Little Britain, Petite Europe — Lost In This Big Bad World

The once Great Britain has just gotten smaller. But Brexit has also rendered the meekness of the European project evident to all. And the big players like the U.S. and China will eat them for lunch if something doesn't change quickly.

In London on June 25
In London on June 25
Nicolas Barré


PARIS — We could dream that the European project moving forward without the United Kingdom will be better after all. That this country was a constant obstacle, and that its withdrawal will finally clear the path for the future. But which path is that? Where does it lead? At what pace? How? With whom? Let's be honest, the British exit is an official acknowledgment of the absence of vision and collective project that has been plaguing the European Union for years.

What lies in store for us if we don't remedy this situation is clear: European deconstruction. The infernal machinery set in motion by the British vote is that of shrinkage. If nothing stops the process, Great Britain will inevitably become Little Britain, if not Little England, given that Scotland and Northern Ireland would rather stay in the EU than in the UK.

Germany, the continent's only country with the critical mass necessary to compete in the globalized world, will also be tempted to go it alone. Europe will thus become a small and splintered continent, a "little Europe" exposed to the world's two great powers like never before. The United States will see it as another opportunity to establish a lex americana, which is extraterritorial by nature. As for China, it already considers Europe a hunting ground of choice in an asymmetrical capitalist game playing out in its favor.

You need only see the reactions around us. "Britain's exit mirrors the general decline of Europe," said the editorial in the Chinese Communist Party's mouthpiece Global Times, adding that "Europe stagnates, becoming the world's center of museums and tourist destinations."

In the United States, Donald Trump is overjoyed. And Vladimir Putin, who never accepted the collapse of the Soviet empire and the shift of its "brother countries' to the West, sees it as just revenge of History.

It's up to us to prove them wrong! True, this bleak fate of a "little Europe" is looming, but it's not set in stone yet. There's enough time to avoid it, on two conditions: We must be realistic about what's happening to us, and we must set out a strategic vision for the European collective.

Lucidity commands us to acknowledge that the project was dying long before the British referendum. The last evidence of the great European political vision dates back to 2004 and the inclusion of the USSR's former satellites: Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, the Baltic states, et al. The Union grew from 15 member states to 25, and its center of gravity moved eastwards. Countries that had been deprived of freedom and democracy enthusiastically united with their Western neighbors. Europe, we hoped, would little by little assert itself as a great power, through the strength of a continent finally reunited around common values.

Brexit Happens — The World Reacts par Worldcrunch

Since then, only the Europe of the elites has moved forward. It's the Europe of the Erasmus student exchange program that's crying over the British vote. But it lost part of the people along the way. A rift has opened within each of the continent's countries: the rift between the rather young, urban elites and the rest of the population. The wave of refugees and the border issue has widened a gap that's never been reduced since the "Polish Plumber" controversy and the Bolkestein Directive of a single market for services, which the British wanted and which, ironically, is now precipitating the European project's decline.

Once this analysis has been made, Europe must reconstruct the strategic vision without which this collective endeavor is pointless. After World War II, the vision was peace. Now, it's the defense of our values and interests in the globalized world, a form of solidarity among nations, controlling our borders, security, leading the fight against terrorism.

On all of these topics, Europe must be capable of imposing its vision, its choices, its norms, its laws, as the United States or China impose their own. Otherwise, each country will be tempted to play the national card in a world that we know is too big for individual European nations. And that would truly be the end of the dream of a great Europe.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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