Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 31.10.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.


1. Some Backcloth
These are the region's nationalist parties, the ones who in an (unnatural) coalition initiated the 'illegal' referendum, etc, etc. In ascending order of Leftishness and idealistic, 'purist' thinking:-
  • The Catalan European Democratic party (PDeCAT), a right-wing, conservative party which is a recent convert to separatism
  • The ERC, a left-of-centre-party.
  • The CUP. The real nutters. The tail which is wagging the nationalist, Catalan and Spanish dogs.

    In normal times, this coalition would break up under the weight of its internal incongruities. But - thanks largely to PP party stupidity - we have well and truly arrived at rather abnormal times.
2. Quote of the week: So far: We are not taking autonomy away from Catalonia. We are just re-establishing it, in fact: The Spanish Foreign Minister. Who might actually believe what he said.

3. The (accurate) Overview of a US Expert on Spain:-
  • I think what we're looking at in the weeks ahead are acts of civil disobedience, maybe acts of resistance from public servants, boycotting of the December elections by some of the independence parties, and maybe most seriously, criminal prosecution of political leaders in Catalonia.
  • For some people in Catalonia, the independence movement has been a channel to voice their discontent with Spain's current political system, which they see as lacking in democracy, as being deeply corrupt, as being built on an unhealthy collusion between economic elites, political elites, and media elites. That's what they want to break away from.
  • This tragic thing in my view is that, the stand of Madrid over the status of Catalonia, the stand over the independence movement, and the stand over the declaration of independence have managed to divide the political forces in Spain that have been fighting to reform Spanish democracy and to make it healthier and better.
  • The nature of the political problem is that up to half of people in Catalonia do not feel that the state housed in Madrid has legitimacy and that is a real political problem and that is not going to go away by the measure implemented today. It will not go away by the December elections , the legitimacy of which is now being questioned because of the circumstance under which they are called. So that is a long term issue that only dialog can solve and, in my view, only a referendum like we saw in Scotland can resolve in Spain in the long term
  • The Spanish constitution has to be reformed, that means that Spain has to come to terms in a different way with the fact that it's a multinational state, where there's large parts of the population identify as both Spanish and Catalan, or both Spanish and Bask, or as only Bask and only Catalan not Spanish at all really.
  • If Spain wants to survive as a democratic nation, it the obligation to come to terms and find ways to establish a different form of self-government, and that can only happen through democratic dialog.
  • The polarization has shored up the conservative base of the Spanish government and has even, in a scary way, revealed the continued presence in Spain 40 years after Franco's death of extreme right-wing Spanish nationalism that isn't afraid to dig up symbols and gestures and flags and hand salutes that go straight back to Francoism.
  • In some perverse way, the behavior of Rajoy and the PP party so far in the Catalan crisis can be explained as a desperate attempt to maintain the outdated political system.
  • The ways in which the hardcore right wing of their governing party in Spain has taken advantage of this opportunity to fan the flames of anti-Catalan sentiment and to call for severe punishment for Catalan leadership has not helped the situation one bit.
  • Both parties have moved past the moment where they can sit down and dialog with each other without losing face. I think the mood in Madrid is a desire for punishment of the Catalan leaders who dare to challenge the constitutional order in Spain, and I think that a desire for revenge or for punishment from Madrid will poison the political climate in Spain, but especially in Catalonia.
  • It's unlikely that the December elections will yield, in the short term, a solution to a situation in which a solution can only be found through dialog.
  • Eventually, new national elections in Spain, so a renewal of the government in Madrid, might lead to a situation of which both parties can sit down and negotiate.
Or, as someone else has put it: The real crisis here is a crisis of the Spanish political system as it was built in the late 1970s and as it has evolved over the last 40 years. That is what is at the heart of this problem.

Or, as The Guardian has it hereThe Spanish prime minister’s decision to call a snap election, combined with the imposition of direct rule, does not magically resolve the problem. Much could, and probably will, go wrong before then, as the cat-and-mouse game between Madrid and Catalonia’s independence movement enters a new phase.The results of open elections are impossible to predict a unionist victory would be deeply humiliating for the separatists, but Rajoy is taking a risk because a clear victory by the independence movement would help win the support that it lacks among EU governments. It may also finally oblige his conservative People’s party to accept that the constitution which Spaniards, and Catalans, approved so massively in 1978 is overdue for a rewrite.

Life in Spain 
  • Despite the current mess, the country's economy continues to grow impressively at the macro level. 
  • It's hard to believe that the PP government – which has so far failed to even acknowledge the vast levels of corruption in Spanish political life – will accept that the whole system needs reforming. Maybe a future left-of-centre party. But this won't be coming along any time soon, as Sr Rajoy is well aware that support for his besmirched administration has risen in Spain outside Cataluña. So, expect an early election designed to bring it back to power for more years than it can currently rely on. A dirty business, democratic politics.
  • But let's see what the parliamentary commission comes up with in 6 months time. Without holding our breath.

