Friday, March 31, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 31.3.17

Life in Spain 1: Here's a Bloomberg article on a bit of the underperforming micro-economy. The little shops.

Life in Spain 2: I've received a response from GasNauralFenosa to my application for the Bono Social. Need I say that they claim the documentation is wrong. This being Spain:- 1. They don't tell me how it's wrong; 2. They have my surname as David; 3. They have my forenames as David Cozin; and 4. there's no number to call them on. My suspicion is that I was daft to send them a copy of my expired NIE as well as copies of my passport, the A4 Certificado confirming my residence status and my empadronamiento certificateOn reflection, I doubt they know we Brits don't get residence cards any more. So, they just ignored all the other documents and seized on the fact that my last NIE card had expired. So . . . I will be writing again today. With no great confidence.

Life in Spain 3: I might have mentioned that I have a (mild) stalker - a guy who spoke to me in a supermarket and who now suggests a coffee once a week. And lately a visit to his home.Yesterday, I bumped into him on the bridge into town, though not as literally as the people I cited last week. Seeing my book, he made the classic Spanish comment: You always have a book. You must be an intellectual.

Talking of books . . .  Although I knew I would balk at his religious tone, I bought Christopher Howse's A Pilgrim in Spain. It didn't take me long to become irritated. By the first 2 paragraphs, in fact. In which he makes what I believe are 2 mistakes:-

  1. That Spanish is the closest language to Latin. Well, here in NW Spain they believe, with some justification, that this (dubious) honour belongs to Gallego/Galician. Which retains the F that Spanish has commuted to H. As in forno/horno and formiga/hormiga.
  2. That no one calls the Spanish language 'castellano' any more. Well, they do around here, mate. Or perhaps you meant foreigners, not Spaniards. Not that I've ever heard a foreigner do this.
But, that said, he he writes well and I'm learning a thing or two, which I will cite in due course. I just wish he'd show just a sliver of scepticism about claimed miracles and bits of the True Cross, for example. But, then, he's a pious Catholic. So what should I expect?

And still on books . . .  I've now received the second volume of Arturo Barea's autobiographical novel, The Forging of a Rebel. Inside the front cover is the message: February 1991: Carl: Thank-you for the weekend. Love, Me. xx. I'm trying to decide whether this is more or less affectionate than the message in the first volume: Dear Carl: Merry Xmas '91. Lots of love, Suzanne. xxxx I can't wait to see what's in the front of the third volume. I have to ensure, of course, that I get it from the same supplier. Wouldn't it be nice if either Carl or Suzanne were reading this and could tell us how things went after February 1991. Perhaps they've been happily together for 26 years. Let's hope so.

Spaniards Speaking English/Any Other Language: My internet colleague, Lenox Napier, writes this about Mojácar: Here, where half the students in the school are both foreign and bilingual, there is practically no one in the Town Hall who can manage a second language. Outside, in the shops, bars and restaurants, domination of English is, of course, far higher. Looking more widely, Lenox adds that: Across Spain, around 40% of Spaniards are said to speak a foreign language. Half of these claim to speak English (although only a fifth of these can carry on a 'reasonable' conversation in English said El Mundo 2014). As for the country's politicians: The joke here is that waiters need to speak English, but politicians don't. But the reality is that many party leaders do - Pablo Iglesias of Podemos, Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos and Pedro Sanchez, the last PSOE leader, though President Rajoy famously doesn't speak a word of this or any other language beside his own. 'El Confidencial' reports this week that Rajoy is not alone - a massive 81% of Spanish parliamentarians don't speak a second language. Possibly even worse than British MPs, then.

I quite Facebook a couple of weeks ago and no longer miss it. Reading this excellent Guardian article yesterday, I felt this had been a good step. The question now is - Can I do without Google. Probably not but I do use Duck Duck Go for my searches, as they don't track you. They say,

As for this crazy world . . . . Are we all so inured to obscene salaries that we just shrug at the fact that the CEO of the advertising agency WPP was paid 40 million pounds last year. 40 MILLION POUNDS. Say, 48 MILLION EUROS. I was going to say 'earned' but this seems rather unlikely.

I'll try to keep this brief . . . A chap called Joseph Tainter has argued that societies collapse when they get so complex that levels of taxation become too onerous to remain practical. Though invasions, crop failures, disease or environmental degradation might, he argues, be the apparent causes of collapse, the ultimate cause is an economic one, inherent in the structure of society rather than in external shocks. Listening to a podcast on this, I inevitably thought of the EU superstate, which is actually collapsing before it has even been fully formed. Because the Germans won't accept that their taxes should support the wastrels of Southern and Eastern Europe. No doubt this could have been predicted. Doubtless it was.

And on this theme - At the end of this post, there's a very funny article by a German (sic) on the folk who've f*****d the EU dream. Even EUphiles might find it amusing.

Today's cartoon:-


12 people, things that ruined the EU  Konstantin Richter

The EU’s fate was written in the stars — or in its treaties. 

Last weekend, European leaders gathered in Rome for the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. They discussed, not for the first time, how to get the EU back on track. And they told each other they are still committed to the Union and believe in its future. (We’ve heard that one before, too.)

But let’s just suppose that, when the European leaders sat down for lunch at the Quirinal Palace, some of them had a little too much of the pinot grigio and waxed nostalgic about the days when the idea of a united Europe was still young and promising and beautiful. And then they talked about this week and how British Prime Minister Theresa May would send her goodbye letter and they started slurring their words, saying Grexit, Brexit, Frexit, and they finally admitted to each other that something has gone horribly wrong.

When they stood up and got ready to leave, they were devastated, saying to each other: “Good God, how did it come this and, more importantly, who is to blame?” We’ve gathered a dozen suggestions.

1. Zeus
Whenever Europe is in trouble, its advocates claim the EU lacks a proper narrative. The whole idea of an “ever-closer union” is still a fine one, they argue, and the only thing that’s needed for people to understand it is a memorable story. The most memorable story about Europe, of course, is the one about Zeus. The Greek God disguised himself as a white bull in order to approach a beautiful girl called Europa. When Europa, perhaps naively, climbed on his back, the God-turned-bull abducted and ravished her. No need to take the story too literally when analyzing the EU’s current malaise (no white bulls there). But it is good to keep in mind that Europe’s founding myth doesn’t exactly bode well for its future. If negative narratives about the EU seem to resonate far more than positive ones, maybe it’s because the Greek gods loaded the dice.

2. Edith Cresson*
Going straight from Zeus, ruler of Mount Olympus, to good old Edith Cresson may seem a bit of a stretch. But as a strong contender for the title of worst European commissioner ever, the Frenchwoman does have a claim to fame, too. In the early 1990s, Cresson was a French prime minister who quickly fell out of favor and was forced to resign after less than a year in office. That apparently qualified her for a high-powered job in Brussels. As commissioner for science, research and development, Cresson famously paid her dentist to be a scientific adviser. In 1999, allegations of fraud intended to target Cresson ended up bringing down the entire Commission. To put it crudely: Cresson did to the EU what Zeus did to Europa.

