Denmark starts an unwelcome trend…

Velkomst my dear readers! Or welcome my dear readers (for those who are English speakers!)

Today we are off to the land of Vikings, Lego, expensive coffees and trendy Nordic Noir. Yes dear reader I am taking you to Denmark.

Denmark, relative to its size, has been making headlines for several years now and not always for the right reasons. A brief potted history starts in 2006 with the drawing of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him) in a small Danish newspaper and it caused outrage in the Muslim world with embassies of Denmark being attacked and boycotts being launched of well known Danish companies. The furore left the headlines until last year when the most prominent cartoonist at that newspaper was gunned down in central Copenhagen and a Jewish man was killed outside the capital’s main synagogue. All shocking and distressing attacks for sure.

For a long time however, Denmark has struggled with its noted humanitarian credentials and its growing suspicion of its Muslim minority. Less than 3% of its population is Muslim according to the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs yet no other issue has dominated the headlines in such a way.

Even the Social Democrats, the traditionally tolerant and progressive party of government in Denmark, has been forced to adopt hardline policies towards Muslims. During last year’s election under the glamorous Helle Thorning-Schmidt (her of Obama and Cameron selfie fame at Mandela funeral!) buses in Copenhagen were plastered with posters saying ‘When you come to Denmark you have to work.’ Fast forward a year, and the Social Democrats and Ms Thorning-Schmidt are now out of office and the centre right Venstre Party, relying on the support of the xenophobic Danish People’s Party (who took a worrying 20% of the vote in 2015’s general election), is back in power.

Led by Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the current Prime Minister, the government has adopted hardline rhetoric and actions towards the big issue of 2015, the refugee crisis. To be fair their has been a justifiable backlash from more socially conscience Danes, who like counterparts in Germany and across Europe have rallied in often inclement weather conditions to show solidarity with refugees. The Danish Refugee Council, a well known Copenhagen based NGO, recently raised €2.8 million in one day of fundraising on the streets of Denmark, showing that humanity still lives and breathes out there despite hostile rhetoric from the media and politicians.

Euronews, the pan European TV service, reported that even some brave sea faring Danes have rescued refugees seeking to reach Scandinavian shores from flimsy boats which would have almost certainly capsized and drowned many in the icy waters around Denmark. Perversely these exemplary Danes are now at risk of prosecution for being ‘smugglers.’ Big LOL if ever there was one!

In one municipality, Randers, Danish journalist, Nicole Mormann from TakePart (an online campaigning group), outlines that there has been a pretty crude display of Islamophobia where the Council has voted to make pork (consumption of which is forbidden in Islam) a compulsory component of meals in schools and day care centres.

The most controversial measure though, is the L87 bill, widely dubbed the ‘Jewellery Bill’ and for some conjures memories of the dark days of Nazi Germany. Basically the Danish Parliament is set to debate, and almost certainly pass, a bill to confiscate valuable items from refugees and increase to three years the period refugees will need to wait before they can be reunited with the rest of their families. Many human rights organisations and international bodies have criticised these measures as deeply inhumane. The dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei expressed his disgust and pulled the plug on one of his exhibitions at a prominent Copenhagen gallery in protest. The Danish Institute for Human Rights called the proposals a clear violation of the European Convention on Human Rights but this has not stopped others such , as Bavarian politicians in Germany and Swiss representatives from taking note of the idea.

As of that weren’t enough the tub thumping Danish PM, has also mooted the idea of ‘reforming’ the Geneva Convention on the rights of refugees, so the West no longer has any obligation to help those in need the English language Copenhagen Post reports. Again condemnation was swift, as the UN Refugee Agency criticised any change to the long held cherished principles enshrined in the document.

The Danish government is trying to salvage its battered international reputation by claiming the bill ‘is the most misunderstood bill in Denmark’s history.’ However, coupled with front page advertisements in Lebanese newspapers warning refugees that Denmark has cut its benefits by 50% for new arrivals (according to the Danish Immigration Service) we can start to paint a picture dear reader.

Reporting this does not fill me with optimism, especially when we consider how the stock of the Denmark (and not just Denmark actually but other Scandinavian states) has fallen as a beacon of tolerance and humanitarian spirit in recent years. Still let us put our hopes on those courageous sailors and donors I mentioned earlier on. Yes, let us hope dear reader.

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The slow exit of Mr Rajoy….

