A sizeable carpool for Bosnia's leaders, impressive life expectancy in Spain and too many bears in Italy.
Transporting one president or prime minister can be challenging. But in Bosnia and Herzegovina the problems are multiplied: this small country of barely four million people can boast three presidents and no fewer than 14 prime ministers at one time.
This excess of leaders is the legacy of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that split Bosnia into two “ethnic entities”, one of which has a further 10 cantons. There’s also a central government and a three-person presidency with a president for each of Bosnia’s three main ethnic groups – Bosniak, Croat and Serb – though they take it in turns to act as head of state for eight months at a time.
It can make for an entertaining scramble for the carpool. A 2012 audit revealed that the presidency owned 32 vehicles, though each member has their own staff and makes their own transport arrangements.
This is a controversial matter. Bosnia has the highest unemployment rate in Europe and some of the lowest wages: on average about €400 a month. Many of its people resent what they see as a bloated political class that enjoys larger salaries and perks, including official cars. Two years ago the proverbial angry mob set fire to the presidency building and the vehicles parked outside.
Pope Francis didn’t exactly help matters last summer when he took a humble Focus from Sarajevo Airport on his visit to the city. At the time, Dragan Covic, the Croat member of the presidency, seemed abashed: “I am riding from the airport in an Audi A8 while the pope is in some kind of Ford. What to say about that? This should be motivation for all of us – that we can do politics in a different way.” Yet at the start of this year the presidency confirmed that it had purchased a new car for Covic: the latest Audi A8, which comes with a €100,000 pricetag.
Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi is facing more turbulence over his new aircraft. This year’s arrival of the Airbus 340-500 – leased from Etihad Airways (a key investor in Alitalia) and nicknamed “Air Force Renzi” – was met with backlash because of its size: it’s too wide to fit on the runway of Rome Ciampino airport and so is stationed at Fiumicino.
Former Air Force commander Leonardo Tricarico joined journalists in worrying over the cost of the aircraft, which has been valued at about €175m. As no official figures on the cost of leasing and maintenance have been released, many are questioning whether the no-tender deal was value for money.
The number of Spanish centenarians has doubled since the year 2000 according to the county’s National Statistics Institute. Last year 14,487 Spaniards celebrated the big 100, raising Spain’s average life expectancy to 83.2 years – the second highest in the world after Japan. What’s the Iberian secret to longevity? Experts credit good genetics, a healthy diet and an active social life. If the trend continues the ranks of Spain’s centenarian army will swell to 46,000 by 2029. Currently about 80 per cent are women, including Ana María Vela, who at 114 is the country’s most senior citizen.
The Netherlands will hold a referendum in April over the EU’s association agreement with Ukraine, which removes trade barriers with the Slavic country. After the Netherlands backed the agreement, anti-EU critics in the country stoked fears that the decision would move Ukraine closer to EU membership and cost the Dutch billions. The referendum was then triggered by a petition from satirical website GeenStijl, as a new Dutch law requires any matter be put to a vote if more than 300,000 signatures are collected. Yet the joke could be on the critics fretting over public funds in the first place: despite the price of holding a referendum, the results are not binding.