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QUEST MEANS BUSINESS

EU Approves Last-Resort Funds for Greece

Aired March 26, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


RICHARD QUEST, HOST, QUEST MEANS BUSINESS: Ultima rasio, the last resort, and now Greece drinks in the Last Chance Saloon.

A huge step forward for the European Union. The president of the commission, on this program, says consensus is the key.

And "The Times" they are a chargin'. Making readers pay for online news.

I'm Richard Quest, and yes, I mean business.

Good evening.

European leaders tonight heading home from Brussels leaving a loaded gun on the table. And in it, billions of dollars of ammunition Greece has been calling for to shoot down rumors of a potential debt default. You can call it the ultimate weapon. In the EU's phrase, emergency funds will go to Greece, ultima rasio, which means strictly in the last resort.

It means that even without using the emergency facility, Greece can now go back to the commercial bond markets and hope to borrow money at affordable rates. Greek bond yields, effectively the interest rates it will pay to borrow, fell slightly on Thursday. But the borrow at 6.18 percent is still almost twice as high as the benchmark German bunds, which are just over 3.15 percent.

Here is what we have learned about this back stop agreement, hashed out in Brussels that has taken months to get here, but crucially is seen as being the way forward for Greece. Let's begin with the basic details of this agreement.

It is a joint effort from the international monetary fund and members of the Euro Zone. Now, the way the agreement says it, it says substantial IMF requiring of financing-but it is believe the majority of money will still come from Euro Zone countries and they will pay in the same proportions as they have what's known as the ECB capital key. So, for example, Germany at 18 percent, France and Italy at 14 and 16 percent, and so on. That's the way the idea is. The interest rate that Greece pay would be penal. In other words the idea firmly to prove that this is not a subsidized agreement. This is-there is not subsidy here. The agreement specifically says so. So, you've heard me say that phrase, ultima rasio.

Unbelievably, or perhaps believably by the German's point of view, the lender of last resort. Greece can only call on this money if market funds are insufficient. Now that was a watering down, because they didn't want Greece to get to the point of bankruptcy, literally. So, if market funds are insufficient, then they can turn ultima rasio. And the question of course is the ECB, the commission, they will decide whether the situation has been reached, that the money should now be provided.

So, what do we have overall, here? You have a variety of detailed agreement terms all of which brings in the IMF, the Greek government, the European Union, the commission, the ECB, we have brought in the Euro Zone, and it is all designed to try and bail out Greece.

I spoke to Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the commission. He began by telling me how crucial this agreement is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSE MANUEL BARROSO, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: I think it is a very important deal. It is the first time we this kind of decision in the Euro area. Basically, it is a deal to give Greece a safety net. So there will be coordinated by lateral loans, in the euro mechanism, it needed, and also with the IMF. So, I think it is very important, of course, for Greece, but also for the stability in the Euro area. And I'm very happy that the leaders have reached a consensus, basically, following the proposals that the commission has put forward.

QUEST: Is this s framework that can be used, if needed, in other cases? Or is this specific and only for Greece?

BARROSO: It was designed specifically and only for Greece. Let's hope that it will not be used-even in Greece.

QUEST: So, what triggered this? I mean, I've seen the financing. If Greece does not have access to market financing which is inefficient. An then, of course, this can be triggered. Have you got any indication in the next round of financing for Greece, that that might be necessary?

BARROSO: I don't think it will be necessary, at least in the near future, but of course, I'm not going to speculate about that. What is important to note is that Greece goes to the market. And only if there is a real problem, of financing in the market, as ultima rasio, as a last resort, we will activate this kind of mechanism. It will be to Greece to ask for it, for the commission, and the European Central Bank, to decide if the conditions are there for the activation of these mechanisms. But we believe that the very existence of the mechanism is not only a great signal of confidence in the measures that Greece has taken, and in its implementation, but also a very powerful (UNINTELLIGIBLE) factor against more actions against the-the Greek debt.

QUEST: Right, let's put Greece to one side for one moment and just talk about the principle involved here. Because as you alluded in your first answer, there has been a quantum leap in deciding to do this. For the first time, the European-the Euro Zone, with the European Commission, has decided that it will take a much stronger role. Now that is a quantum leap, isn't it?