Finally . . . Rather to my surprise, my Madrid-based daughter has advised me that what was deposited in the Correos 'Lost Property' box was not just my ID card - as they'd advised – but my wallet and all the not-very-important cards in it that I now keep separate from the vital ones. But not, of course, the €300 I'd just taken out in advance of the camino I was about to start. Well, would you leave the cash in a wallet you'd found and were well aware it was very probably going to be nicked by someone in Correos? But, then, the cash was never likely to be in when it was deposited, so it's an academic moral dilemma. En passant, lots of little things sent to me in the mail from the UK over the years have gone missing en route. But, of course, it's impossible to say whether this happened in the UK or in Spain.

Today's Cartoon:-

Run for your lives, everyone. It's the coming of Christianity!!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 30.10.17

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

If you've alighted here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Cataluña: Bits of the Jig-Saw. Or: Scenes from the Ealing comedy: We Have Ways of Making You Democratic:
  • Gathered under a giant Spanish flag on Saturday, thousands of people in central Madrid shouted Prison for Puigdemont.
  • Shouting Viva España and Visca Catalunya and chanting Puigdemont to prison,  hundreds of thousands of Spanish loyalists demonstrated in central Barcelona yesterdayAmid a festival atmosphere, protesters carrying Spanish and Catalan flags sang along as speakers blared out the 1970s hit, Y Viva España. The protest was largely peaceful, though a small group clashed with police. 
  • The anti-independence Catalan Civil Society, which organised the demonstration, claimed that 1.3m marchers attended. Police put the number at 300,000. Take your pick.
  • Sr  Puigdemont is expected to turn up for work today, despite having been sacked by Madrid last Friday.
  • The Spanish foreign minister has said that Sr Puigdemont could stand in December’s elections, assuming he's not in prison for rebellion.
  • Muddying the EU waters, a Belgian minister in favour of Flemish independence has said his country could offer asylum to Sr Puigdemont.
  • Madrid has decided not to take over TV3 and Catalunya Radio, widely viewed as mouthpieces for the pro-independence Catalan government.
  • More than 1,700 companies, including the banks Caixa and Sabadell and several utility companies, have decided to move their legal headquarters out of Catalonia since the referendum.
  • On Friday, shares in Catalonian banks fell sharply on Spain’s Ibex-35. CaixaBank - Spain's third largest lender - fell by around 5% while Sabadell, the country's fifth biggest bank, fell roughly 6%.
  • The Catalans are looking at introducing their variant to Bitcoin. (The Catcoin?) See the must-read article at the end of this post on the all-important financial aspects of this madness.The Guardian's opinion: Rajoy’s is a well-played hand, but perhaps also a bluff that could end in a flop. The nationalists may finally decide not to stand in the election and, if turnout is low, the new parliament’s legitimacy will look precarious. And if the nationalists pick up the gauntlet and present a united list, they could turn the election into an undeclared plebiscite on independence. This they may win, even if their platform for a sovereign republic will look somewhat redundant and contradictory. More here.
  • Chinese flag-makers are reported to be delirious with joy. Except, of course, those who specialise on EU variants. These are said to be biding their time.

Life in Spain
The Spanish Language: Reader Perry has turned up the word transigencia for 'compromise' or – perhaps more correctly – 'willingness to compromise/tolerance'. English speakers will recognise it from its antonym 'intransigence'. I must confess to never having heard or seen it before.

In the UK, the BBC has reported that an independent enquiry has looked at energy prices over the last decade and concluded that a quadrupling of cost against a background of falling oil prices suggests that prices are 'too high'. Who'd have thought it?

Galicia: Well, I never. The origin of name of the Pontevedran city of Vigo is said by some to be the Roman Vicus Spacorum. And It is believed that it was the starting-point of Caesar’s campaign against Britannia. Something else I've never heard before.

Finally . . . A British columnist yesterday reminded me that, in my youth on Merseyside, we used turnips to carve Halloween heads (jack-o'-lanterns), not pumpkins. Though a friend told me last night they were not, in fact, turnips but the much larger swedes. Either way, they were bloody hard to hollow out. And the flaming candles would never stay upright. Said columnist added: As a kid in Middlesborough, I once saw an avocado in our greengrocer’s. “What’s that?” I asked the woman behind the counter. “Fuck knows”, she replied. “Something from London, I’d bet”. Them was the days. Before we all became effete members of the middle class.

Today's Cartoon:-

For my Catholic friends . . .


Catalans race to create a new currency and economic fortress as independence counter-attack builds:  Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

The self-styled Republic of Catalonia is scrambling to put together the economic machinery of a sovereign state after the momentous vote for independence in the Catalan parliament, but the quixotic venture faces a devastating counter-attack from the Spanish state within days.

Large global banks and funds are no longer convinced that premier Mariano Rajoy can contain the crisis. It is one thing to invoke the nuclear option of Article 155 under the Spanish constitution: it is quite another to subdue the breakaway region.

