28 November 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The American financial information firm Dow Jones's VentureSource service analysed the amount of venture capital gained by tech companies in each European country since 2003, averaged it out per quarter, and divided by the population to get a figure that allows for population differences. Let us be clear: experts say start up figures per se don't tell the whole story; start up exit is more revealing, but it says something.
And the winner is Ireland, which pulled in an astonishing 650 times amount of venture capital per capita as lowest ranked Bulgaria, and four times the European average. This should not be surprising. Britain's island neighbour does host, after all, European offshoots of Twitter, Apple, Google, Amazon, Dropbox and Facebook - attracted by low corporate taxes, an English speaking environment, and a youthful and relatively well educated population, global in outlook by necessity.
What may surprise those whose knowledge of Irish prospects come from gloomy headlines about the death of the Celtic tiger is that the figures show how the country has weathered the recession quite well. Of over 300 venture capital backed deals since 2003, 43% have come in since 2009, the year of the big recession.
After Ireland comes Sweden, Britain, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, France, Germany and Switzerland. Bottom of the rankings come the usual suspects in the Balkans and South Eastern Europe.
Britain's figure looks good, but is not quite as good as its seems. Only a third of its ten year figure of 4,200 deals has come in since the recession in 2009, so representing a marked slowdown of entrepreneurial activity in the past five years compared to the previous five year period 2003 to 2008.
The British figure also looks better than it really is, inflated as it is by the fact many companies that originate elsewhere in Europe are registered in the UK, which exaggerates Britain's performance and downplays other countries' true performance.
And to further put the news into perspective, all of Europe lags behind America and Israel. In the past ten years, for every one dollar raised in Europe, the US pulls in ten dollars and Israel $16. That puts even Ireland's success at attracting venture capital in the shade.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 28 November 2013 at 01:41 PM by Pelle Neroth
German media step up spy revelations
21 November 2013 by Pelle Neroth
Berlin has a very active hacker community, and activists in Germany had secured copies of whistleblower Edward Snowden's files of secret Anglo-American internet mass surveillance even as the Guardian took the early lead in publishing them. While Snowden is enjoying temporary asylum in Russia, and Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald having quit the Guardian is based in Brazil, it could be that the leaks to the world press, via Der Spiegel's recent reportage efforts, could be originating from these copies of the files Snowden filched from the NSA.
It is a good thing that Der Spiegel is stepping up to the plate. The Guardian has been a bit more restrained after pioneering the leaks through the summer period. The New York Times, whose lofty leadership columns more usually target antidemocratic tendencies in China or the Middle East, rather than the USA's closest ally, has the following take on the situation in Britain, which surely can't help but diminish Britain's soft power a little bit, coming from the world's most prestigious publication. Unlike the United States, the newspaper fulminates, Britain has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom. And "parliamentary committees and the police are now exploiting that lack of protection to harass, intimidate and possibly prosecute The Guardian newspaper for its publication of information based on National Security Agency documents that were leaked by Edward Snowden."
Strong stuff, and there is more. The New York Times is critical of the weak responses by British politicians in defence of press freedom.
"In the United States, some members of Congress have begun pushing for stronger privacy protections against unwarranted snooping. British parliamentarians have largely ducked their duty to ask tough questions of British intelligence agencies, which closely collaborate with the NSA., and have gone after The Guardian instead," rails the American newspaper. The extent to which British politicians have been supine might be contested by the MPs themselves, but in politics it is perceptions that matter, and Britain is now getting a worldwide bad rap which I wonder whether the British public is aware of. It is ironic that the authoritarian regime Iran's mouthpiece Press TV and Russia's Pravda, famously a byword for censorship, are gleefully publishing stuff that appears less than prominently, if at all, in some British media outlets. The FT argues that Britain likes and trusts it spies. (Err, Kim Philby anyone?)
While the BBC limited its coverage of GCHQ's alleged scheme to infiltrate the Belgian telecoms giant Belgacom using spoofed LinkedIn websites - Wired magazine has a good report - to a report on the European parliament's civil liberties committee's proceedings. Surely journalist David Leigh's allegation once in the British Journalism Review that every news desk in Fleet Street had a resident spook was an exaggeration, no?
So what exactly has Der Spiegel been breaking? There was the Belgacom story, and then, this week, a report that GCHQ has been monitoring the reservations of 350 of the world's elite hotels where foreign diplomats and leaders usually stay. It's called Operation Royal Concierge and allows operatives to take further spying action against the aforesaid targets. The Guardian wrote recently that it had been behaving responsibly and published only 1 per cent of Snowden's information, stuff that was clearly in the public interest, and for all that still got a tonne of opprobrium from the spy agencies. Will Der Spiegel - under the jurisdiction of the less secrets obsessed German government - now be publishing some of the other 99% of secrets? You can be sure that the spooks in London and Cheltenham will watching closely.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 21 November 2013 at 12:06 PM by Pelle Neroth
Cameron resists Europe on data protection regulation
14 November 2013 by Pelle Neroth
Companies that violate the rules face fines of up to several billion dollars.
That should make it much tougher for US digital giants like Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft to share confidential data on their European customers with the American signals intelligence agency, the NSA.
But the British government is trying to put a brake on the reforms, backed by precisely one other EU member state, namely Sweden. At one of the regular summits of EU leaders, on 24 October, after the European parliament vote, David Cameron won a delay for the law's implementation. The European commission, which is onside with the European parliament on this legislation, called for the law to be processed in the spring of next year - before the European parliament elections and the appointment of a new commission.
But under pressure from David Cameron, the proposal will become law "by 2015", probably after the crucial date of the European elections of June 2014, which could end with the proposals being watered down, depending on the political composition of the new parliament.
Further, European indignation at the NSA's bugging of European leaders' phones, which exploded into public consciousness last month, may also have subsided by then. And new revelations could change the equation, with signs that the NSA is already preparing a fightback to give its version of events.
That could weaken the impetus to change, and the Data Protection Regulation also has pass through several more hoops of the Brussels machine: the full parliament, and the Council of Member States. US technology companies are expected to lobby furiously against change, by persuading MEPs favourable to their cause - typically British Conservatives - to water down the rules.
But we have to look at the wider picture as well. As with all EU legislation, the proposals come in many parts. While restrictions on the information that may be sent to third party countries, ie the USA, is the headline-grabbing bit of the legislation, the Data Protection package contains other components.
And these aspects may ultimately be more far reaching for British and European companies.
The EU Data Protection Regulation would replace member states' own, 28 different, rules for data protection with a single European regulation. One clause of the regulation allows "the right to be erased", which would allow citizens to ask service providers to delete the data they hold on them.
There would also be restrictions on user profiling, which would force companies to minimise the data they hold on customers, seek consent from users on holding data and explain in detail why they are holding that information. Lawyers asked to comment on the issue say this could have a significant impact on the way European and British companies operate. They would no longer be able to hold data willy-nilly on people as a "comfort blanket". And there would be costs as well, as companies would be forced to hire data protection officers to ensure compliance with the new European rules. That could significantly affect the costs for smaller companies.
Claims that the regulation would increase red tape is David Cameron's stated reason for wanting to delay the legislation. But it cannot but help give the impression to Continental European observers that Cameron is on the side of big American companies - and possibly the American intelligence community - rather than the European citizen.
Perhaps it is also partly a cultural issue. Europeans arguably care more about their privacy than Anglo-Saxons. Witness the restrictions on publishing photographs of celebrities in France. At the October summit, Britain's failure to sign a Franco German statement reviewing spy relations with the US, and the failure of Cameron to hold a post summit press conference, suggested tensions with Britain's European partners, yet again.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 14 November 2013 at 08:37 AM by Pelle Neroth
Google proposes remedy for alleged search abuses
6 November 2013 by Pelle Neroth
So far, the commission has kept the dispute on a consensual, informal basis. The latest developments came last week. In its latest bid in the three year saga to allay European Union concerns about anti-competitive practices, Google has offered rival search services a guaranteed place in searches on its specialist search sites - Google Shopping, for example.
But the placements won't be free, they will still be placed below Google's own results. And the rivals would not necessarily appear on the main Google search site at all, which is the overwhelming port of first call for most web users. A screenshot of what a product search on a specialist site would look like if Google's proposals went through can be seen here, FT.
So would it make a difference to rivals' business, which they say is being stymied by Google's interservice favouritism across its expanding empire of internet applications? Google's rivals - including arch competitor Microsoft - have another three weeks to review the proposals.
Google makes a big issue over the fact that the minimum reserve bid for the slots that appear below Google's own results are lower than an offer made last summer: three euro cents a click, down from Google's original proposal of 10 cents. But in truth, these concessions represent small change for Google since it only apply to the "verticals" - insider jargon for specialised sites like shopping and travel - and not to the main site, where Google says the search results are still decided by a neutral algorithm.
There is a certain amount of weariness from the commission,, which is keen to wrap up before the end of competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia's term next summer. If the rivals reject the deal, the commission could still launch anti trust proceedings against Google, which could be painful, and political, as Google still enjoys an enormous amount of goodwill among the general public. Most Europeans value the enormous benefits that Google provides. Relatively speaking, Google is far more dominant in the European market than in the US market, where Microsoft's Bing has a relatively greater presence. Google opponents are reported as being sceptical of the new proposals. Offers to shade the box containing rival links to give them somewhat greater prominence haven't cut much ice.
