A ‘Grexit’ could finally sink the euro – so beware of Greeks bearing threats

THIS is an election year like no other, few can dodge its impact and, whoever wins, most voters will probably feel they’ve lost out.

Because, like a nasty rash, polling fever is erupting almost everywhere and what’s at stake isn’t so much who governs where next, but whether the world plunges into the financial abyss again.

In Britain the only certainty about what will happen in the general election on May 7 is uncertainty, though I have a sneaking suspicion Squire Cameron won’t be handing over the keys to 10 Downing Street.

Why? Because there’ll be what veteran American pollsters wryly recall as the ‘Richard Nixon Gambit’, an event from the annals of politicking gimmickry and the 1960 White House race, squeakily shaded by John F. Kennedy.

Too close to call, the Democrats stooped to a now legendary low in black propaganda by releasing an image of Nixon looking sweaty and shifty behind his grizzled five o’clock shadow, alongside the headline: ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’

NIXON NIXED: The ad showing a shady Richard Nixon that tipped the 1960 US election JFK's way

NIXON NIXED: The ad showing a shady-looking Richard Nixon that tipped the 1960 US election JFK’s way

The stunt resonated sufficiently for JFK to win literally by a whisker – 49.7% to 49.6% – after voters carried the scary vision of the then Republican Vice President into the polling booths.

Nine years later, and remembering to shave at least twice a day, Tricky Dicky won the presidency – perhaps proving you can’t keep a good crook down – only to resign in 1974 in the murk of the Watergate Scandal.

So, it would surprise me not one iota to see a montage of Ed Miliband snaps, showing the Labour leader at his geekiest worst, cropping up like Comparethemeerket telly ads.

The tacit caption would be: ‘Would you believe this nerd could lead the nation?’

Though Britain’s hustings might be enthralling to dedicated followers of UK politics, they are a parish-pump sideshow to elections globally – and I don’t mean in Burkina Faso, where President Blaise Compaoré is hotly tipped to get the heave-ho in November.

Nor am I referring to Israel’s March vote, which will predictably end in a cobbled-together Left or Right-wing coalition government, neither of which will bow to Palestinian blackmail and have imposed on them a factionalised, corruption-riddled Arab statelet that adamantly refuses to recognise its neighbour’s right to exist.

And forget the polls in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, which sully the name of democracy. Ditto Estonia, Finland and Poland, where properly constituted elections should hardly cause a ripple on the Richter scale of political earthquakes.

No, the fun – if that’s not too sardonic a description – is in the European Union’s Club Med nations, beginning next Sunday in Greece, the so-called ‘sick man of Europe’ (well, considerably more bilious compared to the ailing rest).

CAN’T PAY, WON’T PAY: Alex Tsipras (left), head of Greece’s Syriza bloc, demands debt relief to relieve his nation’s plight…or else

Because if a bunch of rebel populists called Syriza, who make the Chinese Communist politbureau look like Young Conservatives, the flaking euro is in for a further buffeting, one which – this time – could actually prelude the first exit of a member state from the Eurozone.

A bloc of far-Left hardliners led by neo-Marxist Che Guevara fan, Alexis Tsipras, the thrust of Syriza’s manifesto is simple: ‘Stop austerity – or we’ll stop paying our debts’, beginning with the instalment of €6.7-billion due to the European Central Bank (ECB) in July.

Unless you’re an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bean-counter, it’s a difficult to gauge just how much Greece owes creditors and what interest it’s cranking up. But terms like ‘colossal’ and ‘humungous’ are understatements and, as one economist noted, ‘At the current rate of pay-down, it’ll 130 years before they return to where they were in 2008.’

How a nation that produced arithmetical geniuses such as Pythagoras, Archimedes and Euclid got itself into such a mega-mess – or managed to flannel its way into the Eurozone in the first place – is no longer the issue.

With unemployment rocketing, the prospect of triple-dip deflation and Greece’s economy screwed to the floor by the ‘Troika’ – that’s the IMF, ECB and European Union, otherwise known as Greater Deutschland – Tsipras is demanding a 50% write-off its debts, just as the international community let Germany get away with in 1953.

For the record, deflation is a mixed blessing. In the UK, where inflation has fallen to 0.5%, courtesy of falling oil, food and commodity prices, consumer spending power is boosted. In contrast, what it means for the Eurozone is rising joblessness, stagnant wages, weak consumption and an inexorable slide into deflation.

POKER FACE: Germany's Merkel fears that a 'Grexit' would be contagious and infect other Club Med states

POKER FACE: But Germany’s Merkel fears that a ‘Grexit’ would be contagious and infect other Club Med states

Meanwhile, despite lame messages from Chancellor Angela Merkel about wanting to keep Greece in the club – which chimes with what Syriza claims it wants – behind the scenes an ultra-high-stakes game of diplomatic poker is being played, with many German politicians refusing to blink first.

‘We are past the days when we still have to rescue Greece,’ insists Michael Fuchs, parliamentary leader of Merkel’s Christian Democrats. “The situation has completely changed from three years ago. Greece is no longer systemically relevant for the euro.’

