The regional finance row rumbles on, with the national newspapers giving different takes on the high-level, one-to-one meetings taking place, according to their political bias. However, the emerging consensus is that President Zapatero is going to go with a population-based formula for everyone. This will please Cataluña [socialist and nationalist], Madrid [conservative] and Andalucia [socialist but non-nationalist] but leaves Galicia, Asturias, Estremadura and the two Castillas decidedly less thrilled. As these are regions where the population tends to be older and poorer, one’s forced to ask where the much-vaunted ‘national solidarity’ is in all this. Perhaps the concept is only important now in the context of what ‘poor’ Spain deserves from the central coffers of the EU. And maybe the very right-of-centre ABC is right to say that the nationalists are now governing Spain. If even more exaggerated than my own observations.
Astonishingly, the late British slapstick comedian, Benny Hill, is still widely remembered – and possibly loved - in both Spain and France. There was a cartoon in one of the papers yesterday showing President Z saying or thinking something, with ‘the Benny Hill music’ playing in the background. It put me in mind of Norman Wisdom’s huge popularity in Iran in the mid 70s. Though the Islamic revolution at the end of the decade may well have done for that. I met NW at Manchester airport a few years back but forgot to ask him. He is/was a notorious penny-pincher and – despite his considerable fortune – was boarding the same cheap flight to Spain as me and my family. And looked even grumpier.
Talking of money – There was a photo in yesterday’s paper of one lucky winner of the big Christmas lottery, showing his bank book entry of 300,000 euros. However, consumer organisations were quick to do my job in pointing to the entries recording the high level of commissions routinely charged by his bank. Spaniards keep boasting of how wise, strong and stable their banks are and I keep saying how expensive and inadequate their services are, unless you think it’s a good idea to have a branch of your bank every few hundred metres along your town’s main streets. We’re both right, of course. And, if this is what Spanish consumers are happy with, then so be it. But it’s not compulsory for the rest of us to be overly impressed. At least not as customers, rather than shareholders.
Spanish courts are beginning to find what belonging to the EU really means. Firstly, there was high dudgeon a week or two back, when the European court found in favour of Gibraltar over some questionable financial practice. And now there’s anger that a Belfast court is interfering in the Spanish judicial process by daring to question whether a famous ETA member committed any crime here justifying his extradition to Spain. I look forward to seeing the reaction when some popular Spanish individual is arrested in, say, Bulgaria on an EU arrest warrant obtained by a publicity-seeking local judge.
The fact that the Spanish don’t feel the need to tip at American levels of 15-25% seems to me to be a good thing. The norm is probably around 10% in areas where tourism is a major factor but, elsewhere, the principle of ‘the small change from your pocket up to a max of 5%’ seems to still hold sway. That said, twice this week I’ve seen in my regular bar tips of 5 cents on bills in excess of 6 euros. Or less than 1%. I mean, why bother? No wonder I get generous helpings of wine and tapas in return for 10%. Sometimes being generous rather than my customary mean can pay for itself. If only in smiles.
Which reminds me – Merry Christmas to everyone. I might take a day off tomorrow.