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Sarkozy and Merkel hold special meeting

French President makes his close relationship with Merkel a campaign issue.

Say this about French President Nicolas Sarkozy, he takes risks. 80 days before he stands for re-election he held a cabinet meeting and invited a guest to attend: German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is their 14th joint meeting - giving new meaning to the term "special relationship."  Merkel said it was  "quite noram" for her to be involved in the French presidential election campaign.

The BBC has a full report here.

Sarkozy's close alliance with Merkel has become a serious issue in the election campaign. Marine Le Pen, leader of the ultra-right National Front is running on a platform of taking France out of the euro. She is running a credible third in recent opinion polls. Socialist Francois Hollande is leading Sarkozy and he too is taking a very anti-Europe line as arch euro-skeptic, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, gleefully wrote in today's Daily Telegraph:

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Germany rejects European Central Bank write-down of Greek debt

Berlin — Berlin is refusing to allow the ECB get involved in Greece’s debt restructuring.

Canned lard safe to eat after 64 years

A can of lard left over from Germany's post-World War II days is still edible.
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Canned food are piled up in a market in Cabinda on January 19, 2010. (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
A lab found that an aging can of food is "gritty," but still technically edible.
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Arrest in Germany’s 'National Socialist Union' neo-Nazi terror case

Berlin — Another arrest has been made in the case of a far-right cell suspected of killing 10 people.

It's Europe, they do summits differently here

Leaders agree fiscal compact - details left for later
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The EU's Big Three: French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti at eysterday's summit in Brussels. (PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images)

EU leaders met in Brussels yesterday. By their standards things went well. Contentious pre-summit issues were kicked aside - in this case, Germany did not push for the right to install a budget czar in Greece. Agreement was reached on a new fiscal compact for the euro zone, although the details of what was agreed were left for later. A lot of money was pledged, enough to make a person wonder where it will come from given how indebted many European governments are.

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Davos takes on euro zone crisis

Old arguments about how to solve the euro zone crisis are re-hashed at World Economic Forum annual meeting
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Davos: the euro zone crisis followed the leaders to the Alps (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Davos. The name, the place, what it stands for is a challenge to an ideal of journalism. It seems to be one of those events that become a story not because of any intrinsic news value but because a bunch of famous people get together and allow journalists to mingle among them.

There are many national leaders at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos but no treaties are signed, nor are there joint declarations of policy made. That would be news and worth reporting. There are titans of industry in Davos, but no products are launched or companies acquired. That, too, would be news etc.

It can't be news because the comments about the year to come actually shape events. I came across this article from The Washington Post a couple of years ago on Google about some famously wrong predictions made by the rulers of the planet at the World Economic Forum. It's pretty amusing. (For that matter, did anyone at Davos in 1996 or 97 predict there would be something like Google (founded in 1998) and that a search engine would upend all previously known models of information aggregation and dissemination?

Anyway, the leaders are at Davos, journalists are tweeting like fan-boys and girls about rubbing shoulders with them. 

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Scandal over Berlin police investigative methods

Berlin — A data watchdog is “shocked” by the police department’s methodology.

Austerity bites, pt. 2

Second thoughts about austerity cuts as the cure for what ails Europe's economies
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Retired hedge fund manager George Soros at Davos today. He expressed concern that the euro zone's austerity policies would create social unrest that would engulf Europe. (VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

Austerity cuts seems to be the theme of my blog posts today. Heavily indebted European governments need to "deleverage," as the current buzz word has it, but how far and, crucially, how fast?

In Britain, despite warnings from the opposition Labour Party about the pace and size of cuts doing more harm than good, Britain's Conservative-led coalition government has reduced the size of government spending with abandon. Predictably Prime Minister David Cameron's austerity program has landed the country on the door-step of a double-dip recession. The economy contracted in the last quarter of 2011 by 0.2 percent.

At Prime Minister's Question Time today, Cameron contemptuously swatted away criticism from Labour leader Ed Miliband. But that is party politics. The IMF's chief economist Olivier Blanchard is no left-wing politician and he told the BBC today it would be wise for Cameron and his Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to slow down the pace of the cuts.

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Fierce criticism of state spying on leftist politicians

BERLIN — Germany’s domestic agency is being slammed for its observation of almost 40 Left Party politicians.

Bonn introduces "sex tax"

With new “sex parking meters,” Germany takes another big step in the regulation of its sex industry.
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A "sex meter" ticket machine, resembling a parking meter, to tax street prostitutes in Bonn, western Germany. Bonn, the former West German capital, was the first city in Germany to introduce a parking meter for prostitutes in order to tax those who just work the streets. (Oliver Berg/AFP/Getty Images)

Leave it to Germany to streamline the unruly sex industry.

Bonn became the first city in Germany to introduce “sex meters” for prostitutes as a means of extending a general tax on prostitution beyond brothels to the streets of Bonn, AFP reports.

Bonn’s “sex tax” currently covers levies on sauna clubs, erotic centers and as well as the sex meters that were rolled out in August that — through the end of 2011 — brought in around 250,000 euros ($326,000.) City spokesperson said the local government was pleased with the results and will continue levying the tax.

The sex meters, devices similar to curbside parking meters, were installed in an industrial area near the city center in an area that’s used by prostitutes to solicit clients. Each sex worker must buy a “parking ticket” for six euros per night worked, regardless of how many customers they serve.

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