A linguistic deficiency
While I was savouring Bordeaux’s finest wines at the annual Axa Group International Media Seminar - held at the insurer’s own personal chateau - a few issues sprung to mind.
First of all, I really need to learn another language. English was the default for the 30-odd international journalists in my company, and while my mother tongue is Welsh, it really doesn’t cut the mustard with Europe’s journalistic elite.
Most financial journalists in Europe speak impeccable English, and us Brits should really reciprocate by learning at least one continental language.
Secondly, the wine at Axa’s Chateau Suduiraut was excellent.
However, despite my own linguistic deficiencies, and a slightly sore head, other issues seemed more important.
We heard about the insurance giant’s performance, and future strategy, which was largely positive, despite the eurozone crisis, but Greece was never far from the agenda.
As the only Briton present I was constantly quizzed on my opinion on the current situation. A few even levelled the difficulties in part at the UK’s doorstep, claiming that keeping the continent’s third largest economy out of the European single currency had been counter-productive, while calling for British politicians to keep out of the debate.
It was an interesting viewpoint of the opinions some of our European cousins have on the UK’s arms length relationship with the EU.
Axa themselves claim they could ride out any collapse of the euro - although they don’t anticipate a “Grexit” and have a profitable business in Greece, with no exposure to the current difficulties.
But the most striking story came not from Axa, but from a Greek journalist. His paper - one of the country’s best known, had closed in December, and he had seen a huge cut in his income, amid spiralling costs.
He said something has to give, and very soon.
As we know, the workforce had been decimated, with the crisis fuelling a rise in extreme politics.
But his key point was this, it wasn’t his fault. Generations of politicians had wrecked the economy to an almost irreparable level, and the people were paying for it.
Thousands have left the country, and many will not return.
Despite what may happen when the Greeks go to the polls, the people have an air of helplessness about the situation, and anger at the politicians who got them there.
And as austerity continues to take its toll he might be the next to consider his position in this once proud country - or even go back to his village to sell oranges. He said: “Everybody needs oranges”