Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The government has announced they’re going to introduce new technologies which will eliminate the need for people to photocopy their identity card and certificate of local registration whenever they want to do anything. They say it will save 10 million pieces of paper a year. This is very good news. So why am I filled with apprehension? I guess it’s because – as in the post office – I suspect electronic and paper-based systems will run side-by-side. And things will take even more time.

The Pontevedra police recently decided to clamp down on the unlicensed traders in our twice-monthly street market. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have mentioned this to the police just across the river in Poio. So guess where the illegal stalls now appear. That old Spanish pragmatism again.

I see the Sky News team has had the brilliant idea of converting itself from a group of staid news readers into a troupe of 5th rate chat show hosts and guests. My already-low tolerance threshold has now reduced to around a minute before I want to put a foot through the screen. Just like watching Spanish TV.

After all this levity, a touch of gravitas. There is a Europe-wide consensus that the EU finances Britain, something which is very far from the truth. This results from the regular prominence given by the French to the British rebate – or El cheque britannico, in Spanish. For my Spanish readers [and others] who share this view, here are a few facts to chew on…
- The ruinously expensive Common Agricultural Policy was negotiated between France and Germany in the 60s. Because the CAP would be particularly bad for the British, they were kept out of the negotiations by the French. The latter, of course, ended up as the main beneficiaries of the CAP.
- When the French veto was eventually lifted in the 70s and Britain was allowed to join the EU, they took a gamble on the genuineness of a French promise they’d be compensated for the CAP via regional funds. The gamble was lost and the funds never materialised.
- So, in the 80s Margaret Thatcher negotiated the annual rebate in place of this failed French promise.
- In 2002, France [Chirac] and Germany [Schroeder] agreed to maintain CAP spending levels until 2013. They did this without consulting any of their ‘partners’ in the EU.
- Over the 30 years since Britain joined the EU, it has paid [despite the rebate] a net €64bn. This is more than twice as much as France.
- In the middle of this year, in an attempt to recover from the disastrous French referendum on the EU Constitution, Chirac again raised the smokescreen of the British rebate. But he was outsmarted by Blair [not a man I usually admire], who expressed a willingness to negotiate the rebate provided something was done about the CAP and its disastrous consequences for everyone except France and [more recently] Spain, Portugal and Greece.
But all this is history. What we now face is a pitched budgetary battle between the northern European countries, fed up of subsidising their ‘partners’, and the southern and eastern members who benefit from the CAP. In this context, France is far more southern than northern. The decisive contribution will come from Germany, whose new government will surely prove less willing to prop up a France that looks increasingly like a country which is imploding after years of high living at the expense of other countries. Or maybe they will want to subsidise France, fearing the spread of revolution from their decaying neighbour.

Whatever, the EU budget for 2007-2113 must be concluded by mid 2006. So, it’s handbags at dawn, ladies.

Meanwhile, the EU Audit Commission yesterday declined to approve the EU’s annual accounts. For the 11th year in a row. You couldn’t make it up, could you?

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at

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