Seven Days In Europe

Harvard political scientist Dani Rodrik has speculated that the Eurozone is destined to shrink to a smaller core group focused around Germany, and thinks that it is possible France will not belong to this group. This is based on observations taken from recent attempts to solve the euro crisis, with financial powerhouse Germany’s economic backing crucial to a credible future for the single currency. Any bargains will involve tough political compromise from other member states, and Rodrik sees an inevitable clash with French interests, especially considering the frosty relations between Merkel and Hollande. The BBC’s analysis is available here, or the full report is available on Radio 4.

Hospitals in Austria and Switzerland have suspended circumcisions of boys for non-medical reasons whilst they investigate public concerns about the procedure. This follows last month’s German court ruling that circumcisions of minors performed for religious reasons could attract criminal charges. So far, the suspension has not affected many operations as most Jewish families choose to have private circumcisions by a mohel.

A spokesman for Zurich’s Children’s Hospital said that although Switzerland wasn’t directly affected by the German ruling it had sparked a debate about the medical and legal issues involved. The German government has pledged to clarify the situation, but meanwhile Jewish and Muslim faith groups are lobbying politicians about how central the practice is to their religion.

On Wednesday the European Commission announced plans to widen the scope of existing Market Abuse legislation to encompass rate fixing, following concerns that Eurlibor had been affected as part of the Libor scandal.

Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner said: “Public confidence has taken a nosedive with the latest scandals about serious manipulations of lending rates by banks. EU action is needed to put an end to criminal activity in the banking sector and criminal law can serve as a strong deterrent. This is why we are today proposing EU-wide rules to tackle this type of market abuse and close any regulatory loopholes. A swift agreement on these proposals will help restore much needed confidence of the public and investors in this crucial sector of the economy.”

Under the proposals manipulating inter-bank rates will be added to insider dealing as a criminal offence.

The Commission also put forward plans to bolster its flagship environmental project – the Carbon Emissions Trading Scheme. The scheme, which allows companies to buy and trade pollution allowances, has been derailed by very low carbon prices caused by an initial over-allocation of allowances. In the short term the Climate Commissioner has proposed delaying sales of new allowances (“back-loading”) but MEPs have called for 1.4 billion allowances to be permanently withdrawn.

The French parliament is rushing through legislation designed to protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace, in universities, in the housing market and in job interviews. Previous law on the subject was struck down in May by France’s constitutional watchdog for being too vague, causing pending cases to be frozen or abandoned. Under the new legislative scheme there will be three categories of penalties – the most severe reserved for if the victim is younger than 15 or in a subordinate position. This news comes shortly after a female minister, Cécile Duflot, was heckled and subjected to cat-calls for wearing a summer dress to give a speech.

The spotlight is on the relationship between Italian politics and organised crime after prosecutors in Palermo indicted 12 men for alleged Mafia crimes including recent heads of Cosa Nostra and Nicola Mancino, a politician who was Interior Minister at the time in question, before later becoming Speaker of the Senate. Mancino is alleged to have withheld evidence in relation to secret talks between the Italian state and the Mafia in the early 1990s. Rome has seen a recent upsurge of violence believed to be related to the Mafia, sparking fears of a turf war. On Monday a Neapolitan gangster with known links to the Camorra was gunned down in a busy area in central Rome.

Greece is several months behind on the spending cuts and privatisations that were demanded in return for the bail-out money it received. Auditors from the Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF are to quantify the shortfall and determine whether Greece can receive the next tranche in September. Fears of a full-scale bailout in Spain have sent its borrowing costs through the roof and caused the FTSE to drop to its lowest point in a month.

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