

It is remarkable to think that after the traumas the country faced over the past century with seemingly endless civil war, the rise of communism and the brutal of life under Chairman Mao that the country is on the verge of being the most strongest economic power on earth in the next 10 years.

But we should not be too quick to sit back and watch. Despite America’s recent ‘Asian Pivot’ and the prospect of the Trans-Pacific Partnership potentially being formed as a more powerful trading bloc than the EU with China at its centre, China’s future could still be rocky.

The Chinese economy, whilst still the strongest in the world, is starting to slow down with the effect of the Eurozone crisis and the continued financial turmoil across the world. So they are unlikely to see the same double digit growth figures they’ve enjoyed over the past few years.

That is not to say the country doesn’t have anything to look forward to. Construction is now under way to build the world’s largest skyscraper, Sky City One in Changsha, Hunan province in south west China.

Similarly, China will be taking further steps into the space race with their lunar probe Chang’e 3 being launched later in the year.

However with the continuing  Bo Xilai scandal’s twists and turns remaining in the news and Xi still not fully cementing his authority over the biggest population on earth 2013 could still be a bumpy ride.

The Chinese authorities are still trying in vain to control the tide of information leaks but new innovations in telecommunications continue to outpace them. The power of microblogging sites has persisted despite manifold attempts to shut them down and it looks like nothing will change as we head into the new year.

So the dissident in China is likely to only build in the next few years. The examples of Ai WeiWei and Chen Guangcheng are international embarrassments to the nation which tries so hard to maintain control. While most foreign powers are too awestruck by China’s economic might to pay much attention to internal human rights abuses, these controversies are getting harder and harder to hide from the internet savvy Chinese population.

So as Xi tries to assert his authority over the next few years he will have several different challenges.

One way he could assert his authority is to go down the Cristina De Kirchner Fernandez route and continue to claim Japanese territory .

The ongoing dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands (know as the Diaoyu islands in Chinese and the Pinnacle Islands in English) has historical roots but has only really come to the fore in the past year. Although the islands are closer geographically to mainland Japan they are on the edge of China’s tectonic plate which is traditionally viewed as the extent of Chinese maritime influence.

The dispute goes back to the days when what is now the Okinawa prefecture of Japan was an independent kingdom. It survived by offering tributes to both China and Japan but adopting Chinese fashion, style and way of life. When Japan and China were forced to trade by the Western powers, instead of sticking their heads in the sand like China, Japan embraced change and the Meji Restoration cement a central government across the country instead of the Shogunate that had ruled for hundreds of years.

This included Okinawa which remained under Japanese rule from 1895 until America annexed it at the end of the Second World War.They gave it back in 1972 under the Okinawa Reversion Treaty and the Senkaku Islands were part of the deal.

Ever since China has not given up its territorial claim to them but has done very little to demand them back. They argue that as the islands were administered along with Taiwan after Japan annexed it in 1895, the islands should have been returned to China in 1945 as well. They claim that the then Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai Shek was too busy fighting the civil war against the Communists and too dependent on US support to fight his case properly.

The new conflict was sparked by a comment from the Toyko Governor in April 2012 Shintaro Ishihara saying he would use public money to buy them back from their private Japanese owner. In August several Hong Kong activists sailed to the uninhabited islands but were sent back, 10 days later Japanese activists did the same. In December 2012 a Chinese aeroplane was said to have violated their air space and in January of this year, Beijing said they were conducting a geological survey of the area.

Neither side seems to want to go to war over the islands but the tensions could be the perfect opportunity for Xi to distract from problems at home like De Kirchener is trying unsuccessfully to do in Argentina over the Falkland Islands.

Despite its new found status and power China is slightly licking the wounds of its past. A war with Japan could go a long way to healing the humiliation of losing a war with them, a smaller nation that had previously looked up to them, in 1895 which overtaking them economically hasn’t achieved.

China is the oldest and biggest continuous civilisation in the world. It has a delicate future ahead of it which could cement its rule as the most powerful nation on earth or it could crumb back into chaos. History is still crucial to China, and they will try to right wrongs in the twentieth century alongside power building in the twentieth first.

