Thursday, April 13, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 13.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

Here's The Local on a particular Spanish Easter delicacy - torrijas. Never had one myself. There's more Easter dishes mentioned in the article but I might well have already cited these.

You'll all be wanting to know how GasNaturalFenosa responded to my second attempt to apply - in respect of my electricity - for a bono social and its 25% discount. Well, this time they told me that I need to be on their books as a person of ultimo recurso. This usually means 'last resort' but I take it here to mean 'poor'. I suspect this confirms a suspicion of Sierra(?) that low usage alone is not enough. They could have told me this last time they wrote to me, of course, but why miss the opportunity to delay things, increase your workload and justify your job? And possibly the need for an assistant.

Spanglish: It's official. El balconing is the insane  and often fatal practice of leaping from your room's balcony into the hotel swimming pool. The good news is that this madness is useful in improving the world's gene pool.

Watching Donald Trump confuse Syria and Iraq this morning, I again found myself asking the critical question: Why is his face orange with white patches? Well, the theories range from bad tanning or bad bronzing to conditions such as hemochromatosis caused by excessive fast food, carotenosis or carotenodermia (very possibly the same thing). But, to be honest, his colour is the very least thing we should worry about in respect of the most powerful man in the world.

There was a fascinating article on Brexit in El País recently, in which an American columnist effectively called on the EU to stop being stupid and, in its own interests, offer some initial sweeteners to a deal which would be in everyone's interests. In other words, the common sense I've long predicted would eventually surface. But maybe I'm being too optimistic. After all, a lunatic has made his lie-strewn way to the US presidency. Anyway, I found the original article in English and it's a great deal longer. I attach both at the end of this post for those interested.

And for those Brits in Spain terrified of the future after Brexit, here's the name of a couple of organisations they might want to join/tap into. HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for these:.
Rather more locally . . . There might well have been both a (sensible) change in the law and attempts in the media to give us informative diagrams on how to properly navigate roundabouts(circles), but the news of these developments clearly hasn't reached the driving schools of this benighted city. Where learners are still taught to go right round in the outside lane. Usually without making any sort of signal. Well, not a sensible one anyway. Needless to say, this maximises the chance you'll hit one as you try to exit in the way you would in any other country.

Finally . . . . Talking of annoyances . . . . In an interesting new-to-me podcast called The Pessimists Archive, I learned that - when headphones first appeared with the Sony Walkman back in the 1980s - various cities in the USA made it illegal to wear them - on the grounds it was dangerous to do so. But pretty soon 'the police found better things to do' and stopped enforcing the law. Well, not around here, mate. The officious bastards in Pontevedra have done me twice for this, despite my ears being subjected to much less noise than even just one chattering Gallega in the car, let alone four.

Today's cartoon:-

Quick, Van Helsing! before he turns into a protected species!


The Case for a Kinder, Gentler Brexit      Joseph H. H. Weiler 

Of course, we know better than to be shooting at each other; but the post-June 23 relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union is woefully bellicose, and increasingly so. In tone and mood, diplomatic niceties are barely maintained and in content positions seem to be hardening. I am mostly concerned with attitudes and positions of and within the Union and its 27 remaining Member States. Handling Brexit cannot be dissociated from the handling of the broader challenges facing the Union. I will readily accept that the UK leadership bears considerable responsibility for the bellicosity and the escalating lawfare. But the inequality of arms so strikingly favors the Union that its attitude and policies can afford a certain magnanimous disregard of ongoing British provocations.

It is easy to understand European Union frustration with the UK. I want to list three – the first being an understandable human reaction. It is clear that when Cameron called for a renegotiation followed by a referendum he had no clue what it was he wanted and needed to renegotiate. The Union waited patiently for months to receive his list – the insignificance of which, when it did come, was breathtaking. For “this” one was willing to risk breaking up the Union and perhaps the UK? I recall Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union of 2015 in which going the extra mile in preventing a Brexit was one of his top priorities. Any fair-minded observer would agree that the Union delivered on this commitment. Some of us even thought that the eventual compromise on free movement went beyond the boundaries of extant EU law. The actual Brexit vote was thus greeted with understandable disappointment, to which a measure of bitterness and even anger were easy to detect in the myriad statements that followed. And then it also became abundantly clear, breathtakingly clear, that the UK went into the referendum without any strategic – political and legal – plan in the event of, well, Brexit. One did not know what the Brits wanted ahead of the referendum and one still is not clear what they want in its wake. It has been ongoing and at times incoherent improvisation – adding further to the already existing frustration. We tend to reify governments and administrations just as we reify courts. But when all is said and done, there are always humans with emotions and ambitions and desires and the usual frailties of the human condition.