3. Christoph Blocher
Look at any map of the European Union and what stands out is the blank spot at its core. The holdout is Switzerland, mountainous, beautiful and immensely wealthy. The Swiss owe their status as successful non-members to a man named Christoph Blocher. Back in the early 1990s — when Geert Wilders was still a young parliamentary assistant with funny hair, Marine Le Pen just the daughter of right-wing populist Jean-Marie Le Pen, and in Germany the letters AfD stood for Allgemeiner Finanzdienst, a financial services firm that has since changed its name — the Swiss industrialist led a successful referendum campaign against the path to EU membership.
Blocher knew how to push the right buttons and arouse in the Swiss a deep fear of outsiders, be they from Brussels or the Balkans. His blend of anti-immigration and anti-EU politics would provide the blueprint for populist campaigns elsewhere. What’s more, the Alpine nation made a strong case that the economic benefits of close relations with the EU can be had without fully joining the club. (Norway provides another fine example.)

4. Brussels
Some decades ago, when the EU’s founding member countries were looking for a place to house institutions such as the European Commission and the European Council, they thought they had found something suitable. It was a city located halfway between the glamorous French capital of Paris and the not-so-glamorous West German capital of Bonn. And it was called Brussels, like the famous sprouts. The French hoped the Belgian capital would turn into a twin city of Paris, populated by sophisticated graduates of the Grand Écoles. What they got instead was the European Quarter, an architectural nightmare, more Brasilia than Paris, that is oddly isolated from the indigenous people in its vicinity. Brussels may not be the “hellhole” U.S. President Donald Trump described but, as anyone who has worked there knows, the EU capital lacks atmosphere. As a result, Europe’s de facto capital has been struggling to attract the kind of talent that would happily flock to more inspiring places, such as Paris or Amsterdam. Maybe even Bonn would have been a better choice.

5. François Mitterand
There are quite a few people who’ve been given the moniker “Father of the euro.” (The mother of the euro wasn’t around when the currency was conceived.) Most of these fathers were economists. But Europe’s single currency was predominantly a political project, not an economic one — and blaming economists for its failings is missing the point. François Mitterand, the charismatic French president, knew a lot about the art of political intrigue and far less about monetary policy. Looking to subdue the strong Deutschmark (which he called “Germany’s force de frappe,” or nuclear weapon), he kept pushing for a single currency — and found an ally in German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, also more of a political animal than an economic one.

When the Berlin Wall fell and Kohl needed international support for Germany’s reunification, the French president, allegedly, negotiated a quid pro quo, convincing the Germans to give up the Deutschmark. But the father of the euro did not live long enough to see that things wouldn’t go according to plan. The German economy flourished in the eurozone, the French one didn’t, and the EU, as a whole, would have been better off without its wayward child.

6. Antigone Loudiadis
This list of villains would be incomplete without at least one specimen of the scheming investment banker. Our candidate goes by the name of Antigone Loudiadis. Accordingly, there’s a whiff of Greek drama to her story. Loudiadis was a whip-smart Goldman Sachs banker and worked with Costas Simitis’ government back in the early noughts, when the Greeks were desperately seeking to join the eurozone. The Anglo-Greek banker was instrumental, allegedly, in devising complex derivative trades to hide the country’s true debt level. In a Sophocles play, our heroine would have met a terrible fate, perhaps buried alive and mourned by a chorus of elderly Thebans. In contemporary Europe, she lived happily ever after, eventually founding a London-based insurance company and running it as CEO.

7. The unnamed EU official
There are some 50,000 people working for the EU, depending on how you count. Though their names can be looked up in the organization’s vast databases, they mostly toil in anonymity, and the vast majority of EU citizens would likely not be able to name a single commissioner. In the popular imagination, Brussels has become a present-day version of Kafka’s castle, dominated by faceless paper pushers who work for opaque entities called DG something-or-other and invent regulations concerning the length of cucumbers.

That sentiment may not do justice to what unnamed EU officials actually do. But what do they do? It’s safe to say that the EU hasn’t done enough to capture the hearts and minds of the people. There’s no stylish image campaign, no employee-of-the-month program, not even a Pirelli calendar with sexy bureaucrats posing in attractive office cubicles.

8. Boris Johnson
They say the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane somewhere thousands of miles away. In the early 1990s, Boris Johnson (the butterfly in this case) was the Daily Telegraph’s correspondent in Brussels — and an early exponent of a literary genre called the “Euromyth.” One such Euromyth, headlined “Delors plans to rule Europe,” was read in far-away Denmark where the Danes were holding a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty. In Johnson’s telling (not to be trusted, of course), the Telegraph story mysteriously tipped the balance, triggering a Nej and leading to all kinds of repercussions that still reverberate today. What’s more, the incident sold Johnson on the fun of flapping his wings, which he did to even greater effect in early 2016 when he joined the Vote Leave campaign, eventually effecting a tornado called Brexit. If Johnson has his way, he’ll enter the history books as the only man who ruined the EU not once, but twice.

9. The Swabian housewife
Rumors that the Germans are making sacrificial offerings to a deity called the Swabian housewife are probably exaggerated. But Chancellor Angela Merkel did invoke the German goddess of austerity when the financial crisis hit, saying that, like the Swabian housewife, she thinks one shouldn’t live beyond one’s means. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is a believer, too, stubbornly opposing debt relief and stimulus programs. Keynesian economists countered by coining the term “Swabian-housewife fallacy.” They argue that what makes sense on an individual level, meaning personal finances, can wreak havoc in international politics, meaning the EU. (But then again, some EU governments could have used a tad of that Swabish housewifeliness in the run-up to the euro crisis.)

10. Jean-Marc Bosman
This Belgian football player didn’t have much of a career. He stopped playing in his twenties, was sentenced to jail for assault and now lives unemployed and underfunded in Liège. Nevertheless, Bosman had more of an impact on European club football than any other player around. In the early 1990s, when his contract had lapsed, he sued his Belgian club for, effectively, not letting him go. The case went to the European Court of Justice, which ruled that clubs cannot demand transfer fees when contracts have expired. The court also decided that quotas restricting the number of EU foreigners in club teams had to go.
All of that made sense from a legal perspective. But football fans only see what happened as a result: sky-high salaries and transfer fees for star players, a handful of elite clubs who came to tower above the rest, club teams composed entirely of non-nationals. The fans feel that football had been taken away from them. Most of them vent their anger against the evil forces of globalization, liberalization and commercialization. But those in the know blame Bosman — and EU law.

11. Viktor Orbán
What was Angela Merkel thinking when she opened the German borders to refugees in September 2015? Critics charged the German chancellor with failing to consult with the rest of the bloc before she made her decision, and with aggravating a refugee crisis that has threatened to tear Europe apart. What is often overlooked is that Merkel didn’t act entirely of her own volition. The Hungarian government led by Viktor Orbán put refugees on buses heading for Austria and Germany — and tricked the chancellor into taking an idealistic stand on migration. There would have been no German Willkommenskultur without Hungarian idegengyülölet, or xenophobia.