The youth timebomb: why the angry generation is becoming the militant generation

talibanFor many years people have been trying to explain why rational young men turn to extremism. From French revolution era protests like the Babeuf plot, the exploits of the IRA to modern day Islamist extremists at home and abroad, academics, psychologists and historians have tried to understand why they commit such heinous acts against their fellow men.

Now, not for the first time, sexual availability (and the lack there of) has been cited as the main cause of Afghan men joining the Taliban by journalist Mujib Mashal in an article for Foreign Policy.

Of course, I do know pretend to be an expert on the subject of Afghan culture but I find it hard to believe it can be boiled down to such a simple cause.

Mashal argues young men in the still deeply traditionally Afghanistan are becoming sexually frustrated by the lack of marriage opportunities in a country where bride prices remain high despite low levels of employment. Many men are being forced to seek employment as labourers in Iran to raise the money demanded by women’s families and are thus (supposedly) remaining virgins for longer.

The build up of this frustration is supposedly being exploited by the Taliban who offer the best wages in the area, especially in Helmand, and the promise of 72 virgins waiting for them in paradise.

While I have to concede Mashal probably knows more about the specifics of the region (and being a man) than I do, I have to question if it can really be that simple. To boil down all male frustrations in a situation as complex as Afghanistan seems unnecessarily reductive.

Instead the picture, as always, is more complex.

Some blame must be held at the feet of the NATO occupation itself. Whilst America and their allies have been welcome in the past by the metropolitan elites of Kabul, after 11 and a half long years of occupation their patience is wearing thin.

The invading forces promised democracy, prosperity and peace they are struggling to deliver on that promise. Afghanistan is at the bottom of Transparency International’s list of corruption states alongside North Korea and Somalia. Hamid Karzai is supported by the NATO alliance not because he is a paragon of democratic virtue, but because he is not the Taliban. There are still questioning lingering over the the Afghan government’s legitimacy as well as the undue influence of Karzai’s family which has grown mysteriously wealthy since he took office.

Karzai’s own brother has been linked to the lucrative opium trade rampant in the country which is said to provide the Taliban with most of their funds.

As much as I am loathed to use historical examples as an absolute guide to the future of the country, I have to draw some parallels with America past interventions in the 20th century. The support of the Batista regime in Cuba, despite local opposition made it easier for Fidel Castro to swoop in as the America’s feared.

So a similar fate could await Afghanistan when the troops pull out. With even Karzai himself blaming the corruption woes of the country on its foreign occupiers it is easy to see how dissatisfaction can turn into extremism.

Like the young in the UK, Afghan young people were promised prosperity. However, unlike the young in the UK, they are living in an extreme and dangerous environment. After growing up amidst bloodshed and warfare a whole generation of young men and women thought they would start to see the beginning of a new order which has been instead mired in the old ways of corrupt leaders, blind occupiers and frustrated local communities.

For young (and old) women, domestic violence, rape and honour killings are still commonplace. Women were forced to accept a law passed in 2009 that banned them leaving the house in certain circumstances without the consent of their husbands. While the more urban educated classes may welcome women’s emancipation, the rural attitudes towards women suggest the country still has a long way to go.

For young men, often there only one choice; become a labourer or become a ‘freedom fighter’. With great wealth and power cut off by the dominance of a corrupted elite, the windows that appeared to open in 2001 have snapped shut in their faces. Many are too young to really remember what life was like under the Taliban and many are probably feeling like the unknown foreign devil is convenient scapegoat for all their problems.

Instead of sexual frustration, maybe the real reason for so many young men joining the Taliban is frustration itself. Sex, eternal glory and wealth all play their part in a bigger picture of dissatisfaction and disenchantment with the status quo. Maybe joining the Taliban for many young men in Afghanistan is an act of defiance? Instead of wanting 72 virgins, maybe this just want someone to sit up and take notice?