Still, setting aside this kind of emotional state as the basis for, or even influencing, a Brexit strategy, it is well overdue. If the interest of the kids is really in one’s mind, it behooves any divorcing couple to get as quickly as possible beyond the anger stage. In approaching Brexit the single consideration should be the overall interest of the Union and the underlying values of the European construct.
I take it as axiomatic that it is in the interest of the Union – economic, strategic (not least security) and even social – to have as amicable, open and cooperative a relationship with a post-Brexit UK.

One cannot very justly express alarm and disapproval at the protectionist winds blowing from the White House and then not accept that, even if outside the Union, it is in our interest to keep as open a marketplace with such an important contiguous economy as the UK. Nor can one fail to realize that with the end of the Pax Americana, how damaging it would be for Europe, when finally beginning to take its security responsibilities seriously, not to be able to count on a robust participation of the UK. And beyond the money power matrices, the UK has to remain a firm ally in the defense of liberal democracy under attack. Not to mince words, a hostile Union will only further push the UK into an uneasy embrace with Trump.

What, then, from the Union’s side – at the policy rather than the emotional level – seems to explain the bellicosity? There are two interconnected arguments that are repeated again and again in explaining and justifying the rhetoric of a “hard” Brexit or “Divorce before any negotiations” et cetera et cetera ad nauseam and ad tedium.

The first is that one cannot compromise the conceptual and practical coherence of the Single Market, of which free movement of workers is an indispensable and non-negotiable principle. (I consider as sad collateral damage the fact that the Brexit debate has returned the principle of free movement to its economic foundation – workers, factors of production in a common market – and away from its new citizenship grounding). And since the UK insists that it can no longer accept free movement, it cannot both have its cake and eat it. You cannot be in the Single Market without accepting its cardinal principles. There is an important additional nuance to this argument, namely that by taking a tough line with the UK one is squelching any heretics who would like to see the dilution of free movement within the Union.

The second – interconnected – reason for the tough rhetoric and the endless promises of a “hard” Brexit is the “discourage the others” argument. If the UK gets too cushy a deal – i.e. is not made to pay and to be seen to be paying a heavy price for Brexit – it might tempt other Member States to seek the same, thereby bringing about a weakening or even disintegration of the Union. The notion of some form of Associate Membership is thus rejected categorically.

I think the first argument is based on a misunderstanding and the second argument raises a profound issue that goes well beyond any Brexit strategy. It touches on what is sometimes thought of as the “soul of the Union” – its very ontology – a clarification of which should at least provoke second thoughts as to the wisdom of the extant approach to Brexit.

It is clear that if the UK leaves the Union and rejects free movement it cannot be a full participant in the Single Market. But, it is worth making, again and again, the obvious distinction between being part of the Single Market and having access to the Single Market.

For decades, even before it was called the Single Market, it has been European policy that granting access to the Single Market to partners all over the world was an important objective, beneficial both to the Union and to such trading partners. The recent conclusion of CETA (Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) is just the last, if very visible, manifestation of such a policy. The Union has countless agreements of this nature – the common denominator of which is the granting of access to the Single Market not only without requiring free movement of workers, but excluding such. In the case of developing countries the access has been at times on a non-reciprocal preferential basis, though with many partners (again using CETA as an example) it is on a fully reciprocal basis. It is true that for the most part the agreements relate to goods rather than services but the access is extensive nonetheless.

Why should the Union not announce, unilaterally, and as soon as possible, that it would be its desire that the UK have at a minimum an agreement granting it access to the Single Market on terms no less favorable than any of its existing reciprocal agreements with third parties? I can see several distinct advantages of such a declaration. First it would change the existing damaging, bellicose atmosphere and mood, which are not auspicious for an amicable divorce. Second, it would not compromise any European interest from a commercial perspective. And third, it would allow that aspect of the negotiations to be handed over to the technocrats – the devil is in the details! – while allowing the more sensitive issues such as financial services, passporting and the like to be dealt with at the political level.

In the same vein, just about all Member States of the Union have bilateral investment treaties with third parties, which typically give extensive access to company directors, etc. Is it thinkable that the UK should not have similar privileges? Why should the same “most favored” principle not be extended as regards these privileges accorded to third parties?

Negotiating from a position of power, such gestures of good will by the Union would not compromise its interests; rather they would facilitate the negotiations by setting at least minimal targets to be achieved in the negotiations and send an important signal that the period of anger is over and functional pragmatism is back.