Antonio Montilla from Citigroup said Catalonia’s leaders are now in “open rebellion against the Spanish state”, precipitating a drastic response that has its own dreadful logic and risks spinning out of control. “Violent confrontations and widespread civil unrest could possibly follow. We do not believe the current impasse will escalate into a civil war, even if we cannot rule out this scenario anymore. We doubt any international mediation will occur – even if it did, we doubt much progress could be made,” he said.

Catalan separatists in the regional assembly voted for their republic with stone-faced, funereal expressions, aware of the enormous dangers. The Spanish judicial authorities (Fiscalia) plans to launch criminal probes for ‘rebellion and sedition’ as soon as Monday, with a prison tariff of 30 years. This is not like Brexit. Nobody talks lightly of “having their cake and eating it”.

Fintech experts in Barcelona are working feverishly behind the scenes to create a blockchain currency beyond the control the Spanish state and the European Central Bank, relying on advice from pioneers in Estonia and from Etherium founder Vitalik Buterin. The desperate initiative is akin to Syriza’s contingency “Plan B’ for a parallel currency at the height of the Greek drama in 2015, which was never activated in the end.

George Danezis, an expert on crypto-currencies at University College London, says such a scheme could create a ring-fenced infrastructure that would be hard for Madrid to shut down. But blockchain has inherent problems of scale. It is difficult to see how it could replace euro-based transactions overnight and service a sophisticated economy.

The Catalan rebels say Spain’s fateful decision last week to imprison two grass-roots leaders – ‘Los Jordis’ – for peaceful resistance poisoned the political waters irreparably. Mr Rajoy’s Partido Popular has stated from the outset that there can be no dialogue with ‘golpistas’ (putschists). The chasm seems unbridgeable.

Mr Rajoy now has the grim task of implementing Article 155. This means evicting the region’s leaders by force and taking over the Catalan state: the Mossos d’Esquadra (police), the TV3 television station, and the administrative apparatus of the Generalitat.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has hinted at mobilisation on the streets. The hard-left CUP party vows “massive civil disobedience” in what it now calls full resistance (lluita i de resistència).

The great unknown is whether the 17,000-strong Mossos will take their instructions from Madrid or Barcelona. If large numbers rally to the new republic, there will be a showdown with the 11,000 members of the national police and Guardia Civil. The army might have to step in.

Investors are struggling to keep up with the fast-moving events on the ground. The euro fell to $1.1578 against the dollar on Friday after the sharpest two-day drop this year.  But this is hard to separate from reactions to the ECB’s open-ended plan to stretch bond purchases until September 2018.

The IBEX index of equities in Madrid fell 1.45%, led by Catalan lenders Sabadell and Caixabank as well as BBVA, which holds a quarter of the Catalan market. Risk spreads on Spain’s 10-year bonds jumped seven points to 120 but there is no sign of serious alarm.

It is a muted response to a declaration of independence by the country’s most dynamic region, commanding a fifth of GDP.  Yet the crisis is already inflicting economic damage. Spain’s Target2 deficit in the ECB’s internal payments system has risen to a record €384bn (£339bn), a sign of underlying capital flight.

The national fiscal body (AIReF) has halved its growth forecast to 1.5pc next year and warned of recession in Catalonia, which has seen an exodus of 1,700 Catalan companies switching their legal headquarters to other parts of Spain.

Mr Rajoy’s minority government is on borrowed time. The budget has been delayed. He needs Basque votes but regional leader Inigo Urkullu says he is “radically opposed” to use of Article 155. The Basque PNV party has denounced what it calls an assault on Catalonia’s “legitimate institutions”.

The Spanish finance minister warned before the referendum that Catalonia would be thrown out of the euro and face “brutal pauperisation”, with a devaluation of up to 50%. GDP would collapse by 25 to 30%. The new state would be a pariah, without trade access to the EU single market or to Spain.

The trouble with this scenario is that it would entail a break-up of the euro, setting off systemic panic. It would be a traumatic shock to the Spanish economy. The acrimonious split would push Spain’s public debt to 120pc of GDP and cause the fiscal deficit to explode.

It is clearly impossible to separate a Catalan crash from a Spanish crash. Bond purchases by the ECB are for now keeping a lid on Spanish yields but trouble may start once the pace of purchases is halved in January. IHS Markit warns that Spain may ultimately need an EU bail-out, if the political drama festers.

Active mediation by the EU might have defused the crisis earlier. Brussels has instead backed Madrid at every step of the way, even describing the treatment of Catalan voters by the Guardia Civil as “proportionate” use of force.   

It is has fallen to the non-EU Council of Europe to call for restraint and subtler statecraft. This has been noticed by dissident movements across Europe. It will have consequences.  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia; 29.1.17


A Twitter joke began to do the rounds in Spain on Thursday. It said: “At 02:00 on Sunday the clocks go back . . . to 1936.” That was the year the Spanish Civil War began.

A few days ago, I wrote of what was happening in 'Wonderland'. So, I was pleased so see the word crop up in this excellent take by the Sunday Times on the October madness in Spain. I've underlined the most important sentences, which stress something many of us have been saying since the start of it all. Needless to say, the author concludes that, while no one has any idea how things will go from here, many of us are very fearful of the future:-

Catalonia crisis: Ghosts of civil war march in Spain

The fear that many in Spain harbour but few dare breathe the name of, other than in jokes and nervous laughter, is that history may repeat itself and the political crisis in Catalonia will spiral violently out of control. A handful of politicians have warned of an “Ulsterisation” of the region, of sectarian strife, not between Catholics and Protestants but between two bands almost as bitterly opposed these days: those against and those in favour of Catalan independence. However, such politicians tend quickly to be shouted down. It is too awful to contemplate the possibility of something even dimly resembling Francisco Franco’s savagely cruel war happening again. Yet the war’s shadow is there, hovering over Spanish minds.

All kinds of images suggest themselves in the attempt to describe the unnecessary, confusing and perilous mess in which Spain and Catalonia have landed themselves. A bullfight, maybe; or a Barcelona-Real Madrid match; or Alice in Wonderland, with a sprinkling of Monty Python, Salvador Dali and Donald Trump.

Let’s try the bullfight first, with Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, playing the bull and Carles Puigdemont, the separatist president of the Catalan regional government since January last year, the matador. The bull is not very imaginative and has little truck with dialogue or compromise but does have clarity of purpose — in this case to obliterate the Catalan independence movement.

The matador lacks the strength to put the bull to the sword, so his best hope is to dodge and weave, tiring the beast, exhausting its will to fight. The matador is blind to his own weakness, though. He deludes himself into thinking he is a match for the bull. As suicidal as he is romantic, he wraps himself in the red and gold colours of Catalan secessionism and invites it to charge.

That’s what happened on Friday, the most politically action-packed day in Catalonia since the civil war. Puigdemont unilaterally declared Catalan independence — just the red rag Rajoy needed to invoke article 155 of the Spanish constitution, impose direct rule on Catalonia, order the overthrow of the Catalan government and call regional elections on December 21. Late at night, a spokesman of Rajoy’s centre-right Popular Party said Puigdemont’s arrest was imminent.

Politics is not primarily about persuasion for Rajoy: it is about enforcing the law. No one had doubted how he would respond to Puigdemont’s declaration of independence, but that did not stop the latter’s supporters reacting to it with euphoria. “This is a dream come true, a historic victory,” declared separatist politicians, as if Barcelona had just beaten Real Madrid in a cup final, when all they had done was score an early goal prior to an inevitable thumping.

All sides seem to be living in Wonderland. The present crisis was sparked on October 1 by a referendum that was never a referendum; it was a mass demonstration with a dash of street theatre, with the people who turned up and cast their symbolic, non-binding votes overwhelmingly being those in favour of independence. Unsurprisingly, just 43% of the electorate voted and 90% of them elected to leave Spain.

Puigdemont and the coalition of separatists, anarchists and left-wing radicals that gave him a narrow parliamentary majority judged this electoral mirage to be sufficiently compelling to warrant Friday’s declaration of independence.

Puigdemont and company believe, like Alice’s Humpty Dumpty, that words mean exactly what they choose them to mean. Rajoy and company could have put their own interpretation on the “referendum”, seen it for what it really was and ignored it. Instead, spoiling for a fight, they took the separatists at their word, got terribly exercised about their “illegal” and “unconstitutional” behaviour and sent in the guardia civil, who proceeded to club old ladies over the head in front of the world’s media. It was the worst day for Spain’s global reputation since the rioting that followed the death of Franco.

All this could have been avoided five years ago, when the independence movement burst from obscurity into light. The present crisis, and indeed, the rise to power of the Puigdemont crowd, would never have come about had Rajoy responded with the requisite political nous to a demonstration in September 2012 that saw 1m people fill the streets of Barcelona, clamouring for independence. That is a lot in a Catalan region with a total population of 7.5m.

At the very least, Rajoy could have begun formal discussions on granting Catalonia greater autonomy — at best he would have granted the Catalans a Scottish-style referendum, which the “no” vote would most certainly have won, putting to bed the whole problem for a generation. Instead, he looked the other way, refusing to entertain talks with the pliable and naturally deal-making centre-right Catalan government in place at the time. Rajoy retreated into a make-believe world in which — never mind the evidence on the streets — Catalan independence was the province of a small bunch of radical agitators.

The prime minister does not seem to have budged from this comforting delusion. Last week, he blithely described the imposition of direct rule from Madrid as a move designed “to restore democracy”, “restore peaceful co-existence” and, remarkably, “restore Catalan autonomy”. He regards the December elections he has called as an exercise that will clear the air and bring Catalonia cheerfully back into the Spanish fold, ignoring the strong possibility that, with Puigdemont and his people absent from the ballot papers — and possibly in jail by then — such elections will lack legitimacy in the eyes of half the Catalan population.

A lot can happen between now and then. Rajoy’s bet is that the Catalan separatists will succumb to battle fatigue. Yet only last Saturday, 450,000 people filled the streets of Barcelona in protest at the jailing of two almost unknown Catalan politicians who had helped organise the October 1 festivities.

How would they respond to the jailing of Puigdemont? How, for that matter, would the 17,000-strong Catalan police force, hitherto responsible only to the Catalan government, react to being told they must forcefully impose the new Madrid order? Will they clash with the Spanish guardia civil and Spanish policia nacional?

More dangerous yet, will the idea take hold among the highly energised independence-seeking youth that they have been the victims of a Franquista coup d’état? Will the inevitable demonstrations turn ugly, with people throwing stones at police? Will there be a death? Will the Catalan independence movement have its first martyr?

Goaded into a hardline response by Puigdemont, whose declaration of independence was as irresponsible as it was illegitimate, Rajoy has the law on his side — but he is playing with fire.

So . . . In the short term, Cataluña is to be run by Rajoy's traditional stand-in, mouthpiece and enforcer - Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría - a 46 year old lawyer whose entire working experience has been as a civil servant. And who's rather unkindly known as The Poisoned Dwarf.

God help Spain. Not that He helped much last time round. Unless you were a fanatical Catholic, of course. And look how that ended up.

This time round, He again seems to be on the side of the mad right-wing extremists of the PP party, many of whose politicians are said to be the sons and daughters of Franco ministers. And members of the Catholic secret(ive) society Opus Dei.

Those who don't study history . . . 

Finally . . . A book title of the 1950s keeps coming back to me . . .  Cry, the beloved country.

Today's Cartoon:

Also from The Sunday Times . . . 

You'll have noted that the bull - wagged by its tail - is goring itself . . . .

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 28.10.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain
  • Cataluña1: Well, it didn't take long for President Rajoy to decide when would be the right time to hold elections in Cataluña, so as, he claims, to return the region to normality. They'll be in late December and you'd be a brave man or woman to predict the result. Or how much more trouble they're going to bring in their stormy wake. But, really, having mismanaged the Catalan challenge since he came to office in 2011, Rajoy had no other practical option. That said, it could blow up in his face – conceivably spectacularly - if the nationalists return to power because at least some non-secessionists now fall in behind them. Then what??
  • Cataluña 2: Meanwhile, here, here and here (Don Quijones) are reports of what happened yesterday in Wonderland. As DQ puts it: The fracturing is not just economic though. It’s political, geographic, and social. Communities and families throughout Catalonia are being torn asunder by a conflict that was wholly avoidable, had Madrid shown the slightest interest in reaching a negotiated political settlement. Here's Ambrose Evans Pritchard on the subject: The self-styled Republic of Catalonia is scrambling to put together the economic machinery of a sovereign state after the momentous vote for independence in the Catalan parliament, but the quixotic venture faces a devastating counter-attack from the Spanish state within days. Large global banks and funds are no longer convinced that premier Mariano Rajoy can contain the crisis. It is one thing to invoke the nuclear option of Article 155 under the Spanish constitution: it is quite another to subdue the breakaway region. What I find particularly depressing is the TV pictures of thousands of jubilant – nay, delirious – young Catalans who think they've achieved something other than a futile act of rebellion. Reality will surely come as a brutal shock to them. And their elders, of course.
  • Cataluña 3: So, Spain is on the Brink, as more than one newspaper puts it. True, but of what? No one really knows. Civil disobedience? Yes. Violence? Very probably. Deaths. Possibly. Civil war? Surely not.
  • Cataluña 4: The Overview: As The Daily Telegraph says: This is a momentous occasion for Catalonia and for Spain. But it is also, without doubt, a tragic one. No matter what the final result of this crisis is, one of Europe’s most charismatic, charming, and beautiful nations will be irrevocably damaged. But I suspect it will be decades before anyone in the right-of-centre PP party accepts any responsibility for bringing Spain to this point. After all, no one has yet done this in respect of the 1936-39 civil war.
  • Spain 1: It's an Even Madder World than You Thought: The council in Vall d’Aran, an area in eastern Catalonia, is to hold a meeting on Monday about leaving Catalonia.
  • Spain 2: Unemployment continues to fall, but . . 
  • Spain 3: The big corruption case against the PP (including Rajoy) continues to dawdle along.
  • Spain 4: The country's self-employed entrepreneurs continue to see reductions in state-imposed barrier to their success. So, it's not all bad news . . .
  • Spain 5: Yes, some good news.
All proselytising churches are at war with someone else apart from the Devil. What's odd about the Roman Catholic church – of which, I understand, I am still technically a member as far as it's concerned – is at war with itself. If you don't believe me, read this article on why Pope Frankie is 'the most hated man in the world'. It's not only Spaniards and Catalans who can paint themselves into corners . . .

Finally . . . In a penalty shoot-out in Thailand, the score was tied at 19-19, when this happened. If you don't find it hilarious, I have bad news for you. You are brain dead.