BARROSO: Yes, it is. The fact is that in the current framework, in the treaties, we have not any specific provisions for this. As so, in theory, could have one possible answer will be let Greece alone. We'll do nothing. But the decision was, no, let's create a Euro area mechanism, also with involvement with the IMF, to use it, if needed.

QUEST: Right.

BARROSO: So, in fact, it is a reinforcement of our collective action when there is a crisis in one Euro area member.

QUEST: But do you think that it might need to have treaty changes, altering, modifications, because I'm sure the last thing that you want to do is to have to reopen the Lisbon Treaty.

BARROSO: Yes. This mechanism is fully compatible with the current treaty, and it is very important to understand this; so, no new treaty. But it is true there are now going on some discussions about possible changes.

QUEST: Right.

BARROSO: But that will be for the longer, longer term. There is no appetite, now in Europe, to open new revisions or reforms of the treaties.

QUEST: There is one landmine in the statement from the commission, and it concerns the idea that the European Council should gain greater role in economic governance of the European Union and a proposal to increase the role in surveillance and definition of growth. Now, euro skeptics will say this is a classic case of the European Council, taking over, running the economies of countries.

BARROSO: No, I mean, they can say that, but it's not appropriate. Look, at a global level we are discussing, collectively, these issues. We are discussing them in the G20, so of course it makes sense at the European level to have reinforced commitments to our common governance of the Euro area and the European Union, that is only normal. So, increased economic policy, coordination, it makes sense because we are more interdependent than ever. As we have seen now, in the case of Greece, because it immediately had an impact on other countries-

QUEST: Right.

BARROSO: -in the Euro area and outside the Euro area. So, basically there is not change in terms of the competencies, but yes, there is now a much clearer commitment of the governments, of the member states to work together in the European Council, in terms of economic policy coordination.

QUEST: Finally, as we come to this weekend, people in Europe who are wondering is this now over? Has Europe got its act together? Can we sail on a little more smoothly? Can you reassure them tonight that that is indeed the case?

BARROSO: I am much more confident. I think we have taken the right decisions but, of course, I'm not going to speculate about evolution of markets. But I think the decision was of paramount importance to Greece and to the stability in the Euro area. That is my firm conviction.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUEST: That was Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, talking to me earlier today. Now, we've been speaking to one of the men on the board at the European Central Bank. You'll remember, the president of the ECB, Jean-Claude Trichet, was very much against the IMF having a financing role. Or maybe that is putting it too simplistically?

Anyway, the member of the board, Lorenzo Bini Smaghi has joined our John Defterios at the Ambrosetti Forum, a financial workshop on the shore of Lake Como, in Italy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LORENZO BINI SMAGHI, BOARD MEMBER, EUROPEAN CENTRAL BANK: I think now what is important is we have a decision. We have solution. And we have to implement it. And that is it. I think we have avoided the worst days. A repetition in Europe over Lehman Brothers failure and we have been able to do that. We have to work with that.

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: Is it more an issue of European prestige having the IMF in? Or concerns that they start to intervene in national policy, in Greece, and Spain and Portugal, because of severe budget deficits?

SMAGHI: No, I think we have the possibility in Europe to deal with that. We have the means, we have the conditionality. Actually, Greece is implementing what we were asking. I think what we don't have is a mechanism to support the financially, and what is good is that the summit came out with an indication that we have to work, in the next month.

DEFTERIOS: Does that mean a European monetary fund, as a solution? Something formal to set aside money for a crisis, so you don't have to reach out to the IMF?

SMAGHI: It doesn't have, necessarily, the same instruments. We have a few months to work on that, and to strengthen surveillance because we need-the most important thing is we need to avoid it gets repeated again. What happened, and so we need to make sure that budget surveillance is much tougher than what we had so far.

DEFTERIOS: OK, I'm not convinced this is going to be an easy process. It needs a unanimous vote, it could always be subject to, say, for example, a German veto. You could be back into this problem in a month, if they don't think the packages are credible.

SMAGHI: No, I think we all want to avoid a crisis. We all want to improve the system. We all want to avoid that we get into this situation again. So, I'm quite confident that we will find a solution.