What then of the “discourage the others” argument? Here my views are decidedly iconoclastic but, I want to believe, at least merit a hearing.

The actual departure of the UK was not in my view the deepest harm inflicted by Brexit (thought of as a holistic set of events). The catastrophic damage to the Union was to grievously arrest the slow transformation of the European Construct from a community of convenience (concrete achievements leading to de facto solidarity) to a community of fate. By community of fate (and thankfully Isaiah Berlin re-Koshered Herders’ concept so abused by National Socialism) I mean the notion that whilst one can and should have deep divisions and conflicts within the Union as regards its policies, scope of action, methods of governance and the like, such divisions and conflicts have to be resolved within the framework of the Union, its Member States and their peoples being attached to each other indissolubly. The Exit option, a nod towards the residual sovereignty of the Member States (an indispensable nod, given that the very notion of high integration among sovereign states is the double helix of the European construct that differentiates it from Federal States) was always to remain the arm you never use. Brexit discourse, spilling over from the UK debate to the whole of Europe, regressed the Union back to a contingent, ongoing project, the viability of which may be challenged at any moment, depending on a material balance of costs and benefits. Unwittingly, in an almost panicky knee-jerk reaction, European discourse became one of “we have to come up with projects that will prove to the peoples of Europe that it is in their interest to maintain the Union”. To remain.

Even if successful in finding such projects, this is a self-defeating approach, because of its contingent, cost-benefit logic, on which the future of the Union is now to rest. As we saw in the British debate on Brexit and we see in current Euro-speak, this logic inevitably leads to the politics of fear. As the Brexit debate in Britain progressed it became increasingly one of who could scare their adversary more effectively. The “discourage the others” argument in the current post-Brexit approach belongs to the same genus. Does one really want the future of European integration to rest on fear-driven support, scaring our peoples by setting up the UK as a reminder of the bad fate that awaits the heretics?

I cannot but think of millennial Christian doctrine – now abandoned – which held that the Jews should be kept as a miserable entity as a reminder of the fate of those who reject the Savior. It was a betrayal of Christian ideals.

So, think now the unthinkable – an approach which would afford the UK as comfortable a status as possible, even a form of Associate Membership. It would still be a second-class membership; whatever access the UK would have to, say, the Single Market, would be to a marketplace the rules of which would be determined by others. This is a self-inflicted damage that the UK will have to live with.

Brexit is a watershed. So, I would argue, instead of trying to stick the finger in the dyke let us live the watershed. If a UK status is appealing to this or that Member State, let it be. Those states would not in any event be helpful in a Union which needs some brave and decisive fixes to its structure and processes, not least the structure and processes of governance. For those who remain, most if not all, it will be a moment of willed re-commitment rather than scared, coerced, resentful and contingent inert

Un ‘Brexit’ más suave y amable      

Joseph H. H. Weiler: Presidente del Instituto Universitario Europeo en Florencia.

¡Un Brexit duro! ¡Se van a enterar! Ese es el mensaje que recorre la Unión Europea. Es fácil comprender la frustración de la UE con Reino Unido, el enfado por su decisión, tan perjudicial para todos e incluso el deseo apenas disimulado de “castigarlos”. No obstante, este es el momento de ser racionales y no dejarse arrastrar por las emociones.

Es evidente que, tras el Brexit, a la Unión le interesará tener una relación lo más amistosa, abierta y cooperadora posible con Reino Unido, por motivos económicos, estratégicos (incluida la seguridad) y también sociales. No podemos alarmarnos y criticar los vientos proteccionistas que llegan de la Casa Blanca y, al mismo tiempo, no aceptar que nos conviene mantener un mercado abierto y una relación cordial con un país tan importante como Reino Unido, aunque se haya ido de la UE. Y, aparte de los aspectos económicos, Reino Unido debe seguir siendo un firme aliado en la defensa de la democracia liberal ante los ataques actuales. ¿De dónde procede, pues, toda esa belicosidad? Se justifica con dos argumentos. El primero es que no podemos poner en peligro la coherencia del mercado único, y la libre circulación de trabajadores es un elemento indispensable y no negociable de él. El segundo argumento es que hay que “disuadir a otros”. Si Reino Unido obtiene unas condiciones muy cómodas, quizá otros Estados miembros sientan la tentación de hacer lo mismo.

En mi opinión, el primer argumento se basa en un malentendido y el segundo es contraproducente para la Unión.

Está claro que si Reino Unido deja la UE y rechaza la libre circulación, no podrá participar plenamente en el mercado único. Pero hay que distinguir, las veces que haga falta, entre formar parte del mercado único y tener acceso a él.

