But paying the tolls can be tricky. At many tollbooths, American credit cards are not accepted unless they have a smart chip (what Europeans call “chip-and-PIN” cards). Use cash — it’s best to have smaller bills, since the automated machines won’t take 50-euro bills and often there aren’t any cashiers. At pay points, avoid booths showing only “Telepeage” or a credit-card icon. Look instead for green arrows above the tollbooth or icons showing bills, which indicate they accept cash. Road speeds are monitored regularly with speed cameras (a mere two kilometers over the limit gets a pricey ticket). The good news is that drivers are usually warned first. Look for a sign with a radar graphic that says, “Pour votre securite, controles automatiques.” Anyone caught driving over the limit will be fined a minimum of about $180. Italy: Italy’s expressway system, the autostrada, is as good as our interstate system, but you’ll pay about a dollar for every 10 minutes of use. (I paid about $25 for the four-hour drive from Bolzano to Pisa.) As in France, U.S. credit cards may not work at toll booths — avoid the “Telepass” and “Carte” lanes and use cash. The speed limit on autostradas is about 80 miles per hour but sometimes it can be lower, so watch the signs carefully. There are hidden speed cameras, and if you’re caught speeding, the car-rental agency must give the police your contact information. If you get caught, Italian bureaucrats have up to a year to mail you the ticket — no kidding.
REUTERS SUMMIT-Emerging Europe poised for modest economic upturn
(Photo: Lionel Bonaventure, AFP/Getty Images) SHARE 6 CONNECT 17 TWEET COMMENTEMAILMORE It’s no day at the plage operating a giant, successful, multinational American company, once you’ve run up against some very un-American notions about tax policy from abroad. Such as the “data tax” on Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, about to be proposed by France for adoption by the European Union. Apparently, France would like to impose a data transmission tax on those companies — and only those companies — because they are the dominant platforms for Internet usage in Europe just as they are in the US, but they are “non-European,” that is, American. Their dominance therefore prevents European competitors from emerging from obscurity. (How taxing the most popular sites will make other sites more popular with consumers is not clear.) A French member of the European Parliament tells the Wall Street Journal that a data tax should be imposed because the European nations have become “just the puppets of financiers and multinationals.” Or, as Forbes puts it in a now-classic headline: “Gibbering Nonsense From France About Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon.” The tax plan is just one piece of a proposal that would establish a new Internet regulatory agency within the European Union. In part, the agency would be empowered to impose other rules aimed at leveling the playing field for European competitors, such as forcing the American companies to enable portability among devices for digital purchases. French Technology Minister Fleur Pellerin told the Wall Street Journal that the absence of such regulations is effectively “blocking innovation from all of the other actors,” and making it difficult for European companies to emerge. The call for regulation gets real impetus from another issue that has entangled US technology companies in Europe: data privacy. The issue gained a great deal of heat after revelations of the US government’s continuing collection of private data on a massive scale, and with the cooperation of some of its biggest technology companies. The proposals are expected to be presented in late October at a summit of European leaders. At this point, the data transmission tax is the part of the proposal that seems least likely to succeed.
Europe in the fast lane
Mateusz Morawiecki, head of Polish bank BZ WBK, took a more upbeat line for the region’s top economy. “We noticed a breakthrough in the economy over the summer months,” when credit demand suddenly emerged, he said. “Maybe it will not be a V-shaped recovery but we are seeing a turn towards investments.” With signs that the worst may be over in the euro zone that absorbs a lot of emerging Europe’s exports, much hinges on whether sentiment in the region picks up again, officials said. “Consumption is still at a very low level because people do not have confidence in the recovery,” said Levon Hampartzoumian, head of UniCredit’s Bulgarian unit Bulbank. EYES ON THE FED That can also be seen in the shopping habits of Czechs, said Marek Switajewski, chief executive at Unipetrol , the country’s biggest petrol station operator. “Czech people in the past were stopping at (pricey) petrol stations buying food, drinks, … now people are very careful where they buy, they are much more focused on discounts,” he said. “We are still in recession and the recovery will be long and painful.” A big hurdle for the region is how investors react when the U.S. central bank finally starts scaling back its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases. This has been a flood of liquidity that had helped fuel market rallies in higher-risk markets. Even though the Fed surprised markets this month by keeping the stimulus in place for now, concerns that the monetary fire hose may soon start losing its power have triggered an exodus of short-term investments from many emerging markets. Central and eastern Europe is especially vulnerable to this given the region’s relatively high levels of short-term debt compared with foreign currency reserves. But officials at the Summit put the best face on affairs, even in Hungary, some of whose fiscal policies have drawn the ire of banks and multinationals operating there. “Given the improvement in Hungary’s fundamentals…I am worried – I am paid to be worried – but I see the risk as much less significant than it was in the past or is in the case of certain other countries where those inflows have been more substantial,” said Gabor Orban, a top economy ministry official.