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Cull of the wild

Sweden

Wolves have been a protected species in Sweden for more than 40 years. That is set to change this summer when the government enacts a new law allowing hunters and the owners of domestic animals to kill wolves, even if the animals are out in the open and posing no threat.

Under current regulations, wolves, wolverines, bears and lynxes can only be shot if they are attacking farm animals or hunting dogs within enclosures. Shooting any of these animals before an attack has started is punishable with a prison term lasting from six months to four years.

“Sweden has always been a very good place for wolves to live because of the country’s large forests and wilderness,” says Klas Hjelm of the Swedish Environment Protection Agency, “but, politically, they have been persecuted. As soon as the new government [led by the Swedish Conservative Party] was sworn in they wanted to change the law.”

Once Sweden had a population of several thousand wolves and, until 1965, financial rewards were offered to anyone who killed one. Two hundred years ago, peasants were heavily fined if they refused to join the massive hunting gangs – up to 1,000 men at a time – that roamed the Swedish forests shooting wolves.

By 1966 the animals were on the brink of extinction in Sweden and although a law protecting them was passed that year, today the country’s entire wolf population stands at about 150. But Minister of Agriculture Eskil Erlandsson insists, “Wild animals are increasing in Sweden and they are not acutely threatened today.”

While environmentalists worry that hunters will abuse the new law, Erlandsson says, “It is not a question of hunting wolves, but the protection of domestic animals and hunting dogs.”

Sweden’s 300,000 hunters are certainly happy about the change in the legislation. Christina Nilson-Dag of The Swedish Hunters Association says they have campaigned for several years to soften the government’s stance on the protection of wild animals: “We have a great hunting tradition that is disappearing because we can’t protect our dogs from wild animals.”

In hot water

Germany

Munich and its hinterland have become the new frontier for deep-seated geothermal energy, the latest trend in sustainable power. Drilling three to four kilometres into the earth’s crust allows engineers to tap into boiling hot water, which can be used to heat buildings and run zero-emission power plants. The southernmost part of the state of Bavaria, along the Alps’ foothills, is the literal hotbed of geothermal exploration, with planned investments of €3.2bn.

Roughly 80 claims have been issued to municipalities and private investors who are keen to drill now or sell off the rights later. “The region is covered by drilling permits. It’s a boom that’s taken everyone by surprise,” says Dr Achim Schubert, general manager of Erdwerk, one of a handful of specialised engineering firms scrambling to meet demand from dozens of clients.

Generous subsidies are a major factor behind the rush into geothermal power. A federal law passed in 2004 rewards operators of geothermal power plants with roughly €150 per megawatt. Even at that rate, a borehole with a price tag upwards of €40m can take 15 years to turn a profit. But utility companies work to a timescale of several decades, and many communities and large companies are angling for energy independence. Erdwerk recently conducted a feasibility study for Munich-based BMW, which is evaluating a €50m-project to build its own gas-powered plant in the area. Waste heat will be injected into the ground, and used as a giant storage battery for colder parts of the year.

One former oil-services company has already spun off a special drilling subsidiary, and Siemens is building the first geothermal power plant of its kind, in the town of Unterhaching. “It’s a prototype for such installations worldwide,” says industry consultant Norbert Baumgärtner.

Brick players

Switzerland

Swiss firm Sika has an invention that could change European migration patterns: a robotic bricklayer that can build elaborate walls around the clock. Will the Latvians and Poles who dominate building sites from Dublin to Stockholm be out of a job?

Old boats home

Europe

Across Europe there are growing numbers of old warships awaiting disposal. Many have been riding at anchor for several years while defence ministries seek a way through red tape and ethical considerations to get them properly scrapped.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has selected the first ex-Royal Navy ship, the Falklands-veteran HMS Intrepid, for a new, ethically responsible, ship-recycling strategy. Under the draft policy – drawn up by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) – Intrepid will be cut up and recycled at a certified yard within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), under a substantial bond from a contractor. In February the MoD awarded Leavesley International preferred bidder status.