Today's Cartoon:-

Brexit progress . . . 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 27.10.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain

  • Cataluña1: While we wait on events, I'm reminded of two teenage would-be pugilists each saying to the other: “No, you hit me first and then we'll fight.”
  • Cataluña 2: Meanwhile, the Catalan president has announced another non-event. The man has painted himself not into just one corner but into several. Squeezed by his fanatical secessionist coalition partners on his (far) left and the equally fanatical Spanish PP government on his (far) right, he's announced that he won't, after all, be calling for early regional elections. Not because this would provoke Madrid even further but because his fragile coalition of unnatural bedfellows would then rancorously fall apart. Not terribly good at seeing the future, Sr Puigdemont.
  • Cataluña 3: As for the Spanish government, it appears to be preparing to roll back Catalan autonomy, it says here. And it's urging Cataluña's civil servants to cooperate with officials sent from Madrid. Fat chance. Today is said to be the day action will be taken by Madrid if the Catalans don't come to heel. Which they won't, of course.
  • Spain and Gibraltar: In a statement worthy of the Jesuits, the Spanish Foreign Minister has announced that this issue most definitely won't ever be a barrier to the completion of Brexit. Just as long as the UK recognises, firstly, that Spain is not going to give in - 'not in the slightest' - in its demand for shared sovereignty, and that, secondly, Spain will 'use its powers of persuasion' to convince both Britain and the Rock to accept its 'offer' of joint sovereignty. As with Cataluña, Madrid's negotiating position is that amicable talks can take place on details just as long as its preconditions are accepted in totality. There must be something in the Castilian genes. Apart from the absence of a word for 'compromise' in Castilian Spanish.
A proud nation which doesn't easily admit to being wrong. Someone talking about Spain? No, the said Foreign Affairs Minister talking about the UK.

Europe's Banks: The European Commission made a lot of bank executives very happy this Tuesday by abandoning its multi-year pledge to break-up too-big-to-fail lenders. Despite the huge risk they still pose to Europe’s rickety financial system, big European banks like Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, ING, and Santander can breathe a large sigh of relief this week in the knowledge that they will not have to split their retail units from their riskier investment banking arms. According to the Commission, this is no longer necessary since the main rationale behind ring-fencing core banking services from investment banking divisions — i.e. to make Europe’s financial system less disaster prone — has “already been addressed by other regulatory measures in the banking sector.” That’s right: Europe’s banking system is already safe, stable and secure…

Finally . . . Here's something from an American 'pilgrim' who appears to have done the camino de Santiago backwards and mostly in a car. He's one of the modern breed of peregrinos who can afford boutique hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants. As I've said, Santiago de Compostela has changed a lot in 20 years. En passant, presumably an Irish Catholic, the writer accepts without question that in 1300 in a village church “the eucharistic host miraculously changed to flesh and the wine to blood.” Oy ve!

Today's Cartoon:-

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 26.10.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain
  • Cataluña1: President Rajoy, ever the optimist, has said that, if there's civil unrest in Cataluña, he will extend the period of control and call for elections 'as soon as normality has been restored'. Another strategy that should work well, then . . .
  • Cataluña 2: Not all is well in the Catalan independence camp. Click here for details.
  • Cataluña 3: Where next? No one knows. But here's a try at the possibilities.
  • Cataluña 4: You'll recall that John Carlin was sacked by El País for showing sympathy towards the Catalans and criticising the Spanish government. This is him in an interview this week: There is a danger of identifying Spain with the Partido Popular and with that sector of the establishment in Madrid so mediocre and outdated that it is leading the politics towards Catalonia. Spain is a great country, surely the best country in Western Europe for immigrants, a good country for homosexuals, for women, for children and for the elderly. There are many things that are progressive and modern in Spain. And these people are not going to be in power forever. HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for this. 
  • Spain 1: In court this week, President Rajoy was accused - by the ex Treasurer - of receiving almost €400,000 in cash from his party's Black Box. The Spanish media didn't deem this worthy of much attention.
  • Spain 2: El País has strenuously denied that it's a government mouthpiece on the Catalan issue. Some of us will think the paper doth protest too much. See Lenox Napier on this here.
  • Spain 3: Commerce in Spain is not exactly as it is in the Anglo sphere. Is this a good  example of this?: The European Court of Justice has ruled that selling items at a loss in stores is legal. A Spanish law prohibiting ‘loss-leaders’ is, therefore, illegal.
  • Spain 4: The country has some very odd forenames, such as Dolores, Pilar, Penitencia and maybe even Purgatoria. I came across Estabilez yesterday but was surprised it doesn't seem to have anything to do with 'stability'. Or estabilidad.
  • Spain 4: It's reported that: The police have so far identified 800 British tourists who'd participated in the widespread hotel diarrhoea scam. They deserve everything they get by way of punishment. As would all Spain's corrupt politicians, should they ever get any.
  1. At the end of this post is an article by the estimable David Aaronovitch on the madness of the leading lights in the UK government's woefully managed negotiations. It contains nothing with which a sensible Brexiteer like Richard North could disagree. And it even contains a bit of Spanish . . . In essence, realistic folk on both sides of the Brexit divide are tearing their hair out at the prospect of a UK future far worse than it ever needed to be. At least pro tem.
  2. In case you're not inclined to read it, the article contains this news:- The government whip has sent a letter to all UK universities requesting a list of names of professors “involved in the teaching of European affairs, with particular reference to Brexit”. When an explanation for this was demanded, a government minister laughably responded that the whip had “long-term interests in the history of European thought” and was thinking of writing a book about it. Worthy of the Spanish government. Possibly.
  3. Here's said Richard North, of EU Referendum, in a similar vein: The real story is that of a Prime Minister who is almost daily demonstrating her own incompetence. . . . Such is the magnitude of this endeavour that we should almost be approaching it on a level of wartime planning, with party politics temporarily suspended. In this current, fractious environment, there is no likelihood that people will work together to provide what is needed. . .  So, it seems, we are doomed. Breaking through the noise level and overcoming the stupidity and the institutional inertia seems now to be beyond human capability. We either need a miracle – or substantial emergency stocks of food. I'm opting for the latter. 
Finally . . .  This morning, the old friend I'm staying with used the phrase pots for rags of someone not in possession of all their mental faculties. I'd never heard this but research suggested the origin as a rag-and-bone man's shout, calling for unwanted stuff he'd give you a small pot in exchange for. People who struck bad deals would be referred to as pots for rags. Or even, it's suggested, as potty. My friend, by the way, is something of an expert on coping with dementia, having co-authored this excellent book with his sister - Is The Cooker Turned Off? ['Stove' in the USA].

