Friday, August 01, 2008

It was announced yesterday that a Catalan gas company had purchased a controlling shareholding in a Galicia-based electric company which had long ceased to be owned locally. Making it sound almost as bad as if a world war had broken out, the first sentence of the Voz de Galicia's headline article ran:- Scarcely three months after its directors stressed the Galician-ness of the company, F P has sold his shares to Gas Natural.

And a box alongside this article intoned :- Galicia has 4 or 5 strategic sectors which are the motors of its economy and its future. One of these is energy. Galicia has given everything to the sector, at great social cost and at a price close to zero. She has given her rivers, her valleys, her mineral wealth and even her air. But, as companies have no homeland, their profits, their taxes, and their employees move further and further away from here. It's bad business not to demand at least a fair price for our resources. Inside the paper, though, one of the regular columnists brings us down to earth in suggesting that this could well be the point at which the Xunta, for one, stops fantasising about sectors that are purely Galician. Especially around the case of a company which ceased to be so 26 years ago. Time to stop the schizophrenic thinking, he felt. And he is surely correct. What matters is development and job creation, not who owns the shares and whose bank account the dividends end up in. Or whether the company is labelled Galician, Madrileño or, God forbid, Catalan.

The development did raise an interesting point about how the European energy market is a mess of different models, with single companies very dominant in France and Germany, on the one hand, in contrast with a market divided among several smaller companies in 'free' markets such as the UK. In the latter, British Gas has just announced a price hike of more than 30% and the other companies are expected to do likewise. This follows on earlier large increases and contrasts with Spain, for example, where prices to customers have not reflected increases in the wholesale market, either with gas or with electricity. I assume the prices are subsidised and so the customers pay the increases via their taxes. An alternative which is presumably legal under EU rules, regardless of how it distorts the European market. I wonder what has happened in the French and German protectorates of EDF and E.ON, who have 89% and 81% market share, respectively. Are they subsidised too? Is it a level playing field?

Talking of energy, I find it's hard to do one's bit for the ecology when companies and shops persist - especially here - in giving you far more plastic than you need or want. Witness my shopping trip this morning:-
1. Go first to the stationers to get a big file, as I know they'll give me a large bag into which I can put all other purchases
2. Go to first pharmacy to get my essential ear plugs as I know they stock the large box of these but won't give me my antihistamines without a prescription. Decline the plastic bag that's offered.
3. Walk to second pharmacy, while stripping the unnecessary cardboard and plastic off the plastic box of earplugs. Chuck it in nearby bin.
4. Go to second pharmacy and get the antihistamines. Decline the plastic bag offered.
5. Go to sock shop, enter wonderful Dickensian world and get 3 pairs of socks. Decline the plastic bag offered.
6. Go to next door gift shop and ask the price of an item in the window. Wait ten minutes while they confirm that a. there's no price on it, and b. they can't find this anywhere else. Agree to come back tomorrow. Thank them for not offering me a plastic bag.

One occasionally reads of a judicial sentence here which leaves one non-plussed. There's a good example in El Pais today, where it was reported that a judge in Santander had accepted inebriation as a mitigating factor in the trial of man who'd been banned for being over the alcohol limit and who, only eleven days into the suspension of his licence, crashed into another car when again drunk. As if that wasn't enough, the judge pronounced that his inebriated state was also a mitigating factor in his refusing to take a breath test. And reduced the penalty accordingly. Or perhaps I misread it all.

If you're near Pontevedra tonight, you can catch a concert by Primal Scream, The Editors, The Sound, The Rakes and The Two Gallants. And, if you stick around for the next two nights, you can hear bands with even dafter names. And maybe see the bulls on Sunday.

Or, if you really want excitement, you can pop over to Cambados and see Boney M. Or at least the guy who's the only remaining member of the original group.

We certainly know how to live here!

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