The ADgenda: this week's most offensive advert

Estee Lauder's Day and Night repair.

During the Paralympics one advert seemed to be running interminably throughout the Channel 4 coverage. As we watched heroic athletes at their physical peak, battling to claim public recognition for all the gruelling years of training and dedication they had sweated through, Estee Lauder were more interested in educating us about life's necessities. A purring voice grabbed our attention with the words "Millions of women can't live without it" and up our ears pricked, what could this wonderful new invention be that we had so far survived just fine without but had now arrived to show us how dreary and base our existence had been up until this very moment? 

Turns out the one thing that women require as a basic need the world over is anti-aging cream. No, not clean running water or access to electricity. Not even the oxygen we breathe is as crucial or as life-sustaining as holding off those wrinkles, ladies. This isn't just that we'd quite like healthy, younger-looking skin - no, it's not that flippant. We NEED a youthful, bouncy complexion - our very lives depend on it. 

Sadly, someone forgot to tell child poverty charity Plan International who in the same week have released an advert for their campaign "Because I Am A Girl", highlighting the continuing yawning chasm of gender inequality in certain parts of the world. While actress Freida Pinto spoke of girls who will not survive adolescence because they have no access to quality healthcare, Estee Lauder were busy convincing the rest of the world that survival depends upon slathering your face in a thick white cream every night. 

The company recently announced that they are upping their advertising spending by about $80m, so I imagine we're going to be treated to ever slicker examples of sham beauty products we just simply can't do without. But where's "the science bit"? While we're regularly subjected to the statistics behind the effectiveness of beauty products – "99.99999 per cent of women found their skin was a bit wetter after applying this product" – the company are strangely silent when it comes to backing up this particular claim. Perhaps they rounded up millions of women who were at death's door, smeared some cream on their face and miraculously they were cured, marching out into the sunshine radiating pure health. Perhaps. But then Estee Lauder would be modern day saviours worthy of our undying admiration, not grab-a-buck-quick fraudsters who profit from manipulating women's insecurities.

The Estee Lauder advert. Photograph, Getty Images.
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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump