The good news today is that Spain is said to be on the verge of exiting her recession.
The bad news is that this assurance comes from President Zapollyanna, whose record on these things has been consistently unimpressive. To say the least.
But President Z has, at least, kept one promise. He said long again his response to the recession would be a “socialist one”. In keeping with this, he has again extended unemployment benefits. Should – God forbid – Spain ever find itself in the same position as Greece – having to introduce harsh austerity measures at the behest of Brussels – one wonders if Sr Zapatero would resist these as much as the unions. Or whether he would quit the field and hand over to some Sr Nasty in his party.
Meanwhile, we wait to see what the flesh is on the bones on the EU rescue plan for Greece. As there is much talk of loans and as Greece is awash with debt, I assume the EU money will be on softer terms, allowing some re-financing to take place. Some commentators, of course, feel it would have been more appropriate to leave all this to the IMF but this was clearly politically unacceptable in Brussels. As I said yesterday, politics looked like triumphing over economics - if we ignored the exposure of German banks to Greek and Spanish defaults. And now I see that French banks are in an even worse position as regards Greek debt. Which possibly helps explain M. Sarkozy’s pressure for a quick solution.
Longer term, we wait to see how the Brussels mandarins move towards the always-essential full political union to secure the monetary union. Which surely faces more tests even after this week’s hubbub has died down. As someone has put it – “Even after the current mess is cleared up, the eurozone will find itself faced with an awkward question: does it admit that currency union was a mistake and dismantle it, or does it press on and create an effective European economic government to fill in the missing gap? To do nothing seems untenable.” To this question, the writer gives his own eurosceptic answer – “Brussels, which of course has no reverse gear, is pushing for the latter. A few years ago, one would probably have assumed it would succeed. Today, the consensus behind ever-closer integration is disintegrating. The European project was forged in the post-war years when the public was willing to do anything to prevent a repeat of those atrocities. But the majority of Europeans were born well after the war. If Brussels expects to be able to push through closer economic integration over their heads, it may be in for a rude awakening.” Which, I think, is another way of putting my oft-repeated comment that, sooner or later, the EU is going to come up against democratic realities. Which you might say is already happening on the streets of Greece. The trouble with economics giving way to politics is that eventually they’re the same thing.
I mentioned a while ago that Spain’s national rail carrier – RENFE – offers a card giving 40% discount to senior citizens. So, buying a ticket to Madrid today, I was expecting to pay something very much below what it usually costs me. But it was not to be. There certainly was a discount but it was only 20%. This is because when you buy a normal return ticket, there’s an inbuilt discount for the return leg. Which is added back to the price before they give you the Tarjeta Dorada discount. I felt I’d been rather misled by the headline rate of 40%. But, given what I regularly write about corporate marketing tactics here, I really don’t know why I was surprised.
The Spanish timetable . . . Someone called me at 25 past midnight last night. Interestingly, it was an English acquaintance. Albeit one who’s lived here for 30 years, so has possibly gone native. That said, when I asked one of the waitresses in my usual bar today what she thought would be the latest time for a call, she said 10.30. Which equates to only 8.30 in the UK. So, was she being honest?
Finally . . . I was interested to read that the Colombian drug cartels have decided to stop using Galicia as the major entry point into Europe for their iniquitous product. Disappointingly, though, this was not because the Spanish police are getting better at intercepting the consignments but because the Galician partners are not efficient enough. Though perhaps these factors overlap.
Strangely, as I drove down to the bridge before walking into town to post this, I was stopped in one of a series of police roadblocks. They waived me through, of course, but I couldn't help noticing that some of them were carrying sub-machine guns, not breathalysers. Living close to a couple of gypsy settlements which are regularly raided for drugs, we're used to a police presence around here. But not usually one as serious as this. I wonder if it has any thing to do with the recent discovery that ETA have been setting up a base in Portugal. Perhaps the papers will tell us tomorrow.