Adrian Weckler: ‘Why cities bend over for tech’

Imagine Google and Facebook employing 20,000 people in Dublin. What sort of power would that bring? What effect would it have on the city, its economy, its infrastructure, its culture?

If you don’t think this could happen, think again.

Figures last week showed that the two companies now employ 11,000 people between them, with another 5,000 expected in the coming three to four years.

Given their track record, you can probably top that up by a couple of thousand.

Does that make Dublin a web industry town?

Does it mean that the Government feels impelled to water down its occasional acidic rhetoric about Facebook, such as the letter sent to Mark Zuckerberg by Communications Committee chairperson Hildegarde Naughton last week, slamming Facebook for “fake news” and demanding he appear to testify in front of the UK House of Commons (of all places)?

Will it result in even stronger co-ordinated objections from ministers to EU proposals such as the digital tax that was seen off by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe last week?

And what will it mean for third-level curriculums, work culture, the ‘gig economy’ and the prospects for those who don’t work in high-paying digital companies?

These are questions we should probably start asking now.

Because one way or another, Dublin looks like it’s in transition.

Rents are rising, suits are disappearing. Electric scooters just went on sale in the shops of Ireland’s second-largest mobile phone operator.

And it’s a one-way street. Corporate power in cities which sit a tier below the Londons, New Yorks and Berlins of this world is stronger than ever.
In Lisbon, where I spent a chunk of last week, the Web Summit wrapped up a sell-out four-day event.

Its currency has risen to that of a strategically important tech company in recent years, a fact reflected in cold market value – Portuguese authorities recently agreed a €110m deal to keep the event there.

They didn’t do this for no reason. I was one of the 70,000 people there and here’s the truth: it’s both impressive and influential. Forget all of the hot air you read about Paddy Cosgrave’s political outbursts, which have little to do with the actual Web Summit now. There’s genuinely no other large tech conference in the world where you can meet the variety of executives and founders as that one. It has scaled very, very well and is now a must-attend event for several big companies. Even Apple was there this year (and they go to almost nothing outside their own big events).

But whatever influence the Web Summit has on Lisbon pales in significance when compared with what Amazon is currently doing.

For those who haven’t been following it, the retailing and cloud giant is currently holding a beauty contest among US cities as to where its second headquarters (‘HQ2’) will be based.

Its primary offices are in downtown Seattle. But last year it announced that it would create a second US headquarters with the promise of 50,000 jobs and an average employee salary of $100,000 (€88,250).

Predictably, cities have prostrated themselves trying to win the corporate contest.

Chicago promised billions in tax breaks. Philadelphia pledged to restructure its entire business tax regime, while Tulsa, in Oklahoma, said it would match any other tax proposals and exceed them. In all, Amazon received official tender bids from 238 cities.

It even drew up an official ‘shortlist’ of 20 cities in January of this year, promising a conclusion by December.

The whole thing caught the public’s attention as Jeff Bezos soared to over €100bn in net worth, making him the world’s richest person.

It now looks like Amazon has selected its winner, with multiple reports claiming that it is splitting the 50,000 jobs between two venues and is in late stage discussions with Crystal City in Virginia (just outside Washington DC) and Long Island City in New York. (Other reports say that the decision has not been made yet.)

So was it a mistake for all of those cities to bend over backwards so publicly?

To city mayors, the temporary fawning probably seemed worth the embarrassment.

Fifty thousand high-paying jobs is the closest that any city can get to striking oil. Through associated income, retail and property taxes, it promises more money for services and infrastructure.

Local colleges expand and an inflow of highly skilled people occurs. It’s the direct opposite of a brain drain.

Dublin is not immune to this. So let’s keep our eyes open on what’s coming next.

Last week, Facebook signalled that it foresees building its headcount in Dublin to 7,000 in 2021.

It said that its new 14-acre ‘campus’ – the old AIB headquarters opposite the RDS in Ballsbridge – is being taken on a long lease “with capacity for an additional 5,000 employees”.

The tech giant was careful to say that this isn’t quite the same as a jobs announcement. But its history here shows that when it takes extra space, as it did last year in a separate building in Dublin’s East Wall, it fills it.