DEFTERIOS: But it is a failure, is it not, for the European institutions that designed this euro a decade ago? To say, we don't want to have the IMF 24 hours ago, now the IMF is there and that is just at the end of the day that was the only solution on the table.

SMAGHI: I think as I said, this is real politics, maybe. And that is not an ideal first, best solution but, you know, politically that is what has been decided and we have to work, to make it work.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUEST: Now, let's check the euro. Because the euro having been at 10-month lows, the common currency for Europe is regaining some ground on the dollar. A euro fetches nearly $1.34. That is up a half a percent on the session. It had been as low as $1.33 on Thursday, and $1.32 at its lowest point, of course, in this crisis.

The news headlines demand our attention. And doing that is Max Foster at the CNN London News Desk.

(NEWSBREAK)

QUEST: Now, in the British Airways crew dispute both sides are going up for strike two. Of course, BA's long-haul flights could end up sitting on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport.

And we're going to be a Heathrow after the break. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

QUEST: British Airways cabin crew about to strike for a second time, and this time for better or worse it is going to be a four-day strike. After last weekend's three-day stoppage, this four-day walk out will start in just five hours from now. The center of the dispute is, of course, on cabin crew numbers and pay and it shows no sign of being resolved. BA is hoping to keep more flights running than it did in the strike last week.

Atika Shubert is just by the side of runway 27, right?

And, Atika, BA was very optimistically pleased, if you like, with what happened last week. Are they quite as confident this time?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT: They do seem very confident. They say their contingency plans really helped them cope with the strike and what they're saying is that they are estimating that about 50 percent of their flights here at Heathrow will continue as scheduled. They are saying that about 55 percent of their short-haul flights will continue and about 70 percent of the long-haul flights will continue.

They say they have been able to do this because they are hiring about 11 airplanes to cope, but also that some of the cabin crew, apparently, are not joining the strike and have promised to continue to come to work. That is according to British Airways.

The good news for travelers is for those flying out of London's Gatwick or city airports, those flights are continuing as normal.

QUEST: Right.

SHUBERT: However, it is all costing British Airways about $10 million a day. So, it is getting expensive for them, Richard.

QUEST: And no plans for any talks at the moment. If we get to the end of this four-day strike, and there is no resolution, which probably seems likely, then really what happens next?

SHUBERT: Well, that is the big question. How long can British Airways keep on paying the $10 million a day to continue? It is interesting to note that Unite says that British Airways is using vindictive moves to try and break the union. The latest was saw that, of course, Willie Walsh, the head of British Airways, saying that he was revoking the travel privileges of any cabin crew that were participating in the strike. Unite has said that it wants those travel privileges to be restored. British Airways says no way. It seems to be a stalemate. And the question is, how long can this continue? And how much of this can British Airways really afford?

QUEST: Many thanks, Atika Shubert, down at Heathrow Airport. And, of course, we will have coverage tomorrow, of the strike as it gets underway.

Economists in the U.S. should probably keep a copy of today's report on economic growth. It might be the cheeriest set of numbers they'll see for some time. The official data confirmed a very strong bounce back in the fourth quarter of 2009. GDP expanded at a rate of some 5.5 percent. It was the strongest-5.6 percent-it was the strongest quarter in the past six years. If you look at the revisions, because of course this was the third month, if you look at the revisions it was slightly below the previous estimate. It was about in between of the whole, if you like, of the core of the whole three months.

Economists are saying the coming year will see far slower rates of growth. And this is interesting because that really shows how the whole economy performed over the last few months. One thing to note, we also got final GDP numbers in terms of recession for last year, 2009, down some 2.5 percent.

Let's-you can buy a real copy-let's go to Poppy Harlow at the New York Stock Exchange, where she is on the floor of the exchange.

The numbers that we saw today reaffirmed what we already knew?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. What they reaffirmed in terms of economic growth (INAUDIBLE), is still playing major part (INAUDIBLE).

Looking at the numbers right before the close, Richard, the Dow, the S&P modestly higher than Nasdaq lower, a very unenthused (ph) market place. (AUDIO GAP) here. And they simply stayed the bottom line despite that GDP number, which was revised lower. It is just that the economy is in dire straits, commercial real estate is a major (INAUDIBLE) crisis, gotten hasn't gotten enough attention. And this market will not make a major move, it has been near 18-

QUEST: Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, Richard.