The move is long overdue, and opens the door to disposal of a range of ageing warships that have been trapped by a lack of suitable recycling facilities and the Basel Convention controls on exporting hazardous waste. Several high-profile incidents have pushed shipbreaking to the top of the agenda at the UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Until recently, retired vessels that could not be sold were often hauled off to the ship graveyards in the developing world, where they were dismantled and recycled by minimally trained workers, with scant regard for any toxic materials they might have had on board.

The tide began to turn last year when the rusted hulk of the French navy’s aircraft carrier Clemenceau was turned away from shipbreakers Shree Ram Scrap Vessels in northwest India. In the face of rising opposition, France had to undergo the indignity of a return voyage, and towed Clemenceau back to Brest.

Over in Britain meanwhile, environmentalist activists and the mass media were waging a successful campaign against Able UK, a breaker in the northeast of England, which had agreed to recycle several Second World War-era American vessels.

Sparked by these incidents, the IMO is drafting a legally binding ship-recycling convention – due to be aired in 2008/9 – to replace its existing voluntary guidelines, and governments across Europe are hastily revisiting their own policies.

DEFRA’s policy is among the first to be announced and requires UK ships – both government-owned and commercial – to be broken only at OECD yards armed with a raft of environmental permissions and certification.

However, the fact remains that Europe currently has a dearth of suitably certified, large-scale, ship-recycling facilities, with nothing like the capacity needed for even the existing list of warships waiting disposal, let alone the new batch of ships due to leave service in the near future.

The contender

Bulgaria

Boyko Borisov, mayor of Sofia, is wearing jeans, a Calvin Klein T-shirt and a leather jacket. He has just come back from a ball in Vienna, which he attended with his girlfriend Tsvetelina Borislavova, a senior figure at one of Bulgaria’s biggest banks. He is one of the most powerful men in the country, but he insists: “There’s nothing good about it. It’s just responsibility and hard work.”

However, few think that the mayor, now 47, is after a quiet life, and he is widely tipped to become the country’s new leader when national elections are held in 2009. Borisov himself remains coy on the subject, saying only that he has no plans to stand.

Borisov’s route into politics was an odd one. In 1991 he started a private security firm, and acted as bodyguard for the former communist head of state Todor Zhivkov. A karate champion, Borisov was then hired to protect Simeon Saxecoburggotski when the king-in-exile returned in April 2001.

When Saxecoburggotski became Prime Minister later that year he appointed Borisov as Secretary General of the Interior Ministry. A charismatic character, with almost movie-star appeal in Bulgaria, Borisov then stood in Sofia’s mayoral race in 2005 – and won.

The mayor is proud of his achievements in office. “Even today, another good result came in. Standard & Poor’s has raised its long-term credit rating on the city of Sofia to BB+ from BB,” he says.

In December last year, Borisov formed the centre-right political party, GERB (The Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria). A recent poll showed GERB running second, with 13.6 per cent of the vote, behind the Socialists, with 25.3 per cent. Borisov insists that the aim of GERB is simply “to change the status quo”, not gain him personal power. Anyway, he says, there’s another reason he can’t become prime minister: “I don’t look good in a tie.”

Letter from Samara

Preface
Moscow and St Petersburg grab the headlines but it is cities such as Samara that are the silent powerhouses of the Russian economy. That’s why everyone from US steel giants to Ikea is investing here.

Nikolai Gogol wrote that Russia has two misfortunes: fools and bad roads. But while cabbies in Samara may take a twisted pride in calling their roads the worst in Russia, this dusty city of rolling hills at the confluence of the Volga and Samara rivers is hardly a town of fools.

During the Second World War, fearing a Nazi takeover of Moscow, numerous Soviet intellectuals, scientists and diplomats were evacuated to Samara – then known as Kuybyshev – and subsequently stayed in the city, which became the heart of the military complex and the industrial hub of European Russia. And while the city was closed to outsiders during Soviet times because of its military significance, it’s no secret – at home or abroad – that Samara is now one of the regional powerhouses helping to fuel Russia’s resurgent economy.

As the capital of one of Russia’s most powerful economic regions, Samara has boomed in recent years, helped by foreign investment, manufacturing, the knowledge economy and its support system for the oil and gas industries.