Cabinet reshuffles and looming election wipeouts

The Coalition Cabinet in the early days of 2010 before the axe started to fall. © The Daily Telegraph

Giving a speech at the 2009 EU elections results night, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan delivered an eye catching plea for Gordon Brown to resign and call a general election. He had allegedly lost the ‘moral mandate’ and Hannan highlighted the farce of the political situation at the time by quoting popular children’s poet, Dr Seuss.

Three years on from this time when the strong, confident Conservatives were looking down their noses with glee as Labour slowly unravelled from within you cannot help but be amused by the irony of the upcoming, unprovoked cabinet reshuffle that is expected in the coming weeks. Or indeed, the news that the Liberal Democrat power base could be wiped out at the next election.

Every day the news seems to report another body blow to the Coalition as the Conservatives are still languishing eight points behind Labour  and the Liberal Democrats are even further behind on a paltry 10 points, only two points ahead of the UK Independence Party. According to YouGov (where the figures come from) if the election was held today Labour would win with a majority of 96.

To make the situation worse, the government has given up the pretence that they all still get along as George Osborne and Nick Clegg lock horns over Clegg’s comments to the Guardian that the rich should pay more tax.

With this government stuck in the quagmire less than halfway through its parliamentary term, its no wonder that the public mood is at dangerously low levels. David Cameron has to act now to break the spell and restore what little faith the country still has in him.

This reshuffle is designed as a shot in the arm for Cameron’s government; to root out naysayers and saboteurs and get the Coalition back on to track to Cameron’s grand plan: getting a majority in 2015.

Of course, the difficulty in this that Cameron is being torn in different directions by three groups with conflicting aims, none of are particularly interested in whether he gets to keep his job.

Cameron’s decision to shelve House of Lords reform may have been a concession to restore party unity but the result is this current deadlock. To friend and foe alike it made him look weak; it was a betrayal of the promises to the people and the Coalition partners that got them into this increasingly kamikaze government in the first place and to his enemies among the backbench of his own party.

Backbenchers have been grumbling over Cameron’s untraditional (for a Conservative) stance on Europe and gay marriage and are unhappy with the party entering into a coalition in the first place. Now that conference season is upon us, rising stars are looking to make their mark on the party and the press with headline grabbing speeches and the respective parties will be looking to consolidate with a policy agenda for the coming year.

Therefore now is the time for Cameron to quell the opposition to his agenda, or indeed his leadership. When he kowtowed to the backbench over Lords reform he demonstrated that he would back down if the party dug their heels in hard enough. Meanwhile MPs like Brian Binley are telling Cameron to mend relationships within the Tory party and stop behaving as the ‘Chambermaid’ for the Liberal Democrats and remind them who the senior partner in the Coalition is.

He is under increasing pressure to promote more right wing members to the Front Bench and get rid of some of the more unpopular figures; Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is reportedly facing the chop despite his claims that he is ‘totally laid back’ about the pending reshuffle. However, regardless of the change to the ideological line up of the Conservative side of the bench, Cameron is honour bound by the terms of the coalition agreement to keep five Liberal Democrats in the cabinet. So Business Secretary and Liberal Democrat hero, Vince Cable and  Minister for Scotland Danny Alexander look set to keep their jobs.

The Liberal Democrats have very different concerns when it comes to this reshuffle. Contrary to backbench opinion, the public feel there is little or no discernible yellow influence on the blue cabinet and that Clegg and his cronies simply decided to sell the young, the old and the ‘squeezed middle’ down the river in order to get a name in the political history books and possible a seat in the House of Lords one day.

Nearly every single one of the causes Nick Clegg championed when he gave the David Cameron the keys to number 10 have been dismantled or postponed and nearly every Lib Dem is getting restless. Since the defeat of Lords Reform, Clegg has declared open season on any and all Conservative policies he doesn’t like, including threatening to sabotage boundary change plans and criticising the Tory’s supposedly lenient tax policy. He needs to prove to his party (and the public) that he still has a backbone to prevent electoral ruin at the election. This uphill battle means he will continue to be a thorn in Cameron’s side and will not allowed his more popular ministers, like Cable, to feel the weight of the axe.