QUEST: Poppy, I'm going to have to interrupt you, because for some reason we've got a technical problem which I think means we are not hearing the right microphone. We're actually hearing a lot of background noise and we're not hearing you actually talk. So, we may just have to pause there and come back to you in a moment or three. Because there are some important things we need to talk about. Poppy Harlow, at the stock exchange. We'll try and return to her in just a moment.

When you can buy a real copy of "The London Times", for 1 British pound, soon they won't even have to print it to make the money, in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

QUEST: OK, we promised you more with Poppy Harlow.

Poppy, back to you at the floor of the exchange. We have got to brief now, but the numbers that we saw, they-I mean, why is the market being so miserable today?

HARLOW: It is. This is an unenthused marketplace. The Dow is up a modest 4 points, the Nasdaq, the S&P are lower. What investors are looking at is the reality of this economy. The traders tell me the bottom line, this economy is in dire straits. Commercial real estate is an outstanding problem that is not getting enough attention, despite what the White House is doing to help struggling homeowners.

And, Richard, remember next Friday is when we get that all important unemployment report and the traders here, the ones I spoke with said they are expecting more negative numbers. So, there is nothing pushing this market higher and there are concerns about Greece that are easing a bit now, but there is nothing that is exciting these traders. There is no reason for them to make big moves going into the weekend, Richard.

QUEST: Well, you are wrong, Poppy. You are very wrong tonight.

HARLOW: Am I?

QUEST: Yes, you are. There is something to be excited about, by the exchange, today.

(LAUGHTER)

HARLOW: What is that?

QUEST: The closing bell, we are now looking at pictures of where the closing bell, CNNmoney.com will be-of course, this is where Poppy Harlow does such excellent work-will be ringing the closing bell. In just a-oh, I don't know just a short 45 minutes from now.

Poppy, in the event that you manage to muscle your way onto that podium, I don't know whether you were-if you gate crash the party, give us a wave.

HARLOW: I will. I will wave at you Richard and yes, an exciting day for CNNmoney to be ringing the bell today, Richard.

QUEST: I've always wanted to ring the bell. Poppy Harlow got to ring bell before me. This is not fair.

HARLOW: Oh, can you believe it?

QUEST: No.

Many thanks, many thanks. Poppy Harlow, who is at the New York Stock Exchange.

Now, a look at these-look at this, this is fascinating. What do all these newspapers have in common? "The Financial Times", for one, "The Wall Street Journal", and "The Economist"? The one thing they all have in common, is they charge a fee for some, if not all in some cases, of their online content. And now these three eminent, respectable and extremely useful documents and newspapers are about to be joined by another one. Going to be joined by "The Times". That is the online version of "The Times". This is the newspaper version. Now, the newspaper version costs 1 pound. They going to charge the same amount for the online version or 2 pounds, just over $3, if you pay for a weekly subscription.

It is a fascinating development by Rupert Murdoch's News International, which has already has some success, of course, with "The Wall Street Journal" charging for its content. Now, the executive editor of "The Times" is Daniel Finkelstein. And a short while ago we talked and I asked him just how much was riding on the move in the battle for readership?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANIEL FINKELSTEIN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE TIMES": Oh, no, we believe very strongly that journalism has a value, and because it has a value, it has a price, and we think that to secure the future of the sort of independent, high-quality journalism that we believe in, that we believe we provide, we must put it on a sustainable foundation and that is the reason for the announcement we've made today.

QUEST: In your question and answer on the actual-on the site, the current "Times" online site, you admit, quite openly that the number of people that will visit, as a result is likely to go down dramatically.

FINKELSTEIN: Oh, of course, because one of the ways that people read a paper online at the moment, when it is free, is they graze, they pick an individual article. And we think we'll have much more intense relationship with our readers. That people will come in because it's "The Times". Because we have created an environment in which they know they can find high-quality journalism. They'll do it quite differently, and naturally the results of that will be there will be fewer people, but the relationship with them will be stronger.

QUEST: And in terms of what people will be able to see, the access to the site, will there still be any freebies available?

