Even my Anglophile friends here are outraged Spain wasn’t invited to the weekend financial crisis summit hosted by Gordon Brown in London. Goaded, of course, by the media, they see it as typical British arrogance. What really hurt was the presence of Italy, whose economy – insists President Zapatero – in now smaller than Spain’s. As will be those of France and the UK – he promises – by around 2010. How all this fits with continuing massive EU subventions is rather beyond me. But, be that as it may, my suspicion is what really got under the Spanish skin was being told they were represented – like all other EU members – by the head of the EU Commission. Who happens to be from under-performing little Portugal, next door.
Talking of the Spanish economy, the more I read of the promised €400 rebate, the more I suspect someone made it up on the spot. For, those to be denied this annual return of their own money are now said to include not only the self-employed but also people who pay very small amounts of tax, pensioners and folk who live off their capital but pay tax on interest thereon. I’m left wondering whether the target – assuming one was ever defined – are the young people who earn only around a thousand euros a month - the famous mileuristas. But, since these are all young enough to vote instinctively for the Socialists, this wouldn’t make much sense either. So, I’m lost. But it’s interesting the proposed measure has been engulfed in criticism from both sides of the political divide. President Zapatero has finally realised, I imagine, that you can actually displease all the people all the time. At the moment, it’s called The Sarkozy Strategy.
And talking of Brussels, its latest dig at Spain is to criticise the high fees of her notaries. As I’ve said before, these people – virtually unknown in the Anglo world – are the equivalent of lawyers here in terms of status and income. Though I suspect they do rather better when it comes to popularity. Given the Spanish obsession with paper and with proving your identity, they’re an inescapably regular feature of life here. For one thing, both parties to a property transaction are compelled by the state to use a notary. The same one, as it happens. It’s not an easy qualification to get, they say, but once in situ it seems hard to avoid making a fortune, especially during a 10 year property boom. Plus the profession – as with pharmacists - operates like a medieval guild. So competition is not exactly tough. Hence the high fees. The defence of the notaries’ association to the charges from Brussels was an interesting one – We are cheaper for clients than in a liberal economy like the UK’s. Which nicely ignores the facts that no one uses a notary in the UK and that lawyers do rather more for their clients than notaries do. But, anyway, I can’t see much change taking place in Spain for a decade or three. Especially if the PP’s Rajoy gets into power. He and all his siblings are notaries.
A special Tourism section in yesterday’s El Mundo offered advice on what you could do in various places around the world. For the UK, the paper suggested – naturally - a trip to Liverpool and participation in one of the country’s numerous sporting activities, such as el fútbol, el rugby, el rafting, el cheese-rolling and . . . . el zorbing. Which turns out to be “an activity where riders enter into large inflatable plastic balls and ride along the ground, on water or down hills.” It originated in New Zealand, the country which brought us el bungee jumping.
I often wonder who Spain’s equivalent of the UK's officious Health & Safety officers might be. One candidate must surely be the people who implement Language Normalisation policies in places like the Basque Country, Cataluña and Galicia. Ours have just announced that funeral directors should do a lot more to ensure proceedings are in Gallego rather than Spanish. And they’ve provided a helpful pile of documents to make things easier. I can’t imagine the main protagonists are all that concerned about the language of their eulogies. Unless God, like Christopher Columbus, is a Gallego. And a member of the BNG.
Mention of the weasel word Normalisation reminds me that the more I read by and of him, the greater my respect for George Orwell. Asked by the Left Review in 1937 to join other writers in saying which side he supported in the Spanish Civil War, he replied, “Will you please stop sending me this bloody rubbish . . . If I did compress what I know and think about the Spanish war into six lines, you wouldn’t print it.”