In fact, it was recently revealed that in 2011 Germany offered Greece a ‘friendly’ return to the drachma, the so-called ‘Grexit’ option. However, Merkel had an attack of the jitters when it became clear Spain and Italy would be mired by contagion from it.

Notwithstanding great strides the Spanish and, to a lesser extent, the Italians have made in putting their houses into better financial shape, with both nations also facing elections in 2015, many voters are looking to see what happens in Athens before they decided which way to jump.

The storm clouds are certainly gathering in Spain, where the Left-wing upstarts of Podemos (‘We Can’), who are allies of Syriza, are currently leading the polls on an anti-corruption, anti-austerity ticket.

Which is why Merkel fears a domino effect across the Club Med if Greece defaults on its IOUs, starts afresh with a new drachma and its economy shows signs of revival.

Because, however tentatively it finds its newly-liberated feet, the Greeks will offer an example to others stretched on the German-imposed financial rack to do likewise.

And the lure of a born-again peseta or lira – plus the freedom of nations to structure their own destiny – might be too strong to resist.

So watch this space…2015 could be the year that reshapes the future of the Eurozone.

 

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Why I want a democratic Europe, minus the EU dictators and the Euro ‘gravy train’

THE other night I was asked to debate the pluses and minuses of Europe with former European Parliamentarian (MEP), Francisca Bennassar, in front of an audience of international expats here in Mallorca, members of an organisation called Europeos por Espana. Several people have contacted me since and asked for details of my speech – so here’s an abridged version (and apologies for its length)…

THE GREAT DEBATE: Yours truly discusses the EU with former Euro MEP, Francisca Bennassar

THE GREAT DEBATE: Yours truly discusses the EU with former Euro MEP, Francisca Bennassar – Photo: LAURA STADLER

CONTRARY to popular myth, I am not the UK Independence Party’s Man in Mallorca, a swivel-eyed loon or a Little Englander, whose attitude to Europe was probably best summed up by a famous headline in The Times, from the 1930s, that read: ‘Fog in Channel, Continent cut off.’

Indeed, I feel extremely fortunate to live in the sun-kissed Balearic Isles, so I’m not a turkey which votes for Christmas and I don’t want to see an end of the European dream.

And I can tell you: if Britain ever left the European Union, my wife and I would be devastated. Being declared persona non grata here and forced to return to Britain is a dark prospect with zero appeal, especially if – like us – you hail from Manchester.

Not that I’m not immensely proud of being British and my home city. Because, in spite of the EU’s attempts to homogenise us all into being Europeans, first and foremost, we are still entitled to take pride in our nationalities, cultures and history.

Still, in 1973, I was more than happy for my country to join what was then the European Economic Community, or the EEC in short, perhaps more affectionately known as the COMMON MARKET. And, two years later, I voted a resounding ‘Yes’ for continued membership in the only referendum Britain has held on being part of Europe.

This was not just because it would further irritate the French – General De Gaulle, you might remember, worked tirelessly to keep us Anglo-Saxons out of what he regarded as his club…a French invention, funded by Germany, as my German neighbours insist it still is.

No, this was because I strongly believed in the merits of neighbouring nations banding together to form a trading bloc, with free movement of GOODS, SERVICES, CAPITAL AND PEOPLE.

However, the cuddly, old Common Market – which appeared to be working very nicely, gracias – somehow sneakily grew into what we have now…the European Union.

In doing so, the original concept has morph into an UNDEMOCRATIC, BUREAUCRATIC, POWER-GRABBING BIG BROTHER – A LAME ATTEMPT AT THE SUPER-STATE SOME YEARN TO SEE, BUT ONE I SINCERELY HOPE NEVER HAPPENS, BECAUSE IT WOULD BE AN EVEN BIGGER DISASTER THAN WHAT WE HAVE NOW.

Condemned by its own arrogance, the EU is a smug gaggle of unelected appointees, unanswerable to its citizens, backed by a mollycoddled, egotistic bureaucracyalso unaccountable to the electorate – and 766 MEPs, who at least are voted in by us hoi poloi every five years, even if they apparently haven’t the power to pop a paper bag.

To me, this smacks too much of George Orwell’s nightmarish 1984, with totally centralised control bossed by an unchallengeable BIG BROTHER CABAL. Even words they use to sugar-coat policy sound like ‘News-speak’.

What’s more, it’s also a grasping, unapologetic GRAVY TRAIN, where money – that’s OUR cash – is no object when it comes to frittering it away on far too many worthless, needless so-called ‘initiatives’ and ‘projects’.

And, thanks to its arcane treaties, it meddles with and too often overrides the will and laws of sovereign nations– and their peoples – insisting on something called SUBSIDIARITY, which basically means: ‘Europe know best, so do as you’re damned well told’.

Naturally, as you can tell, I’m being hyper-diplomatic here in the interests of pan-European unity…and we haven’t even discussed that most shambolic symbol of EU financial alchemy, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ Euro.

So now you’re thinking this man is Nigel Farage in disguise after all and his weasel words of being pro-European are a sham.