There is even irritation that the Google will actually profit from this whole affair. Since the proposed auction for the three prized slots beneath Google's own results, would allow Google to extract even more profit from its rivals. However, there is weariness among Google's rivals too. Whether they will take Google in the hand in three weeks' time is anyone's guess.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 14 November 2013 at 07:57 AM by Pelle Neroth
Allegations that American spy agency bugged Merkel's mobile phone calls threaten US European diplomatic rift
24 October 2013 by Pelle Neroth
This surely takes the biscuit, and could make a new stage in the seriousness of the NSA/GCHQ snooping scandal revealed this summer by the Guardian.
Angela Merkel, German chancellor and the most powerful woman in the world, has had her mobile calls monitored by the Americans, according to an extensive investigation by German intelligence, and reported by German and global media today. It has the ring of truth about it. The US and UK routinely spy on lesser allies to get a head start in diplomatic negotiations and just basically know what is going on in rival nations' minds.
Early on in the Guardian revelations, it was shown that the UK government bugged the delegates at a Commonwealth summit in 2009. But doing so against one of the UK and US's closest - and most powerful - allies is altogether more sensitive.
Merkel's response was unusually sharp in her phone call to President Obama, German newspapers report, and her personal press spokesman Steffen Seibert went even further, stating his "unambiguous disapproval" and saying it was "completely unacceptable" to monitor the calls of the head of government of a close ally and partner for decades. He called it a "serious breach of trust" by the Americans against Germany if the call monitoring had taken place, in tough language not seen for a long time.
The American response was quite interesting. US presidential spokesman Jay Carney, clearly treading on egg shells, said, carefully and unusually reading from a prepared manuscript, insisted that there was no monitoring taking place at the moment and there wouldn't be any monitoring in the future. But German television and newspapers have been quick to point out that this carefully crafted statement did not imply anything about what the NSA, the US signals agency, had done in the past.
These latest embarrassing revelations come on the back of outrage in France over allegations that the NSA has been listening in on over 70 million calls in France, prompting a phone call between French president Francois Hollande and president Obama on Monday in which Hollande expressed his "deep disapproval". Last month, at the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff launched a scathing attack on American spying just minutes before Obama was to walk on to the same podium to deliver a speech of his own.
But relations with Brazil and France have always been a bit prickly, you could say. In contrast, the Angela Merkel is incident is all the more embarrassing because, ever since the spy revelations began, she has been taking a very phlegmatic approach, quietly supportive of the Anglo-Saxon governments, behaviour perhaps in part explained by her close personal relationship with David Cameron. This incident, however, makes her look extremnely foolish. In TV interviews earlier on in the spy scandal she has looked visibly sanguine as she has stated how she has felt assured that the Americans have been complying with German law.
In international polls Germany regularly emerges as the most respected and admired country in the world.
The United States has been rising in these rankings of "soft power" since the Iraq war, but, as one German news outlet put it, president Obama has gambled with American credibility even with his allies just as the United States was beginning to restore its soft power. As for Britain, it will probably be that little bit more unpopular in Berlin and Brussels.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 24 October 2013 at 11:12 AM by Pelle Neroth
Is Estonia ruling threat to anonymous comments online?
12 October 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The conflict began in 2006 when one of the small Baltic country's most popular news websites, Delfi, featured an article with details of a ferry company's plans to reroute wintertime services in the Estonian archipelago. It gets cold up there in the North in winter. These new routes delayed the formation of ice roads that many Estonians find preferable to taking the ferry. The ice is so thick it is relatively safe, and it faster than taking a ferry too.
So the ferry company's decision irked a lot of Estonians. A torrent of abuse from anonymous commenters followed. The ferry company sued Delfi for hosting defamatory comments and an Estonian court agreed. Delfi appealed to Europe, saying it was impossible to monitor all users' comments and cited article 10 of the European convention of human rights that guarantees the freedom of speech. No luck. The ECHR has upheld the original judgment.
The respected UK-based free speech organisation Index on Censorship is up in arms over this. You can see why. The ECHR argued that it was the anonymous nature of the comments that prevented individuals from being sued, and so, faute de mieux, the news site took the flak. The moderation team hadn't caught and modded the libellous remarks. The fine was admittedly small, the equivalent of a few hundred euros, but Index on Censorship are worried this will act as a disincentive for news websites elsewhere in Europe to allow anonymous commenting. Ironically, one line in the Julian Assange film the Fifth Estate which is making the rounds in the world's cinemas had the Wikileaks activist extolling the importance of anonymity on the internet. "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person, but give him a mask and he will tell you the truth." You could argue that anonymous commenting is really importaint to maintain. Index on Censorship clearly thinks so. It quotes a key passage in the ECHR's judgment which it finds worrying.
"However, the identity of the authors would have been extremely difficult to establish, as readers were allowed to make comments without registering their names. Therefore many of the posts were anonymous. Making Delfi legally responsible for the comments was therefore practical; but it was also reasonable, because the news portal received commercial benefit from comments being made."
Thus the ECHR judgment. Index on Censorship adds: "It is difficult to see how any site would allow anonymous comments if this ruling stands as precedent." One is inclined to agree, although the key phrase here is "if". The ECHR is far less powerful than the ECJ, the European Court of Justice, in Luxembourg, although the two are very frequently confused. And this was a judgement on an Estonian case, not clear whether this has any direct relevance to other European countries. Unlike ECJ rulings, which apply across the Union. Still, Index were probably doing the right thing when sounding a warning, vigilance and all that.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
EU leaders to discuss taxes on Google and a European cloud
3 October 2013 by Pelle Neroth
Switching your mobile phone data receiver off while abroad to avoid being walloped by huge roaming fees will become a thing of the past. Europe well knows that the most popular thing it ever did was deregulate the air industry and pave the way for £20 flights to the Mediterranean. The way to an EU citizen's heart is through his holiday bill. That is the idea.
Coming up, in addition, at the end of October, is the regular EU summit of national leaders. The theme will be digital. Leaders are worried that Europe is falling behind in digital innovation. A study by the Boston Consulting Group shows that, while investment in next generation networks in East Asia and the US is increasing, in Europe investment is falling by 2% a year. Once the flagship of the European mobile industry, Nokia has moved out of handsets. And all the complaints about Google and Facebook's various privacy violations, particularly by the French, just serve to highlight Europe's inability to come up with an Amazon, a Facebook, a Google or an Apple of its own.
One thing they might be doing is having a go at tax avoidance by the American giants. Their European subsidiaries pay taxes of of millions on European profits of billions thanks to the clever ruse of being registered in low tax European jurisdictions. European telcos such as Vodafone have pressing for change since the US companies pay a fraction in tax compared to the European companies that provide the networks. German, British and French politicians have discussed this separately, but there is a realisation that for any country to act on its own would only drive investment into neighbouring jurisdictions . Precisely how to tax Google is more contentious, however. France is keen to impose an internet tax on data transfers of information outside the EU. Other countries see this as a bit awkward and unworkable.
More agreement is likely to be found on two other issues, one of which is already heading towards closure.. For years, European service companies have complained that Google prejudices against them in the search results and favours its own services instead. A new deal being finalised, after some negotiations, would allow Google's competitors to display their results next to Google own services, while giving them greater control over what appears in Google search results. If Google fails to comply it could be fined ten percent of its annual turnover, a much greater sum than national regulators in some countries are allowed to levy. The EU's trustbusting mandate is one of its most powerful instruments.
Another issue on which there is likely to be agreement is using some of the EU's bloated science budget, Horizon 2020, to invest in provision of a European cloud. Polls by an outfit called the Cloud Security Alliance have shown that 56% of global cloud users were less likely to use US-based cloud computing than before, after the spy scandal this summer that revealed that the NSA, the American spy signals agency, is able to access everyone's information through backdoor agreements with US digital firms. Currently US cloud providers completely dominate the field, accounting for 85% of global markets. European commissioners are saying this is a massive own goal by the United States, and a pro European cloud lobby group is now finalising a proposal for a strategy to develop a European cloud that could be presented to the European leaders at the summit.
Whether all this will lead anywhere is anyone's guess. Europe will remain Europe, and America will remain America, even after the October summit.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Could the Brits ever be as happy and therefore as productive as Europeans?
25 September 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The slight difficulty with that argument is that the most productive Europeans at work, the French (!), are even more miserable than the British. The Germans are also more productive than the British but less happy. Mind you, the Danes, who have topped not only the UN happiness index in recent years, but a Eurobarometer index on happiness every since back to 1973, are among the most productive Europeans at work. Followed by the Dutch, who also are among the most happy. The Norwegians meanwhile are best at just about everything.
So it seems that being happy doesn't do any harm anyway.
Positive psychology, the study concerned with making you happier or more successful, has sometimes got itself a bad name. It is associated with snake oil salesmen with flashy smiles on the rear covers of self-help books that pile high in the bookshops, crowding out the quality literature. Or priest hucksters in American mega churches offering platitudes. The expansion of positive psychology, for some, is part of that unfortunate pattern, the Americanisation of Europe.
A lot of thinking Europeans must feel nauseated by the spectre of the movement, flourishing in the States, that aims to see our cancer as a "gift" from God to make you live life more intensely and to appreciate all you have got. You buy pink ribboned teddy bears and various scented paraphernalia with a cancer motif and suddenly everything is going to be all right with your cancer. Some flawed research proving that support groups preaching positive psychology increased cancer survival rates has since been repudiated, but not before it had the unfortunate effect of boosting the public's enthusiasm for talking cures for cancer. These things can be positively harmful if they prevent people from seeking advanced proper medical care as well.