So here’s a new projection for 2022: there will be 20,000 people between Google (currently with 7,000 people here) and Facebook.

There’s certainly no sign of either company letting up.

Google and Facebook are primary drivers in Dublin’s work ecosystem.

Everything from property prices and rents to staff availability and office culture now has a flavour of the big two mixed up somewhere.

By the looks of things, it’s about to become more concentrated.

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Foreign legion: Just 3pc of men who move abroad are doing it to follow their partner’s career path

A quarter of women who move abroad to live do so because their partner accepted a job overseas – but the same is true for only 3pc of men.

This is according to the 2018 HSBC ‘Expat Explorer’ report.

With males accounting for six in every 10 expatriate workers, they make up the majority in almost all 31 countries examined in the report.

Only Ireland and Turkey host more female expats than male, and that was by just one or two percentage points.

Just 27pc of women moved to progress their own career, compared with almost half of men, and only half of female expats are working full-time.

In contrast three-quarters of their male counterparts are in full-time employment. “This year we have uncovered some unexpected trends in expat living, including what it means for women, the importance of a social life, how expats define themselves, and even the long-term psychological impact of living overseas,” said head of HSBC Expat John Goddard.

On a country-by-country basis Ireland jumped 10 places for expat living. The country now ranks 18th overall.

The annual report from the bank takes into account a number of factors when producing its rankings, including disposable income, economic confidence, quality of life and career progression.

It also looks at domestic factors such as healthcare and quality of childcare.

Seven years ago then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny promised to make Ireland the best small country in the world in which to do business by 2016.

However it is another small country that is leading the way for expats, with Singapore topping the ranking for the second year running.

Singapore outperformed Ireland in most areas.

There were some places where Ireland performed better than the Asian economic giant, including in the area of work-life balance, culture, quality of life, and ability of expats to make friends.

Factors behind Singapore’s strong showing included the fact that almost half of all expats in Singapore moved to progress their careers.

And though more than a quarter simply wanted a challenge, many more (38pc) wanted to improve their earnings.

This can be achieved there, with earnings an average of $162,000, (€141,800). Expats in Singapore can expect to bring in $56,000 (€49,000) more than the global average.

While just over one in four of the expats in Singapore have originally been sent by their employer, almost half (47pc) have stayed in the city for the quality of life on offer for them and their family.

Overall Ireland performed better than the UK – which ranked 22nd, and the US, which ranked 23rd.

More than 22,000 expats were interviewed as part of the report.

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Monday 12 November 2018 Why can’t I add son to our car’s policy?

My son is 19 years old and he started college in September. He stays in Dublin Monday to Friday and comes home most weekends. He would like to be added to our car insurance, even though he may only use the car two-three times a month, but it would be useful to have him insured. My insurance company has told me he cannot be added because he is under 25, but all his friends seem to be driving their parents’ cars on their parents’ policies, so I don’t understand their reasoning. A lot of these kids are on their provisionals, but he has had a full licence since May. The car is nothing fancy, a five-year-old Golf 1.4

Andrew, Co Dublin

Insurers in general are suspicious when parents request their young son or daughter to be added to their policy for fear that the young driver is actually the primary user of the vehicle. It has been the case in the past where parents have done this to get a cheaper premium. This move is ill-advised, and the policy will become null and void in the event of the claim if the insurer investigates and uncovers the true driving situation.

However, your case is different – but unfortunately you are being affected by this practice. Certain insurers have strict rules and will under no circumstances add drivers under 25 years old – this very much sounds like your company, so you will need to change insurer.

You will then need to prove to potential insurers that you are the main user of the car and that your son will only use the car on occasion. This may take a bit of work, but by taking the following steps you will end up with the best deal. Ask your current insurer to confirm in writing that you have been with them for eight years and have had no claims during this time. Also ask them for written confirmation that they have insured the Golf since the purchase date, and get a copy of the VLC to show you have not just bought this car today.

This will help you prove to the potential insurers that the car has not been bought for your son, but has been used by you and you are only changing insurer now because you need to add your son to the policy. Taking expert advice in a situation like this will improve your chances because a broker will have experience in dealing with insurers and so will be able to present your case in such a manner that it appears genuine.

