Monday, September 14, 2015

Sp. economy; Sp. police surveillance; The EU; Mr Corbyn; & Oxen

English friends ask me if Spain is over the worst of its long recession yet. At the macro level, I reply, things look good. With a growth rate of 1-2%, Spain is now one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. According to President Rajoy - ahead of imminent elections - it's the apple of Mrs Merkel's eye and an 'austerity 'model' for the rest of Europe. But the unemployment rate is still 22 or 23% - or 50% for the young - and there's no feel-good factor down at the street level. In Pontevedra, I add, the retail scene still looks devastated, even if estate agents again seem to be taking over a few of the empty places. One good example is a short street going down from the main square to Vegetables Square, where 6 of the 10 shops have closed. And where, perhaps, the sole survivor will be this place selling religious knick-knacks:-

HT to Lenox of Business over Tapas for the news that Spain's police now have the right to place trojans on our computers so as to obtain any information they might need from the servers. Lenox quotes a specialist lawyer as saying: "Between this new law, the Law of Intellectual Property, the latest reforms in the Penal Law and the (so-called) Gag Law, there's been a brutal reverse in internet rights and liberties. At a stroke, we losing all our privacy". To counteract this, recommends Lenox, you might like to consider using a foreign hosting company, never having an .es address and keeping your emails in code. Not being a crook, I've no idea how the last one works.

The EU can survive only if it splits in two, says one British newspaper columnist. One part being a true superstate lead by Germany and(?) France and the other being a looser trading bloc. Britain, of course, should stay out of the former and lead the latter. The full article can be found at the end of this post. And it's not as dry as it sounds. It may even be accurate. It certainly has the ring of truth for me.

Listening to Labour's new Deputy Leader yesterday, I was reminded of, The Galician National Block, or the BNG. This is a 'far-left' party, representing the so-called Galician nationalists who'd like more local power, or even secession from Spain. Calling itself a 'Patriotic Front', the party has strong ties with the industrial trade unions, student unions, environmentalists, agrarian trade unionists, feminists and 'Galician language organisations'. Plus 2 or 3 other small political parties. So, a broad church. Just like the New/Old Labour party. Sadly, not many people vote for it in Galicia. Less than 15%, in fact. Partly, I suspect, because of the endless in-fighting in which it inevitably indulges. A harbinger of things to come in the UK? At least on the (far) left of the political spectrum.

Possibly millions of words have been written on why the new Labour leader will never be Prime Minister of the UK. But they've all missed the main reason. He has a beard. And not since 1066 have the British trusted a man with one of these. The last Prime Minister to sport one was the Marquess of Salisbury, way back in the 19th century. The minute JC shaves off his beard, we'll know he's betrayed his principles for a mess of potage and become a real politician. Ironically, this will be when all his current acolytes will desert him for doing exactly that. As they say, he can't win - Damned if he has a beard, damned if he doesn't.

Finally . . . A reader pointed out that the beasts seen on one of my Feira Franca fotos were not oxen but cows. Well . . . I looked it up and found that there is an-udder view: Oxen are commonly castrated adult male cattle; Cows (adult females) or bulls (intact males) may also be used in some areas. I rest my case.

Europe can survive only if it splits in two: David Cameron must push for the troubled Eurozone to become a superstate and for the UK to be part of a looser trading bloc.

A lot of people hated Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Jefferson hated a lot of people. But I think it is safe to say that there are few he hated as much as John Marshall.

Except perhaps for John Adams. Or Alexander Hamilton. Aaron burr he could take or leave. Mainly leave. And he wasn’t that fond of George Washington, come to think of it.

The United States was not created by its constitution alone. It was created by the collision of the constitution with reality, and the collision of the founding fathers with each other. In retrospect all looks smooth and obvious — the founders at one. At the time it, and they, were anything but.

The constitution, for instance, was almost silent on the role of the us supreme court. Its powers were effectively seized by Marshall, the fourth chief justice, responding to events and his own political interests.