12. The Treaty of Rome
Rome stood at the beginning of a proliferation of treaties. Keeping track of what exactly was agreed upon in Nice, Maastricht, Lisbon and elsewhere has become increasingly difficult. There have simply been too many meetings and too many documents named after too many cities. If EU leaders keep meeting like this, we’ll eventually have the Toledo Treaty and the Clermont-Ferrand Regulations. Incidentally, Rome is also where the principle of the “ever-closer union” first popped up. Entire dissertations have been written in defense of that idea. Indeed, closer reading shows that, according to the document, only the European people were meant to engage in “ever-closer union,” not (necessarily) governments, central banks or entire armies. But somehow “ever-closer union” became a synonym for the EU’s self-aggrandizement anyway.

Now that Britain is leaving, a little more modesty wouldn’t hurt. So here’s an idea: EU leaders could meet again next weekend, have some more wine and solemnly agree that their utmost goal is to keep the European people “from drifting ever-further apart.” That sounds about right and not too fancy. All that’s needed is a suitable name. How about the Pinot Grigio Declaration?

Konstantin Richter is a contributing writer at POLITICO. His German-language novel, “The Chancellor,” about Merkel and the refugee crisis will be published next month.

* Edith Cresson once pronounced that 25% of British men were homosexual. I, for one, was not offended as I took this to be code for "I've never met a Brit who wanted to shag me".  Here's a BBC report on her. The fotos perhaps explain her experience. Or lack of it.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 30.3.17

Life in Spain: Sometimes it's hard to believe what you read here. As with this staggering report of a woman jailed for insulting a dead Francoist. As she says, her entire life will be adversely affected by having a criminal record. Spain's real criminals are, of course, immune from prosecution. As we regularly see evidence of in the still largely free media.

The Spanish Media: I say it's still largely free but the Opposition parties are trying to do something about the control of the public TV stations by the governing right-of-centre PP party. They won't succeed, of course. See here, in Spanish.

The Spanish economy continues to motor along at annual GDP growth rate above 2%. And unemployment has plummeted in the last couple of years from 25% to a mere 17%, though rather more if you're not yet 35. One possible reason for this success – additional to the serendipitous increase in tourism receipts from holiday-makers too terrified to go anywhere else – is the government's massive boost to public sector jobs. As if Spain didn't have a surplus of these already.
Some details here in English. And here in Spanish.

I've given up trying to understand the Spanish government's attitude towards renewable sources of energy. Five years or so ago, it was massively into it – chucking subsidies around with abandon – but then it was massively out of it - bankrupting some of the companies who'd got the subsidies. But now it's said to be back in it, though I don't know on what scale. Here's an article on the subject.

Here's a longish article - in English – which sets out to explain why most Europeans still love the EU, even in those countries where the economy has been damaged by the stupid decision to introduce a currency which was only ever going to benefit Germany. For balance . . . At the end of this post, there's a nice article from someone who voted to remain but now thinks the querulous Remainers should stop their bitching. She also explains something about British attitudes.

Note: As usual on a Thursday, I'm indebted to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for several of today's items. Or at least for the incentive to address them.

Today's cartoon:-


I voted Remain, but these delusional Remainers are damaging Britain  Juliet Samuel.

It wasn’t until the long morning of June 24 that I realised how thoroughly the EU had permeated my world. I, who wasn’t even born when Margaret Thatcher negotiated the rebate, watched from my sofa through the night as the country I thought I knew defied all my expectations and voted for a quiet revolution. 

 I had been torturously on the fence about Brexit. My principles had said “out”, but my pragmatism – on geopolitics, not the economy – had won out and, in the end, I voted “remain”. So when the country voted the other way, in accordance with my principles, perhaps I should have been happy. Instead, I was knocked totally off balance, not by thoughts of politics, prosperity or anything quite so grand and momentous. 

What hit me was much more personal. Here, suddenly, my path diverged from that of all the Europeans I knew. The lands and cities they called home were no longer open to me in the same way. And they no longer felt so at ease in London, in what we had all tacitly thought was Europe’s real capital – the place where young Europeans came to make it big. I woke up to find that we were all a little bit more foreign to one another than we had been the day before. 

This underlined to me that for all the rational arguments and the data and the experts, politics, in the end, is an emotional business. So I understand the grief and the wailing and the gnashing of teeth, if not the futile marches and flags and petitions mounted by Remainerswho cannot accept what has happened. Now, though, Article 50 has been triggered and it is time – well past time, to be honest – for these campaigners to put down their placards and rejoin the real world. 

 I was shocked in June, but it never occurred to me for a moment that the decision made by millions of thinking people was reversible. I did not hate them for disagreeing with me, or think that they were stupid or vicious. I did not delude myself that the result was illegitimate or temporary. And it was clear to me immediately that any fight to subvert or deny the implications of what had been decided would end only in disappointment or, worse, if it succeeded, national tumult and fury. 

The negotiations, I am sure, will be difficult and painful, but I am not interested in fatalistic prophecies of doom – the bitter words of those who want it to go wrong, so they can be right. Those angry Europhile holdouts, who are still desperately arguing with the dealer, must now fold their cards and accept defeat. They lost, and many of them, like Tony Blair and Gina Miller, aren’t used to losing (Nick Clegg excluded). They are not obligated to change their minds, but they do need to accept that the democratic process has now taken over. None of them, whatever their delusions of grandeur, can claim a mandate to stop it. 

Worse, their doomed attempts to stop Brexit are harmful to our chances of a good deal. Since June, British and European politicians have been on separate planets as far as Brexit is concerned. Their expectations and ours are wildly unaligned, but nowhere are they further apart than in the belief, cherished in some EU circles, that the genie can be put back in the bottle. Die Welt, the German daily, splashed its paper on Wednesday with a message: “Dear Brits, ze door is schtill open.” Cute, but delusional. 

The problem is that the more reversible EU leaders think Brexit is, the worse the deal they are incentivised to offer. The logic is simple: put together a really dreadful package for us and the regretful Brits will have second thoughts. 

Nothing could illustrate more plainly the continent’s profound misunderstanding of British democracy. It’s winner-takes-all or it’s nothing. That, incidentally, is one of the fundamental reasons why we never bought into the EU project. British voters don’t trust permanent political coalitions and unchallenged consensus. 

Now, Theresa May’s tricky balancing act, as her letter to Brussels showed, will be to generate a positive atmosphere for negotiations, while conveying Britain’s sense of determination and commitment to leaving, deal or no deal. She must be tough, but without descending into the slanging match that some EU figures are spoiling for. 

These fanatics, like the British fatalists arguing that the country is ruined or the holdouts still declaring maniacally, like the philosopher AC Grayling, that “Brexit must be stopped!”, are just driving us all further apart. 

One of the troublesome aspects of democracy is that voters aren’t controllable. It is also its essence. The EU project has been pushed and pushed on its citizens regardless of their votes or their views.