I can assure you they aren’t. Because what I dearly want to see is a Europe that actually works for all the its peoples…one that’s transparently democratic from top to bottom, where APPOINTEE DICTATORS don’t rule the roost and faceless bureaucrats – or EUROPRATS, as many call them– are held accountable for their excesses, however bananas they are at times…and believe me bananas, as we’ll see, is a very apt description.

I don’t know who watched either or both of the two, televised debates between UKIP’s Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister and the country’s No.1 apologist for the EU.

But, apart from Farage winning both by a country mile – sorry, kilometre– what struck me most was how hostile the public have become to Establishment politicians of all stripes, because voters feel the likes of Clegg live in a political bubble utterly divorced from their reality.

NO TO THE EU: Nigel Farage's UKIP is a symptom of growing anti-European opinion

NO TO THE EU: Nigel Farage’s UKIP is a symptom of growing anti-European opinion

So UKIP is not the cause of this frustration, merely a glaring symptom of that disconnect…a disillusionment that’s echoing throughout Europe.

Just look at the gains Marine Le Pen’s National Front made in France’s recent mayoral elections and the manifest dangers other neo-fascist, headbangers – like Jobbick in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece – pose to democracy.

It heavily emphasises that a perilous rejection of mainstream politics is happening and politicians have only themselves to blame, thanks to their litany of broken promises, wishy-washy policies and the growth of a pasty political elite, few of whom have ever done proper jobs or got their hands dirty.

And it can’t be denied that one of the prime targets for this swelling tide of rage – a cri de Coeur you might say – is the clunking fist of the EU and its inability to deal with six years of crippling, financial crisis, except to pile on more misery and austerity.

It even had the effrontery to sack democratically-elected leaders in Greece and Italy and impose its own technocrats to take charge.

As an aside, look what happened in 2008 when the peoples of France, the Netherlands and Ireland voted ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty. The all-knowing, all-seeing EU simply said ‘Vote, vote and vote again – until you get the ‘Yes’ result we demand.’

So much for democracy – as we used to know it – in today’s Europe.

It’s no surprise, then, people want to wrest back control of their own countries not have more and more power hijacked by Brussels. Because if, as the records show, over 50% of laws originate from the EU, what’s the point in a state holding a general election?

But, briefly returning to the Farage-Clegg debates, the scariest words I heard came afterwards from the Lib-Dem leader. When asked how he saw Europe 10 years on and he glibly replied, ‘Much the same as it is now.’

‘****!’ (or words to that effect),’ I thought: ‘If this is as good as it gets, heaven help us all!’

Because even a purblind Europhile like Clegg must ask why, for instance, the EU needs TWO centres of government, Strasbourg as well as Brussels.

Not that he’ll admit, but the reason is the French demanded it.

So every so often the whole EU bandwagon – Commissioners, MEPs, Europrats, advisers, translators, lobbyists, hangers-on, plus assorted odds and sods – up sticks and buzz off 432 kilometres down the road to its other HQ, sets up camp there and gets to work.

No wonder the EU Commission budget for 2014 is mind-boggling €142.64-billion – and it’s only that low because Britain, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, Austria and the Czech Republic balked at the Commissions’ demand for an inflation-exploding, near-7% rise, which was slashed down to below 3%…still at least a percentage point higher than inflation (or stagflation) afflicting most struggling member states.

Personally, I think it was a gross impertinence of the EU’s great and good to demand to let their belts out several notches just when nearly every citizen – especially in crisis-stricken Club Med states, like Spain – was dramatically tightening theirs.

You might be interested to know, by the way, that ever since 1994, when it first started producing annual reports into Europe’s finances, the EU’s own accountants, the Court of Auditors, has failed to sign off the Union’s accounts because of gross profligacy and widespread irregularities.

One audit found over €100-billion of spending was ‘affected by material error’– a polite term for fraud and mismanagement.

Indeed, so critically searing were the auditors, last year the Commissioners ordered them gagged, for fear of what else they might uncover.

But it’s not all just about money, even if an MEP sitting in the EU assembly costs £1.79 million a year (2012 figure) – three times what a British MP costs in Westminster – and the European Parliament’s 766 members cost us taxpayers a staggering £1.3 billion annually. And that doesn’t include pensions most folk could only dream of.

This takes me onto another point about duplication, because just like it has two HQs, the EU has TWO PRESIDENTS. Lucky us, I hear you say – even America’s only got one (and there’s even some doubt about him).

CHEERS TO EUROPE: No wonder Barrosa (left) and Van Rumpoy are smiling...they're in charge of Europe

CHEERS TO EUROPE: No wonder Barrosa (left) and Van Rumpoy are smiling…they’re in charge of Europe

First, there’s Herman Van Rumpoy, who as President of the European Council, is effectively Europe’s Prime Minister and, to be fair, has some experience in that role, since he was once Belgium’s premier.

Second, there’s Jose Manuel Barrosa, President of the Commission, the EU’s executive branch and Biggest of the Brethren.

As President, the former Prime Minister of Portugal doles out jobs to the 28 members of the Commission the EU’s cabinet, each being an appointee from their member state.

The President also determines EU policy, having the final say about all the laws, because the EU’s inner circle is the only body that can propose legislation. MEPs, as I said earlier, can’t pass or change whatever lands on them from above, but – rather like Britain’s House of Lords – can merely rubber-stamp it or ask the Commission for a review.

Now, you maybe be unfamiliar with Messrs. Barroso and Van Rumpoy – even if Farage once described him as ‘having the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk’ (and was fined €2,400 for the insult). But you might – just might – be aware of the UK’s grandee at the EU top table.

She is no less than the Gilbert & Sullivan-sounding High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – in other words Foreign Minister – and none other than Baroness Catherine Ashton of Upholland, near Wigan, which, I can tell you, is better known for its meat pies than its diplomats.

Vice-President of the Commission, too, no less, Cathy has never been voted into public office anywhere at any level, not even a parish council or a junior school PTA. In fact, all her jobs – from Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament administrator to Leader of the House of Lords – have been by appointment only.

What’s more, many member state foreign ministers believe the Baroness has been hit by a huge ego-rush and considerably overreaches her brief – and expertise – by insisting she speaks on the world stage for all 28 nations of the EU, something Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, describes as ‘competence creep’ (though maybe ‘incompetence creep’ is, perhaps, more accurate).

Hardly considered a colossus in diplomatic circles, Cathy apparently owe her status to the patronage of her great friend, Britain’s ex-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown…so perhaps enough said.

UPDATE – RE: THE BARONESS: The artless EU’s foreign policy chief is the only international diplomat to have welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s new unity deal with it arch enemies, the Islamic crazies of Hamas, who hijacked Gaza in a mini-civil with the PLO in 2007 and are designated a ‘terrorist’ entity by the EU.

The move also signals the final nail in the coffin for US Secretary of State, John Kerry’s bid to forge a two-state solution and end the Israel-Palestinian impasse.

‘Daft as a brush’ is an expression popular in Wigan. Perhaps someone should suggest she’s an apt recipient of that ‘accolade’ on her next visit to planet Earth.

EU’S LOONIER RULES

THE Union gets itself a bad name because not only is it constantly meddling in member states’ domestic affairs, but some of its rules and diktats are beyond absurd. Just for your edification and amusement, let’s look at a few…  

BANANAS! Because it is so curved, this banana was branded illegal by the EU

BANANAS! Because it is so curved, this banana was branded illegal by the EU

● Until 2008, when the daft law was repealed – pardon the pun – for 13 years the EU deemed this banana illegal…because it wasn’t straight enough. It cost growers millions and a similar law applied to bent cucumbers.

The only positive I can recall from this bananas idea was when I came home from work one night with one and my wife said to me, ‘Is that an EU banana in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?’

WATER WON'T WORK: According to the EU drinking water doesn't re-hydrate - so it can't be advertised as being able to do so

WATER WON’T WORK: According to the EU drinking water doesn’t re-hydrate – so it can’t be advertised as being able to do so

● You might know our bodies are composed of nearly 60% of water and we need it to survive – so no wonder marathon runners take on so much when plodding 26 miles. But, despite overwhelming medical evidence, in its addled arrogance, the EU ruled that drinking water DIDN’T STOP DEHYDRATION and manufacturers of bottles like this were stopped from claiming it did.

PRUNE POTTINESS: The EU says prunes aren't laxatives

PRUNE POTTINESS: The EU says prunes aren’t laxatives, so can’t be marketed as a means to make you go (you know where)

● These are, as you’ve guessed, prunes and, again, there’s overwhelming medical evidence they aid…well, you know what. But an EU diktat declared prunes were not laxatives, so they couldn’t be marketed as an aid that helps…well, you know what. That farcical pronouncement prompted one MEP to suggest a prune-eating contest to see what happened. Unsurprisingly, there were no takers.

CHOC CHUMPS: The EU banned Cadbury's chocolate - because they didn't consider it was 'chocky' enough

CHOC CHUMPS: The EU banned Cadbury’s chocolate – because they didn’t consider it was ‘chocky’ enough

● Most Brits will have been brought up on Cadbury’s chocolate, yet for 27 years is was effectively banned by the EU, because it contained up to 5% of vegetable fats and up to 20% of milk.

There was also considerable argy-bargy about British chocolate in general not being chocolate at all, since it didn’t contain at least 60% of cocoa bean, but cocoa butter instead.

And ditto a proposed ban on smoky-bacon flavoured crisps…because they didn’t contain smoky bacon. Of course not! The clue was in the word ‘flavoured’, silly.

Thank heavens Brussels didn’t get around to examining cheese & onion crisps, with no cheese or onion in them, or BBQ-flavoured nibbles that didn’t have a BBQ in the bag.

And, by the way – just in case the Europrats ever decide to look into it – I can I assure them there aren’t any monsters in Monster Munch.

However, one victory for EU ‘group think’ was to re-name carrots as fruit, not veg, because the Portuguese make jam out of them.