Today's Cartoon:-

Think about it . . . 


Brexit fundamentalists are the enemy within: David Aaronovitch

I’ve written some books. One of the things you say when you’re asking for help, usually near the beginning of your request, is “I’m writing a book”. The other thing you might do if using Commons-headed notepaper would be to add the words “in a personal capacity”. Mr H-H did neither. Even so it took four attempts by the interviewer to get the man responsible for universities to agree the letter should not have been sent.

What is going on here? Why is a whip making such a fool of himself and why is the minister so afraid to call him out on it? Why indeed did several of Mr Heaton-Harris’s colleagues immediately support his request for information, or as one Leave campaigner put it (unaware of the book angle), his request that “academics disclose what they’re teaching in the interests of transparency”?

Indeed within hours one or two were even extending the scope of the inquiry to include what was being taught in schools. This prompted one teacher to respond that since “there is no national curriculum any more in academy schools we just burn the flag and sing the Ode to Joy until lunchtime”.

Things have not gone as the people who led the Leave campaign in 2016 imagined they would, have they? The vote unexpectedly won, joyous dawns breaking, a new prime minister with a new mantra. They live by a set of propositions: the EU wants a deal as much as we do; it’s in their interests even more than it is in ours; trade deals are easy. As though winning a vote to go to war was somehow the same thing as fighting and winning the war. Berlin will fall by Christmas: it must do, we voted for it!

Soon it will be 18 months since the referendum and we’re not through phase one. We’re arguing about how long a transitional arrangement will last, which will take us to a final agreement we haven’t even articulated.

For a thwarted Leaver there are broadly two explanations for this failure: we were wrong about all that, or we were robbed. Human nature, fallen and self-exculpatory as it is, tends to favour the latter. In which case, who’s done the robbing?

Heaton-Harris’s target in this instance, whatever Mr Johnson’s literary diversion, was Remoaning academics. This elite part of the elite is being paid by the taxpayer (sorry, wrong century: by the feepayer, at least in part) to give a biased and frankly unpatriotic gloss on a vital national issue. Let’s expose them.

Another week the house journals of the Brexit movement will give great prominence to a bogus and statistically useless report claiming that the BBC has been biased against them. Or it’s the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who was described by Jacob Rees-Mogg this week as an “enemy” of Brexit. Which of course means an enemy of the people’s will as expressed in the referendum and therefore (the polite Jake won’t say it but there’s plenty who will) an enemy of the people.

Or it’s Hammond and the Treasury. Believe it or not, at a time when much of business is already nervous and skittish, there are Tory MPs agitating for the prime minister to sack the chancellor.
Before PMQs yesterday David Davis appeared in front of the Commons Brexit committee. Earlier in the week there’d been an “Ooh Canada!” moment among some Brexiteers when Michel Barnier said he envisaged something like Canada’s deal with the EU being the end result for the UK. Confusing Canada’s trade deal with actually being Canada, they must have felt deflated when Mr Davis pointed out that, among other problems, Canada has no agreement on financial services. So no to that.

Mr Davis was also asked how far in advance of leaving the EU in March 2019 we would get a chance to look over the deal. He allowed that it was quite possible that the deal would arrive after departure.

Mr Rees-Mogg pressed him. Not about parliament’s right to have a vote prior to departure but on the “worry that if we get to March 2019 [a transitional deal will mean] we stay in the EU for a further two years”.

The worry! I have my views on Brexit and readers know what these are. Even so, listening to colleagues, friends in the civil service and in business, to negotiators and (sorry) experts, I am clear that Brexit is 20 times as difficult and complicated as even I had ever imagined. It will cost us however we do it, but do it badly and in a hurry and it will be incredibly harmful, not least for those “left behind” voters who backed it.