Insurance gap
My home insurance policy expired in the first week of October, which is our own fault as both my wife and I thought the other had dealt with the payment. I have since spoken with the insurance firm to pay the premium and they are now saying they will not renew our policy because we didn’t renew before the expiry date. I have gone online to get quotes but because we had a claim in 2017 for €3,800 and I let this policy expire, no one will quote me. I now feel the legal route with my own insurer is my only option as I have been told they are legally obliged to insure me. I really don’t want to have to take legal action, but is there any simpler way of having this rectified?

Peadar, Co Wexford

In recent years insurers have really tightened up their rules when it comes to accepting home insurance policies. They are now quite strict in their approach to writing policies and unfortunately, having a ‘gap in cover’ is a complete red flag to some insurers – so much so that, as you have experienced, they will refuse a policy on this basis. I think you may have been slightly misinformed as to an insurer’s legal obligations in this type of situation.

It is a common myth that your home insurer must cover you, but there is actually no legal requirement for them to do so.

However, all is not lost. Based on the information you have given and the assumption that there has been no other claims or anything out of the ordinary, then if you go to an insurer that doesn’t have strict ‘gap in cover’ rules and also allow for a claim with the past five years, you should be able to take out a new policy at a reasonable premium.

This combination of insurer might be tricky to find, and you may well be online all day and not find one, but a good broker will get this sorted for you in minutes. Time is of the essence in your case, so my advice is to immediately speak with a broker and you will get cover and the price won’t be as bad as you think.

Winter sports cover
We have unexpectedly been given an opportunity to go, as a family, on a winter ski holiday. However I have checked our family travel insurance policy documents and winter sports is specifically listed as ‘not included’. To buy a new policy with another insurer where winter sports is included is very expensive as I need cover for myself, my husband and three teenagers. Do I have any other options?

June, Co Westmeath

As a first port of call, I suggest you talk to your insurer. Listing cover as ‘not included’, would normally mean that there is an option to include. It may well be the case that you wisely chose at the time of taking out the policy to exclude this cover, as you didn’t think it would be something you would need. Most insurers will allow you to add this cover back into your policy as long as you haven’t started the holiday. This should cost no more than €10- €15 to add onto your policy.

Just one more tip – check what activities are excluded in the policy, like sledging or snowboarding – be very clear about what is covered and not covered especially with teenagers. Enjoy the holiday.

No NCB on company car
I have been employed as an accountant with a large multinational for the past seven years with the full use of a company car but now I am now looking to start my own business. I have been checking various insurance quotes for a new car, but because I don’t have a no claims bonus, the quotes are all coming in at in excess of €1,500. I have always had my own policy and never had a claim. I haven’t had any accidents, or claims or penalty points. Is there anything I can do to get a lower premium?

Brona, Co Louth

Okay, I am going to assume that because you say you had full-time use of this vehicle for the seven years, coupled with the fact that you have had no accidents or claims, my guess is that the insurers you have spoken with do not allow discounts for company vehicle use. The good news is there are insurers that will take into account the driving experience you have, and based on this they will allow you a similar discount to that given to drivers who have a no claims bonus. My advice is to get a letter from your employer stating you have had full-time use of company vehicle and that you have no claims, bring this letter with you to a broker that has access to the insurers I mention above, and you should then see the prices dramatically reduce.

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Nationwide rents surge 30pc higher than during Celtic Tiger

Rents have risen 30pc above Celtic Tiger rates and reached a record high for the 10th consecutive quarter, according to a new report.

The findings by don’t expect the rental hikes to stop any time soon.

Nationally, there has been a rise of 11.3pc on last year, with the average monthly rental cost coming in at €1,334.

Rents in Dublin are 10.9pc higher than last year.

In Dublin the average rental price for a one-bedroom apartment ranges from €1,215 in north county Dublin to a high of €1,981 in Dublin 4.

Limerick and Waterford city have each seen a jump of more than 16pc in rental costs for a the likes of one-bedroom apartment. Meanwhile, the rental cost for five-bed homes in these cities are 26pc higher than 2017.