This is precisely what has left it in such a dangerous, half-baked position, with a dysfunctional currency, porous borders and dependent on others for its defence. Whatever our flaws, that is not how Britain does things. And all of us, Remainers included, should be grateful for that.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 29.3.17

Life in Spain: I recalled that 3rd conversation. I went into a shop called Moovup, where a Phone Shop had previously been. Its walls were festooned with things for mobile phones:-
Hola. Do you have a battery for this Samsung phone?
An internal one?
No, we don't
OK. Can you tell me where I could get one.

If you check on Moovup here, you'll see they sell all sorts of accessories for mobile phones. Except batteries, it seems. On the latter, I went to the non-Apple IT shop yesterday morning to pick up the battery they'd said on Monday would be in by then. But it wasn't. So I will try again this morning.

A couple of readers have suggested that Europe's youth are, indeed, patriotic towards the EU. I rather think there's a big difference between valuing something - in your own, understandable, self-interest - and in feeling patriotic towards it. Would young Brits really favour the EU in the - admittedly unlikely event - of a war between 'Europe' and the UK? Would even the young Spaniards or young Poles who have benefitted so much from it? If faced with a hard choice between nation and the EU supra-nation, would any of these rank the EU first? Madrid has enough problems getting Spaniards to prioritise the nation above their region or even their patria chica. Which rather points up the essence of this issue - to be patriotic, you need a patria. Does anyone really see the EU in this light? As opposed to a convenient benefactor chucking other peoples' money around.

Talking of Madrid's problems with local troublemaking nationalists . . . Here's The Local on the latest stage of the Catalan saga. They're to get more of their own cash back, it seems. In an attempt to buy off those planning an ('illegal') independence referendum. Can't see it working, myself.

The Spanish Language Corner: Here's someone's - pretty accurate - view of the bear-traps that lie in wait for Anglo students of Castellano. Then there's the very high percentage of common verbs that are irregular. And the bloody subjunctive mood. And the 10 versions of the positive/negative imperatives. Still, it's easier than French. They say.

So, B-Day has finally arrived. And I've had to switch off the UK News channels, as they're talking of nothing else. One can take either a short-term, micro view of this development - Shit, my pension as been hit and I might have to return to the UK - or you can take a longer-term, macro view - The EU is a failure and it's best for the UK to be out of it PDQ. At the end of this post is an article from the estimable Ambrose Evan Pritchard, who takes the latter stance. If I have any readers left who are Remainers, I urge them to read it. All that said, I still take the view that absolutely no ono knows what lies down the road and that it's even possible a Brexit won't take place. And I accept that the British government's management of the process has been woeful so far and that there are very major problems ahead. You can't read Richard North regularly without sharing these views with him. So . .  . Vamos a ver.  I still tend to the view it will be alright on the night. Though I grant this an optimistic view. The night might be quite delayed.

Richard North, as some readers will know, has no time for the idiocies of the UK media in respect of Brexit. This morning he casts this gem in the direction of The Daily Telegraph: There are many tales emanating from the Telegraph about the downsizing of the editorial workforce. What we didn't bank on was a downsizing of the collective IQs as well. If they got much lower, we would be watering their journalists, not reading them. To which I would add that this once-great paper has not only farmed out what passes for it editing to teenagers in New Zealand but then permits them to use an American spell-check. So, this morning, we get signaling, instead of signalling. Sic transit . . .

I realised yesterday that blusterer was probably an adjective not yet listed in those that pertain to Donald Trump, as well as huckster. But it is now.

Today's cartoon:-

Inspired by watching a PBS documentary on Stonehenge last night . . .


Britain is 
the least of Europe’s problems:    Ambrose Evans-Pritchard 

The European Union is encircled on the outside, split three ways on the inside, and is saddled with a corrosive currency union that is still not established on workable foundations and is likely to lurch from crisis to crisis until patience is exhausted.

Europe’s economic “Lost Decade”, and the strategic consequences that stem partly from this failure, have emboldened enemies and turned the Continent into a dangerous neighbourhood. The EU now badly needs a friend on its Atlantic flank.

While it would be undignified for any British government to exploit these circumstances (and Theresa May is certainly not doing so) this is the diplomatic and military reality as Britain triggers Article 50.

Along an expanding arc across the East, the EU faces a pact of autocrats. Russia and Turkey are moving closer to an outright alliance - an ideological hybrid like Molotov-Ribbentrop - that cuts at the heart of Nato. Both are openly at war with the post-Second World War liberal order.
The Kremlin is meddling in the Baltics, the Balkans, and the EU’s internal democracies. Vladimir Putin acquired a military edge during the energy boom - when the EU was disarming to meet austerity targets - and now enjoys a window of opportunity to extract maximum advantage.

In the West, the EU faces Donald Trump. This is a US president who refused to shake the hand of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. For the first time since the launch of the European project in the 1950s, the US no longer sees the EU as an asset in the diplomatic equation. Many in the White House would happily see it broken up.

This means that Washington will no longer allow the eurozone to use, or misuse, the International Monetary Fund for its own internal purposes. The implications are already apparent in talks over Greece, but they do not stop there.

It would be lamentable statecraft for EU leaders to pick a fight with Britain in these circumstances. For all the noise over Brexit, the UK is really the least of their problems. A clash would be worse than futile, as Italian premier Paulo Gentiloni said in London. Key figures in Germany, Poland, and Spain have repeatedly made the same point.

As the initial bitterness over Brexit fades, EU leaders are pleasantly surprised to learn that they, like many, misunderstood the referendum. Britain is not resiling in any way from Western liberal principles. It upholds all its strategic commitments to Europe through Nato, and is stepping up its defence EU’s eastern border with infantry and aircraft; it remains a champion of global free trade (more so than the EU itself); it has stuck by its climate pledges.

The country does not have a populist government. The Prime Minister could hardly be more cautious and proper, a child of the vicarage. She has defended the European cause in US Republican circles, almost as if she were its ambassador. Her cordial overtures have for the most part been received well in EU capitals and the upper echelons of the Commission.

The constitutional caveat, of course, is that Britain will act an independent nation. It cannot accept the permanent jurisdiction of the European Court over almost all areas of UK law and policy, the baneful and masked consequence of the Lisbon Treaty.

It was always on the cards that the UK would have to extract itself from a venture that spends most of its energy trying to hold the euro together. Monetary union must evolve into a full-fledged federal state, with a single EMU treasury, fiscal system, and government, if it is to survive. Britain obviously cannot be part of such a structure. Trying to obfuscate this constitutional fact helps nobody.

In short, nine months after the referendum, Europe’s leaders are reconciled to the necessity of separation. The debate has moved beyond the false dichotomy of soft and hard Brexits. Most welcome the clarity of British withdrawal from the single market, recognising that it may be healthier for both sides than a messy fudge based on the hybrid Norwegian model. Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon is barking up the wrong tree if she really thinks that the EU is pushing hard for Brexit Britain to stay in the single market.