We are sometimes inclined to see the European Union as solid and immutable, something we either live with or do not live with. The early history of America should tell us that this is not so. For a long time the rules will remain fluid. The battle over what the EU will become isn’t over.

And at the centre of this battle will be, of course, the single currency. In a new edition, published today, of his book, "Europe Restructured", David Owen talks about the night when, to use the phrase of the former German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, “something fundamental to the European Union cracked”.

During the negotiations over the Greek bailout on July 12 it became obvious that the tacit understandings about who should pay for the cohesion of the union could not remain tacit for much longer. Rules will have to be established that ensure power and responsibility within the Eurozone are properly aligned. Voters cannot be expected to pay bills incurred by others without having some control over the things they are being asked to pay for.

And this can only mean one thing. The Eurozone, as predicted when the single currency was established, will have to become a much more tightly integrated unit. A country, perhaps in name, more probably in all but name.

Delaying this can only result in increasing tension and crisis, damaging all european countries, including the UK. The negotiations on which Britain is engaged are not — or at least should not be — just about this country. They are about reshaping an EU that is in profound crisis because its rules cannot cope with the tasks it has set itself.

Own argues — surely correctly — that David Cameron’s idea of removing ourselves from a commitment to “ever closer union” should be a much more ambitious proposal. The prime minister should argue for a community restructured into two parts: the Eurozone and the single market. Or to put it another way, the union and the community.

The Eurozone — the union — would acquire, in addition to the powers the EU already has, much greater fiscal control. And it would gradually develop the democratic institutions necessary to exercise that control with consent.

Owen's idea of a community would bring together EU members outside the Eurozone, including the UK, with countries such as Norway, Iceland and, he argues, Turkey, in a looser free trade area clearly based on independent nation states. He proposes that this area would not involve agreement to the Common Agricultural Policy, common foreign and security policy, justice or home affairs. He also argues that the community need not have free movement of labour.

It would also have different governance, with power residing with the states rather than with a parliament and the court. It is not necessary to agree that these powers are exactly the right ones, or ultimately can be negotiated in full, in order to believe that Lord Owen is right about the basic structure.

The Eurozone is in crisis. In order for it to work properly it will need strong democratic institutions. Angela Merkel, as Owen notes, has joined many european leaders in supporting the idea of a directly elected european president. The parliament is gaining power. To oppose these developments is to oppose european democracy. Yet to accept them is to accept a european state.

While the EU remains a single whole, the democratic supranational institutions necessary to support the Eurozone will have to be accepted by the UK, even though we remain outside the single currency. A restructured Europe doesn’t pose this problem. Owen’s argument leaves two big questions for David Cameron. The first is this: is the idea remotely negotiable? The second: is it negotiable in time, given the need to have a referendum by 2017?

The first is much easier to answer than the second. Ultimately, the Eurozone countries will need treaty change and the UK’s agreement to it. Owen argues that a lot of the law necessary to create a two-part Europe already exists and the rest can be created as part of the deal to allow further integration.

To argue that such big change is not possible, and would never be agreed to, is to underestimate how much trouble the EU is already in and the extent to which everyone realises that reform is essential. Yet Cameron may still feel he should not propose anything too ambitious in case he doesn’t finish negotiations in time. This would be a mistake.

These negotiations are the big opportunity for eurosceptics who want to be in Europe but not run by Europe. It is vital that the prime minister be bold in his proposals and realistic about what the future holds for Britain in an EU dominated by the Eurozone and its needs. If the prime minister is able to establish the principle of a restructured Europe, he would not need to complete every detail nor insist that every detail of the Eurozone be agreed.

He would be better off fighting the referendum having already established broad agreement for an ambitious change than fighting it having completed a negotiation of only mild reform. And if he really discovers that other countries will not accept a clear line between Eurozone rules and those outside then perhaps he will need to reconsider his position in the EU altogether.

It is certainly striking that David Owen, a lifelong supporter of community membership, is strongly inclined to vote No if presented in a referendum with an EU that has not been restructured. The risks to Mr Cameron of an apparently cautious approach to negotiations may be greater than they look at first.

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