The point is not that these laws, pronouncements, diktats and directives are utter twaddle from the EU’s Ministry of Silly Talks, to misquote Monty Python.

It’s more about: what is an organisation like the EU doing wasting valuable time, money and resources by poking its nose into things that don’t concern it and are of absolutely no consequence to the betterment of Europe’s people.    

JUSTICE ON TRIAL: ECHR judges ride roughshod over the legal systems of EU member states

JUSTICE ON TRIAL: ECHR judges ride roughshod over the legal systems of EU member states

EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS  

LOOK, I don’t want to keep rattling on like a machine-gun with a tirade against the EU, though I could do at least until midnight.

I could cite the lunacy of the profligate Common Agricultural Policy, CAP – designed by the French for the French, which pays farmers obscene amounts of money to produce nothing and how CAP’s stupidity resulted in useless Wine Lakes and Butter Mountains.

I could ask why the EU needs 13,000 Europrats, who are paid salaries way above any civil service norm, along with generous pensions and perks that include EU-designated shops, where they can buy products tax-free.

I could also cite the EU’s at least 56 quangos and so many committees, even the Commissioners have lost count of them, which all require truly obscene amounts of funding.

But I won’t.

Last week I spent two days researching the EU and on Wikipedia its entry is so garbled with Euro-babble, it must have been written by a committee of the most nerdish Europrats Brussels could assemble.

What I did discover, though, were the three qualifying rules of entry to the Union as set out in simple, unambiguous language for once. So any nation seeking accession must agree to: be financially solvent (like Greece, for instance?), democratic and uphold the rule of law.

That’s seems more than reasonable, I hear you say.

Except it presupposes a nation’s justice system has enough checks and balances not to require further (shall we say) ‘refinement’ by more EU interference.

But, not only does the Union have its own judges in the Courts of Justice, it requires member states to kow-tow to the European Court of Human Rights, the too often ridiculous ECHR.

Technically the ECHR isn’t part of the EU. But it is, because EU rules demand that every member nation joins the Council of Europe, thus every member must automatically accept the European Charter of Human Rights, which means every member is answerable to the judicial quirks of the ECHR.

To be fair, this court was set up in the late 1950s with the best of intentions – as is the road to Hades.

So, more than half a century on, the fitness for purpose of the ECHR as a court of last resort is quite rightly being questioned, thanks to some of its – how can I explain them politely – more bonkers judgements.

Britain, whose judicial code dates back to the Magna Carta of 1215, is but one of many of the 47 nations answerable to the ECHR that raises extremely valid issues about the decisions handed down, often by judges who are junior legal academics with absolutely no courtroom experience anywhere.

DEPORATION DODGER: For years hate preacher, Abu Hamza, used the ECHR to avoid terror charges in America

DEPORATION DODGER: For years hate preacher, Abu Hamza, used the ECHR to avoid terror charges in America

Yet the Court remains free to ride roughshod over national judicial systems, as it’s done with the UK’s, blocking, for instance the legitimate deportation of hook-handed hate preacher, Abu Hamza, to face terrorism charges in the US and with the equally-odious Abu Qatada, wanted by Jordan on similarly offences.

And only the other day it agreed to process the appeals of two Real IRA scumbags, seeking to overturn a UK civil court verdict holding them responsible for the heinous, Omagh bombing in 1988, in which 29 people were murdered and 220 maimed.

Meanwhile, for years the ECHR has accused Britain of ‘human rights abuse’ by refusing criminals serving prison sentences the right to vote in elections. To me – and I’d hope to most sane folk – it doesn’t seem unreasonable that those convicted of crimes should not share the same privileges as law-abiding folk, including the right to vote.

So, like the Big Brother that’s the EU, the ECHR is in dire need of having some common-sense knocked into it.

CURSED CURRENCY: The 'one-size-fits-all' Euro doesn't allow weaker, Club Med states to devalue

CURSED CURRENCY: The ‘one-size-fits-all’ Euro doesn’t allow weaker, Club Med states to devalue

THE EURO

FINALLY, I can’t but help mention the Euro and say simply this: No currency union in history has ever worked long term – and there have been several…but, just like the Euro, they were wishful and egotistical political thinking winning over the realities of economic nous.

And this ‘one-size-fits-all’ pipedream had the makings of one of the most monumental currency blunders right from its introduction in 1999.

How many remember how, here in Spain, 166 pesetas were converted to one Euro – and a 150-peseta cup of coffee suddenly cost €1.50 (249 pesetas) or even €2 (332 pesetas) overnight? If that wasn’t a financial health warning for things to come, I don’t know what was.

A strong currency might meet the needs of manufacturing super-states, like Germany, relatively untouched by the financial tsunami of 2008 that hit the world. But the same doesn’t apply to the weaker, agriculture and tourism-dependent economies of southern Europe.

So, sadly, it’s no surprise to see the growing poverty, civil unrest, joblessness and despair. Just look at Spain, where kids, often highly educated, have to seek work overseas, because over half of under-25 – the cream of the nation’s future – can’t find employment at home.