Then the third, and most important, group that Cameron needs to placate are the voters. When the election was held in May 2010 people (if not a majority of people) believed that if the Conservatives could cut the gross overspending by Labour, the economy would right itself and the country could go back to dancing on clouds and rainbows again. Fast forward two years and the economy has actually got worse now that we are in a double dip recession and the ‘deficit reducing’ government had to borrow money to plug a deficit in a month that is normally always supposed to run a surplus. Understandably the people are angry as they are losing their jobs and the props designed to support them when they do are being kicked out from under them. Meanwhile the Conservatives ring fence the rights of corporations and wealthy individuals such as their (politically foolish) announcement that they were going to criminalise squatting when thousands are already facing losing their homes.

One causality of reshuffle that is frequently called for his Chancellor, George Osborne. Having lost the support of several economists who had backed his deficit reduction plan at the beginning of his term, Osborne is increasingly becoming the target for people’s dissatisfaction with the state of the economy and his personal approval ratings have dipped lower than supposed Public Enemy Number One, Nick Clegg.

However, as Cameron’s best friend in government, Osborne is likely to survive. He may be the face of the ideology but Cameron is as much an architect of the economy as he is and there would be little gain from his removal. Whilst approval may take a slight upswing if he were replaced with the favourite, Vince Cable, it would not be worth the resulting destruction of Cameron’s power base within the party. Furthermore, Cable’s appointment may create a small respite for the economy as increased confidence in the Chancellor begets increased confidence in the economy which in turn begets growth; it is unlikely to have much long term effect if Cable is forced to pursue the same or similar policies to Osborne.

The whole situation is a political deadlock and it will be interesting to see if Cameron can get out of it, or at the very least keep his party together. Whatever happens in the long term public opinion is unlikely to be rosy. We can only wonder if any Labour MEP will be quoting Dr Seuss at Cameron come the European elections in 2014.

A Review of the Year: United States and Canada in 2011

United States and Canada
Much like Europe in 2011 there seemed to be a non-stop conveyor belt of news in North America this year as political forces of all shapes and sizes in both countries went head to head over the hearts and minds of their people. The Tea Party gathered momentum in America as the Republican primaries for their 2012 presidential candidate kicked off, the debate about gun crime reached a tragic new low and much like the rest of Europe, America’s economy was again almost brought to its knees by bickering politicians.

Tucson, Arizona: Way back at the start of 2011, on 8th January when Southern Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot along with 18 others by a lone gunman outside a supermarket where she was meeting her constituents. Despite being shot in the head, Giffords survived the attack and after five months recuperation has made a limited return to the public eye however six others died including a nine-year old girl. The gunman, Jared Lee Loughner is said to have had ‘increasingly erratic’ behaviour over the few months leading up to the attack and had previously expressed misogynistic views about women in power and was apparently unsatisfied by her response to his attempts to contact her in 2007. However, in the days, weeks and months that followed the focus was once again to shifted to gun totting madwoman in chief, Sarah Palin as Giffords had already criticised her for having a map with gun crosses over her office and the offices of other Democrats prompting another debate about gun control.

Republican Party Primaries: The race for the Republican presidential nomination got into full swing this year with all candidates doing their level best to one up each other during the live debates before each being picked of by increasingly lurid scandals. First, was Michelle Bachmann, the Tea Party’s favourite when Palin isn’t available, who was ousted from the debate when tapes emerged of her husband operating a clinic offering ‘cures’ for homosexuality. She is still limping behind frontrunner Mitt Romney who it is said will ‘crush’ competition at the New Hampshire primary. Then there was Hermain Cain, a peculiar figure who was riding surprisingly high despite being a relative unknown, who was accused of sexually assaulting two women whilst head of the National Restaurant Association and mounted an even more peculiar defence. The race continues with a still rather eccentric cast of characters.