Okay, some scepticism about some of the extreme manifestations of positive psychology is entirely in order, but let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater. A lot of serious research has shown that happiness has numerous positive effects, apart from happiness being, of course, a good thing in itself
Happy workers make better workers
Two researchers took several hundred business students from the prestigious Massachusetts institute of Technology and subjected them to a battery of objective tests of their management skills over a weekend. In one segment of the test, they had to deal with the scenario where they had just taken over from a plant manager who had died of a heart attack. They were bombarded with a steady stream of business problems, which required written responses. Some problems required creative solutions, or quick action, others demanded deep analysis, others still required asking for more information. Before these tests, the students were asked to rate their level pf general happiness, or "positive affect" in psychologists' language, and were classified into three groups, unhappy, neutral and happy. After the tests were completed and the results computed, it could be seen that the happy students outscored the neutral students, who in turn outscored the unhappy students, by a statistically significant margin.
Interestingly, another part of the weekend's activities, where students were rated for their negotiation skills in a competitive team game of resource allocation by a team of professional business scholars who hadn't met the students before, the happy students again outscored everyone else but by a lower margin than they had done on the purely objective, blind scored written tests.
This was an unexpected result.
Positive psychology research is usually thought of by its critics as being bedevilled by the halo effect.
That is, happy people are often rated as better workers not because they are properly, objectively measured in any way, critics say, but because happy workers are usually more likeable and it is this likeability, not that their actual competence, as assessed by managers, that much happiness research actually relies on. Critics say this discredits the whole research field.
However, if there was a halo effect evident in this particular experiment the human interaction judgment tests would show a greater margin for the happy students than the blind scored written tests revealed. But, actually, in the human interaction test, the happy students scored less well relatively, though still better,than in the weekend's first, written tests, suggesting that the halo effect may overrated by critics of positive psychology.
The fact that happy students outperformed unhappy students in this study is not completely intuitive. A plausible counter hypothesis is that "sadder and wiser" people are less likely to overestimate their abilities in ambiguous task situations and less likely to believe the world is under their control when it is is not. One can plausibly make the assertion that less happy people make better judgments than optimistic, happy people because "sadder but wiser" people have a better understanding of risk and more accurate information processing as a result of a less self inflated, more sceptical view of the world. But this proved not to be the case.
The happy people proved not only to be more wide-ranging in their creative solutions but showed greater decision-making accuracy and called on a greater range of information before making critical decisions.
This study linking happiness and productivity is just one of many in the field. Other scientists have asked the obvious question: are people successful because they are happy, or happy because they are successful? (Or do well at business school exercises, or whatever.) To deal with the possibility that it is success, or being good at what you do, that makes people happy, not the other way round, research has looked at research subjects' development over a long period of time and found that those who are happier when young are more likely to end up with higher incomes in later life.
The happiness precedes the success. And testing for the possibility that it is not a third characteristic, sociability, that relates to both happiness and success, that it is a cause and effect and not just correlation between happiness and achievement, scientists in other studies than the one I have just described have carried out tests involving short term happiness boosts like a small financial incentive or making the research subjects view a comedy film before having their productivity test. The result: the short term boost in happiness led to a productivity rise. By isolating the variable, researchers have shown the boost in productivity that a even a short term increase in happiness can make.
Some scholars argue that while happiness among workers has many benefits, there are costs as well as benefits, and that it depends on the situation. You have to be a bit pragmatic about it, and be critical. There is the argument that happy employees are complacent employees, and naturally resist any change from the status quo, which is a problem when, to succeed in a competitive world, organisations have to make difficult decisions all the time
That is the kind of argument that we have also heard from macho Thatcherite entrepreneurs. It is so familiar from 30 years of British debate. You have to be tough in a tough world. But doesn't the European experience show that calm, happy societies can also be the most effective ones? The British government should take note. Of course, the next question is, if happy workers are productive workers, how do you make a nation happy?
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Bitcoin Berliners sing that the end of the euro is nigh
18 September 2013 by Pelle Neroth
Germany is set to stay inside the single currency, but Germany is on the other hand becoming a European centre for the cyber currency known as bitcoin,
International news channels are flocking to do live reports from the Berlin Bitcoin Exchange, a venue where the currency can be bought from traders in exchange for euros. The current exchange rate is 85 euros for one bitcoin . A few weeks ago the German Federal Finance ministry accepted bitcoin as a legitimate "unit if account" with a view to taxing its use.
Using bitcoins is a cinch, and some Berlin stores, hotels and websites are already accepting the cyber currency. To pay, all you need to do is enter the total into a bitcoin wallet app in your smartphone and then scan a code on the shop's machine. An estimated 30 businesses in Berlin, mainly in the bohemian district of Kreuzberg, accept the currency.
Unlike the euro, the bitcoin has no central authority in charge. The currency is neither created or administered by a central bank. The concept was invented in 2008 by a hacker, or group of hackers, using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto.
Wishing to create a direct anonymous form of payment on the internet that would make PayPal and credit card companies redundant, Nakamoto called it a peer to peer electronic cash system. New bitcoins have to be mined. Users get them by having their computers compete to solve complex mathematical problems. Bitcoins are just strings of numbers. The system is designed to make it increasingly difficult to mine bitcoins, with global supplies set to peak at 21million. The idea is that a system of controlled supply will keep the value high, eventually, just like gold.
Critics though have said that the anonymity bitcoin affords users make it especially attractive to drug dealers and money launderers. Also, people who don't wish to pay taxes. In the last two and a half years, a website called the Silk Road has grown into the web's busiest market place for crack, cocaine, marijuana and heroin. All you need to do apparently is download and run a piece of software that anonymises users called Tor, exchange euros for bitcoins and order the illegal stuff. The volatility of the exchange rate is another source of the currency's credibility problems.
Though experts predict the value will stabilise,, the price of a bitcoin has fluctuated wildly in the past, something has tempted some investors -
Rick Falkvinge, the founder of Sweden's Pirate Bay - invested all his assets into bitcons when its value languished at 5 euros and is now a rich man, he says - as it has scared others away. Among those not fazed, however, were the visitors to the Bitcoin Exchange Berlin (BXB) , housed in the Platoon Kunsthall, an arts centre constructed from stacked shipping containers.
A film maker called Aaron Koenig, the founder and organiser of BXB, and who pays animators in India with bitcoins, rushed around the place as bitcoin vendors had their prices scrawled on blackboards. The salesmen wore bowler hats in a nod to the sartorial traditions of the City of London. And a man in a cowboy outfit and a silver guitar who called himself Bitcoin Bob sang a jolly song about how the euro is a flop and the end of paper money is nigh .
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Online activists call for more girl science in Lego
12 September 2013 by Pelle Neroth
This will cheer those online petitions that have called for a drastic increase in the number of minifigs - the Lego world's name for its small, inch-high plastic figures - of the female gender. Specifically, more Lego female minifigs carrying out jobs in the so called STEM professions. The number of female figures does indeed seem low. Bloggers who have taken to counting the gender ratio in all the various sets, City, Castle, etc, declare that the ratios are sometimes as low as ten to one, sometimes five or four to one.
In an online American children's store, 35 of Lego's sets are listed at targeted at boys, four are classified as gender neutral, none as targeted at girls.
Denmark is one of the most gender aware nations, so these anomalies are strange. Feminists have made hay out of the issue, and various science bodies wonder if this is related to the low number of girls entering the engineering profession. Lego is huge: the world's second largest toymaker, and the MIT website says how many first year engineers reminisce on how it taught them the basics of structural engineering. Tension, bracing and compression, loading constraints and building to scale.
Anyone who grew up with Lego in the seventies, as I did, where it was emblematic of the progressive egalitarian notions of the era, and who hasn't really thought about Lego since, might be surprised to learn of the company's shift away from a unisex style to one nakedly aimed at boys. Even in the "unisex era", male minifigs dominated. And while you had a female doctor and female astronaut, there was still a gender bias. But since the mid 2000s the bias has been accentuated by a drive for the boys' market.
Today you still get the usual Castle and City kits, but you also get Star Wars Lego, Indiana Jones lego, Harry Potter tie ups, cars, weapons, various vehicles and then Ninjago: a Lego world inhabited by warriors and dragons. The company was making losses of billions of kroner each year and the turnaround was achieved by going b the image of Scandinavian wholesomeness and going for speed, action, violence. The turnaround was astonishing, profits returned and now Lego is the world's second largest toymaker, after America's Mattel.
To compound the insult, in the eyes of progressives, Lego, having cornered the boys' market, then launched Lego Friends, based on interviews with thousands of girls and their mothers. Lego Friends was shamelessly feminine in the way the old Lego from the seventies wasn't. The new line of small female figures feature curvy and more female like bodies: not the blockiness of the old minifigs. The audio for the American ad welcomed viewers into "beautiful HeartLake city...I am Stephanie. I am going to a party at the new café with my friend Olivia." The new Lego characters enjoyed party planning and getting makeovers. These valley girl fantasies were more Hollywood than egalitarian old Denmark but Lego might say they were just listening to the results of their surveys of little girls. And the new range has been hugely profitable
You might say that the size of a company like Lego allows for different strategic themes. Nevertheless, Lego user groups launched, on the net, whole ranges of minifig suggestions for girls in science professions. And Lego seem to have listened. The new character, one of series 11, is Professor C Bodin, according to her ID tag. Her specialism is vague, but she is holding two small Erlenmayer flasks and has won the "Nobrick prize", the packaging tells us. Activists would say Lego have a long way to go, though, to restore the gender balance in their toys.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Authorities in Europe look into internet commerce price manipulation claims
8 September 2013 by Pelle Neroth
- as the travel date approaches, as you may naturally think. No, this is something worse. And Brussels is getting interested...
