Best columns: Europe
How France took over Europe
Move over, Germany and Britain, France is again emerging as Europe’s most important power, said Arnaud Leparmentier. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, we French effectively ran what is now the European Union. Nothing could happen— Britain joining the Common Market, enlargement to Spain—without a nod from Paris. But after German reunification came the adoption of the euro, modeled on the deutsche mark and governed by a German-style bank. The economic and social ideals that reigned were German, inflected with elements of Anglo-Saxon neoliberalism. The 2008 financial crisis destroyed all that, and “French ideas are once again in vogue.” Greece has been bailed out; fiscal austerity has been discredited; a socialist from Luxembourg, Jean- Claude Juncker, leads the European Commission; and we’re forcing Apple to pay taxes in Ireland. There is even talk, given President Trump’s recent disparagement of NATO, of a European defense union. Many of these changes were initiated by President François Hollande; some even date to the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. It’s almost like the end of the 19th century again, when France was not militarily and economically dominant but “retained its intellectual and cultural prestige and diffused its ideas.” Once Europe’s economic recovery is complete, French “power will be reaffirmed.”
Losing our taste for cheap Nutella
So much for the myth that the European Union has imposed quality standards across the Continent, said Balint Eszter. The truth is that Western brands, far from being identical throughout the bloc, are very obviously inferior in formerly Communist-run countries. Consumers have always known it: A “national sport” in Romania is hunting for Jacob’s brand cookies made in Germany, because they taste so much better than Jacob’s manufactured locally. And now it’s official: A series of ad hoc tests by media firms and laboratory researchers have confirmed drastic differences in taste, looks, and ingredients in supposedly identical branded products. The Slovak version of one popular German orange juice drink contained no orange juice at all; Nutella spread made in Hungary is less creamy than that made in Italy; in Poland, Leibniz biscuits are made with palm oil, unlike the German original, which only uses butter; a brand of fish sticks sold in Slovakia and Hungary had 58 percent fish content, while the original in Austria had 65 percent. Manufacturers say eastern Europeans have less money, so prices have to be lower. But often the brands aren’t cheaper at all. It’s “intolerable,” and politicians are now raising a stink in Brussels, complaining that their countries are being treated as “Europe’s garbage can.” Brand owners, take heed: We can always start boycotting your goods.