Rents in the capital are now 36pc higher than they were at their previous peak. economist, Ronan Lyons said: “A problem that started to emerge nine years ago in Dublin has not only not been resolved, it has spread to the rest of the country”.

“Once again – for the 25th consecutive quarter – rents have risen. Once again – for the 10th consecutive quarter – both a new record high for rents has been set and the year-on-year rate of inflation is above 10pc,” he said.

Mr Lyons said the reason rents were rising countrywide is “because demand far outstrips supply”. He said the country needed to build far more homes than it was currently and that these should be predominantly urban apartments, based on the research.

The report found that the average market rent has risen by some 80pc in the past seven years, since it bottomed out in in 2011.

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‘Cost of care for our two boys will be more than we pay on mortgage’

Mother Siobhan Redmond will soon be paying more than her monthly mortgage for childcare for her two children.

Ms Redmond, from Killester, Dublin, believes the Government should further assist families and the childcare industry in tandem to create a well-run system for all.

The 35-year-old financial professional is currently on maternity leave after giving birth to her three-month-old son Pearse.

In August next year, Pearse will join older brother Christopher, aged two-and-a-half, in childcare when Ms Redmond returns to work.

“Full-time childcare is €850 for one,” Ms Redmond said.

“As far as we know, that will be doubled next year when Pearse goes into childcare.

“That’s more than our monthly mortgage payments, despite subsidies. It’s a costly figure.

“Where my two children will be in childcare is cheap compared to friends, who are paying up to €1,300 a month in southside Dublin.

“Such expense is putting some parents off having a third child.

“The financial costs of childcare are just too high.”

Ms Redmond and her husband Brian, who runs Redmond Electrical in East Wall, Dublin, have acknowledged that due to the cost of childcare, they will have to cut spending.

However, Ms Redmond feels those who work in childcare should be paid well for the “important job of looking after the most precious people in our lives, our children”.

She believes many aren’t paid fairly at all.

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Trade fears: Ireland may be caught in crossfire if President Trump ramps up rhetoric after midterms

When President Donald Trump tweets, he moves markets. Last week’s upbeat comments on the possibility of a deal with China to call a halt to a trade war between the world’s two largest economies helped stock markets rally from the bloodbath of ‘Red October’.

By Friday, however, his officials were backpedalling, and not for the first time.

While it is rarely clear precisely what the US president wants from trade negotiations, apart from applying media spin to headlines, his belief that the size of America’s trade deficit means other countries are “cheating” is long-held, despite flying in the face of basic economics.

Given that the US trade deficit has surged to a seven-month high, his logic would dictate there is even more cheating going on. With anti-trade Democrats set to take seats in today’s elections to the House and Senate, Mr Trump will have yet more allies for his protectionist agenda.

This is a clear risk to Ireland, one of the world’s most open economies and a favoured place for US investment, which could yet find itself buffeted by a trade storm between the EU and the US if a temporary ceasefire struck in June does not hold. His target is Germany which, along with China and Japan, accounts for almost two-thirds of the US trade deficit.

Prior to June’s agreement, Mr Trump had threatened to keep the pressure on “until no Mercedes models rolled on Fifth Avenue in New York” and the deal struck with the EU also included pledges to import more US agricultural goods – a move that enraged France.

Given that he has now threatened to apply tariffs to everything America imports from China and has struck deals with Mexico and Canada as well as South Korea, re-opening that conflict with Europe would appear attractive, especially as there has been no progress in negotiations.

The administration is only bound by a pledge not to implement swingeing duties on car imports while the talks with the EU are going on.
And Brussels may be stoking Washington’s ire with a proposed digital tax on tech giants’ revenues, a move Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has already termed “unilateral and unfair”.

Collateral damage does not seem to matter to Mr Trump very much.

In his attacks on German carmakers, for example, he ignored the fact that the largest single car exporting plant in the United States is BMW’s Spartanburg operation in South Carolina – it employs 9,000 people.

Mr Trump’s negotiating tactic is to keep ramping up the pressure, as he did with China, moving from $50bn of sanctions to $500bn-plus.