Hola my dear readers! Today I am taking you back to the warm climes of Spain. As you may recall I wrote an article in December about the elections in Spain. Seems it was a closer call than ever as the Spanish Congresso is now, for the first time in modern Spanish history, in deadlock. Or more technically speaking a hung parliament. See also my earlier entry about Europe’s hanging parliaments.

Now, Spain has still not been able to form a government since the December 20th election day. The two main parties, the centre right PP and the centre left PSOE, which had dominated the Parliament for over three decades have now had to make way for two upstarts, the centrist Citizens Party and the radical leftists, Podemos (who performed better than expected).

The governing PP of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy actually still won the largest number of seats but has found coalition building near impossible. The other left leaning parties, PSOE and Podemos, have been adamant that they want Mr Rajoy to go but have as yet been unable to form any alliance owing largely to the calls by Podemos for a referendum on Catalonia’s independence. Nothing is certain and whilst Parliament has reconvened and successfully managed to elect a new PSOE Speaker, Patxi Lopez, the search for a PM has proved frustratingly elusive. Many had hoped the election of Mr Lopez might signal a possible deal at the national government level but no such luck.

I won’t dwell on the successes of Mr Rajoy, his main achievement being the return of the Spanish economy to positive growth rates. The IMF in 2015 stated that GDP growth was 3.1% that year and over 500,000 new jobs were created. A combination of labour market reforms and low oil prices helped the situation and that is to Mr Rajoy’s credit. However, his government has been beset by corruption allegations and several senior PP officials have been arrested in the so called ‘Baracenas Affair’ which centres on illegal cash donations received by the PP.

The PSOE leader, the dashing Pedro Sanchez, has visited neighbouring Portugal, to seek advice from his Iberian socialist counterpart, Antonio Costa, on how he successfully toppled their previous rightwing government. Although that Lisbon based government’s durability is now looking less strong than it was a few weeks ago. That’s another story though dear reader!

In Madrid, the Parliament reconvened in spectacular fashion, with a baby being breastfed and a Deputy turning up with dreadlocks and baggy jeans, to the much more significant swearing in of Spain’s first black Deputy. Credit where credit is due, they all came from the radical Podemos party which has aimed to shake up politics on the peninsula.

However, whilst politics may have needed shaking up the government (in the interim Mr Rajoy’s government has had to remain in office) has been unable to keep the  momentum in key economic reforms and whilst Spain has the luxury of the European Central Bank’s bond buying programme keeping the bond market relatively stable, Spain cannot afford a long period of drift.

As the English language, The Spain Report, has stated the two main party leaders’ Senor Rajoy and Senor Sanchez have both met the King, King Felipe VI, and declined the offer to form a government. Not only have they embarrassed and left the King in a quandary they are evidently playing politics with the country and biding their time to step in as a ‘statesman’ when the other has exhausted their options and the country and EU are desperate enough for either to form the government. Even the anti-monarchy Podemos and their leader,  Pablo Iglesisas, out of the blue offered to form a left wing government with PSOE only to have insults hurled its way without even a discussion. Meanwhile, the King, who has barely been in office for two years, has to try and resolve the matter without damaging the institution of the monarchy. Not an easy task, especially given the nebulous role the Spanish Constitution affords a monarch in such a scenario.

One of the new parties, the centrist Citizens or Ciudadanos Party, has offered to mediate between the two main parties to try and get a government up and running, the Spanish daily newspaper, El Pais reports. What has disadvantaged Mr Rajoy again is the ‘Baracenas Affair’ with more PP officials being investigated and police raids on the Party’s offices in Valencia. The charismatic leader of Citizens, Albert Rivera, has warned that conditions will be tough on corruption if the PP wants another shot at power. The Transparency International annual Corruption Perceptions Index for 2015 has also rated Spain as the worst performer in Europe and the country is now down to 36th in the world. This will only compound Mr Rajoy’s woes and as time passes, the shrewd Galician operator that is Mariano Rajoy, who likes to play the long game must be starting to realise that the tables are ever so slightly starting to turn (to his opponents’ advantage) as he begins his long goodbye to the Prime Minister’s smart La Moncloa official residence.

Pandemics! Now it is Zika…..

Good afternoon dear readers, today I am going to touch on a topic which is among one of my main concerns for our collective future. This is the growing risk we face from global pandemics and the rise of a 24/7 news service across the world has only heightened anxiety and led to panic buying of surgical masks, vaccines etc. First it was SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), norovirus, then swine flu, Ebola, and now there is a growing epidemic spreading across the Americas called the Zika virus.

