It is not every nation-branding campaign that threatens regional stability. The International Court of Justice in The Hague is set to rule by the end of the year on issues surrounding one of Europe’s more bizarre international disputes: Greece’s demand that Macedonia change its name, arguing it implies an appropriation of Greece’s heritage and territory. Ahead of the decision, Macedonia’s government is spending hundreds of millions of euros on a major renovation of the capital, Skopje, that promotes national pride and is likely to further antagonise the Greeks.
The project includes over 120 statues, civic buildings and even an Arc de Triomphe. But the most controversial monument is a bronze statue of Alexander the Great rearing back on his horse in Skopje’s central square. Ownership of Alexander has further fuelled the Greco-Macedonian feud, with both countries claiming the ancient conqueror as its own. Some critics claim that Macedonia’s quirky national soul-searching is masking a more sinister national current. According to domestic opponents and international observers, the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is increasingly authoritarian.
Key governmental challenges for Macedonia:
- Reforms: Step up the process so the European Commission’s next report on Macedonia’s progress toward EU accession is more favourable.
- Greek reconciliation: Find a way out of the impasse with Greece over the name issue, so Macedonia can join NATO and the EU.
- Transparency: The public should be included in discussions of further changes to the capital.
Type: General election
Date: 20 November
Candidates: Prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is stepping down so Alfredo Rubalcaba is the governing Socialist Party (PSOE) candidate. Like opposition leader Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Popular Party (PP), he is a career politician and one-time vice president.
Issues: With an unemployment rate of over 20 per cent and the yields on Spanish sovereign bonds rising, this election is all about boosting the economy and balancing the budget. In an attempt to woo the disillusioned left, Rubalcaba has called for higher taxes on banks and the rich, while the conservatives are focusing on general tax reform.
Comment: Defeat for the PSOE, which seems likely, would leave the centre-left with just four governments out of 27 in the EU.
GDP growth with a government (last quarter)
UK - 0.2%
Germany - 0.1%
France - 0.0%
Growth without a government
Belgium - 0.7%
Shadowing the past
More than 20 years after the fall of communism in Poland, the country’s tallest building remains the 231m Palace of Culture and Science, erected in honour of Stalin in 1955. Now it could have a challenger. Billionaire businessman Jan Kulczyk has plans to construct a 282m skyscraper in the capital. “Older generations often regard the Palace as a reminder of the painful past but without it Warsaw would be just another soulless city filled with skyscrapers,” says Grzegorz Piatek, editor of architecture magazine Architektura-Murator.
Q&A- Laurent Wauquiez
Minister for higher education - France
French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s grand project to create a “Sorbonne League” of 10 world-class universities is his biggest – some would say only – successful reform. Wauquiez, a historian by training, has been entrusted to sell the reform to voters ahead of April’s presidential elections.
What needed fixing?
Each university and grande école [selective university] was specialised and working on its own. And, thanks to Louis XIV and Napoleon, the system was highly centralised. Universities had to come here to Paris to consult my ministers before they launched a course or even painted their walls.
Describe the reforms.
We have given universities the autonomy to make decisions on their own. And we have invested €22bn to ensure the reforms work.
Shouldn’t some of that €22bn help pay off government debt?
You have to cut deficits but we’re investing in the future of our young people and our economy’s competitiveness.
Moscow has declared war on its illegal taxi culture, outlawing an estimated 40,000 “gypsy cabs”. Their cheap prices have made them far more popular than official yellow cabs (of which there are only 9,000). Led by mayor Sergei Sobyanin, the reform will mean that taxis must be licensed and display a taxi sign and a chequered ribbon, or else face a fine of €115.
London’s strangest embassy
North Korea’s embassy in London is far from Belgravia and Kensington. A detached house just off the North Circular ringroad in the suburb of Ealing, the embassy had a run-in with the local council when it opened – they objected to its portico entrance with pillars.