Monti's big-picture economics
A big welcome back to the Brussels scene to Pieter Bruegel, the greatest Flemish painter of the 16th century, now reincarnated in the unlikely guise of an economics think-tank.
The artist would no doubt be thrilled to know his name now stands for the "Brussels European and Global Economic Laboratory", launched yesterday by its chairman Mario Monti, the Italian former EU competition commissioner.
Monti said the new think-tank, directed by the French economist Jean Pisani-Ferry, would bring much-needed new thinking to the role of Europe in international economics.
He said Bruegel's name was chosen not simply for being a cunning acronym but also because he was a leading exponent of the painting of movement, not to mention market activity.
Monti recalled that Bruegel (the Elder, of course) was also known for his depiction of the Tower of Babel, which the think-tank would not resemble in the slightest.
The Italian academic was evicted from the European Commission last year by Silvio Berlusconi to make way for one of the Italian prime minister's political friends.
Monti's new job as chairman of Bruegel is unpaid, and he was asked yesterday whether Berlusconi had tapped him up to replace the retiring Italian on the board of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt later in the year. "I've not been asked," he replied. Time to take up painting?
Some refreshing candour from Jerzy Hausner, the Polish deputy prime minister. He has advocated dissolving his own party.
Hausner is, like most ministers in the scandal-plagued and unpopular Democratic Left Alliance government, an ex-Communist. And that was the problem, he said recently to a shocked meeting of party activists in Krakow in the south.
He said the SLD, in power since 2001, was great at getting votes but had proved itself unable to govern.
With corruption and influence-peddling scandals breaking out weekly, he said, the problem was that party bosses, who cut their political teeth before the fall of Communism in 1989, were so imbued with apparatchik thinking as to make them unreformable.
The only answer was for young activists to leave the SLD - which is trailing in opinion polls and faces catastrophe in parliamentary elections this year.
The audience reacted with stupefied silence while senior SLD members in Warsaw rushed to insist that their party just needed a little tweaking and was otherwise doing fine, thank you very much.
Some encouragement for German chancellor Gerhard Schröder from A.G. Lafley, the boss of consumer giant Procter & Gamble. Lafley was named "Man of the Year" by the American Institute of Contemporary German Studies last week.
He may not be popular among shareholders and employees of Darmstadt-based Wella, who have complained bitterly about P&G's ruthless management style after it took over the iconic haircare brand.
But Schröder sent his personal congratulations to the New York award ceremony - and Lafley repaid the favour, demanding "an increase in working hours" and a "reduction in social cost" in the German workplace. Germany's problems were "not so much unlike Procter & Gamble's five years ago" when he took over the company, he said.
Reformers would not be popular in the short-term, he warned. "On the day my appointment as CEO was announced, the share price fell by 4 per cent. Five months later, it had fallen by another $3.56."
Lafley's message to the chancellor seemed clear: don't worry too much about opinion polls, and dig in.
Germany's intellectual elite begs to differ. An independent academic jury on Tuesday selected Humankapital as the country's "un-word" of the year - a title bestowed on words used in official speeches that are deemed particularly inappropriate and denigrate humans.
Professor Horst Schlosser, the jury's foreman, described Humankapital as an example of "the cynical use of language".
Now, if only a bit more German intellectual capital could be employed to create jobs for the country's, er, human capital.
The Deutsche Börse, which is trying to buy the London Stock Exchange, boasts about its technical wizardry, state-of-the-art trading platforms and so on. So those attending its New Year reception in Frankfurt this week would have expected some extra special party effects.
And lo! Its modern, aircraft-hangar-like building in the city's suburbs was indeed lit in cool pastel shades. But, alas, there was an embarrassing technical hitch.
Guest speaker Axel Weber, Bundesbank president, had just got to the part of his speech in which he - sort of - backed Deutsche's attempts at European consolidation when the giant television screens allowing him to be seen suddenly went dark.
Nobody seemed keen on restoring vision. And Observer's man with the empty wine glass reports that the speeches - including the address by Werner Seifert, Deutsche Börse's boss - droned on for an hour and were highly academic.
Let's hope Deutsche can organise a better victory party . . .
Observer is pleased to see Nato's new members pulling their weight. The Lithuanian defence ministry has proudly announced its contribution to the alliance's rapid reaction force - a 10-person water purification unit. It was such military might that made the cold war Warsaw Pact so feared.
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