Canada Leaves The Kyoto Protocol: Canada is often seen as America’s calmer, saner and more rational cousin. Living on top it is seen as the hand on the shoulder of America that is sometimes needed to go ‘dude, just chill’. However all this changed in December when Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol during the climate change conference in Durban after they said the updated agreement would no longer be in Canada’s interests. Although Canada signed up to the agreement in 1997 under a liberal government, it has done little since then to act on it and after the Conservative government has come to power they seem reluctant to do anything at all. Canadian environment minister, Peter Kent, ‘The Kyoto protocol does not cover the world’s largest two emitters, the United States and China, and therefore cannot work. It’s now clear that Kyoto is not the path forward to a global solution to climate change. If anything it’s an impediment.’ Canada is highly at risk from climate change due to deforestation and the polar ice caps melting and the North of the country’s wildlife is under threat by the ongoing exploitation of the Alberta Tar Sands. This is one of several measures the Conservative government, which won its first majority in 2011 after running as a minority government since 2006, have enacted this year which has led to one Guardian commentator asking if Canada was being run by the Daily Mail including the abolition of the gun registry and banning full face veils.

DSK: The case of the hotel maid that accused former IMF leader, Dominique Strauss Kahn of attempted rape in New York this summer soon showed the ongoing gulf between the ‘accuser’ and the ‘accused’ when it comes to the rich and powerful. Nafissatou Diallo’s suit against Mr Kahn, who has been accused previously inappropriate behaviour with his female staff, was dropped due to a ‘lack of credibility’. The forensic evidence aside, this was yet another example of the accuser being forced to prove their innocence rather than prove the accused’s guilt. As she had lied on her visa application about being raped she was assumed to be attempting to extort money from Kahn and denied her day in court. Therefore DSK may not have been proven guilty but he hasn’t been proven innocent either.

Casey Murder Trial: What Time magazine called the ‘social media trial’ of the century was oddly forgotten by the British media this summer as it was embroiled in crucifying the likes of Rupert Murdoch and hundreds of young rioters in its court of public opinion to notice arguably the most hated woman in America stand trial for the alleged murder of her two-year old child. And be found not guilty. Casey Anthony was accused of murdering her two-year old child, Caylee in 2008 after the child’s body was found taped up and decaying near her grandparents’ house six months after going missing. It was later revealed that Casey’s mother, Cindy reported the child missing four days after she disappeared whilst Casey was spotted out partying with friends. She has been described by her own defence lawyers as an exceptional liar and it was almost certain that she had some involvement in the child’s death. She first tried to accuse her nanny of stealing the child, then claimed that the child had drowned in the grandparents’ pool and she had been sexually molested by her own father since the age of eight. Because of her callous reaction and her status as a single mother the case went from a local child death story to a nationwide tabloid sensation the trial of a so-called monster. The prosecution accused Anthony, of first degree murder, aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter and sought the death penalty. However she was eventually found not guilty and instead convicted of misdemeanours such as lying to police officers. With credit for time already served, she was released the following week.

The Debt Ceiling Fiasco: There is a lot of two and froing and ‘will they, won’t they’ in American politics but this year it almost brought America, and arguably the world, to its knees as another fiscal crisis lead to a seemingly endless debate between Democrats and Republicans to raise the debt ceiling. The Republicans weren’t willing to back down easily and Obama was not going to give into their demands to end some of the welfare spending so it looked for a while like America was about to default on its loans. At the eleventh hour an agreement was reached on 31st July and was ratified by Congress on 1st August, dramatically Gabrielle Giffords’, in her first return to Congress since the assassination attempt, signature on the bill was one of the few that tipped it in the majority and allowed to be passed on 2nd August.

Apple Loses Its Core: The tech industry suffered a massive blow this year as Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, died of pancreatic cancer aged 56 in October. He was primarily known for overseeing Apple’s explosion in popularity over the past fifteen years and the creation of Ipod, Iphone and Ipad ranges which have revolutionised modern technology. He had stepped down as CEO in August 2011 prompting questions over whether the Apple brand could survive without its leader and the share price did drop on news of his death but has since recovered.