And the tragedy is compounded by the abject lack of imagination of the European Central Bank, the ECB, which hasn’t a clue about how to combat the drift into stagflation.

The fact that Britain, Sweden and Denmark had the good sense to keep out of the Euro – and are now recovering fastest from the crisis – should be an object lesson in how vital it is for nations to keep control of their own currencies.   

So my plea is ‘Si, VIVA EUROPE’…but let’s have a helluva lot less of it!’

The credit crisis has changed our lives and – in some ways – for the better

It’s over…the credit crisis, that is. Happy days are here again – and don’t forget you read it here first.

At the risk of sounding off prematurely, apparently green shoots are positively sprouting everywhere, certainly some through the rustic slabs of my patio.

So, surely like you, I’m over the moon after six years of being as sick as a parrot, to borrow the lingo of soccer stars, most of whom never felt the pinch (unless they attracted a nibble from Liverpool’s Luis Suarez).

Six years ago this month boom turned to bust, contradicting spendthrift Gordon Brown’s silly forecast, and a decade of economic prosperity exploded in our smug, naïve faces.

On August 9, 2007, French bank, BNP Paribas, stopped investors withdrawing their money, then Lehman Brothers went belly up and queues of distraught account-holders formed outside Northern Rock in the first ‘bank run’ in Britain for 150 years.

To spare you from post-traumatic shock, I won’t reprise all the grisly details in the aftermath of ‘the day the world changed’ – as one economist dubbed that Meltdown Thursday – except to say businesses collapsed, currencies plummeted, interests were slashed and jobless stats rocketed, especially across the Eurozone.

SOMETHING TO SMILE ABOUT: Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank

SOMETHING TO SMILE ABOUT: Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank

But, with dynamic, new Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, imported from Canada to wave a financial magic wand over the GB£ and a Mona Lisa smile creasing the stony countenance of Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank chief, at last the runes seem optimistic.

Still, as the economic data improves, how come I don’t hear bubbly bottles being popped, see bunting festooning streets or listen to the lilt of relieved banter in my local hostelry?

Save the well-shod few, the harsh fact is it still may take years for the ‘trickle-down’ effect to impact on most of us and some of the hardest hit will be doomed to live in penury for decades to come.

And even when (and if) The Crisis eventually fades, life will never be the same, because we’ve learned the lessons of whooping it up in a false utopia and only mugs will make those mistakes again.

We’ve become cannier now, cynical and less believing of our political leaders, not least the banking masters of the universe (a.k.a. robber barons). Most of all we’ve adjusted our lifestyles to cope with the realities of austerity and actually take no small measure of pride in how we well have adapted.

So how have we achieved that?

A snapshot survey of opinions in my neighbourhood is telling…

The weekly shop is done with greater price awareness, luxuries we once lavished on ourselves are rarer and the supermarkets we now patronise aren’t the upmarket emporiums they once were, but rather discount outlets (evidence: see Aldi’s stock-market price and its phenomenal turnover of cheap, quality vinos).

Motor trips, too, are under regular scrutiny – an echo of the old, wartime dictum: ‘Is Your Journey Really Necessary?’ – which signals double delight for the Greens, as fewer noxious gases are emitted and bicycling has flourished.

In other, diverse sectors vacations have morphed into ‘staycations’ and the divorce rate has dropped (by 23% in the UK), because separation is too expensive, thus proving the point that if loves doesn’t conquer all, a financial reality check can.

Plus, there have been some intriguing, if bizarre unintended consequences, as cash-strapped folk invent ways of saving.

A boom in home cooking has seen an upsurge of more exotic fare being tried – when we do eat out, incidentally, puddings are generally off the menu – and sales of racy lingerie are rising (work that one out for yourself, except to hint that man cannot live by telly alone).

Tupperware is now an office-worker’s must-have, since sarnies have replaced the executive lunch, while fruit-platters in boardrooms and free biscuits in meetings have bitten the dust, as have expensive potted plants and leased artwork.

Moving house went out of fashion, DIY came in – even my son (the one who once couldn’t replace a blown fuse in a plug) has installed himself a new shower to minimise the cost of power and the water it takes to soak in a hot bath.

FALLEN ON HARD TIMES: Even hookers are having to cut their charges

HARD TIMES: Even hookers have had to cut their charges

And pity the hard-up ‘ladies of the night’, who’ve had to pare their tariffs by as much as 50% to lure a punter into their boudoirs, according to a report by London’s Westminster Council, which reflects a Europe-wide trend.

So certainly a degree of Puritanism has entered our mindset, if not for religious motives.

However, there are the inevitable downsides…dental hygiene has suffered, because patients fear being landed with astronomic bills, though that’s partially offset by us eschewing the delights of the dessert trolley.

And we can’t get rid of our offspring. Property prices are still ridiculously high compared to earnings, so it’s not unusual for a 35-year-old to still be domiciled with disgruntled parents, who now query the wisdom of having kids in the first place.

In contrast, there is ‘housing consolidation’ – the terminology for converting the loft into a granny pad, flogging their bungalow to offset rising living costs and forestalling the distinct probability it will only get frittered away on expensive care-home fees at some future date.