Moscow and St Petersburg may get all the headlines, but international agencies Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have awarded Samara increasingly high ratings. And foreign investors have taken note. PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Danone have all invested in the region, and, in 2005, US aluminum giant Alcoa snapped up a factory in Samara for $257m (€194m). Last year the Pittsburg-based company opened up a new $6m (€4.5m) line at its Samara plant.

The darling of the local economy, however, is SOK which produces various popular car models, such as the Lada and the Izh, made famous by other Russian companies. SOK, founded in 1994 as a dealership, currently boasts that it employs over 100,000 workers and claims $1.75bn (€1.3bn) in annual turnover. SOK has teamed up with South Korean automaker Kia, and SOK subsidiary IzhAvto announced plans in December to produce 7,000 Kia Rio models this year. Furthermore, the city’s revitalised aeronautics industry has inherited the most profitable part of the Soviet defence sector. Samara is home to TsSKB-Progress, manufacturer of the Soyuz rockets and Soyuz-TMA crew capsules. The former is the workhorse of the Russian launch industry and the latter is the craft that takes Russian cosmonauts to the International Space Station.

While TsSKB-Progress has managed to thrive in capitalist Russia, one Soviet-era practice remains in place at the state-owned company: senior staff are required to hand over their passports for five-year periods to avoid any potential intelligence defections, which should come as no surprise, given that the range of their products includes not only rockets and crew craft but optical intelligence satellites.

Samara’s strong economy has sparked a consumer boom among its more than one million inhabitants, says Natalya Dyadik, deputy editor at the Samara magazine Expert Volga. “One retail agency actually released a report stating that Samarans overall spend more money than they earn,” says Dyadik.

Swedish furniture giant Ikea – hugely popular in Russia – has announced plans to open a store in the region by the end of the year. Samarans’ taste for spending is visible in the restaurants and boutiques, though modern storefronts are set against dilapidated 19th- and 20th-century architecture.

In the summer the city’s long boardwalk is filled with the smell of grilling shashlik as tourists, mainly Russian, amble from a hilltop monastery to a nearby music school. Some of Samara’s old industrial complexes are being converted into fashionable downtown warehouse hang-outs. The hottest spot in town is the secret bunker built, but never used, by Joseph Stalin in case Moscow was overrun by the Nazis.

Samara still has plenty of room to develop and improve, however, says Dyadik. Housing construction has been hindered by legislative obstacles.

The city could also benefit from tapping the innovative potential of its population, says Nikolai Petrov, expert on Russia’s regions at Moscow’s Carnegie Centre: “That would put Samara in a very advantageous position.”

Then there is the traffic, which Dyadik says will get worse before it gets any better. Erasing some of the potholes might help. Doing that, of course, could injure some cabbies’ twisted pride.

Other Russian cities to watch

Khanty-Mansiisk
Petrodollars have transformed this capital of an eponymous region from a provincial backwater town into the Copenhagen of Siberia. The Khanty-Mansiisk autonomous district would be the world’s second-largest oil producer if it were a country. State-owned oil company Rosneft has stepped in where destroyed oil major Yukos left off as the local sugar daddy, putting up new schools, arts centres and athletic facilities.

Rostov-on-Don
The capital of one of Russia’s most economically developed regions, this southern town has benefited from the region’s rich natural resources – primarily oil and gas. But entrepreneurship has also taken hold here, and wages have risen steadily in recent years for the city’s 1.1 million inhabitants. Rostov is the industrial cap of southern Russia and is home to numerous major factories, including plants producing helicopters and combine harvesters.

Novosibirsk
This Siberian city is one of Russia’s hopes for tapping its massive intellectual potential. The famous Akademgorodok, or “Academics’ Town”, still attracts Russia’s top scientists. Novosibirsk is the largest industrial and transportation hub east of the Ural mountains, but experts say expansion of its hi-tech sector help eliminate over-reliance on industry and natural resources.

Kazan
The capital of one of Russia’s most powerful – and independent – regional economies, Kazan is the jewel of Tatarstan. The republic, more than any other Russian region, has negotiated economic and political autonomy from Moscow, and revenues from its natural resources and industry have been poured back into Kazan’s infrastructure.

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