Of course my little list above doesn’t cover them all, and health experts far smarter than me will point to much older pandemics, such as bubonic plague and the Spanish influenza epidemic and these decimated populations at the time. I have also possibly missed out more recent ones!

However, what I am getting at is we should be vigilant and far more responsive and prepared for these type of outbreaks. This article is particularly pertinent for those of us who have had the privilege of growing up in affluent Western states, such as the USA or Europe, for we have access to clean sanitation and an ample supply of medication to keep us healthy and protected.

This does not stop the panic though! With such a supply we have in a way made ourselves more susceptible to illness (brought from more toughened parts of the world) and bacteria and viruses are constantly mutating to find new ways to penetrate our immune systems. Pity our poor white blood cells working like dogs! Now, I am not saying give up washing your hands, stop cleaning your homes and shun modern medicines, that is foolish (and rather disgusting – especially the first two) but we need to put far more, and critically consistent, pressure on our governments to act on this. Even during the heights of the Ebola disease and swine flu, in my former role working for politicians, I rarely saw correspondence from anybody asking what are we doing. Yet, there is an outpouring of emails and letters about terrorism and climate change.

Right now, in countries such as Costa Rica, Jamaica, Brazil, Colombia, Haiti and Honduras are all countries where Zika has broken out and babies and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable. It has been linked by the Brazilian Health Ministry to an sharp increase in the number of babies born with deformed heads. As I write, the first cases have been reported in the UK and already health advice in affected countries is to avoid pregnancy if possible. Symptoms are relatively benign at first with headaches, rash and joint pains and according to the International Centre for Infectious Diseases 80% of victims do not display any outward symptoms. The World Health Organisation states that there are no vaccines or direct medicines available to treat Zika and current treatment requires a combination of medicines to combat dehydration, headaches, fever and muscle pain.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has issued a comprehensive fact sheet about Zika which highlights the risks posed by stagnant water, which provides fertile breeding grounds for mosquito larvae. It also provides advice about which repellents and clothing is the best to protect a person from mosquito bites and the risk of infection.

This all shows that with a big rise in the number of people travelling any illness outbreak in a far corner of the globe, no matter how small or distant from our shores, should be flagged with our relevant national and supranational institutions. Also pharmaceutical multinationals should be in the loop on this. As I mentioned in a previous blog piece about Ebola, these institutions should also be much better resourced and expanded to include experts from all fields – such as politics, medicine, transport, agricultural, financial etc. so we can fully respond and do so less tardily.

Following a news report on CNN, I was struck by a steep increase of previously unheard of illnesses from the 19th century! Can you imagine! A study by the British National Health Service (NHS) found scarlet fever has been diagnosed in 14,000 cases in 2015 with similar rises in cholera, whooping cough and tuberculosis. Tuberculosis conjures up images of Dickensian nature and it was shocking to that parts of London have higher rates of tuberculosis than Rwanda and Iraq. As I touched on earlier causes are poor hygiene, poverty and international travel.

Speaking personally, having spoken to health workers (who are obviously on the front line dealing with such cases) their expertise stresses the need to concentrate on prevention rather than cure i.e. stopping outbreaks before they even occur. This means hygienic food preparation (wear gloves, no prep of food when ill, wash down foods and surfaces all the time) and, this can’t be stressed enough, regular washing of hands with soap and water. Sanitizers do not have sufficient power and are no substitute for old school soap and water.

In conclusion, simple steps as above and vigilance and extra resources for our health authorities could go a long way in reducing these cases. We also have a duty to realise that the international aid our governments in the West provide to improve sanitation and education in Africa, Asia and Latin America will directly benefit us.

In the meantime stay happy and healthy dear reader!

Germany’s New Year celebration spoilt by the few…

Wilkommen and hello to my article about Germany. Unfortunately, my topic today is not a happy one and as many of you know entry into 2016 for many in Germany was marred by the actions of a few in the city of Cologne primarily, with similar incidents reported in other cities of Germany and in Sweden and Austria.

The scenes in Cologne were horrible, with crowds of drunken or drugged young men, a number of them appearing to come from North African or Arab countries, cornering young female revellers and robbing them and in a few cases sexually assaulting them. The revelation that some of these alleged attackers were asylum seekers only fanned the flames of the xenophobes and right wing groups. Attacks on Pakistanis, Syrians and Iraqis followed, and the nasty Pegida and AfD party (AfD now apparently running at 10% in recent opinion polls) cranked up their divisive messages. They were already angry at the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, for making the grand gesture of providing shelter to the refugees who came to Europe’s shores over the summer and they are now back on the streets of Leipzig and other German cities calling for her head.