The French call it simply "IP tracking". When you visit a site to check out travel possibilities, the site simultaneously records the details of the search as well as the IP address - the unique internet protocol identifier - of the computer used in the search. This usually enables the travel company to offer the user targeted advertising opportunities the next time he visits the site. So far, so fair. A long established and extremely widespread practice in the world of internet commerce.
But the new claim is that there is a widespread practice to frighten the client, to hasten his travel purchase plans on, by the following little trick - if he didn't buy first time surfing the site and is now revisiting it. And that is, using this information that he has in fact visited the site before, and his searches, to ratchet journey ticket prices upwards to give the impression of rapidly declining seat availability. Every time the user makes another search, prices rise that little bit further. Even in cases where there are just as many seats available. So he panics and pays up.
The French travel giants like Air France and SNCF deny this, and a couple of "mythbusters" have said they tried it out and the prices did not go up for them. But the French authorities are launching an investigation, and the Belgian press reported recently that the same thing may be happening to Belgian travel ticket buyers. A Belgian MEP is trying to get the issued raised on a European level, adding that the practice is not limited to buying travel tickets but that the system is far more widely abused than that. Companies can use surfing habits to build up spending profiles of customers and then offer differential prices on website advertising depending on what they believe "that customer is prepared to pay". The rich could being see higher prices on their screens when buying things on the internet. .
Until these practices are stamped out - if they do occur - customers could avail themselves of software that masks their IP address, free privacy tools like appropriately named Hide my Ass.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 08 September 2013 at 10:33 PM by Pelle Neroth
European car makers race to understand digital challenges
29 August 2013 by Pelle Neroth
Higher youth unemployment and a reduction of the stigma associated with taking public transport play their part, argues National Public Radio, America`s equivalent of the BBC. But surely smart phones play a part? They offer the attractions often associated with cars. They can be customised and messed around with, like cars, offer a focus for social interaction, are a gateway into a private world of contacts and friendships and are a focus of ones identity. It makes sense really. In these times when you can use Facebook there is less need to see people face-to-face. Freedom used to be about having a car. Now smart phones offer a taste of that heady sentiment.
In Germany, which is Europe's largest car market, you see some of the same trends of car use decline among the young as in the USA. Overall car sales are stagnant, while the proportion of cars sold to the under-forties has shrunk from 20% to 16% of the car-buying public. So what are car companies doing? Their strategies were highlighted in discussions that took place at Europe's largest video games convention in Cologne last week. The answer: they are trying to engage.
They are connecting with the digital world in various ways to try grab the loyalties of the new generation. Volkswagen are working on plans to mimic the modern digital smartphone experience in the intelligent car which "knows" your habits, your schedules and your destinations and favourite radio stations, just as your smart phone browser remembers your favourite websites. It also means more technology in the modern car. Young people are quite spoilt by the competitive race mobile phone manufacturers are engaged in to cram an enormous amount of technological versatility into a phone the size of a cigarette packet for a hundred euros or less. A car that costs many thousands of euros seems to have evolved less, and seems less good value, than it used to be. Some of carmakers' most sophisticated new technology is being trialled on entry level models bought by the young.
Carmakers are not just learning from the world of smart phone design. They are also inserting themselves into the digital world more by boosting their presence inside the virtual reality of games: trying to "hook em young" through ingame advertising, tie ups, competitions, and allowing racing games to model cars after their own real world designs.
Young people who sample a BMW M3 or Mercedes C Class in the latest racing game are more likely to be interested in buying it, goes the reasoning. Even if they can't afford one now, the "beemer" or "merc" becomes a product to be aspired to.
Car companies are also advertising on ingame billboards. Psychologists have pointed out how far more addictive and immersive video games are than TV watching. Compare the adrenaline-fuelled attention paid to driving a racing car through the streets of a digitally reconstructed Prague, as in the recent Forza 5 racing game, to the much lower level of attention paid when the adverts come on during a major league sporting or racing event. This is often an occasion to put the kettle on. Guess which medium, a car advert on TV or a virtual car advert inside a videogame, sounds more attractive to car manufacturers?
It is perhaps not surprising that real sports and racing cars are readily loaned by manufacturers to be put on display at video games conventions, such as Gamescom in Cologne. Everyone, games designers and car makers, benefit from these mutual commercial tie ins. Car companies are also using marketing strategies on social networks to attract female buyers and other categories who shun the geeky world of car magazines. One sensitive issue is violence and damage to cars and pedestrians. The amusingly subversive but extremely violent Grand Theft Auto series does not feature real car models and is unlikely to do so anytime soon. In contrast, in Mercedes's own racing game, a marketing thing that is free to download, there are no pedestrians and when the car crashes it suffers no visible damage.
When it comes to engaging with digital innovation generally, car companies have been compared to slow, lumbering beasts by tech companies. But they carry so much more responsibility. While a system failure in a games console or a game leads to nothing more frustrating than a reboot of the machine or at worst a return to the manufacturers, car makers have to get technology installed in cars absolutely right. Faulty digital technology in a car can harm people for real.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 30 August 2013 at 11:11 AM by Pelle Neroth
Germany seeks Indian engineers as European immigration debate hots up
8 August 2013 by Pelle Neroth
Meanwhile the popular climate in Germany is increasingly hostile to immigration. Britain is also waking up to the challenge of mass migration, partly because of the publication of a census that shows London demographically greatly changed since the last census in 2001. And partly because a couple of writers have launched a debate on the subject.
In Germany, they have Theo Sarazin, a former Bundesbank board member, who wrote a book against immigration that has become the best selling hardback in Germany's history - although the book irked the liberal elites of Germany. His British equivalents are David Goodhart, a self proclaimed left liberal who has taken a lot of flak for going against the liberal consensus. And Ed West, a Daily Telegraph journalist.
Let us look at the arguments of Goodhart and West (I haven't read the whole Sarazin book), and try to do so without prejudice. In their analysis, many of the justifications advanced for the relatively open borders Britain has had since 1997 fade away on closer examination.
You could say the argument for restricting immigrants is also an argument against EU membership - although the East European EU immigrants to Britain, over whom Britain has no control, though extremely numerous, have so far been young, of relatively similar Christian culture, and very unlikely to take benefits. Only one percent of Poles in Britain are on benefits, as compared to about 40 percent in some African communities. That doesn't eliminate the problems, but it makes them a lot smaller - so far. Goodhart and West definitely focus on the problems of non-EU immigration, which has run into the hundreds of thousands annually in recent years. It also has to be said that some non-EU immigrant communities, like Indians and Chinese, have been model incomers.
However, wherever the immigrants are from, to a lesser or greater extent there are costs to immigration: social tensions, less local solidarity - the "broken windows effect" - and reduced willingness of the host nationals to pay the high taxes that sustain the modern welfare state. Above all, overcrowding and pressure on the environment and schools and hospital services.
England is now the sixth most crowded country in the world, excepting city states, having just overtaken the Netherlands. If you look at just the South-East of England, that region must rank even more highly than sixth place. It is no coincidence that England, compared to less densely populated European countries, scores low on all quality of life indexes produced by international organisations. Germany is not far behind.
To the pro immigrationists, these costs are supposed to be outweighed by benefits. But do they really? Take the idea that immigration boosts national wealth. Immigration boosts a nation's total GDP for sure - because more people interacting produces greater wealth - and is popular with employers, but whether it boosts average GDP per head or not is unclear. And average GDP per head is a much better of measure of people's individual welfare, obviously, than total national GDP. Government-sponsored surveys quoted by Goodhart show small positive or small negative effects depending on how you count, less than one percentage point's difference to the average person's wealth. Either way, as a report from the House of Lords in 2008 put it, the economic argument on its own is a weak one for policies of mass immigration, with all its other ancillary effects.
David Goodhart and Ed West are also a bit dismissive of the diversity argument. The idea that multicultural societies are necessary for producing that glorious mix of ideas, cultures and personalities that challenge and influence each other and lead to great thoughts - in that modish phrase, promote innovation. There may be some truth to that, but it is worth remembering that Britain produced Michael Faraday, Isaac Newton, and Charles Darwin when Britain was a white country where few people had travelled, and the genetic stock was unchanged from a thousand years earlier.
These great minds were of course influenced by international scholarship, but you can get that, and they got that, from travel to, or correspondence with, their counterparts in Paris and other great European scientific and cultural centres. It had nothing to do with immigration or multiculturalism.
It is worth at this point dismissing a shibboleth always held up by the pro immigrationists: Britain has always been a mongrel country. In fact, the only big ethnic changes between the year 900 and, say, 1920, a thousand years later, was the arrival of about 50,000 Jews, 50,000 French protestant Huguenots, and 100,000 Irishmen. And, before that, even the Vikings in the 10th century and Anglo-Saxons in the fifth century produced little in the way of genetic change, about five per cent each. The Norman contribution was about one percent. Ed West makes the argument that the last wave of immigration, which started in 1997, has changed Britain's genetic makeup more than any event in the last thousand years. That change is so profound it deserves to be discussed, and challenged.