A Review of the Year: Europe in 2011


Unlike Africa, which often seems to be forgotten about, Europe and its many, many crises never seem to be far from the headlines. 2011 was no exception with the trials and tribulations never far from the headlines. From electoral crises in Russia to media crises in Britain to financial crises everywhere, European affairs never seemed to slow down. Here is a rundown of the most important in case you miss anything:

Eurozone: If you were to explain the European debt crisis to an idoit you’re best bet would probably be along the lines of ‘Euro go BOOM’. Truth is there are probably few people who really understand the ins and outs of it. Regardless, the EU is up shit creek with its only paddle being an extremely reluctant Angela Merkel. First Greece realised that it was unable to pay the interest on its domestic debts and was about to default and take every economy in the Eurozone with it. Then Ireland and Portugal jumped in on the action with Spain and Italy teetering on the edge eventually cost the heads of the Socialist Party of Spain, which lost an election in November and the Carry On Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi who was forced to resign in December. This lead to frantic discussions between Merkozy- or Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, Europe’s second weirdest power couple after Cameron and Clegg- over ‘what to do about the debt’ that Cameron dipped in and out of before causing another crisis by dropping out of the treaty they eventually drew up. The soap opera continues.

Greece: Poor Greece. You make the tiniest alteration to your fiscal health reports to get you into an exclusive fiscal club and then find yourself dealing with dire consequences eight years later and all the doctors helping you can say is ‘its your own fault’ and ‘you should have known better’. A series of economic reforms in Greece in the early part of last decade that meant they were able to borrow more easily and as a result they were forced to go to the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to borrow a ‘international rescue package’ to the tune of £111bn. In order to ensure there would be no further bailouts the Greek parliament introduced a number of austerity measures that led to rioting on the streets and the resignation of the Greek Prime Minister over giving the people a referendum on the measures.

Italy: Next up to have their own meltdown was Italy who were suffering from the onset of ‘a liquidty’ crisis as there were no bankers to buy the fancy cars and other luxury items the Italian economy rests on. Furthermore the ongoing structural problems such as corruption continued to rackle. Italy is a country were approximately 0.17 per cent of the population pay tax and most young people go abroad to find work as there are few jobs avaliable to those without connections in any particualr industry. Silvio Berlusconi provided light relief for the most of the year before the sex scandals, the gaffes and the cronyism got too much and Berlusconi was booted out to stand trial for sex with an underage prostitute.

Britain: The British economy did not default in 2011 but judging by the behaviour of its citizens you would not be surprised. There were protests about public sector pensions, tuition fee rises, cuts to public services, closing libraries. It would seem anything and everything made people take to the streets in protest. In August, they even took to the streets to loot their local Adidas. Then from October onwards they took up residence in St Paul’s Cathedral to protest against the entire financial and social system of Britain. The government’s plans to counter this was to stick their fingers in their ears, lock them up and wave a shiny, expensive distraction in their face. An outside observer commenting on Britain would say the country seemed to be in chaos and there was little organised or harmonious political process to be had this year as the British public no longer trusted their government, their media or even each other. Oooh, but wasn’t the wedding lovely?

Russia: Another country, another protest. The Economist review of the year confidently predicted that Vladmir Putin would win the Presidental election planned for 2012. However, recent protests across Russia have made the previously rock solid Putin regime seem rocky for the first time. Russia has never had a long and illustrious track record when it comes to democracy but the continued efforts of thousands of people in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities in Russia show signs that Putin made not be able to make these allegations of election fraud ‘disappear’.

Norway: The world was reminded that terroism doesn’t just come in Muslim shaped packages this summer as Anders Behring Breivik went on a shooting spree killing 37 teenagers at a political camp on the island of Uteya this July, hours after detonating a bomb that killed seven in the national capital, Oslo. Breivik has subsequently been declared criminally insane and will probably spend the rest of his life in a mental institution. The shocking nature of his crime however, exposed the hitherto unremarked but sizable presence of a Neo-Nazi movement in Scandinavina and the national- and international- tragedy has reminded people not to become to complacent and there are evil people do unimaginably evil deeds all the time and they do not fit into easily recognisable boxes.