The refugee crisis has certainly proved to be Angela Merkel’s Achilles Heel and she must be weighing up whether she will run in 2017 to be Chancellor for an unprecedented fourth term. Unrest in her own coalition is certainly taking its toll on the re-election chances of a Chancellor who just a year ago was at the height of her power. Looking at the numbers from Der Spiegel’s regular polling barometer, the ‘Grand Coalition’ made up of the Chancellor’s CDU and Social Democrats are still narrowly in the lead and would take 51% of the vote in an election today. Further alliances could be made with the pro-refugee Greens and/or Die Linke if the mainstream parties can overcome their anxieties over the two. An astonishing two thirds of Germans now believe Frau Merkel has mishandled the situation, up from just under half, 49%, in December. My hunch, is still on Ms Merkel’s re-election (if she so chooses) for the reasons I strategised in my last German article in October.

In terms of the immediate attacks in Cologne however, what is a welcome sight are the number of women and refugees coming out to strongly protest against the sexism and violence which occurred on New Year’s Eve. If you are looking for an eloquent expression of this sentiment from a Syrian in Germany, do read an article by Basheer Alzaalan, in the UK’s Guardian newspaper who shows the true gratitude and contribution refugees feel and want to make towards their new home. In the Berliner Morgenpost and on YouTube a group of Syrian refugees handed out flowers to German women at Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main railway station) to show their respect for women and Germany.

Let me also say that I have many German friends and have made many visits to Germany, and it is one of the most hospitable and welcoming states I have ever been to. As a nation no other has felt the repression of living under a fascist and communist system more than they have, so they are naturally inclined to help those in trouble, regardless of religion or race. Need I remind you dear reader of the many private citizens who opened their doors to let in refugees to their homes.

Of course, there will be bad people, as there are in any state and the same will go for refugees. Unfortunately, the complications of a civil war mean that the Syrian state has no justice system basically. The criminals have just walked out of jail and in the maelstrom found a path to Europe to continue their nefarious activities. I rather suspect this is what has happened in Germany and without a Syrian counterpart to liaise with the law enforcement agencies in Europe and America cannot ascertain whether somebody is a criminal, a terrorist or rapist. Criminals will, fairly plausibly, be able to claim they have no paperwork as they have been forced to leave a war zone!In America the debate is centred around effective screening measures or allowing Christians in. That will not work for the above reason I have outlined.

Neither will closing the door completely. Those who are desperate will continue to smuggle themselves in, going across walls, barbed wire, rivers and braving cold weather either because they are looking for a better life (which is needless to say 99%) or they are criminals and terrorists. What has failed is not the humanitarian or tolerant values we in Europe hold dear, but the intelligence services and security forces who should have been far more vigilant and better resourced, as the tragic lapses surrounding the movements of the Paris attackers show. Let us remind ourselves that crime and terrorism did not come in with refugees over the summer of 2015. Europe has been dealing with terrorism and violence for decades in the name of many causes, such as Basque terrorism, Northern Irish republicanism, or the Marxist terrorists in Germany and Italy. Similarly, sexual assaults and rapes are not a recent crime (and not exclusive to any religion!) and in countless other cases it is often the right wing press questioning the morals of young women when those of other ethnicities are not in the frame as suspects. Funny that, don’t you think dear reader?

What is needed now, more than ever, is a proper joined up approach and intelligence/police sharing system. Strengthening and properly resourcing Europol and the Frontex border service at the European level would be a start but the simplistic headlines of the right wing press and some firebrand, opportunistic politicians should not cloud our common sense. Those that think rape and violence is exclusive to those of a different skin colour are distracting us from tackling this complex and long term issue together.

 

Libya: Hope and horror in equal measure!

Welcome dear reader! Now, I don’t know about you but for some strange reason I find the beauty and tranquility of a desert rather awe inspiring. Not a normal view for sure, but they are majestic wonders and they don’t come anymore majestic than the mighty Sahara.

The most beautiful scenery of the Sahara is located Libya, which is 90% desert. Most habitations and cities hug the fertile coastline along the Mediterranean Sea for very obvious reasons!

Away from the natural beauty, since 2011 Libya has been in a state of political turmoil. After successfully overthrowing long time dictator, Colonel Muammer Gaddafi, Libya was tantalisingly close to succeeding as a functioning democracy.  It held elections in 2012 which resulted in a well intentioned government coming to office.