What about attracting, and nurturing, the best and brightest in the world? Supposed to be one of Britain's specialities. It may be that there are brilliant future Nobel prize winners being nurtured in the UK's school system, that the latest wave of mass immigration will pay off handsomely. There is every expectation that could happen. Some minorities, the British Chinese and British Indians, far outperform British whites at every step in the school system. (Which kind of rebuts the argument of multiculturalists that the British are institutionally racist, as a means of explaining why some other minorities, like the Somalis, consistently underperform the white British benchmark.) This may play out well in the form of a glittering array of science awards coming Britain's way two or three decades hence.
But it is worth hearing the counter argument even here. It is true that 20 percent of the 87 British science Nobel prize winners so far have been born abroad, but the majority of those had British parents. The others, of non British stock, arrived at British universities when they had already qualified as academics in another country, and showed promise, so they would have been let in in any case under any sensible British government that wished to welcome talent. So reducing immigration might not reduce the number of Nobel prizes awarded to Britain and, even if it did a little, does that really matter all that much? Nobel prizes aren't everything. France and Norway lag the scientific superpower that is Britain in the Nobel Prize league, but offer their citizens a much better quality of life than crowded Britain.
David Goodhart cites the House of Lords report from 2008 to refute the idea that immigrants are needed to provide for an ageing Britain (and Europe) which is rapidly getting an inverted age pyramid now that the baby boomers born in the 1940s are retiring. Alas, it's a kind of Ponzi scheme thinking even to contemplate that. Because the immigrants themselves will one day grow old and put immense pressure on government budget and hospital resources. To restore the right age pyramid distribution in Europe would anyway require an immigration figure of several hundred million people, which is politically impossible.
Adair Turner, another renegade left liberal, former chairman of the FSA, the Financial Services Authority, suggests in a report that an increase in the pensions age by a couple of years could ease many of the problems of insufficient numbers of young people to provide for the old, without resorting to mass immigration. The German authorities, for their part, are trying to induce by various means its smart young careerist women to have babies. At the moment, 40% of German women with degrees are childless - because they want to get ahead with their careers and child support mechanisms are inadequate.
Germany is an extremely patriarchal culture, but overcoming that and giving more support for working mothers could do the trick and raise the national birth rate. You don't need immigration for that.
So if increased wealth, increased cultural exchange, reversal of the distorted age pyramid, are not impregnable reasons to continue generous immigration policies, are there others? The moral case, perhaps. The biggest gainers from migration are the immigrants themselves, says the House of Lords report. Going from a poor country to a rich one nearly always involves a huge leap in living standards, perhaps a hundredfold increase in incomes, even if the immigrants do rubbish jobs in the west.
It is true: being born in the western world really is winning the top prize in the lottery of life. Even the poorest ten percent in the rich world are better off than the richest ten percent in, say, Africa or central Asia. The American liberal academic John Rawls, perhaps the most influential moral philosopher of the late 20th century, says we should design a society on the basis that we don't know which position in it we will be born into. Most people would then choose a rather egalitarian society. He was talking about the nation state. But of course you can expand the idea to the world as a single society.
Since, on a statistical basis of a world of seven billion, we are much more likely to be born in the poor world (about 85%) than be born into the rich world (15%), isn't the moral thing to do to design a world which would mirror our preferences on the basis that it is overwhelmingly likely our souls will be parachuted into a poor African's or Asian's body at birth? Or, if we can't change those countries easily, at least make it as easy as possible to escape their wretched existences to the rich west?
That is one argument, then, in favour of generous migration policies, and a strong one. But there are a couple of arguments even here. One is practical. Letting in, say, 20 million people to Britain would change Britain utterly culturally speaking, make it impossibly crowded and make it a poorer place, at least in the short term, and all to what gain? It would merely soak up six weeks' equivalent of global population growth, which is running at 3 million people a week. Against the argument that you should just let in a few educated ones, there is the argument that brain drain of poor countries' graduates is the last thing they need. While big British employers love smart, hardworking immigrants doing jobs beneath their qualifications, over British slackers, you could argue that those immigrants do much better working at home for their countries where education is much rarer and they can therefore make a much bigger relative difference. You could make the provocative argument that British (and European) employers are happy to leach the smart people poor countries so desperately need. And that the best thing to do is help smart people in poor countries make the best of things on behalf of their own societies - at home.
Against Rawls's rather abstract arguments, you could say that we are all born into local and national communities, have a debt to our ancestors who have built up our countries and a duty to our descendants to continue to improve our communities - and that goes for whichever community we are born into.
It sounds impeccably conservative to think about "duty to your community" but actually, ironically, such solidarity is what underpins the modern, left wing European welfare state. A lot of people don't stop to think about this. Americans are more open about immigration perhaps because they live in a low tax society of few social benefits.
In contrast, look at the most famous welfare state of all, Sweden. Swedes, for instance, are statistically much more likely to take out sick leave or cheat on benefits than a generation ago because they perceive that some immigrant communities are abusing the system. And the Swedes live in a safe and generous society that took centuries of collectivistic effort by today's Swedish ancestors to build up. Swedes have been willing to pay their extremely high taxes for tomorrow's Swedes because they have benefited, in turn, from what yesterday's Swedes did for them.
It didn't happen overnight. It wasn't served to them on a tray. But that solidarity is coming under challenge. For what, these days, with a 20% foreign-born population and rapidly rising, does it mean to be Swedish, to be part of that community of debt commitments and benefits?
It is stupid to label all debate about immigration as somehow racist. They are separate matters. It's intolerable that self appointed moralists play the racism card, cutting off all debate, rather than deal with issues raised by Sarazin in Germany and Goodhart in Britain. Do these moralists call their opponents "racists" or pompously "refuse to take the debate with them" because, they do not, in fact, have convincing counterarguments? In that case, that is a very poor show.
Sweden is without a doubt the worst and most closed country about discussing immigration challenges frankly and honestly. But there have been problems in Britain too. Formerly the editor of Britain's most respected magazine of ideas, Prospect, Goodhart has had a lot of flak from his intellectual tribe - the left liberals - since he began writing and speaking on the subject 10-15 years ago. Goodhart makes the point that the British are happy with moderate levels of immigration.
That most British people are a tolerant lot, have a lot of common sense and kindness, but fear things are spiralling out of control. Even if he is being alarmist, there are lot of people's minds that need to be put to rest. Three quarters of the British people surveyed would like to see a reduction in immigration. The Conservative-Liberal government is setting about to do just that, amid shrill protests from left-wing types in the media, inordinately influential. He and Sarazin have good points, and they deserve to be respectfully heard.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 10 August 2013 at 02:42 PM by Pelle Neroth
How technology has revolutionised student travel in Europe
1 August 2013 by Pelle Neroth
Back in the late eighties, when I was in my teens, I set out from London on my first trip to Europe equipped with a thick Rough Guide travel guide to Europe, the addresses of local post and Amex offices, a wad of travellers cheques, denominated in pounds, dollars, francs and D-marks.
I carried an SLR camera and a dozen rolls of film. A Sony Walkman with a stack of audio cassettes. I travelled on a £169 interrail pass that allowed often slow, dusty, optimistic second class travel on Europe's railways - free. Thomas Cook published a time table to Europe's every train service which was of almost pocket telephone directory-sized thickness. So I had that. And a couple of paperback fiction books that I never took the time to read during term time. Books probably made up about six or seven kilos of my 11 kilo rucksack. And then there was the small change in Belgian and French francs, and German pfennigs, from my parents' business trips to Europe. It was useful to have small change when you arrived in a new city to contact youth hostels for availability.
These days I would have set out with a credit card, no travellers' cheques, no SLR camera, no Walkman, no travel guide or train time table, no fiction paperbacks. Instead I would carry a 600 gram computer tablet with music and camera functions and a kindle app that stored digitally not just sundry travel guides to Europe but several hundred novels. No small change in numerous different denominations needed; Europe has had a single currency since January 2002. My rucksack would have been a lot lighter today.
Interrail was a great adventure, if sometimes very slow. I remember the 19 hours on local trains it took to get from Valencia to Gibraltar in the summer of 1989. You could just jump on and jump off trains at will, with the Interrail pass, but it was made more complicated by the vicissitudes of railway station signage and inadequate language skills of this traveller and railway station staff. Okay, so I spoke French, but no Spanish, Italian or Serbo-Croatian. Notwithstanding the complicated Thomas Cook railway timetable, with its tiny print, you often ended up in slightly unintended places. Hell, it was part of the fun. These days my computer tablet would have an app that automatically translated my question into the language of the railway station staff.
Today, I understand that the Interrail scheme still exists, but it is much more expensive and coverage is more fragmented. You buy zones covering different areas of Europe, not the whole of Europe as before. Today, I am not sure I would have bothered with the train at all. There are dozens of budget airlines like Wizzair, Ryanair, German Wings, and Air Berlin covering hundreds of point-to-point destinations in the EU. You don't need to interrail London- Stockholm-Venice, a project that would have taken about ten days back then.
Today you just fly Ryanair London to Stockholm, then same airline Stockholm to Venice. For about forty quid, including taxes. Cheap, easy and clean - cleaner than the old train travel. In many European languages, interrailing was called "train tramping" and many interrailers, usually middle class students, did look a bit like tramps, especially after a couple of weeks on night trains. The unwashed interrailer with a towering backpack, a guidebook in one hand and half eaten French baguette in the other has become a rarer sight in the travel termini of Europe's cities, I think.