FINKELSTEIN: "The Times" will be-announce exactly what is available when the moment comes, when we're launching the site, but people essentially will be asked to pay to read "Times" journalism. So the idea is that if you want to read "The Times" you pay a fair price for it, 2 pounds week, or one pound for 24 hours. And the age of free, when people were able to graze between newspapers, we think will come to an end with us being the pioneering spirits behind a change that will take over the whole of the media industry.

QUEST: Now, the difference of course, and I'm well aware in asking these questions that you have lived, breathed, ate, and slept, this. So, you are of course of every minor detail of it, now "The Journal" charges, "The Financial Times" charges, the argument is that they are specialized papers, proving specialized content, to a particular type of industry and that-but you are much more generic, much more general.

FINKELSTEIN: No, we're special, too. We think that people have a relationship with "The Times". We think some of the things we offer, our columnists, our editorials, our take on the world, the way that we cover stories. That is unique. And of course, there are alternatives out there that are free, but "The Times" isn't free. And I think people will want "The Times". So, we have confidence in what we provide. That is why we think we can ask a fair price, but it is not a big price, but think that some price is reasonable that has a lot of value to people.

QUEST: And how will you handle the Google aspect? Where Google has scraped and has got an article of yours, from the news, in the cache, obviously if you click through you'll get the subscription page, but if you go to the cache, you'll see the article.

FINKELSTEIN: Well, this is a different model. They're not going to be able to do the same-people are not going to be able to do the same as were able to do before. They are going to be asked to come through, into "The Times" based on a fair subscription, and they'll read it differently. And so, of course, the era in which Google has been operating, that of course, will change. And we think it will not only change through us, there are papers throughout the world that are thinking the same way that we are. They are thinking they've got valuable journalism, they want to support it. And they need to think what the model is for doing that.

QUEST: Daniel, I can only wonder, what is the digital equivalent of the first cuckoo of spring, I wonder?

(LAUGHTER)

FINKELSTEIN: Well, I'll tell you what, in 1785, when "The Times" was launched, it was launched to showcase new technology. That is why the paper exists at all. This is just us doing something that is very deeply in our tradition.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUEST: You'll be aware of course that "The Times" makes a habit of printing the first letters about the first cuckoo of spring. And talking of cuckoos, we'd been blogging on the question, would you pay to read news online?

The information is free. Nobody wants to pay a charge to read it, says some of you.

"The only reason I get my news from the web, is because it is free," says someone else.

If we go to our Twitter page, @RichardQuest, Desmond8119, "Nothing unique about a news item, so why pay for it?"

Ayesha, in London, "If they are going to make us pay for online news it had better be without advert."

Just a couple more, before we go. Here we go: Wayne6565, "Well, I do think it is worth in some things, food, health care, but we spoil so much money on things we don't need."

And finally, ITPM, "I do not believe in paid news."

That is the Twitter page that we have. Of course, you can also join, that is @RichardQuest. If you want to join us on the debate, on Facebook, then our Facebook address is QuestMeansBusiness. And when we talk about QUEST MEANS BUSINESS, we are going to-that is where you get more gossip. Twitter, you and I have a chat. Facebook we tend to sort of tell you what's happening behind the scenes.

When we come back in a moment, its spring has sprung, and if you are an economist or business leader, you had better be in the rarified atmosphere of the Italian lakes. I'm not there, but John Defterios is.

DEFTERIOS: Not unlike Davos, this gathering in Northern Italy is known more by its location, Chernobbio on Lake Como, European House Ambrosetti brings together finance minister, central bankers, and top global strategists. I spoke to one of them, Jim O'Neil of Goldman Sachs. He thinks the Greek crisis is overblown and that Germany deserves a veto over Europe's financial affairs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

QUEST: Hello, I'm Richard Quest, QUEST MEANS BUSINESS.

This is CNN.

And we take you to Italy now and the Ambrosetti Forum, where the hot topic of the day surely had to have been Greece.

John Defterios is at the financial workshop, along with business leaders and politicians.

And he met up with Jim O'Neill, the head of global economic research at Goldman Sachs.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM O'NEILL, HEAD OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH, GOLDMAN SACHS: Greece is 2.5 percent of the euro area, you know, so, yes, Greece has got a lot of problems and with -- with the package that's coming, it looks -- it sort of looks like it's going to consolidate fiscal deficit reduction, which means Greek demand is going to be weak, maybe for years.