There are, of course, discordant notes, especially in France, where much of the political elite is stuck in a time-warp. Emmanuel Macron, the electoral boy-wonder, offers little beyond ideological pedantry and the old EU Catechism when it comes to Brexit.

He is apt to dictate absolutist terms with an imperial tone. No such terms are imposed on Canada in its trade pact with the EU, and for obvious reasons: Canada is an independent state.

I doubt he will succeed in trying to chastise Britain since he also wants an unbreakable “Franco-German position” on Article 50 talks, and Germany has different interests. The old Rhineland axis was in any case rendered obsolete by the fall of the Berlin Wall. Any attempt to reconstitute it will merely underscore France’s painfully subordinate role in what has become (to the dismay of the German people) a German Europe. Better for France to hang on to the tight Franco-British defence and security pact for a little strategic ballast.

With or without Brexit, the EU has to keep living with the error of monetary union, so destructive that one leading voice of the French establishment has written a book, La Fin du Rêve Européen, calling for the euro to be broken up in order to save what remains of the European project.

The eurozone is horribly split into the creditor and debtors blocs, each with clashing macro-economic interests, and each clinging to their own narrative of what happened in the debt crisis. Quantitative easing by the European Central Bank and a cyclical economic upturn have masked the tension over the past two years, but the underlying North-South rift is still there.

The ECB will have to taper and ultimately end its bond purchases as global reflation builds. The markets know that once Frankfurt rolls back emergency stimulus, as it must do to avert a political storm in Germany over rising prices, Italy, Portugal, and Spain will lose a buyer-of-last-resort for their debt.

The core problem remains: the conflicting needs of Germany and the South cannot be reconciled within EMU. The gap in competitiveness and debt burdens is too great. They should not be sharing a currency union at all.

As matters now stand, Italy’s anti-EU Five Star movement leads the polls by a six-point margin with 32pc of the vote. The four anti-euro parties are likely to win over 50pc of the seats between them in the Italian parliament in the elections early next year.

Whether it is this cycle or the next cycle, voters will ultimately elect a rebel government in a eurozone state that is too big to be crushed into submission “a la grecque”.

An equally poisonous split over the rule of law, immigration, and Kulturpolitik divides the EU between East and West. It has reached the point of open defiance in Warsaw. “We must drastically lower our level of trust toward the EU,” says the Polish foreign minister.

The East Europeans suspect that plans for an “advance guard” of core states in a multi-speed Europe, without dissenters being able to stop them, is really an attempt to separate the EU into rich and poor blocs. “It is seen as a new kind of iron curtain between the east and west. That is not the intention,” said commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

Yet Mr Juncker has no plausible solution for how to revive the EU after Brexit. One of the five options in his “White Paper” proposes retreat to a minimalist single market, but it is a pro-forma suggestion. This is obviously impossible as long as the euro exists.

His clear preference is what he calls “Doing Much More Together”, even though Pew surveys consistently show that most EU citizens want to see power repatriated to the states. It is the perennial EU reflex: pushing further integration without positive consent, the Monnet method of creating facts on the ground that then have a logic of their own.

What is certain is that the EU’s interminable crisis will go on, but without the British to blame any longer. For decades the political game in Brussels has been to hide behind the UK, letting British ministers and diplomats fend off integrationist excesses or fight their corner for them. Those such as the Scandinavians, Dutch, and Baltic states that rely on Britain to defend the free market and to balance ideological power will lose a key ally within the EU machinery. Votes will go against them more often.

At the end of the day, Europe faces more intractable problems than Brexit. None of these will be improved by making life harder for Britain in negotiations, and the EU’s predicament would undoubtedly be worse if any attempt to asphyxiate the City led to a eurozone credit crunch.

A punitive approach would needlessly create another crisis by putting Ireland in an impossible position, and it would create further lines of cleavage by hitting some EU states harder than others.

Those who argue in the UK’s internal debate that Europe will have to be excruciatingly tough over Brexit in order to hold the project together have the matter backwards. To act on a such a primitive impulse would be calamitous for the EU itself.  

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 28.3.17

Spanish Politics
  1. The Presidenta of Andalucia looks set to be the next leader of the left-wing PSOE part – until recently the main Opposition party here. As Andalucia is infamous – far and wide – for corruption, I imagine that under her aegis the party will be even less interested than it has been in forcing the PP government to set up a parliamentary commission to inquire in Spain's institutionalised corruption. 
  2. President Rajoy has insisted there' be no snap election, designed to increase the PP's slim majority. One commentator has remarked that, if he really believes this, he must be the only person in the country who does.
The Spanish Economy: There was a nice article in the Voz de Galicia yesterday about percebes, or goose-barnacles – the dreadful snack which costs a small fortune. But really the article was about the gulf between what I've called the macro and micro aspects of the Spanish economy. Terms also used by the writer. I've attached a tarted-up Google machine translation at the end of this post.

Spanish Life: I had 2 of 'those conversations' yesterday:

At the library (where, incidentally, the staff do little more than make more noise than the customers)
I'm returning this book
OK but it's late and now you're blocked until 3 April from taking out any other book
It's because they didn't give me a slip with the date on it.
You have to take one from the box on top of the counter
They used to give out slips
Well, we don't any more

In an IT shop (having noticed the Apple logo everywhere):-
I see you sell Apple products. Are you an official outlet?
Now, we're not an official distributor. There's no Apple shop locally.
There's one in Vigo.
But you can repair Apple products, yes?
Yes, we do everything they do, at the same prices.
I would have thought you'd be cheaper.

Actually, I had a 3rd but I can't now recall where . . .

Spanish Language Corner: A neologism: Robolución. I guess this would be 'Robolution' in English. I thought it had something to do with rapid progress in the ousting of humans by robots but the Urban Dictionary defines it as 1. A revolution in the mind, often the result of inspired poetry. And 2. A new hairstyle being spread in Richmond, VA among "hip artists". Hmm.

Yesterday's Voz de Galicia headlined the astonishing news that the region's retirees aged between 55 and 65 now earn double what older retirees get. And 50% more than people in work. I find it hard to see how this has come about but it can't bode well for the future.

In a comment to yesterday's post reader Sierra cites a news item of the profiteering of the Trump family. I was going to say 'presidential family' but the adjective sounds rather inappropriate, given that 'huckster' is a word that surely should be added to my recent table of comments re the man. By the way, there's an even bigger and nastier nationalist on the world stage at the moment – Turkey's President Erdogan. A man who wants to take his country even further backwards than Mr T wants to take his.

Following up my point about the difference between (bad) nationalism and (good) patriotism . . .
Speaking as someone who feels both British, European and a bit Spanish, I ask: Is there anyone who feels patriotic about the EU? Apart from the imbecilic Juncker, of course. Who last year said that national borders were the worst ever creation of politicians. If I were a theist, I'd have to say he must be one of God's worst creations.