Pets, too, are feeling the credit crunch, with some owners letting the cat out of the flap, then nailing it up or taking Fido on a one-way trip to the middle of nowhere. Britain’s RSPCA, for example, reports a 65% increase in the number of moggies and pooches being dumped since 2007.

Whatever else, the upshot is most of us have learned to be leaner and meaner, infinitely more discriminating in how, when and why we spend our moolah.

And that make-do-and-mend mentality isn’t going to change, even if the promise of some measure of economic stability is just around the proverbial corner.

Whether it is or not remains to be seen. But if it does, don’t forget who told you first.

Cyprus, the mouse that roared, is still no pipsqueak – even after the EU’s bank heist

Way back in the mists of cinema history – 1959 to be precise – there was a spoof movie whose plot might just have provided the answer to cash-strapped Cyprus. Plus, it could also have sent a reassuring message to other Club Med Eurozone members on their uppers, their populations incandescent with rage over force-fed austerity.

Based on a book by Irish-American writer, Leonard Wibberley, and starring Peter Sellers, The Mouse That Roared chronicled the tale of the miniscule European duchy of Grand Fenwick when it was hit by a financial tsunami.

With its tiny economy almost entirely reliant on Pinot Grand Fenwick wine – read that as a metaphor for today’s banking – the country suddenly faced ruin when a US winery made a knockoff version of the highly-quaffable plonk.

The medieval micro-state, its 20-man army equipped with longbows and arrows, had but one recourse…to declare war on America, pray for instant defeat and trouser the largesse Washington usually doles out to those it has vanquished (e.g. the Marshall Plan for Germany following World War II).

So far, so good. Except it all turns turtle when the pauper duchy accidently defeats the mighty superpower and stumbles on control of the ‘Q-bomb’, a doomsday weapon capable of destroying mankind.

Naturally, in the world of wacky movies, all’s well that ends well; Grand Fenwick loses the conflict…and wins the moolah.

CYPRUS TAKE NOTE: The 1959 movie that showed how to take on a super power, lose...and win

CYPRUS TAKE NOTE: The 1959 movie that showed how to take on a super power, lose the war…and win the moolah

Fast-forward 50-plus years and, with nowhere to run to find financial succour, Cyprus played an audacious, Mouse That Roared card and took on the clunking fist of the EU in a poker game over bail-out terms for its banks relatively huge toxic debt.

However, unlike Grand Fenwick, Cyprus (population: 700,000 and dwindling) didn’t stand a snowball in Hades chance of plucking victory from the jaws of defeat. Because German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble – a man who could start a fight in an empty room – were never going to dip into their tax-payers’ wallets, especially in an election year.

Despite Germany’s financial might only required to back-stop a European Central Bank-EU-IMF (a.k.a. the Troika) loan approaching €10bn to the blighted island, it was time to set a brutal example to all Club Med beggars and crack the whip, even if it confirmed (once again) the Eurozone isn’t fit for purpose.

So, if Cyprus railed over the hardball terms being dictated, the door marked Exit, Ausgang or Salida beckoned to bankruptcy, irrespective of the EU’s Alcatraz rules that once in, there’s no escape.

This was the Euro superpowers’ revenge for feckless bankers having the audacity to set up an off-shore tax-haven paradise on the tiddler island…a money laundrette for washloads of filthy lucre (€18bn by some accounts), dropped off by Russian oligarchs wanting more bangs for their buck – or rather rouble – and no questions asked.

Then, to compound their monumental folly and displaying quite staggering disregard for due diligence, the Cypriot whizkids showered an avalanche of euros on iffy on Athenian junk bonds, which sank when the vacuous nation’s gravy train hit the buffers (Moral: beware of Greeks seeking gifts).

So, like their busted flush neighbour before it, Cyprus took its begging bowl to Brussels, with the implied threat that if you don’t underwrite our debt, we’ll upset the EU applecart.

However, the response was predictably draconian or, to paraphrase a fox-hunting analogy, the ruthless in pursuit of the potless.

BANK ROBBER: Hard-up Cypriots blame Germany's Angela Merkel for their misery, as this satirical ATM image shows

BANK ROBBER: How hard-up Cypriots satirically portray Germany’s Angela Merkel on their ATMs

Spurred on by a Germany for whom the Eurozone is fast becoming a jigsaw of Teutonic provinces, the Brussels bullyboys (Motto: take a sledgehammer to crack a nut) exposed themselves – once again – as crass, anti-democratic, bean-counting thugs.

And, to stamp their authority with maximum savagery, they demanded not only an end to Cyprus’s dodgy tax laxity, but depositors become victims of blatant bank robbery to help stump up nearly €6bn.

This will be achieved via a 40% haircut (scalping more like it) for those with over €100K in one dubious bank and the total annihilation of another. Plus, there’ll be ‘temporary’ controls to stop capital flight – another pillar of monetary union conveniently disregarded – though most of the dirty money has already flown.