There were other things that made travel harder then. To make an international call from recently communist Poland 21 years ago you had to book an appointments at the post and telegraph office three days ahead. Even in western Europe, where phone lines were better, you had to stack up on coin change if you wanted to call home. The payphones swallowed the money at an alarming rate. How many times was I not cut off in mid conversation. You learned to be telegraphic, starting with the important facts first. "I am fine, back in two weeks" so that the essentials got put across at least before the connection got cut.
Today I would have used Skype from my tablet, connected via the hostel's or fast food restaurant's free wifi service, and talked for as long as I wanted. Many cities, including St Petersburg in Russia, have free public wifi in the central parts of the city. And of course there is always the mobile phone. Call charges were recently capped by the EU. I am writing this article from the continent. And because of some quirk it is actually cheaper for me to call the UK from Europe where I am, 24 p a minute Vodafone tells me, that making a domestic call inside the UK, 25 p a minute!
Back in the late eighties, credit and debit cards were very common, in the UK, at least. Less so in Europe, and you were never quite sure which banks had reciprocal arrangements with your British bank to accept your cash card. Some did (often through a manual transaction with the bank teller). But many did not. The point was, you didn't quite know. So you brought a wodge of travellers' cheques just in case.
These were exchanged at the local AmEx (American express) office, posh places, of which there was only one in each city. Since each country had its own currency, the trip to the local AmEx office became a regular necessary bit of bureaucracy. Incidentally, the local AmEx office, as well as the local post office, became the place to pick up mail sent to you. Your friends or loved ones back home had to address the letter Poste Restante, and then the post office/Amex office address, along with your name and you could collect your mail upon showing proof of identity. Poste restante, a French word. What a redolent, outdated phrase. These days there is, of course, email, which I would have received on my tablet or smartphone. In extremis, today, there is the possibility of receiving news from home via email from a cybercafé, of which there are many in Europe.
Twenty or twenty five years ago, desperate gossip took place between student backpackers on the steps of Amex Offices (to the irritation of the business travellers passing in and out) on the merits of sights and the best places to say and where to avoid being ripped off..
Today, there are numerous internet forums like the Thorn Tree or Trip Advisor which serve as online travellers' gossip forums and greatly empower the traveller, in my opinion. Despite the gossip you traded with other travellers, in the old days, transport, exhaustion, lack of certainty about room availability hampered adventurousness. Hotels and hostels became a hit and miss experience. Today, I would wager that truly bad places don't survive internet critics' scrutiny.
I don't miss the high fees for developing colour prints taken by one's old fashioned camera. You often did it at home in England after the trip was over because it was much cheaper at Underwoods or Boots than abroad. (Underwoods is an extinct chain of chemists). That was a hit and miss experience. Which shots had worked out, which ones hadn't. It was a disappointment to see that a shot of a pretty girl you had met, or a fantastic mountain view, was blurred. Today, with digital cameras of almost infinite capacity, where results are seen instantly, that is a thing of the past. Although travelling today I would probably have used a tablet with inbuilt camera function rather than a digital camera to save space.
One thing I do miss is the colourful passport stamps. EU states have long since done away with them when travelling inside the European Union. I'd also miss, I think, if I were a student setting out, some of the sense of achievement of another arduous day's travel.
Being a teenage traveller is about testing oneself in new environments, away from parents. Difficulty is part of the fun, part of the challenge. These days, with technology, it is all so much easier, and you bring your environment with you. One of the thrills of travel 20 to 25 years ago was coming home and wondering what had happened in the news. You were a bit clueless unless your travel budget extended to buying sun bleached, two day old paper copies of the Times or Daily Mail at continental railway stations. They were really expensive for those on a student budget. Today I would keep in touch by a quick flick through my twitter news feed on my tablet hooked up to the free public wifi in Stockholm or Paris. Some would say it's good to be out of touch, just to get a bit of rest from the everyday routines and the endless news cycle. But even then I was a bit of a news addict.
The reduced level of challenge is for me one of the best arguments against the progress of technology. All things said, though, I think I'd prefer being a teenage backpacker today rather than back then.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 01 August 2013 at 01:35 PM by Pelle Neroth
Industrial espionage on Europe goes back at least to 1990s, says writer
4 July 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The situation is a bit like that before the Iraq war ten years ago. Self righteousness about American behaviour was and is a bond that can unite many Europeans. And it flourishes again. Back then, it was America's convoluted reasons for going to war on Iraq. Many thought the case for war was trumped up, based on lies. This time issue is electronic eavesdropping, and the seemingly huge extent of it against what are, after all, America's European allies.
The revelations about American spying have come tumbling in after the debate launched by the information provided by the NSA's whistleblower, Edward Snowden to the Guardian and Washington Post at the beginning of last month. The NSA is America's signals intelligence agency, the most powerful body of spooks in the world. Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, reports that half a billion communications from Germany are intercepted every month by the NSA. There have been revelations that the EU buildings have been subjected to surveillance operations from the NSA's European compound, a building situated inside the NATO headquarters area, also in Brussels, and in fact just a few kilometres away from the EU buildings.
Further, 38 foreign embassies in the USA, including those of EU states France, Italy and Greece, have been bugged in the more traditional way, using implanted devices, in operations with evocative names like Dropmire, Bruneau, Hemlock and Blackfoot.
Despite the fact that Snowden has not been offered asylum in any EU state, there is no doubt that some EU politicians are angry. German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger accused the US of using "Cold War methods" While Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice and Security Commissioner, says that "partners do not spy on one another" and there is even talk whether the much anticipated EU US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks could be curtailed.
It is likely that the talks will still go ahead, but the words thrown about regarding this most important of treaties for the EU's economy indicate the heat of the feelings about the subject.
The US riposte has been that the electronic surveillance is part of its War on Terror, and that several terror attacks in Europe alone have been foiled thanks to intercepts of would-be terrorists' electronic communications.
But German commentators, for one, have argued that the scale of the surveillance is so large the motives must have been more varied. After all, "EU diplomats are not terrorists." The likely reasons are industrial espionage and eavesdropping on the political negotiations of "the other side" in bilateral talks so as to be able to anticipate and counter them. But especially industrial espionage.
In that regard, in fact, we have been there before. In the 1990s, William Blum, a historian of espionage, wrote a book about how the then British and American spy programme, ECHELON, was engaged in heavy commercial spying in Europe. One of the German companies affected was a wind turbine maker called Enercon, whose secret to generate cheaper windpwer was allegedly stolen by an American rival, Kenetech, which blocked, through a court order, Enercon's access to the German market. Kenetech claimed it already had a patent for Enercon's invention. Blum writes that Airbus also lost lucrative contracts by American firms who benefited from secret commercial information collected by the NSA and CIA and passed on to these firms.
Further, a European parliament report published in 1998 claimed that the US authorities had backdoor access to European encryption software. And the Swiss company Crypto AG, which traded on Switzerland's reputation for neutrality to successfully sell its software to 120 regimes including Iran, Iraq and Libya, had a secret agreement with the NSA to allow the US agency to key in to these diplomatic communications within these rogue state targets until at least the mid 1990s.
In 2000, the intelligence arm of the French defence ministry published a report that claimed that the NSA helped install secret programs in Microsoft software, including versions of windows from Windows 95 onwards. The report claimed that the NSA supported Microsoft financially in its early days, and that NSA personnel were installed in Bill Gates's development teams.
All this suggests some continuity in operations, though I don't think the issue had the same traction with the general public as surveillance does now. Perhaps because spying, in those days, was something that affected companies more. Now, with everyone on Facebook and becoming increasingly aware that their internet footprints are available even to casual googlers, the man in the street's paranoia probably gives greater salience to the issue.
One interesting question is how all this will affect Britain's relations with its EU neighbours. GCHQ, British signals intelligence agency, has very close relationships with the NSA, and, here and there, project Tempora has been outed as GCHQ's equivalent to the American spying programme. I have read some negative comments about the British in the German press. Pity.
Britain had just begun to recover its reputation with Germany - good Merkel Cameron relations being one likely factor - after the decline in its reputation following the banking crisis a few years ago, where London based casino banking activities were given much of the blame for the chaos in the financial markets and Europe's subsequent economic problems. It is not inconceivable to think that Cameron will be faced down by the Europeans at the next EU gathering, if it hasn't already happened, with the question: "Are you with us, or against us?"
Which would put Britain in a bind, as the intelligence cooperation between the UK and US is the closest there is between two nations.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Austrian students take on internet giants over NSA eavesdropping claims
29 June 2013 by Pelle Neroth
Schrems filed a list of complaints to the Irish data commissioner in 2011 regarding several matters which he argued violated EU privacy law: for instance, Facebook's keeping a record of "pokes" even after they have been deleted, the company's automatic tagging of photos based on its automated facial recognition program; its retention of records of deleted messages and more.
The Irish Data Protection Commissioner listened and took note of the list of Schrems's complaints. And got tough with Facebook, which changed some of its policies as a result. The company disabled automatic facial recognition in Europe. After his dialogue with Facebook, the Irish privacy commissioner did not mince his words to the press.
"We've threatened serious enforcement action. But my sense is that Facebook is a company that gets it. What they get is that non-compliance with EU law is not good for their business," he was quoted as saying in 2012.
Now, two years on, Max Schrems is targeting US corporations again. The reason is the US PRISM scandal, which has revealed US government mass eavesdropping on people's data on Facebook, Yahoo, Skype, Google and others. The initial revelations were published in the Guardian and Washington Post based on information from a whistleblower from the US signals intelligence agency, the NSA, Edward Snowden. The much discussed revelations accused US spies of pulling material wholesale from internet companies' servers.