Finally . . . Looking for a local typing service, I yesterday happened upon this nameplate:-

Research identified Anatheoresis as a therapy which was created by Joaquín Grau. And means “To look backwards watching the past in order to unbury it and bring it to the present to be understood and cleared up". Grau appears to be a Spaniard, based in Barcelona, who has a 'qualification' from Bircham Universtity – also based in Barcelona. This institution features, not surprisingly, on a list of 'diploma mills' and provides you with degrees for pretending to read course books. And paying a fee. Others on this list include these well-known UK universities:-
The U of Doncaster
The U of England, Oxford
The U of Palmers Green
The U of Wyoming, London
The U of Devonshire 
The U of Buxton
The U of Canterbury
The U of Chelsea
The U of Summerset(sic)

As of today, they are to be joined by The U of Poio. Apply for the course of your choice to colin@terra.com

Today's cartoon, dedicated to Latina women, particularly Colombians:-

I spotted you as soon as you walked in. I never forget a facelift. (Un lifting, in Spanish, by the way)

Eating percebes again   Pablo Armas. The 'Voz de Galicia'-

The taxpayer, faced by some economic analyses, and the consumer, faced by some percebes, wonders how they are to be eaten. The economy is going well, but most citizens do not notice this in their day to day lives. Those who ate percebes before the crisis continue to eat them now, because they can afford them and know how to eat them. Those who could not eat percebes then cannot eat them now, because they cannot afford them and, in the opinion of the former, they do not know how to eat them. The new rich, who are fed up with eating percebes, cannot eat them now, because they have gone from middle-high class to middle-lower class and have forgotten how percebes are eaten. It's a question of macroeconomics and microeconomics

The macroeconomy is going well. Employment, GDP, CPI, public spending, domestic demand, household savings, car sales, house prices, number of tourists and exports all grow. But also growing are job insecurity, temporary employment, youth unemployment, the lack of protection of the long-term unemployed, the bill for electricity and gas, the excluded population, the population at risk of poverty, the wage gap, the generational gap and the gender gap. However, social security affiliations, pension funds and expectations of meeting the deficit targets set by Brussels to the autonomous communities are down. How do you eat the fact that that the budgetary adjustments have not cleaned up the public accounts? How do you eat the fact that annual interest on the debt exceeds the budgets for health, education and the strategy for active employment put together? How do you eat the fact that the fall in wages has not improved competitiveness? How do you eat the fact that financial bailout has provided liquidity for the banks but not for families or small businesses? How do you eat the fact that a higher business profit margin has not translated into a greater investment in capital goods? How do you eat the fact that the labour reform has swallowed collective bargaining?

The microeconomy of the percebe is not doing so well. The production is natural, but harvesting is risky, especially of the 'sun percebes', those of thick and short peduncle, clinging to rocks more exposed to strong waves in the cliffs of Ortegal or Roncudo. To the value for money ratio must be added the quality-risk ratio. The cooking doesn't increase costs, since it only needs a brief boiling with salty water, better if it's seawater, to obtain the characteristic intense flavour. In the case of the percebes, as in that of the economy, warm cloths are useful, but only to keep them warm. Once they are uncovered, there's the frustration of the average diner, who has forgotten how to eat them.

You have to re-teach him how to eat percebes. He has to learn to separate the carapace from the peduncle, without the treacherous squirt blinding his eyes or splattering his branded suit bought a few years ago. He has to learn to hold the carapace of the percebe with one hand and to practice a small incision with the thumbnail of the other hand just below the carpace of the percebe to tear the skin. He has to learn to turn both hands in opposite directions, energetically, in order to twist, strangle and decapitate the percebe. After this dramatic settling of accounts, he has to learn to detach the peduncle from the skin and taste it as if it were the last percebe of his life. In the face of doubt between throwing away the carapace of the percebe or sucking it with delight, he has to learn not to squander it and not to live beyond his possibilities. The percebes are to be eaten, but you must know how to eat them. Meanwhile, we must see what happens with the budgets, because as we know: "The percebe and the salmon, in May are in season."

No, I don't know WTF he's going on about either. Doubtless Alfie Mittington can enlighten us.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 27.3.17

Years ago, I bought a DVD on the hilariously failed attempt by Terry Gillam to film his The Man Who Killed Don Quijote in Spain back in the early 2000s. This had been his 7th attempt and, hard as it is to believe, the obsessed chap has now embarked on his 8th. See here on this. Good luck to him.

Changing Spain?: Fancy a non-religious funeral? Well, you'll be pleased to know these are increasingly common in this ex-Catholic country.

Old Spain 1: Here's an article – in Spanish – on the fraud perpetrated – apparently with impunity - by electricity companies here. Essentially, your supplier (company A) colludes with company B to trick you into switching to company B and then back again to company A, with the objective of getting you out of the 'regulated market' into the 'free market', where you can be fleeced. I think reader Eamon might have experienced a version of this when a new operator called him and claimed to be a local office of his existing operator.

Old Spain 2: I treated myself to a Snickers bar yesterday. I paid over the odds for it at a 24/7 store but one expects this. More surprising was its small size. A quick check revealed that the weight wasn't disclosed on the wrapper. But there was the legend: Not to be sold separately.

Talking about Old Spain, recent Comments to this blog have centred on aspects of Spanish society in the early 20th century, especially in poverty-stricken Galicia. Going further back still, I cited a paragraph from George Borrow's The Bible in Spain, of the 1830s. My Dutch friend Peter Missler has offered this relevant chapter of his annotated version of Borrow's famous book. Enjoy!

Spanish Language Corner:-
  1. Google's machine recently translated arma blanca as 'white weapon'. In fact, it means a 'bladed weapon'. Or 'knife'. I've no idea why. Any suggestions?
  2. Here's a headline I'm having some difficulty with this morning: Soy el de las 'fucking rules'.
English Language Corner: I came across a new word – hetaera – this morning. In an obit about a friend of Christine Keeler, whom some readers might remember. It was applied to her and means:- 1. A highly cultured courtesan or concubine, especially in ancient Greece, or 2. Any woman who uses her beauty and charm to obtain wealth or social position.

I recently listened to a podcast on the difference between nationalism and patriotism, and to a debate on 'nationalism'. What surprised me is that no one made the point that nationalism is defined by its enemies and by separate/'different' values. One only has to listen to Galician, Catalan and Scottish nationalists for a few minutes to see this in action. Patriotism is a very different animal, far more compatible with multiculturalism and internationalism. Contrast this with the attitudes of that most stupid, dangerous and ridiculous nationalist of the moment, Donald Trump.

Which reminds me . . . . Today's cartoon, from The TimesThe new Oval Office. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy . . . .

Finally . . . At the end of this post, there's an article from today's Telegraph which embodies my own view of the EU. I, too, was very much in favour of the UK joining what we were told back then would be merely a large trading block, not a nascent superstate. 

By the way . . . As I've noted before, there are commentators who have supported Brexit but who are very concerned about the incompetent way it's being negotiated. Here's the most informed – and most despairing - of these, Richard North.


We were right to join and we are right to leave: where did the EU go wrong?