The net result is that no-one comes out of this smelling of attar of roses. The EU is exposed for what it is – a wannabe super-state without a grain of compassion for its hoi-polloi; and Cyprus, an omnishambles of Byzantine idiocy, is to be the template for any other uppity lot misguided enough to believe it’s still a sovereign nation (Club Med+Ireland take note).

My guess, though, whatever arm-twisting deal was cobbled together, we’ve not heard the last of the Eastern Mediterranean mouse and how it cheesed off the EU (sorry, couldn’t resist that pun).

So the fear of contagion lurks and not a day goes by without me hearing folk voicing similar distrust of the Troika’s heavy-handedness, despite Spain’s finance minister assuring investors it can’t possibly happen again.

Why not? Even with depositor guarantees of €100,000, if the ECB – supposedly the milch-cow of last resort – cocks a snook at Cyprus, for all its profligacy, which Eurozone politician can predict with any certainty no more cruelty will be meted out to purge ungodliness from the sainted euro paradigm?

However, Cyprus may have more room for manoeuvre than Brussels imagines.

Having propped up the island with a €5bn inter-government loan, Moscow is livid at being locked out of rescue talks in what it perceives as an EU snub. And now it is muttering darkly about pay-back.

This, then, could be the trigger for woebegone Cypriots to pull, because they have two prizes Vladimir Putin muchly desires: Russian exploration rights to a natural gas field Cyprus is developing with Israel and the potential to be a new base for its Mediterranean fleet if the Syrian port of Tartus is lost, come Bashar al-Assad’s downfall.

And writing off a €5bn loan – mere loose change – is no hardship for an economy swimming in petro-dollars.

Moreover, the geopolitical implications of Cyprus falling further under Moscow’s sway could be dramatic. The EU’s third smallest nation could not only afford to shun the euro and return to its old Cyprus £ – as one of its ministers threatened – it could deliver a strategic uppercut to the West’s sphere of Middle East influence and threaten the British army outpost at Akrotiri, one of NATO’s pivotal monitoring stations.

With Greece already deep in hock to the expansionist Chinese, who own the deeds to the port of Piraeus, and the Moscow-Beijing axis strengthening, Cyprus may provide the key to unlocking greater riches than its emptying bank vaults.

If that happens, the smart alecs who dictate EU tyranny may well rue the day they put the screws on the tiny Eastern Med mouse with the temerity to roar.

Is this the end of the road for the Euro bullies?

Slowly, but surely, the cat is emerging from the Eurozone bag – and it’s a ruthless, snarling beast with sharp claws, hardly the fluffy pussy the International Monetary Fund and Europrats of Brussels would have you believe.

Because a doomsday scenario is being shaped by the ominously-understated Euro Working Group (EWG) in the event – likelihood more like it – of a Greek exit (‘Grexit’ in money-market speak), after next Sunday’s second General Election in weeks for the vote-weary Greeks is predicted to deliver a resounding win for far-Left, anti-austerity parties.

The plot being hatched by the EWG is likely to act as a template for other errant nations that won’t take their German-prescribed medicine (note to Spain’s PM, Mariano Rajoy: ‘Swallow the bitter pill, amigo, or else’) and it amounts to this:-

  • Suspension of the Schengen Agreement, thus reintroducing border checks at all Eurozone frontiers (to halt a rush of money smuggling);
  • Capital controls to staunch a run on banks;
  • Limits on cash withdrawals from ATMs

Cristine Lagarde, the IMF boss, still refuses to predict whether Greece will leave the euro, claiming that ‘It’s going to be a question of political determination and drive’.

THE PESETA: Is a return beckoning?

Whatever this coded sentiment or loosely-construed threat actually amounts to is anyone’s guess, but last week billionaire investor George Soros, who knows a thing or two about currency trading, indicated the EU has three months to sort out its financial crisis or its curtains for the euro.

And, however Lagarde, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Rajoy and the Brussels’ spouters dress it up, this week’s €100-billion ‘rescue’ package for Spain’s ailing banks was nothing but a straightforward sovereign loan to buy time and precious little else for Rajoy’s regime.

As a consequence, to all intents and purposes the European Central Bank now has first charge on Spanish assets. So any private investor buying Spain’s government debt bonds (are there are any still loco enough to do so?) will be relegated to the end of the queue if it ever comes to pay-back time.

That essentially freezes the country out of the capital markets, so its financial destiny is wholly hocked up to the IMF/EU forever and a day, unless Spain follows the Grexit with a Spexit and eventually quits the euro for a return to the peseta (Portugal and Ireland get ready to dust off the escudo and punt, respectively).

Naturally, the Europhile politicos and Europrats will cry into their Chablis that their dream of a single-currency, one-size-fits-all mish-mash has been shattered and their power is gone.

But the flip side is we might return to the original ethos of the Common Market – a tariff-free trading zone, with the unhindered passage of goods, people and cash, not some ill-conceived United States of Europe, where nations cede their national identities to an unelected, anti-democratic ruling clique of Euro bullies.

Naturally, it means an end to straight bananas and the survival of cheese-and-onion crisps – both proscribed by Brussels – but somehow I think we can live with that.