There has been a lot of uncertainty and confusion as to how much exactly has been gathered.
An Associated Press story, here, quotes experts who say that we have to assume that "everything is being collected". And that the government is being provided with "names, addresses, conversation histories and entire archives of email inboxes". Another technology expert quoted by the highly respected news agency said: "I cannot think of anything, outside of a face-to-face conversation, that they [the spy agencies] could not have access to."
All worrying stuff.
But Schrems, and a number of Austrian students in the internet freedom lobbying group, Europe-v-facebook.org, discovered that not only Facebook, but several other internet giants, have international headquarters in Europe too:
Yahoo in Germany, Apple and Facebook (again) in Ireland, and Microsoft and Skype in Luxembourg.
Schrems and his associates have written lawyerly letters to each country's data protection authority, arguing that, as Facebook Europe, Yahoo Europe, Skype Europe and so on would seem to be transmitting data extraterratorially and on a wholesale carte blanche basis to US spy agencies, they are breaching European privacy laws.
"If a European subsidiary sends user data to the American parent company, this is considered an 'export' of personal data. Under EU law, an export of data is only allowed if the European subsidiary can ensure an 'adequate level or protection' in the foreign country. After the recent disclosures on the 'PRISM' program such trust in an 'adequate level of protection' by the involved companies can hardly be upheld."
The original letters to the data protection authorities can be read in full on his pressure group's website, here...
His pressure group's website shows that, as of Friday, two days after the letters were sent on 26 June, he has already had preliminary replies from the Luxembourg and Irish data protection commissioners. They are looking into it. To be honest, because the NSA operations go to the heart of America's War on Terror, I doubt a victory will be as easily won as the previous one against Facebook. But it could be the start of something.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 29 June 2013 at 06:44 PM by Pelle Neroth
Morocco's medical caravans
30 May 2013 by Pelle Neroth
Yet it is perhaps hard to believe of Western Europe's nearest neighbour. Despite a relatively peaceful recent history, within eyeshot of Spain and strong links to France, Morocco's social indicators - literacy and school enrolment - and health indicators - infant mortality, say - are astonishingly poor - even by Arab standards. According to WHO, the World Health Organization, mothers are five times as likely to die in childbirth as in Tunisia; and children have a 50 percent greater chance of living to the age of five.Lebanon, despite being long racked by civil war, still manages to have five times as many doctors and has 10 times as many dentists per capita.
Jordan has five times has many pharmacists and three times as many trained nurses per capita. And these countries are small, while Morocco is large and with a heavy concentration of such care there is around the northern coastal cities, making effective discrepancies in access to trained medical staff for large parts of the population even worse, compared to other Arab countries.
On this latest E&T magazine issue's theme, Africa, here is how technology from Europe could improve a local practice.
For a couple of years now, groups of urban Moroccan doctors from the francophone elite fed up with their country's poor health record have recently taken matters into their own hands. The source of their inspiration has been a concept known as caravanes sociales, social caravans.
In these caravanes - a loose, baggy term - groups of young people from the urban elite have ventured into the interior in convoys of cars packed with tents and provisions on civilising missions to spread various bits or urban knowledge. There have been civil society caravans comprising human rights NGOs to tell the rural people of their political rights; there have even been fashion caravans, where designers and retailers have travelled into small towns of the interior to show what designers can do. (There are no strict dress laws in Morocco; but there are strict rural dress customs.)
Now there are medical caravans. Young urban doctors have got together and travelled to the provinces for weekends at a time to carry out their duties free of charge in the remote areas, where normally there might be just one doctor per ten thousand population.
One of the leading lights of the so-called caravanes medicales idea has been Dr Abdel El Hairy, who began the project after his father left a bequest to build a village school and well. The Moroccan bureaucracy insisted that any gift had to be channelled through an NGO, and so he started one, AMI, whose initials stand for locations in his father's home region. After the well and school were built, there was money left over, so the NGO funded a weekend expedition, with three doctors, who carried out ten consultations in the local village hall. Since then the idea of roughing it for a few days every two or three months out of social responsibility appears to have grown hugely in popularity as word got out on the doctors' grapevine, in Casablanca, Morocco's commercial capital and richest city, and the numbers increased. Helped by French charity money, which paid for the drugs, the most recent excursion, in April, saw some 60 urologists, obstetricians, dermatologists, gynecologists, paediatricians and other doctors - many wealthy, with private clinics in Casablanca - join the caravan.
The title they have been given, caravans, must not be allowed to mislead, since there are no camels or turbans in sight; it's all 4WDs, vans, lorries and Moroccan urban professionals dressed in the clothes of the 21st century western urbanite. But there is no mistaking the desert experience. Southern and eastern Morocco is a vast, often flat and very dry region, punctuated by oasis towns.
In the evenings, the doctors have food cooked by Berber women and compare rare pathologies under the stars; in the daytime, they carry out consultations - lots of cases of tuberculosis, child meningitis; cancer of the uterus. In adult males, skin and eye problems are common.
Most recently, they saw over three thousand in three days - in chaotic conditions, with nomads arriving on camels from a radius of dozens of kilometres away, and patients queuing for hours.
For what is the healthcare alternative for deprived Moroccans? In the company of some Casablanca journalists, when I was in Morocco recently, I went to see what an example of the traditional medicine many Moroccans use, in the impoverished Casablanca suburb of Hay Mohammadi.
Islamic parties are strong here, mainly because Islamic activists have fulfilled some of the role of a welfare state for the poor residents. Here, being the city, there is theoretical access to medicine, unlike the desert. But, in a country where 20 percent of the population earns less than a dollar a day, many cannot afford to have a basic consultation with a state doctor, let alone a private one. So they rely on traditional doctors, the hajjamas - in the same way the desert nomads are usually forced to do, though in their case it because of lack of access. Often they double up as barbers, and, in one very rough looking barbershop, I was shown the small copper cups that are used as blood-letting vessels. Blood-letting is the traditional cure all, and is sometimes used by the poor. The cost is only a few dirhams.
But, said one urologist, who normally runs a clinic off the fashionable boulevard Hassan II, and who accompanied me to the area: "Modern medicine is safer."
Since El Hairy started his in 2002, the number of regular caravan projects staffed with Moroccan urban medical professionals has now grown to about twelve, including specialised caravanes - one for instance comprised of dentists, Enfant Sourir. (Child's smile.) Each dentist will see up to 50 patients a day. Not only the numbers, but the caravan concept itself is beginning to move on too - thanks to another Moroccan expatriate living in France, Dr Hassan Zahouani, a professor of medicine in Lyon.
Until now, the projects have worked out of the largest building in the village, typically a town hall, or in tents if in desert.
But a group of Moroccan doctors have got together with some engineers to plan a prototype mobile hospital, a 450 square metre structure with air conditioning that can be set up and dismantled in hours. Its design will be adaptable to different demands, reducible into smaller-sized units, says Zahouani, who once worked for the European Space Agency and was inspired by the modular design of the International Space Station.
Originally sponsored by the French firms Dassault, the project appears to have been delayed. It was originally conceived of several years ago.
At over one million euros per hospital unit, the goal is to utilise materials especially adapted to the desert's extreme conditions and the first unit is aimed at specialising in ophthalmology, with laser-equipped operating theatres to deal with that scourge of the UV light-rich desert, cataracts, which have already made 150,000 Moroccans blind. In drawing plans I have seen, when the large sail that acts as a sunscreen is pinned between the desert ground and the antenna attached to the box shaped, dismantleable clinic, the whole thing looks vaguely like a small space station outpost. The hospitals could also be useful for other less well off countries with poor rural health infrastructure. Mali, say. Or why not Pakistan?
The mobile hi-tech clinic plan is a good example of how engineers and technologists can get together with local professionals to help improve living standards in Europe's neighbouring continent.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 30 May 2013 at 11:22 AM by Pelle Neroth
EU intervenes in Motorola Mobility patent dispute
22 May 2013 by Pelle Neroth
What is at issue is not just any old patents, but standards essential patents, which the industry uses all the time as a common agreed norm to make communication between mobile devices possible. In this particular area, Motorola Mobility held the standards patent. These should be open to everyone. But Apple says it is being discriminated against.
Apple's "infringement" is apparently related to refusing to pay a discretionary higher charge that Motorola demanded, which the Commission is now implying is a ruse by Motorola to close a competitor, Apple's iPhone, off the market. The injunction was taken out in Germany, whose courts are famously keen to issue injunctions against technology products, even if the justifications seem weak. The Commission's argument is that injunctions are sometimes fair but only if the licensor - in this case Motorola Mobility - had agreed to fair, reasonable and non discriminatory licensing terms.
Google - which has, in separate EU cases, been criticised for some discriminatory search engine practices - took over Motorola Mobility last year to bolster its patent portfolio to help protect its Android operating system: 17,000 patents came with the acquisition of the veteran wireless communications company. A number of these patents are central to the way mobile communications function but just as the 12.5 billion dollar purchase was greenlighted by the Commission, Joaquin Almunia, the Commissioner in charge of competition issues, started keeping an eye on Motorola Mobility last year after Apple expressed early concern about future access to patents. Motorola Mobility has 60 days to respond to the European Commission to explain whether it set out fair conditions when offering to license its patent to Apple.
