In a similar play to when Argentina occupied the Falkland Islands, the current Argentine government has carried through with earlier threats by nationalizing YPF, an oil company largely owned by Spain’s Repsol.
President Cristina Kirchner finally put her words into action when her government took over 51 per cent of Repsol YPF’s shares, making it the new effective owner. Shock and outrage, as well as some umbrage, were immediate. The Spanish government announced reprisals that would involve various measures (diplomatic, economic, etc., although the military was not mentioned) in trying to force the Argies to back down, which is not likely.
Brussels also got into the act by cancelling a scheduled meeting with Argentina, and by condemning the action. Typically, capitalists of every stripe the world over also criticised the move, and President Rajoy claimed this take-over was a threat to not only the Latin American economy but also to the world economy (well, he would say that). Repsol’s market shares immediately took a nose-dive in the wake of the news. Repsol chairman, Antonio Brufau, after a withering criticism of Kirchner’s action, demanded 8 billion euros for his company’s shares in YPF, an amount he is not likely to get. It has also emerged that Repsol were in talks with Sinopec, a Chinese company, to sell to the Chinese their part in YPF for a reported 15 billion. Repsol has not commented on these claims.
Some say the move was sparked by Vaca Muerta (literally, “dead cow”) where the recent discovery of large reserves of shale oil and gas has prompted renewed investment in order to extract the precious materials, as Argentina’s record on profiting from its own natural reserves has not been good; but with this nationalization, it will scare off companies who might be interested. At the moment, it’s a stand off, but for global capitalism, this augurs bad times.
Ryanair, the leading airline between the UK and Spain, has announced that they will backdate fare increases after the Spanish government raised airport taxes in their latest budget. At the two big airports, Madrid and Barcelona, taxes have been doubled, with other airports seeing rises of up to 20 per cent.
AENA, the airport association, said that Spanish airport taxes were 43.5 per cent cheaper than the European average, thus providing a motive to the increase. Ryanair has sent out untold numbers of emails to already booked passengers warning them that they may have to pay extra in order to board their flights.
President Michael O’leary said that any passenger objecting would be refunded their money, but would also not be allowed on the flight, whereas British Airways has said it won’t pass the new charges onto the passenger – not yet!
The Schengen Treaty was signed in June of 1985, and it allowed for free borderless movement within what was then known as the European Economic Community (ah, the good old days!). Of course, the details are a bit more complicated, but the core meaning was meant to be free travel between countries, and this has held ever since. Well, not quite.
In May of 2011, Denmark announced a unilateral move to re-introduce border controls in order to stem what was perceived as ‘crime tourism’ mainly from Eastern Europe, involving drugs, money laundering and human trafficking.
This move outraged fellow EU countries (including France and Germany) who demanded answers from the Danish government. Now, the treaty does include an exceptional provision that any signatory country may re-introduce border controls if national security or public order is threatened, although this needs to be granted by the European Commission. The EU Ministers of the Interior did not feel this was the case then in Denmark, but some do feel it is the case now in their own countries.
France and Germany now want the ‘freedom’ to control their own borders when they want to, without requiring permission from Brussels. In trying to keep in spirit with the Treaty’s provision both countries mention a time limit of one month. But this rings false. Opening up borders over such a large area meant much trust; this trust has been eroded over the years due to dodgy, if not criminal, activities, refugees and job seekers from Eastern Europe and Northern Africa.
Europe’s intention for the past years has been consolidating itself as a powerful geographical and cohesive block, which means making it a fortress, which means excluding non-Europeans and controlling those Europeans within who are deemed undesirable (Poles, Romanians, Gypsies, the usual suspects). France and Germany’s move is only a prelude to further controls, whose logical conclusion is the re-establishment of border posts and the death of Schengen. With an increasing population everywhere, more control will be considered necessary, if not tomorrow, then soon. Spain too has gotten into the act by announcing it will suspend Schengen for the duration of the European Central Bank Summit In early May. Besides a large concentration of police forces in and around Barcelona, the French-Spanish border will be heavily watched by the Guardia Civil as news of protest movements coming from France and Italy has already been picked up on the radar.
President Rajoy recently said there is no more money for social services, but as one reader of a major paper pointed out, there is plenty of money for this operation, not to mention all the tax-payers’ money which will pay for the luxury, comfort and privilege of all the delegations coming to this summit. The economic crisis has essentially gutted the meaning of socialism in Europe, and with the Schengen Treaty’s principle under attack, clearly our cherished Europe has moved miles towards the right. Good? Bad? That’s for you to decide.