So no sector of industry is immune.

Any hit to chemicals and pharmaceuticals, which were high on the list of US tariffs imposed on China would be enormously damaging to Ireland, as they account for 60pc of exports to the US.

In addition to tariffs, the Trump administration’s trial and error approach to sanctions has had unforeseen consequences.

Blacklisting has emerged as a favourite tactic of the US Treasury with 1,000 additions to Washington’s list in 2017 – 30pc more than Mr Obama did in his last year in office, according to ‘The Economist Magazine’.

One unintended consequence was that 650 jobs at the Aughinish Alumina in Limerick have been placed in jeopardy by US sanctions on a Russian oligarch.

If there’s any good news, it is that Mr Trump settles cheaply.

Talks with Canada and Mexico that lasted almost 18 months changed little in the North American Free Trade Agreement apart from its name.

And in the Korean dispute, Mr Trump settled what he had termed “the worst deal ever” with Korea without tackling major issues in cars and agriculture.

The problem is that getting there causes a lot of real economic damage.

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EU digital tax could backfire – Donohoe

The EU’s success as an exporter leaves it vulnerable if tax norms are torn up, which would include creating the digital services tax sought by France and others, Paschal Donohoe has warned.

He denied France had offered to make-up for any tax loss to Ireland to win support for its plan.

“No such offer has been put to me or to the Irish Government,” Mr Donohoe said in Brussels yesterday.

Ireland is among a handful of EU members resisting the push to create an Europe-wide levy on a share of sales of large technology companies. Unlike most corporate tax it would be based on a share of revenue, not profit, and paid in the country where sales are made.

The Finance Minister says if that principal becomes established, it could ultimately backfire – because EU members currently benefit from taxes on companies that make their sales abroad.

“I believe that tax changes that shift the incidence of tax to markets in which the service or good is consumed are difficult for the European Union overall, as an exporting economy,” Mr Donohoe said in Brussels, where he was attending a meeting of EU finance ministers yesterday.

“I think the European Union should take great care in putting in place a measure that shifts the tax point to where the good or service is sold. At the moment the tax model is designed on the basis of where value is created,” he said.

The minister said he agreed that large companies should be better taxed, but that change should be on the basis of global consensus and co-operation through the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Devemlopment (OECD).
Last week the UK announced its own digital services tax. It will apply a 2pc a year levy on UK digital revenues from April 2020.

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Ireland confident Merkel’s pledges on Brexit will stick

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to exit politics over two years will weaken her EU power – but Irish officials are confident her Brexit pledges to Ireland still stand.

The Irish Government believes Ms Merkel’s surprise announcement that she will begin withdrawing from politics will also have a negative effect on on Brexit, though it still remains on a knife-edge.

Officials in Dublin said they were happy Germany’s policy on Brexit remained fixed, with broad consensus inside the governing coalition. Whoever replaces Ms Merkel in December as leader of the CDU – the main coalition party – is not likely to change its stance.

If Ms Merkel does stand down as party leader in December, but continues as chancellor until her term expires in 2021 as planned, her full exit from public life would also coincide with the expected end of transition periods in any emerging EU-UK divorce deal.

“It is clear Chancellor Merkel has always wanted ‘an orderly Brexit’ and she would clearly want that to be part of her own legacy as she departed the scene,” one Brussels diplomat told the Irish Independent. But there is growing scepticism she will not succeed in seeing out her term of office.

Speaking last week, before news broke of her planned slow exit from politics, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recalled sitting beside her at dinner at an EU leaders’ summit in Salzburg on September 19.
He said Ms Merkel told him Ireland would never again enjoy such a level of EU solidarity on any issue as it has on its interests around Brexit.

The Taoiseach also stressed that neither Ms Merkel, nor any other EU leader, had linked Irish concerns about the future of the Border to demands that Dublin change its stance on EU corporate or digital taxes. He indicated he would not have been unduly surprised if the issues had been linked.

Other officials also pointed to express assurances given by the chancellor when the two leaders met in Berlin on April 16 last.

She specifically pledged to help Ireland safeguard its interests in the Brexit talks and said she was aware of Irish concerns including the “very important issues of war and peace”.