But in terms of Europe, you know, 70 percent of the euro area's activity comes from three countries -- Germany, France and Italy. And all those three are doing OK.

DEFTERIOS: In fact, there's a rush by Portugal and Spain, even Ireland, to get their budget packages in to avoid the contagion.

O'NEILL: Sure.

DEFTERIOS: That process seems to be starting late, but the cuts are very severe, so this is going to hurt demand in Europe for at least three or four years.

O'NEILL: Well, I think you'll hear of those guys. But, again, you know the -- if you put them together, the aggregate share in GDP would be about 15 percent and -- and two thirds of that Spain. So in terms of really influencing the European area as a whole, Spain is the one that is an issue. Greece, Portugal and Ireland are all very small economies. And, of course, they're -- they're going to have some weakness and there's going to be social and political issues. But in terms of it being a -- a truly damaging thing for the whole of Europe, you know, people need to really keep it in perspective.

An ongoing missed story is how much exports from Germany and even Italy here are booming, literally booming, to some of the great countries. And that, together with the second thing, is that the euro dropping is giving these countries even more competitiveness. And if you look at the very latest aggregate European indicators, they've surprised on the up side, not the down side.

And I -- I wouldn't dismiss the possibility that the E.U. actually raises its forecasts for European growth this year, despite all those dire numbers.

So, yes, you've got a lot of -- got a lot of mini problems here and it's certainly an issue about the long-term stability of the euro. But in terms of the European economy and the world economy, people -- people are exaggerating the gravity of this.

DEFTERIOS: The European Central Bank said it would be a damage to the reputation of Europe to have the IMF involved. That's where we're heading right now, at least for a third of the bailout.

Is it really damaging to have that sort of expertise and even the lowering borrowing costs in this sort of crisis, though?

O'NEILL: Yes, I'd foreign the ECB said that.

They did, didn't they?

And so it's tough for them to get away from that one.

DEFTERIOS: But it's a complete U-turn in the last 24 hours.

O'NEILL: Well, I think -- I think -- I think the whole thing is a -- is typical of the kind of things we've seen in the past 20 odd years. When Europe has little financial crises or its big ones, you know, we end up with a smoke-filled room at 3:00 in the morning in Brussels with all sorts of weird compromises. And that's what's gone on here.

I think the -- the core issue is that Germany, politically, can't really be seen as completely underwriting the Club Med countries' largesse, or at least in the -- in the vivid imagination of German voters.

DEFTERIOS: But the fine print is that Angela Merkel could come in and say I don't like the package, I am going to veto it.

O'NEILL: Oh, yes. Yes, that -- but I -- because I think at the end of the day, what the Germans think about all these things is -- is, individually, the most important. I mean, going right back to the whole creation of the euro idea, you know, it was really linking everybody to Germanic style stability. So the Germans, in many ways, have the right to have that veto, I think.

DEFTERIOS: But wasn't it a huge mistake not to have Euroset (ph) or the commission or even the ECB involved -- more involved in each country to measure the accuracy of the data?

O'NEILL: No. No, because then you're getting into the -- the underlying core issue. As you know, John, that there are -- there are many people in Germany, including some of the more thoughtful ones, that said, you know, before 1999, that the stability pact, as constructed, wouldn't ultimately work, because it didn't have any teeth.

And that's what this has shown.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

QUEST: Jim O'Neill talking to John Defterios.

Now, Jim O'Neill has become somebody who is known for other than his economic views lately. He's a high profile fan of Manchester United and not just a fan. He's a leader of the so-called Red Knights, the group of wealthy individuals who are proposing the buy the club with current owners, the Glazer family. They said they wouldn't put a bid before the end of the football season. That's what the Red Knights have said.

Obviously, we couldn't sit down with Mr. O'Neill without asking him about his involvement in the group.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'NEILL: I am very happy to talk about anything to do with economics, but I don't want to start talking -- if I talk about that with you, then I will have about six million media people cueing in outside my office.

We put out a statement today and I think the statement makes it particularly what the plan is.