Roger Bootle, chairman of Capital Economics

Last Saturday was the European Union’s 60th anniversary. With delicious irony, this week the UK will begin the formal process of leaving the EU. I am afraid that I was not minded to wish the EU many happy returns, having keenly supported Brexit, and seeing the EU as an inhibitor of European economic growth. Indeed, I am greatly looking forward to our rebirth as a fully independent country. But it was not ever thus. So I have been reflecting on where the EU went wrong.

Even if we are right to be leaving the EU (and I think we are), this does not necessarily imply that we were wrong to join in the first place. I realise many of you will aver with pride and pleasure you were against the Common Market from the start. Good luck to you. You can reasonably claim to have been vindicated. But this is not my position. In fact, I was in favour of joining in 1973. Moreover, in the 1975 referendum I voted to stay in. I do not believe this was a mistake: I believe that we were right to join and are right to leave.

Let me explain. Since those days, the EU has changed, the world has changed, and we have changed. The original European Economic Community was formed in the shadow of the last world war, and in the imagined foreshadow of a new and more terrible war that might begin between the Soviet Union and the US. When we joined what we then called the Common Market, now the EU, in 1973, this was before the internet, globalisation and the collapse of communism.

Compared to now, the members of the EU accounted for a larger share of both world GDP and the UK’s trade. Moreover, around the world, tariffs on trade in goods were much higher, and services (which are not subject to tariffs) a smaller proportion of international trade.

Since then, of course, not only have tariffs come down dramatically around the world but trade in services has substantially risen, while the EU has fallen in importance. It now accounts for not much more than 20pc of world GDP, down from about 30pc 10 years ago. At the same time it is the destination for about 45pc of the UK’s exports of goods and services, down from about 55pc 15 years ago. Countries, such as India and China, that in 1973 economists could regard as broadly irrelevant for the world economy, now account for the bulk of economic growth. Not only that, but the communications revolution has brought almost all the world together at the click of a mouse.

When we joined, we were influenced by the fact that the members of the Common Market had enjoyed strong economic growth, whereas in the UK, although growth was high by our own historical standards, it was well below theirs. So in relative terms we seemed to be slipping back. Ironically, not long after we joined, our relative economic performance was transformed.

In the early years of the EU’s existence, apart from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which involved a ludicrous waste of money, it did not make any monumental economic mistakes. Nor was it obvious that the EU was going to become the bureaucratic nightmare that we know today. But before too long, the regulatory bandwagon started rolling. The single market became the mechanism through which the same crackpot over-regulation would be applied across the whole of the European Union.

For all its faults, provided that the world economy remained fairly stable, the EU would probably have been able to stagger on reasonably well. The trouble is, though, that over the past few decades the world has undergone three enormous shocks: the collapse of communism, the advent of globalisation and the communications revolution. These shocks demanded the utmost flexibility in order for the economy to adjust to them. But flexibility is exactly the thing the EU has learned not to do.

Not only that, but more recently it has made three big mistakes. The first is the formation of the euro, which many economists, including me, correctly identified as a prosperity-destroying machine long before its inception. The second was the failure to amend the free movement rules once the EU had been extended to encompass the former communist countries of eastern Europe. The third was the introduction of the Schengen passport-free travel zone, which has proved to be a security nightmare at just the time that security is at a premium.

In my view, these bad decisions should not be viewed as one-offs. The EU is so badly formed and its institutions so weak and brittle that it has an in-built tendency to make poor decisions. This means that whenever a serious issue emerges that demands efficient decision–making and good governance, it will be likely to fall short.

There are also two big issues coming up in the lift that will pose serious challenges to the EU: the ageing population and the advent of artificial intelligence and robotics. I confidently expect the EU to make a botch of both.

I suppose you could say that the fundamental source of all its mistakes was there right from the beginning of the EU, namely the belief on the part of its elites that the countries of Europe should transform themselves into a single or federal state. In 1973 and 1975 I failed to see the full consequences of this vision. Today, in common with the majority of my fellow citizens, I can see them all too clearly.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 26.3.17

There's an article from Don Quijones at the end of this post. It's essentially about Italy's economic woes but it refers to some aspects of the Spanish micro scene, as I am wont to call it. Worrying. Unless you're a well-paid pensioner. I've highlighted (highlit?) the Spanish references.

Changing Spain?: At least here in Pontevedra, something is finally being done to reduce the numerous frivolous claims that contribute to the infamously slow and inefficient institution which is the Spanish judicial system. Until recently, it cost you nothing to initiate a suit against, say, a neighbour and the result was inevitable - making a dununcia became a national pastime. But now there's a cost and the number of suits has plummeted.

Here in Galicia, I think we've reached the end of the series of burnt Lenten offerings in the local towns and villages. These have been staggered over the last 3 weeks and have included large effigies of a parrot (Pontevedra), a mackerel, a sardine, a frog, a mussel, and a cockerel. I guess this makes sense to someone. Just an excuse to have fun, really.

Spanish Language Corner: I think I've noted before that Spanish uses several verbs where English would simply use the relevant bit of the verb to be. Viz:-
Recently, I think I came across another one - Ir - 'to go'. As in Este año Ferrari va en serio. 'This year Ferrari is serious'. Unless it means something else, of course. Comments/additions welcome.

I read that Pontevedra has the highest ratio of pet dogs in Galicia. Most of them seem to be more a fashion statement than a mascota and - being pugs and French bulldogs - are remarkably ugly. Their owners should be taken out and shot. Or given over to a pack of hungry wild dogs. Just a thought.

There's a second article below, on the communiqué of the EU's 27 leaders. It makes interesting reading for those of us who think the institution is moribund.

The Republican healthcare debacle in the USA has, at least, provided some good belly laughs. First, there was Trump's claim -  preposterous even by his standards - that it was all the fault of the Democrats. Secondly, we've witnessed one the country's most prominent evangelists saying on Thursday that God would ensure Trump got the Act through the Senate. When, fact, he didn't even try to. One wonders whether Trump is really totally unaware of reality or just deluded. Either way, we have a new definition of 'trump' - A busted flush. How can he possibly survive for 4 years?

Today's cartoon:-


Italy at the Grim Edge of a Global Problem

This trend is not your friend.

Don Quijones

To be young, gifted, educated and Italian is no guarantee of financial security these days. As a new report by the Bruno Visentini Foundation shows, the average 20-year-old will have 18 years to wait before living independently — meaning, among other things, having a home, a steady income, and the ability to support a family. That’s almost twice as long as it took Italians who turned 20 in 2004.

A Worsening Trend

Eurostat statistics in October 2016 showed that less than a third of under-35s in Italy had left their parental home, a figure 20 percentage points higher than the European average. The trend is expected to worsen as the economy continues to struggle. Researchers said that for Italians who turn 20 in 2030, it will take an average of 28 years to be able to live independently. In other words, many of Italy’s children today won’t have “grown up” until they’re nearing their 50s.