Libya, blessed with oil wealth could have become a beacon of a modern, prosperous democracy but instead descended into petty factional infighting and civil war. Like Syria, the pro-western intellectuals have failed to grasp the opportunity and left the ground clear for hardline, religious fundamentalists to carry out the actual fighting, and it is now the latter group who control almost all of Libya.

Like a patchwork quilt, there are many shades of religious fighters in control of interwoven and competing territories  and for the last two or three they have fought and blasted away whatever was left after the revolution. As a side note, during the height of that revolution Colonel Gaddafi’s son, the hated faux reformer, Saif, repeatedly wagged his finger during television broadcasts admonishing his people and telling them they would end up fighting one another if Gaddafi was toppled. Sadly, he was right and even though he was captured and those very fingers were apparently chopped off by some incensed rebels, he made a valid point.

Libya has now become a major transit point for weapons, drugs and people trafficking. Many Africans and Arabs, fleeing poverty, war and persecution now see the collapsed state as an easy route to prosperous Europe. Easier than the rather tortuous Turkey/Greece continental refugee crossing point which came to the fore during the summer of 2015.

Italy and France have been on the frontline of declaring Libya the next major security issue to face the Western world. The EU’s Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini, recently met with Libyan officials in neighbouring Tunisia and pledged €100 million for institution building according to the European Commission website.

With much fanfare an agreement was reached in December to support Libya’s fledging internationally recognised government but since mid-2014 it has been holed up in a ramshackle port in the far east of the country with little power. Now, Daesh (the terrorist group) is taking advantage of the security vacuum and moving in. As reported by the Gulf News, Libya has been hit by several Daesh suicide bombings on police and border security posts mainly, resulting in the deaths of over one hundred people so far, including the murder of young recruits to the embryonic law enforcement agencies.

The December agreement, which followed months of UN led negotiations in Morocco, Tunis and Rome, was a great achievement (especially for the able German diplomat Martin Kobler who has patiently hosted the talks) but on the ground there has been little evidence of coalescence or even the tentative steps required for unification of the myriad of militias.  Again these talks are a positive but I don’t want to rain on the parade and say that whilst the Libyan politicians and civil society figures present at the talks may now be on the same page, there were no significant military figures participating and this could undermine the implementation of the accord.

The Economist Intelligence Unit has already forecast that Libyan GDP will drop by 8% this year and continuing attacks by rival fighters, including Daesh, on oil installations will only continue to damage the state and hinder the process of rebuilding this shattered land. As we know dear reader, continued fighting amongst the more moderate factions will only open the door for retreating Daesh fighters in Iraq and Syria to find a comfortable home in Libya.

The UN has, to be fair, in the briefing it provided to the press after the signing highlighted the obvious dire situation in Libya and stated that more than 2.4 million citizens require humanitarian assistance of which 435,000 are estimated to be internally displaced. This fragile conference, the international body emphasised, was merely a start.

Libyans, according to my family who once lived out in Libya, are moderate and a tolerant nation (with a proud history) so a coalition could be formed with relative ease compared to Syria, if the international community acted swiftly (which has not exactly been the case so far alas!) The warring factions are also exhausted by years of fighting and many of them are also alarmed by the violent and grotesque behaviour of incoming Daesh fighters.

The message here is that while I have concluded on a more optimistic note, it is imperative that the international organisations and states, in Europe and the Middle East work together and seize this narrowing window of opportunity before the world finds another calamity, like Syria, on its doorstep. It must try to do this before summer in particular, if we are to avoid a repeat of the endless stream of disaffected and dispossessed refugees which caught Europe of guard.

 

Europe’s ‘hanging’ parliaments!

Happy New Year dear readers! I am back from a New Year break to regale you once more with my musings on the world at large! It’s great to be back with you and for 2016 it is important to look at the increasing number of inconclusive elections which have hit Europe’s Parliaments of late. The most recent being the hung Parliament in Spain in December.

It is also important to note here that there has also been a rise in extremist parties, of the left and right, (the right wing ones being in my mind the far more noxious and unprincipled in their ambitions!)

European Parliament elections 2014

The trend arguably started, fittingly enough, in the European Parliamentary elections in 2014. The results from that election saw virtually a third of the Parliament occupied a rich assortment of jokers, wannabe demagogues and money grabbing careerists.  I shan’t name names but have a search on YouTube and you are bound to come across one of their desperate headline grabbing speeches in the august chamber of the European Parliament! However, for those who actually wanted to achieve solid policy results for their constituents it was a nightmare because now we have the now not unfamiliar position of the responsible socialists, conservatives, centrists and other assorted moderates having to make less than cosy informal alliances to achieve anything of note.