DEFTERIOS: One stage where the Red Knights come in and then you have a global participation by fans?

That seems very evident by what the statement says.

O'NEILL: The statement speaks for itself.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

QUEST: You've got to -- you can't -- you can't blame John for trying and Jim for not answering.

OK, when we come back in a moment, it will be time to find out your weekend weather. There's a lot of concern about some very nasty weather out there. And those of us who just want to have a bit of sunshine and spring.

Be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

QUEST: Now, let's look at what's happened with when there's a heated debate on would you pay to read newspapers online?

From the CNN.com blog, Old Timer: "Absolutely not. What news there is is so slanted and watered down, it's really not news."

Old Timer, that's a bit curmudgeonly.

Fant (ph): "The only reason I get news from the Web is because it's free."

Flavio (ph), Sacramento: "Why should I pay for information it exists -- if it exists on Web sites like Yahoo! News, MSN News, Google News, AOL News?"

You forget CNN.com news.

Let's see, on the Twitter line what we've got, if I've (INAUDIBLE).

Streveco (ph): "I think it's a mistake to buy news in corps (ph). Most people associate news with" -- wait until I manage to read it. "I think it's a mistake," he says. "Most people associate news on the Web to be free and they will not change that."

And, finally, Vicki (ph) in Greece: "Some of these articles are just a taste of what I mean. Have a good weekend."

Hmmm.

We'll have a look at the weather forecast.

And Guillermo is at the CNN World Weather Center.

GUILLERMO ARDUINO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: If I have to forecast the weather for Europe, I will do this. And then see the results.

We are going to have a mixture of everything and I think you will get rain. Tonight, it's going to be rainy in London. I think -- I mean I maintain my forecast for London, that the weekend is going to be better than today and yesterday. But it is going to be rainy anywhere.

And you see Germany still some areas with some snow showers. But in here, rain here and there. I see that this new system is approaching London again. France is going to see some rain. And the temperatures are going down. They're going down once more.

One aspect is good when temperatures go down, especially for Belarus, because remember the floods that we had there?

Temperatures go -- going up and then the snow melting down and -- and that over charging those rivers with -- with water.

Well, see, the forecast will be cities in the west, again, with some delays at airports because of winds. The winds and Britain, France and into Iberia. And this area -- look at the jet, Richard.

You see how it's going to shrink?

And then temps continue to cool down, practically all over, except for the south, where they continue to be a little bit warm.

So it's not going to be a very comfortable weekend.

Now, in Germany, we are still looking at some cities like Berlin at 20 or so for tomorrow -- or today. And then it's going to start cooling down. Now, we have a lot of precipitation in many spots here, especially toward the north. The Med appears to be much better.

So Rome with rain showers and Madrid with some clouds.

So look at it again and you see that it's transitional weather, as I always say. So for tonight, we're seeing these temps, at 20, 21, the high of the day. Also, in -- in Asia, I have to say that we are going to see pretty much the same conditions, but the Philippines continue to be fairly dry. The winds continue to affect Seoul, Hong Kong, Taipei, especially all those that are coming out of the some bad weather. Now the lingering effect is the wind.

And the temperatures are still hot in India, if you're traveling there, throughout this weekend. The same pattern, especially in the north. Remember, Dalea (ph) was telling you like 10 degrees or 12 degrees above average -- dangerous, because here, where you see this division is where the jet is. And that jet stream is blocking the cool conditions from the north. So -- and it's not until June that we see some relief when the monsoonal flow comes into here and we get the rain showers and those refreshing rains that so many people and the industry are looking forward to getting.

Hong Kong 24. And as you see, the date there is wrong. It says Thursday, but it's for Saturday.

And then we are going to see some foggy conditions in Denver. It's changing from snow to fog. Apart from that, I was checking out what was going on in the Northeast. The delays are there right now, Richard, but it's improving. So I think the weekend is going to be better -- back to you.

QUEST: Thank you for that.

Guillermo at the World Weather Center.

And that's QUEST MEANS BUSINESS for tonight.

I'm Richard Quest in London.

Whatever you're up to in the hours ahead, I do hope it is a profitable time.

"MARKETPLACE MIDDLE EAST" is next.

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