The CSS Blog Network

Empowering Europe’s Electricity Market

Unlike humans some jellyfish are self-sufficient electricity providers. Courtesy of x3nomik/flickr

Europe is talking energy and there is no easy way out of existing dilemmas: While nuclear and fossil-fueled power plants entail considerable risks, most sources of alternative energy are not yet considered mature enough to fuel Europe’s economies on their own. Like elsewhere across the globe, Europeans are facing tough challenges in their attempt to secure a clean, reliable and affordable power supply.

As in every crisis, the risk looms that countries just look after their own narrowly-defined national interests and either ignore or forget the advantages of a regionally coordinated approach. In their struggle for secure energy, European nations should not lose sight of the potential of the common electricity market. In the long run, it could play a crucial role in enabling a more efficient energy future both from an economic and an ecological point of view. Yet, many obstacles still need to be overcome at the moment.

In an integrated market, electricity could be exchanged efficiently across the continent, connecting demand to the most inexpensive supply no matter where in Europe. Consumers could benefit from choosing from a wide range of suppliers, which in turn would boost competition and innovation. Currently, however, the European electricity markets remain regionally fragmented. Countries and companies are not investing enough in transmission capacities across national borders because they struggle to agree on the financial burden-sharing of these expensive projects. As long as national grids are not fully interconnected, trade cannot evolve.

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Croatia: Ready and Willing to Join the EU?

Kuna, fuel of Croatia's politcs? Courtesy of SantiMB/flickr

While the media spotlight has been focused on the uprisings in Libya and other Arab countries, violent protests have also erupted in Europe. Over the past weeks thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Croatia’s capital Zagreb, urging their government to step down.

Protesters are accusing the governing HDZ Party (Croatian Democratic Union), as well as the opposition, of  incompetence in dealing with economic stagnation and endemic corruption. It seems that many Croatians are not only disillusioned with their government, but with the political system as a whole. Moreover, a recent poll suggests that only 49% of Croats are still in favor of joining the EU as their dissatisfaction with domestic politics translates into a skeptical attitude towards Brussels.

In light of the ongoing political unrest, the question of whether Croatia is ready and willing to become the 28th member state of the European Union remains unclear.

The Mafia and the State

Croatia is now only few steps away from fulfilling the EU’s accession criteria: Out of 35 accession negotiation chapters, 28 have been closed. The chapter dealing with reform of the legal system, however, is proving to be a hard nut to crack. In a country plagued by corruption, distinguishing politicians from criminals is not always easy. According to the Index of Economic Freedom, Croatia’s economy and politics are rated as corrupt as Tunisia’s. » More

The Great Recession: Sliding Out of Memory?

World economy cracked beyond repair? Photo: Jack Keene/flickr

As Asian economies keep posting positive growth numbers with the momentum for a full recovery shifting irreversibly to the East, and as banker’s bonuses and Wall Street profits return to pre-2007 days, the temptation to look away from the root causes of the global financial crisis is as great as ever. But has the chance to learn a valuable lesson really just been lost in the face of a fragile recovery?

Some resources from our Digital Library to help you answer this key question:

Keyword in Focus: Euro

Europe on a shoestring, photo: Howard Lake/flickr

With Spain next on the list of eurozone countries on the brink of financial abyss, nerves about the future of the great European experiment are at an all-time high. The narrative of the euro’s crisis seems self-fulfilling as  markets move from one financially challenged euro country to the next, and after the Irish bailout, Portugal and Spain seem to be next in line, with cups in their hands and market speculators on their backs.

The collapse of the Spanish economy, with its overstretched banks, chronically high unemployment and a much larger economy than previous recipients of EU/IMF bailout money, is a particularly worrying prospect, yet European leaders seem committed to saving the euro. Even Britain’s George Osborne, the deeply euro-skeptic Chancellor of the Exchequer, acknowledged last week that despite not joining the euro (and still thinking it was a bad idea- “Hah, I told you so!”), it is in Britain’s interest to help with the bailout efforts and to ensure that neighboring countries like Ireland are repaired and revitalized.

With the air of crisis set to loom over Europe for months to come, EU leaders and Europhiles everywhere must be asking themselves: How do we get out of this mess (and how did we get into it in the first place)? Because as much as Americans or even the Brits might enjoy gloating in the face of this largely self-inflicted mess, the EU and its experiment with a common currency are here to stay.

For an excellent set of resources on this highly topical issue, check out our Euro keyword.

The Push for Pensions

Marching for work and retirement, photo: marcovdz/flickr

Europeans are talking about retirement. Yet, in France at least, it’s the youth who are most angry. Today the biggest protest movement since President Sarkozy took office continued for a tenth day. Airports have been disrupted, health risks have reached ‘pre-epidemic levels’ with refuse collectors on strike, even the Louvre was closed as staff blockaded the museum entrance.

The cynical readers among you will view this tête-à-tête as more déjà vu than coup d’état. Nonetheless, there remains a fundamental question in the developed world over how to balance the right to a ‘long and happy retirement’ against the gerontological and economic realities of modern times.

In financial terms it’s hard to argue with the figures. According to Allianz, a leading German financial services company, public pension expenditure for the European Union as a whole will increase to 12.8 percent by 2050. Compare this with France, Greece, or even Italy – where expenditure will increase to 25 percent of GDP by 2050 – and it seems inevitable that the budgetary axe should fall at this time of fiscal ‘belt-tightening’ across the continent. In Britain, for instance, the new measures are projected to save £5 billion a year. Furthermore the financial crisis has hit one rather traditional quirk of European retirement rights, namely that of a gender-based pension entitlement, with both the UK and Greece removing a woman’s prerogative to beat her husband to the pension pot.

However, this is one problem we can’t blame on the bankers. Aging populations are a direct result of our successful economic development – as the social, technological and cultural effects of modernization and urbanization mean lives are lengthened and people have fewer children to keep their populations youthful. As the New York Times put it in response to the protests, “it is hard to conjure a situation in which people move back to the countryside and again have larger families.” In fact, the Oxford Institute of Ageing – which published the seminal 2008 Global Ageing Survey – predicts that the West’s future search for a younger workforce will be instrumental at improving lives in the developing world, where in Africa only five percent are projected to be 65 or older in 2050 – compared to 29 percent in Europe.

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