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.  


Sierra said...

Must be a tie between the Brexiteers and Donald Trump on who told the most lies prior to the date of voting - even Nigel Farage is getting cold feet - still will always have his Euro MP's pension

Sierra said...

Good to know the future:

Eamon said...

Your experience with Moovup has me wondering. I don't own a mobile telephone and the sales person asked if you wanted an internal battery. Does that mean people are walking around with and external battery fitted to their phone and did Moovup only sell external batteries? Is it a battery that you use like when you jump start your car with an external battery?

Colin Davies said...

Well, Eamon, I do have a smartphone and I had the same thoughts!

Colin Davies said...

@Sierra. Hardly the future when the majority is against all of them . .

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