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Comparing the Europe and US debt crises

The Economist has an insightful commentary on both debt crises. Excerpt below.

Both the US and the European Union have public finances that are out of control and political systems that are too dysfunctional to fix the problem,” Mr Rachman writes. I have some quibbles about the way he frames the economic issues as a generalised problem of “an unsustainable and dangerous boom in credit”, viz homeowner credit in America and the overdrawn borrowing of Greece and Italy in Europe. This seems to smooth over a lot of differences a bit too easily; the American housing bubble was fueled by CDOs, but the economic problems in Europe aren’t about an asset bubble caused by Greek or Italian government borrowing, and to the extent that the problems are due not to asset bubbles but to financial interconnectedness, the interconnectedness caused by private-sector issuance of CDOs and CDSs isn’t really the same as the interconnectedness caused by the adoption of the euro across 17 countries.

Christine Lagarde elected head of IMF: American reaction

BBC/AFP: Christine Lagarde will start her five-year term at the IMF on 5 July

As former French Finance Minister has been named IMF head, effective July 5th, and François Baroin has been named her replacement, Le Figaro has an interesting article on Christine Lagarde from an American perspective, as well as a longer article into her path that lead her to Washington.

Meanwhile, she appeared in 2009 on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Check it out here.

US travel tax angering EU, which could react with similar policy

September 28th, 2010 2 comments

In German news magazine Der Spiegel, European Union officials are responding negatively to a travel fee ESTA that the US is imposing on residents of countries that are currently not required to obtain visas to visit the US, “36 countries worldwide including every EU country except for Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and Romania.” Although the $14 fee is small, $10 of it goes to promoting tourism in the US. While the US economy is certainly not at its strongest point, it is the #2 travel destination in visitors (France is #1) and already pulls in the most revenue. This fee, combined with notorious US customs and immigration officials, make for a very unwelcoming and unattractive image of America abroad as a travel destination. This is undermining our global image and respect. I certainly hope this policy is repealed and that the EU does not retaliate with similar measures.

Excerpts below.

European Union Up in Arms over US Travel Tax

“European Union officials are furious with a new US fee mandatory for most travelers from Europe. Calling the charge tantamount to a new visa requirement, the EU is now considering introducing a similar fee for American travelers. Fourteen dollars may not sound like a lot. But this autumn, the sum — in the shape of the new fee being charged by the United States to some overseas visitors coming into the country — is proving enough to inflame tempers in the European Union. This month, an increasing number of members of the European Parliament and other EU officials are blasting the charge for being both incongruous and for running counter to US-EU agreements.

“I think it is a bit bizarre to introduce a tax to promote tourism,” intoned Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of European Parliament with Germany’s business-friendly Free Democratic Party during a recent debate on the issue in Strasbourg. In addition to pointing out that such a tax could actually dissuade people from traveling to the US, Lambsdorff also said “it seems a bit absurd that the US of all countries would tax people who are not represented in this debate. Taxation without representation, I believe, has played a certain role in American history.”

At issue is the so-called Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), a $14 fee which travelers from 36 countries now have to pay prior to visiting the US. While $4 dollars of the fee is to be for ESTA administrative costs, $10 is to pay for US efforts to promote the US as a tourism destination. Travelers to the US, in effect, are being asked to pay for the advertising aimed at encouraging them to travel to the country…Now, the EU is exploring the possibility of introducing a similar system for travellers from the US, according to the European Commission for Home Affairs. A “policy study” is currently being undertaken to investigate the feasibility of such a fee…

…The US fee applies only to travelers from countries not currently required to obtain a visa prior to travel — a list comprising 36 countries worldwide including every EU country except for Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and Romania. In a parliamentary debate last week, several members of the European Parliament (MEPs) complained that the fee was simply a different kind of visa, particularly given that those travelers who do not pay the fee can be refused entry into the US…

…The fee, part of a tourism promotion package pushed through primarily by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has been controversial in the travel industry as well. “It’s like inviting a friend over for dinner and then charging them a fee at the door,” Steve Lott, a representative for the International Air Transport Association, told CNN earlier this month. “If the idea is to make the United States more welcoming and to increase tourism, raising the entry fee seems to be counterintuitive to what you’re trying to do.”

European Commission officials have promised to take up the issue in upcoming meetings with their US counterparts. Speaking on behalf of EU foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton, EU State Secretary for European Affairs Olivier Chastel insisted that “the EU places great importance on the issue of reciprocity” when it comes to trans-Atlantic travel. He said his office “will pull out all the stops to work with the Commission to establish the principle of reciprocity on travel…”

France gets “favorable” rating by Americans in Gallup poll

February 22nd, 2010 2 comments

Gallup released a poll recently about image – the opinions of Americans with regard to 20 countries that figure prominently in the news at the moment. Which countries are among those with the most favorable image?

Here is a list of the first few and last few:

1) Canada (90% favorable)
2) Great Britain (87%)
3) Germany (80%)
4) Japan (77%)
5) Israel (67%)
6) India (66%)
7) France (63%)

Iran finishes last with 10%. As with all polls, you have to take a look at the type of questions asked, specific circumstances, etc.

An interesting note is that among Republicans, the image of France is 52% favorable, but with Democrats it’s 76%. Similarly, generational differences are obvious: Among those 55 and older, France has 55%, for those 35-54 years old it’s 63%, and 18-34 years old, 75%. This confirms my own personal experience: in general, the younger generation is more open to other countries and cultures. We have grown up with the internet and globalization, so I guess that should not come as a surprise.


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France sees U.S. as main obstacle to climate deal

November 16th, 2009 1 comment

Reuters

By Emmanuel Jarry

PARIS, Nov 15 (Reuters) – The United States is the main obstacle to concluding an ambitious agreement at the Copenhagen meeting on climate change next month, French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said on Sunday.

Speaking after world leaders meeting in Singapore said it was unrealistic to expect binding targets to be negotiated by the time the meeting starts on Dec. 7, Borloo said Washington was posing the biggest difficulty.

“The problem is the United States, there’s no doubt about that,” Borloo, who has coordinated France’s Copenhagen negotiating effort, told Reuters in an interview.

“It’s the world’s number one power, the biggest emitter (of greenhouse gases), the biggest per capita emitter and it’s saying ‘I’d like to but I can’t’. That’s the issue,” he said.

Borloo’s comments follow a joint declaration by President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Saturday, aimed at committing rich countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

Borloo said France was looking at an option that would allow countries that had not signed up to the Kyoto protocol, including the United States some leeway, possibly including allowing it an extra delay of some years to meet targets.

“There needs to be international pressure on the United States, that’s clear,” Borloo said. “But at the same time, we have to allow some flexibility in the formulation.”

But he said this did not mean compromising on the need for an “irreversible, binding and measurable” commitment.

World leaders agreed on Sunday to a two-stage plan aimed at securing a political accord at the Dec. 7-18 talks, to be followed by a process of working out binding commitments on targets, finance and technology transfer.

This would allow time for the U.S. Senate to pass carbon-capping legislation, allowing the Obama administration to bring a 2020 target and financing pledges to the table at a major U.N. climate meeting in Bonn in mid-2010.

Borloo said such a deal could not be allowed to get in the way of binding commitments. If a political agreement “means vague and non-binding declarations of intent, the answer is no,” he said.

“Behind the word ‘political’ there has to be precise declarations with figures,” he said.

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