It is tempting to say "all sides are at it", in the intensely competitive market of mobile telecommunications. A number of mobile phone operators have recently complained to the Commission that Apple, for instance, is acting unfairly by setting quotas of the number of iPhones each operator must sell per quarter, or financially compensate Apple for units unsold. To avoid this possibility, a number of European mobile operators - their identities not disclosed - have told the Commission in confidence that they have been forced to spend most of their marketing budgets on promoting the iPhone, which discriminates against other mobile phone brands. The low margins Apple apparently offers European phone operators are also a source of resentment.
In this instance, the Commission has yet to act. Leaks sometimes appear to be part of a media game between companies, to shame the opponent to act without forcing it to go through the formal procedures of the Commission. Meanwhile, a few weeks ago, Apple itself was in the patent court dock, again in Germany, challenged by Motorola and Samsung over its "slide to unlock" function for smartphones, which Apple had patented. The horizontal swiping gesture was not a technical innovation in itself and therefore did not meet the requirements of European patent law. A layman might ask whether a such a rather obvious method ought indeed be patentable. But technology firms do this.
One is tempted to say that all is fair in love, war and patent claims. And so the disputes go on.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Would Britain's EU exit affect universities?
16 May 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The tragedy, perhaps, for the well-meaning designers of Europe is that the groups most likely to take advantage of these flexibilities - the young, the adventurous, the footloose, and the unsettled, often ethnic, are not a powerful bloc at the ballot box. It is precisely because they are not so established in their home society that they move in the first place.
The few percent who are mobile in the European sense do not provide a lobby national politicians need cater to. Unlike the grumbling, settled, hard working stay-at-homes who stay a fixed address for long enough to get onto the local electoral roll.
If Britain left the EU, about which there is much debate at the moment, will, in the future, the last thirty years be seen as an unusual period of free movement? That is one way of looking at it. To be fair to the grumblers, this freedom of movement was always likely to have asymmetrical effects given that, while EU mobility is international, the welfare state is still a national project. Taxation is a national affair. So is most politics. And those with a fixed address, and on the electoral roll, are more easily taxed...and therefore have something to grumble about.
You can see this in higher education. The EU's freedom to settle also means the freedom to study on the same terms as locals, and residents of those countries where higher education is free or low cost could reasonably ask why they should be subsidising the flocks of young Europeans coming from countries where higher education is of poor quality and/or is not subsidised by the local taxpayer. It is sort of a problem in England.
It is true that English universities charge tuition fees. Unlike Germany and Scandinavia, where it is mostly free, or France and Belgium, where the costs are a in the hundreds of euros. These countries are therefore more generous to EU students than the UK. On the other hand, an English university education remains highly in demand, and EU students pay the same capped tuition fees as domestic students, and are eligible for student fee loans on the same terms as English students. The fees are only repayable once they have got a job. The BBC reported a few days ago that foreign EU students owe £50m to the Government in non paid fees. Hard to track down when they have returned home...And who is to know, when they are back home, that they do have a job that compels repayment? So it is sort of a subsidy to EU students.
A benefit if Britain leaves the EU is that it could free up university places for domestic students as the number of EU students arriving on UK shores is likely to fall. The reason: with Britain outside the EU, fees for EU students would rise to the levels currently paid by overseas students, those from India and Saudi Arabia, and the like, and they would not be eligible for loans.
A researcher at the LSE, Gill Wyness, has looked at the costs and benefits to British education if the UK leaves the EU. She thinks there would be less competition and easier for British students to get into the university of their choice. There are currently 74,000 EU students studying here, the equivalent of seven medium-sized British universities.
In addition, university funding shouldn't suffer. If you went by current demand, at 1.3 students per place, UK students could easily fill the places vacated by the EU students, paying the same rates - and the money might more easily be chased up.
On the other hand, there are costs too, argues Gill Wyness. The EU students who displaced British students presumably got their places because they were more academically able. Their absence would lead to a "fall in the quality of the student intake", argues Wyness. Since EU nationals make up not a small proportion of the teaching and research staff at UK universities, the university environment as a whole would lose out if it was made harder for them to work here. Three of Britain's last five Nobel prizes went to Europeans active at British universities.
One of Britain's few remaining areas of true excellence is its science base, which surely draws on its culture of openness to international recruitment. Britain has the best universities in Europe, a reputation that continues to make Britain the destination for the brightest minds in research. It is the envy of other EU countries, and in fact Germany, Britain's main science competitor in Europe, has just launched a new research initiative, Zukunftspakt 2022, aimed at, by additional funding, getting a couple of universities to the top of the European league, currently occupied by Imperial and Cambridge.
The recommendations, apparently backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, tipped to win this autumn's German national election, include the funding of 250 additional professorships at German universities. A scientist herself - unlike the arts graduates at the top of British political life - she seems to understand the value of science spending. George Osborne, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, is cutting British public science spending in real terms, but that's another, and sad, story..
It's a hard call, Britain receives many thousands of EU students a year. Some of these may be a net drain to the tax payer - although it must be emphasized they are not eligible for maintenance loans, only fee loans. On the other hand, among those many, a large minority raise the academic tone by virtue of the greater competition they introduce. And there are a few who go on to make a great contribution to British life. Hard to know which ones, in advance, will do so.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 16 May 2013 at 01:19 PM by Pelle Neroth
Technology smuggling in the Cold War
4 April 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The German-Swedish historian Christoph Andersson's Operation Norrsken (Operation Northern Lights) tells us some new things about East German Swedish relations by digging in Stasi archives and talking to ageing protagonists on both sides of the iron curtain. Some of his findings are new; others are better known but put here into a better context, Most of the material came from the Stasi archives BStU In Berlin. The Swedish archives have not been quite so open.
The context was Reagan's campaign to win the Cold War one of whose aspects was strangling Soviet Union's and its allies' access to western high technology without which the USSR would even more rapidly lose the economic race with the West.
Sweden's background was that, as part of policy of neutrality, it had one developed one of Europe's most powerful military defences from the 1950s to the late 1970s, with a surprisingly large arms industry developed as a measure of independence from the two opposing blocs, NATO and Warsaw Pact. The Social Democrat governments which totally dominated Swedish politics for thirty years after the war were quite hawkish, right wing and anti-Communist. All that changed with the election of the left wing Social Democrat Olof Palme in 1969. He was pacifist and did not believe in military expenditure, which the faltering Swedish economy hit by the oil crisis of 1973 anyway found increasingly hard to afford. Through Olof Palme's defence procurerment cuts, the large domestic arms industry was left without a domestic market and desperately cast abroad for new customers while abiding by Sweden's policy of "moral" arms exports - which excluded countries at war or belonging to a military bloc. Which left rather a narrow field.
Then you had the middle men, Germans, Swedes, or German Swedes (some of who had been anti Nazi exiles who fled Germany before 1939) looking to make a fast buck through helping Swedish arms companies circumvent export restrictions by using East Germany as a conduit or secret destination in return for generous commissions. And then you had the East German state, desperate for western and Swedish technology and arms as well as hard currency to be earned from reexporting Swedish materiel to regimes like Iran.
In some cases, the ruses seem transparent to us now. Leading defence firm Bofors transported trainloads of gunpowder from Sweden via West Germany to neutral Austria, which was legal. But the rail carriages were then redesignated with a new destination - Finland, via East Germany this time. The rail carriages got "lost in transit" through East Germany, courtesy of Stasi in a secret deal agreed with Bofors. The gunpowder cargo was shipped out of Rostock to Iran, which was an illegal destination for Swedish arms exports because it was at war with Iraq at the time. The smuggling was exposed when West German customs officers got suspicious that the same railway carriages returned to West Germany from Austria, the fake destination, with full cargoes and a new destination only an hour after leaving the country. Still, the smuggling went on for three years.
More serious for Sweden's relations with the United States was how, in the 1980s, Swedish businessmen took advantage of Sweden's freedom to import American high technology, Vax super computers, and re-exported them to the East bloc. When the Swedish authorities found out, unpaid taxes on the enormous commissions from Communist regimes seemed to bother the Swedish authorities much more than illegal smuggling of American high technology to the East bloc. Sweden famously, in those days, had the world's highest taxes.
How many of these cases were unknown to the Swedish government? It is still unclear.
But one final instance of goods transfer worth mentioning was legal, indeed sanctioned, by the Social Democrat government of Olof Palme. The Swedish engineering firm ASEA was allowed to export isostatic presses to East Germany, ostensibly for making tape machine recording heads, but the presses also had a dual use as nuclear weapons production technology.
Twenty years on, the author, Christoph Andersson, tracks down one of the presses to an abandoned factory in former East Germany, complete with posters of East German nudes and dusty coffee cups. But the other three presses he is not able to trace. The author thinks the Palme government was too trusting of Erich Honecker, the East German leader
Andersson shows that both overt and covert relations between Sweden and East Germany were closer than suspected. Sweden's neutrality in the Cold War was more complex - and less pure - than thought.
The Americans took Swedish technology smuggling to the East bloc very seriously indeed. And the whole story affected relations between the right wing Reagan administration and the left wing socialist one of Olof Palme which "preached peace in the morning " but which seemed to have a cavalier approach towards American security and technology interests at the same time.
Whether the factual Swedish East German revelations will lead us any nearer the solution to Olof Palme's murder is anyone's guess. The investigation is said to have been reinvigorated by the renewed public interest. The fictional TV series, penned by a former academic at the Swedish police academy, said the killing was carried out by the Swedish security forces, who thought Sweden's relations with the East bloc were far too close. Of course, that is just fiction.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 12 April 2013 at 11:31 AM by Pelle Neroth
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