That raises an obvious question: if Italy’s future generation of workers are expected to struggle to support themselves and their children until they’re well into their forties, how will they possibly be able to support the burgeoning ranks of baby boomers reaching retirement age (a staggeringly low 58 for men and 53 for women), let alone service the over €2 trillion of public debt the Italian government has accumulated (and which doesn’t include the untold billions it hopes to splash out on saving the banks)?

The trend could also have major implications for Italy’s huge stock of non-performing loans, which, unless resolved soon, threatens to overwhelm the country’s banking system. If most young Italians are not financially independent, who will buy the foreclosed homes and other properties that will flood the market once the soured loans and mortgages are finally removed from banks’ balance sheets?

As happened in Spain and other crisis-hit countries, global private equity funds will probably pick up much of the slack by buying up huge tranches of foreclosed or unoccupied properties, as well as occupied social housing units, at knock-down prices, but whether they’ll actually be able to rent the properties they buy or unload them at a profit is a whole other matter, what with most young Italians forced (or choosing) to stay at home with their parents.

At the Grim Edge of a Global Problem

Youth unemployment is a global problem that is already having a major impact on societies and their ability to finance their needs. Youth unemployment is a staggering 54% in Southern Africa. In Greece, it’s 46%, in Spain, 42%, in Italy, 40%, and Iran, 30%.

Averaged across OECD countries, 14.6% of all youth (some 40 million people) were so-called NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) in 2015. In Southern Europe the share was sharply higher, with between one-quarter and one-fifth of all young people out of work and not in education in Greece, Italy, and Spain.

In Italy the main reason why so few young Italians are financially independent is they can’t afford it. Of the 15 western European nations ranked in the 2016 Global 50 Remuneration Planning Report, Italy boasted the lowest average salary for full-time jobs aimed at recent graduates: €27,400 a year. That compares to €83,600 in top-placed Switzerland, €51,400 a year in second-ranked Denmark, and €45,800 a year in Germany and Norway.

Even in Spain, a country that has broken the 20% unemployment barrier three times in the last 30 years and which has been described by one Spanish economics professor as the “worst labor market on Earth,” recent graduates can expect to take home €3,000 more a year than their Italian counterparts.

The €1,000-a-month Dream

For unskilled workers, in Spain, Italy and Greece, the jobs reality is even bleaker. In Spain ten years ago, “mileurista” — a term to denote someone earning €1,000 a month — was coined to highlight the plight of young workers with low-paid jobs that could never dream of owning their own flat. Today, with a youth unemployment rate of over 40%, becoming a “milleurista” has become something to aspire to.

The alternative is the eternal internship carousel. In the complete absence of any kind of inspection regime, young workers are being shifted from one internship contract to another where they put in full-time shifts day after day in exchange for little more than their lunch money and bus fare home. Few of them will ever get hired full-time, and those that are, are invariably given a short-term contract that, once expired, is replaced by yet another.

Yet somehow Spain’s new generation of unemployed, underemployed, badly paid, or “ni-nis” (NEETs) will soon be expected to maintain over eight million pensioners, who are living longer than ever and are used to earning an average state pension of €906 a month, the second highest (as a percentage of final salary) in Europe after Greece. As Spanish economist Juan Torres López writes, the idea that Spain’s youngest workers will be able to support the country’s swelling ranks of pensioners is risible, especially with Spain’s government pilfering the Social Security fund for other purposes like there’s no tomorrow.

The same goes for Italy whose crisis, in many ways, has barely begun. As in Spain, many of the country’s most gifted young workers will continue to migrate to better performing economies such as Germany, Switzerland, and the UK. With the many programs offering study and work opportunities to young people abroad, such as Erasmus+, “the choice is not so much whether to leave, but whether to stay,” according to a report by Fondazione Migrantes.

For companies in Northern Europe, the mass exodus of young talent from the South means cheaper labor while the governments pick up the income tax. But for countries like Italy and Spain it represents a hemorrhage of talent and skill, much of which was developed with public funds, with no corresponding return. And in that manner, the fiscal health of economies in Europe’s South, already pushed to the limit, will continue to decline. 

The European Union's failure to be more pragmatic is its downfall – and poses the greatest risk for its future

Peter Foster. The Telegraph

Whatever your views on Brexit, there was no escaping the historic nature of the moment yesterday as, one by one, 27 European leaders trooped up to the rostrum to sign the Rome Declaration setting out a blueprint for the next decade of the European Union.

The absence of the British Prime Minister among the familiar crocodile of EU leaders suddenly brought home the real the consequence of last June’s vote – consequences that will become yet more real on Wednesday when Theresa May hands over formal notice of the UK’s intention to quit.

Remainers will have felt a sharp pang of loss at the sight of Britain absent from the top table of European politics; leavers an equal frisson of excitement at what Britain might achieve once liberated from the squabbles of a dysfunctional political union.

And squabbles have indeed been on display in recent weeks as Europe tried to agree on a 1,000-word text that ultimately represents the lowest common denominator of current EU ambition.

The leaders proclaimed a Union that was “undivided and indivisible”, but all the calls for unity belied the reality that on most of the fundamental issues – on immigration and the euro, on budgets and bailouts and indeed on the pace of future union itself – there is precious little agreement.

After a decade of austerity and upheaval in the Middle East, Europe finds itself gripped by a resurgence of nationalism and divided from east to west, from north to south in a manner that has forced Brussels to confront the limits of its ability to over-write the desires of the nation state.  

Poland and Hungary fume that Brussels should tell it how to run its democracy, while impoverished Greece demands the same social rights and dignities for its pensioners as those afforded by rich Germans and Dutch. France remains stubbornly unreformed; Italy wants more help, too.

The frescoes of feuding Roman families in Michelangelo's magnificent Palazzo dei Conservatori on Rome's Capitoline hill therefore provided the perfect setting for the signing of a bloodless document that was made grey with the language of diplomacy and lacked a bold prescription for the future.

Gone was any talk of an “ever closer union” and in its place was a tortuously constructed promise to work at “different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction, as we have done in the past”. A sentence that makes one dizzy just reading it.

Britain should take no pleasure from any of this, even if there is a temptation to say that “we told you so”. Mrs May is correct to wish Europe well, even if we've had enough; it is the destination, after all, for nearly half of Britain’s exports, the place where a million Brits live and work and where countless more do business and take their holidays.

What Britain should hope for instead is a new realism in Europe – a deeper recognition that the project needs rethinking among much more flexible lines if it is to accommodate the new political realities thrown up by austerity and terror.

As a host of global challenges bring national identity back into focus, it is apparent that the disgruntlement with the EU is not a public relations problem, as many in Brussels seem to believe, but something much more fundamental and structural.

To restore public confidence, Europe needs to give up on some of its grander designs, return more power to nation states, accept national differences and focus on collaboration between capitals on issues such as trade, climate change, immigration, data-flows and border security where there is a clear mutual interest.

In the end, failure to take a more pragmatic approach – and that includes towards Britain’s request to be a good neighbour outside the EU after Brexit – is what presents the greatest risk to the European Union as it contemplates the decade to come.