Greece

Now the land of Zeus (don’t know why I mention him particularly!), Greece, is no stranger to a hung parliament, but in the last three or four elections it has held has led to a hung parliament during a period of chronic economic instability.

Here again, under pressure from creditors in the EU and IMF, it cobbled together a centre left Pasok and centre right New Democracy governments until this arrangement was beaten in the numbers game in the January 2015 election. Then a far left and far right Syriza led government took office on an anti-austerity platform only to renege on this commitment when faced with the looming prospect of being kicked out of the Eurozone and defaulting on its huge debt.

Italy

Italy is also no stranger to hung parliaments, having delivered one in its most recent general election in 2013. Indeed, when Spain’s December election ushered in a new era of hung parliaments for the Iberian state, local newspaper headlines proclaimed the ‘Italianisation of Spanish politics!’

Current Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, has since becoming Premier in 2014, expended much political energy in securing constitutional reforms to try to eliminate the prospect of hung parliaments and secure stable majorities for either the mainstream left, Democratic Party, or right, Party of Liberty, and reduce the huge bargaining power many special interest ‘minnow’ parties wield. This would I’m sure bring increased stability but it could also affect the chances of his main rivals, the populist Five Star Movement, and ultimately prevent them from taking his crown. Still, we must have patience dear readers, we still have till 2018 to find out what lies in store for Italy!

Portugal

As I wrote about in a recent article, Portugal had a very strange hung parliament I must say. The centre right, Portugal Ahead alliance, failed to secure a majority in elections last year and after some uncertainty the incumbent Prime Minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, who had the largest number of seats, staked his claim to the office again. No sooner had he done that the disparate parties of the left, including moderate socialists and Marxists, formed a united front and toppled the PM from his job.

Needless to say this was described as a democratic ‘coup d etat’ by Mr Coelho’s allies but these types of elections almost always end in a rather messy conclusion.

Spain

Now we come to Spain, where an election on the 20th of December resulted in a hung parliament. A first for the Spanish and it caused quite a bit of uncertainty. Like Portugal, the centre right won the largest number of seats but was short of a majority by a wide margin. The left might well have had a chance to take the reins, like its Portuguese counterparts, but each country is unique and negotiations amongst the left have floundered over the granting of a potentially destabilising referendum for Catalonia. The Socialists also appear to be having doubts about their leader, Pedro Sanchez, and rumors abound that he could ousted in a rebellion led by his party colleague, Susana Diaz, and the other party ‘barons.’

All this plays into the hands of Podemos, the upstart radical leftists, who want an end to austerity and the banishing of the once dominant Socialists and People’s Party to the history books.

This gives Mariano Rajoy, the cautious and patient incumbent Prime Minister, no cause for alarm as he awaits a possible second election which may see voters come back to him.

Ireland

Finally, dear reader, we are on my last country to cover today! You have done well to reach this far I must say!

In February or March, exact date yet to be fixed, Ireland is going to the polls and again we face the intriguing prospect of a centre right government, Fine Gael, led by Enda Kenny ending up with the largest of number of seats but falling short of a majority with its coalition partner, the Labour Party. Mr Kenny has ruled out forming an alliance with anybody else, including a potentially large bloc of independent Parliamentarians who could be elected, which may narrow his options.

Here we also have the spoilers though, in the form of Sinn Fein, who are looking to pick a sizeable number of votes on the back of their anti-austerity policies. Nobody wants to ally with them, including the centre left opposition, Fianna Fail, led by Michael Martin.

Polls are continuing to show a hung parliament arising here leaving it all to play for but unlike my other country analyses this one is purely speculative.

Conclusion

Now dear reader, as the regulars to my blog know, I like to pepper my entries with statistics and quotes from experts, but today I am grateful you allowed me to indulge myself and engage in bit of independent study and crystal ball gazing!

What I have found, as you may have noticed, is that a lot of the above countries where a hung parliament resulted were the worst hit by the economic crises in the Eurozone and they all had to seek bailouts of some sort. I am not aiming to connect up the two anomalies of a hung parliament and an economic crisis, other more prosperous EU states, such as Germany, Austria and Sweden all have hung parliaments regularly but my conjecture is that the voters of Europe are profoundly disillusioned. More than at any time since WWII, now I might be accused of hyperbole and I hope I am proved wrong!

However, what I can say with certainty is that the falling voter turnouts, especially of the young, is truly alarming and only provides a vacuum which the extremists of left and right are filling.