As things stand, there are now no formal Brexit negotiations going on between the EU and the UK. But Brussels sources say “informal contacts” are continuing.

Diplomats will know by Friday whether a special Brexit summit for mid-November is to be definitely ruled out.
The focus this week has been on allowing British Prime Minister Theresa May to get her budget through the London parliament, the more so since the Democratic Unionist Party had threatened to withdraw its vital support over Brexit compromises.

EU officials have noted the budget unveiled by Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond assumes a Brexit deal will happen.


Mr Hammond, an advocate of a “soft Brexit”, had warned if there is no deal his budget plans will have to be radically altered.

If the November summit does not happen, the effort would move on to an EU leaders’ summit on December 13-14 in Brussels. If there is a compromise, it will be rolled out in advance, and Mrs May will then be faced with the prospect of trying to drag whatever deal she gets through Westminster amid opposition from ultra- Brexiteers and very possibly the DUP.

There is no confidence she can succeed but hopes will turn on excluding all other options and making it “a back me or sack me” choice.

It is also hoped that pressure from UK business and trade unions, horrified at the economic carnage of a no-deal Brexit, could help tip the balance in favour of UK parliamentary approval.

Brussels officials also expect the EU to publish more details of fall-back plans to manage a no-deal Brexit in the coming weeks. This will again increase pressures and feed political speculation.

“But that is part of war-gaming aimed at advancing arguments for a finding a workable compromise,” one source said.

Despite her own assurances that she will continue working to the end of her four-year term in 2021 as head of the German government, Ms Merkel is now widely seen as a lame duck and hopes of getting compromises on other key EU issues at next month’s leaders’ summit have been dented. One senior Brussels source said she “had no hope of making 2021”.

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Sick pay delay ‘down to move to new system’

Thousands of people face delay in sick pay, causing unnecessary suffering, the Government has been warned.

Fianna Fáil’s welfare spokesman Willie O’Dea has urged Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty to intervene and ensure that every citizen entitled to illness benefit gets their full payment on time.

“The issues related to disagreements between GPs and the department are well documented over filling out of new forms. Now we are told the problems are down to computer software difficulties,” Mr O’Dea said.

A Government spokesman said the problems arose from moving to a new system where benefits were paid for the current week. This was a change from the old system that paid benefits a week in arrears.

He acknowledged that there were technical problems that led to a backlog and people either being paid too much or too little, but insisted there were moves to correct these and everybody would get their entitlements and could apply for supplementary welfare in cases of hardship.

Mr O’Dea said the money was a welfare entitlement based on PRSI.

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Good news for mortgage holders: Rates to stay low as the eurozone flounders

Slowdown: Tracker and standard variable loan-holders to benefit
Brexit woes: No deal will pitch Britain into long-lasting recession

Hundreds of thousands of mortgage-holders, as well as small businesses, are set for a reprieve on anticipated higher repayments.

A slow-down in the economies of countries in the eurozone means an interest rate rise next year is now less likely.

Adding to the economic concerns, a no-deal Brexit would be likely to tip Britain into a recession that could last as long as the downturn that followed the global financial crisis, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s has warned.

That’s bad news for Ireland, a key trading partner.

The European Central Bank (ECB) has signalled September 2019 as the likely start of rate increases.

Raising rates would be a ­signal of strength for the economy, but would hit borrowers here in the pocket.

The more than 300,000 Irish households with a tracker mortgage are among those who benefit most from the current low rates.

Their mortgage rate can be increased when the official ECB rate goes up, so the longer it is delayed the better for home-owners. Borrowers with a standard variable rate loan are also at risk of an increase, if rates go up.

The eurozone economy grew at its slowest pace in more than four years in the three months to the end of September, dragged down by near-stagnation in Italy and likely a weaker performance in Germany.

The euro area grew 1.7pc from a year earlier, according to the latest official data, far slower than expected.

Last year’s growth of 2.7pc had been the fastest expansion in a decade and sparked hopes Europe was set for a sustained upturn.

Now a slowdown casts doubt over whether the ECB can begin to normalise super-low interest rates at all before the next downturn.

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