Hace muchos años que la UE tiene la política de permitir el acceso al mercado único a socios comerciales de todo el mundo porque es beneficioso para todas las partes. El acuerdo con Canadá es el ejemplo más reciente, pero la Unión tiene numerosos pactos de ese tipo, y todos ellos tienen en común que otorgan el acceso al mercado único no solo sin exigir la libre circulación de trabajadores sino excluyéndola específicamente. Es cierto que la mayoría de los acuerdos se refieren más a bienes que a servicios, pero conceden un amplio acceso. Los pactos tienen sus propios mecanismos para resolver disputas, por lo que no necesitan remitirse al Tribunal Europeo.

La UE debería anunciar unilateralmente que le gustaría un acuerdo que conceda Reino Unido, como mínimo, un acceso al mercado único en condiciones tan favorables como los de otros países. Esa medida, sin comprometer ningún interés europeo, apaciguaría la beligerancia actual, que no favorece un divorcio amistoso, y permitiría que los tecnócratas se encargaran de esos aspectos y los políticos se ocuparan de cuestiones más delicadas como los servicios financieros, los pasaportes y otras.
Asimismo, debería haber una declaración unilateral sobre la voluntad de principio de otorgar la residencia a todos los británicos que vivan en la Unión, con la condición de que sea recíproca: una combinación de magnanimidad e interés.

La estrategia actual de establecer los términos del divorcio (cuánto debe Reino Unido, etcétera) antes de empezar ninguna negociación comercial, en vez de hacer las dos cosas de forma simultánea, recibiría un suspenso en cualquier clase de negociaciones. Es una estrategia condenada al fracaso, porque hace que el interlocutor se sienta chantajeado, impide que haya un “toma y daca” entre las dos vías —con lo que se reducen las posibilidades de buenos resultados—, y los resultados de la primera negociación no son verdaderamente definitivos, puesto que hay que revisarlos después de concluir la segunda. Y, sobre todo, aumenta el peligro de fracaso general, algo que no interesa a nadie.
¿Y qué pasa con el argumento de “disuadir a otros”?

El verdadero daño que ha hecho el Brexit a la Unión ha sido poner mucho más difícil su lenta transformación de ser una comunidad de conveniencia a ser una comunidad de destino. Los Estados miembros son comunidades de destino, incluso los que tienen poblaciones con múltiples nacionalidades. Quizá tienen profundas divisiones sociales y políticas, pero suele darse por sentado que las soluciones surgirán en el marco de la nación y el Estado. Ahora, la táctica del miedo empleada por la campaña del Brexit se ha contagiado a toda Europa y ha hecho que la UE vuelva a ser un proyecto contingente e inacabado, que puede ponerse en duda en cualquier momento, en función de un equilibrio material de costes y beneficios. De manera inconsciente, casi en un reflejo provocado por el pánico, Europa ha emprendido el discurso de “tenemos que proponer proyectos que demuestren a nuestros pueblos que les interesa conservar la Unión”. Aunque encuentren esos proyectos, es una estrategia contraproducente, porque hace depender el futuro de la Unión de esa lógica de costes y beneficios.

¿De verdad queremos que el futuro de la integración europea dependa del apoyo de unos ciudadanos a los que se ha asustado con el ejemplo de Reino Unido y el destino que aguarda a los herejes?
Imaginemos, en cambio, algo impensable, una estrategia que concediera a Reino Unido una posición lo más cómoda posible, quizá incluso un estatus de miembro asociado o algo así.

Si hay algún otro Estado miembro que decide que quiere tener ese mismo estatus, que lo tenga. De todos modos, esos miembros no serían muy útiles en una Unión que necesita medidas audaces y decisivas para arreglar su estructura y sus procesos, en el ámbito fiscal y en el de la gobernanza, entre otros. Para los que se queden, o al menos para la mayoría de ellos, será un momento de reafirmación del compromiso, no de inercia atemorizada, coaccionada, condicionada y resentida.

Para cambiar la atmósfera desagradable y belicosa en la que van a comenzar las negociaciones del Brexit hace falta que alguien ejerza el liderazgo. Y ese alguien no va a salir de Francia, Italia ni Alemania, en cada caso por distintos motivos. De modo que queda España, la niña prodigio actual de Europa. Con un nuevo ministro de Exteriores que es un profesional de su oficio y un momento de relativa estabilidad política y económica, con humildad pero con seguridad y decisión, España puede contribuir a determinar el futuro de Europa. ¡Carpe diem!

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