And yet here we have Bernard Jenkin MP, of the influential Tory European Research Group, writing three weeks ago that “there is no intrinsic reason why Brexit should be difficult or damaging”. He was urging Theresa May to stand against the Treasury. On to Berlin!

A report from the Henry Jackson Society was released this week looking, among other things, at why converts to Islam were more likely to become radicalised, and I found myself thinking of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. The first was unsure which way he’d jump till 2016 and the other didn’t want a referendum at all. And now they’re black-turban Brexiteers. We all have to suffer for their convictions.

Between them all they’re destroying the room for manoeuvre that the prime minister has. She daren’t cross them. They have a Remainer like Jo Johnson scared to call them out on their nonsense. Though there are precious few takers in Britain for their kind of Brexit, they still have the government and therefore the country by the cojones.

Mr Corbyn doesn’t mind. He hardly mentioned Brexit yesterday. He doesn’t have to fly to Europe to be photographed alone surrounded by mourning lilies. He goes down the allotment before appearing on Gogglebox to have a little twinkle. The Heaton-Harrises, the Jenkinses, the Rees-Moggs, the new Orange Order, “pickled in dogma”, suit him just fine.

For the rest of us they are a disaster. They, not boring Phil, are the true enemy within.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 25.10.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain
  • Cataluña 1: A Spanish commentator last week saw Presidents Puigdemont and Rajoy as two leaders who'd taken themselves to the brink and were now trying to negotiate from the bottom of the gorge. I tend to see them as 2 short-sighted, incompetent opportunists who are each playing to the other's advantage.
  • Cataluña 2: The view of the Basque president, who has a dog in this fight, of course: I cannot understand or share Madrid’s approach to either Basque autonomy or the Catalan crisis. I write this as the democratically elected president of the autonomous Basque region of Spain, as someone who is both strongly pro-Europe and who believes firmly in self-determination, whichever institutional form that takes.
  • Cataluña 3: More immediately . . . El País informs us that: The first cracks have appeared in the PP-PSOE pact over the use of Article 155; the PSOE rules out intervening in Cataluña if Puigdemont calls an election. This is my guess at what the Catalan government will do next. For what have they got to lose? Especially as regards burnishing their alleged democratic credentials on the international stage.
  • Cataluña 4: Medium term, the huge question looms – How exactly is Madrid going to impose itself on Cataluña? Here's the Bloomberg take on this. Extracts: Another's view on the Spanish President: Rajoy is playing with fire . . . . Federalism is a delicate balance. True, the Catalan government violated the letter and spirit of the Spanish constitution by toying with a declaration of independence. But if Rajoy goes too far in retaliation, the very idea of self-governing communities may evaporate. . . The lesson from constitutional history is: tread lightly.
  • Spain: Sevilla has been named – by Lonely Planet – as the best city in the world to visit.
The EU and Spain/Cataluña: Only political dialogue can bring stability to Catalonia – and the EU must help, says the president of the Basque government, cited above. Full Article 1 below. So far, Brussels has shown itself adamantly opposed to involvement. Probably got enough problems on its plate. Swimming against the historical tide being one of these. Very possibly the biggest one. Which reminds me . . .

The EU and Brexit: The EU may abhor separatism, but its imperial structure encourages it, says one British political columnist this morning. And who could gainsay that? Anyway, posted below – as Article 3 - is the full text of his column. And Article 2 is by an ex Reluctant Remainer who's now convinced the UK should press on with the Brexit, despite the negative consequences. Basically because the EU has shown its nasty, undemocratic hand. And because it might not last anywhere near as long as the Holy Roman Empire. Or even the Ottoman version.

Here in the UK, it's good to read that the police are catching up with their Galician colleagues. It's reported that One in three British motorists is fined every year, as automation technology has created a cash cow for councils and police. But there's some way to go before they manage to fine 3 out of 3 motorists at least once a year. Perhaps they should adopt the Spanish strategy of endlessly changing speed signs.

Still in the UK . . . One has to feel sorry for Costa Coffee. Their €3 cup of coffee is now considered only 'second wave' and is losing market share to 'third wave' beverages which are 'more sophisticated'. Or, as I like to say, even more ludicrously expensive. Soon everyone in the UK will be ordering like they do in Frasier's Seattle. Or is that 'tenth wave'?

Finally . . . Just what we needed – psychiatric advice from British comedian Russell Brand. According to him: We're all on the spectrum. Of madness, I guess. Up to now I'd thought this only applied to women*. . . And to Brand himself. I guess his comment is serious, which rather fits with the fact that I've never found him at all funny.

* Joke.

Today's Cartoon:-

"One of the really nice things about the spring is being able to turn the central heating down a little."

1. Only political dialogue can bring stability to Catalonia – and the EU must help: Iñigo Urkullu, President of the Basque government

The political crisis in Catalonia and how it is resolved will have an impact on the European Union, not just Spain. It highlights the problem of forced integration of a people who have historically expressed a desire for self-governance and voluntary association. This is a political conflict that requires a political solution based on dialogue and negotiation. Such a solution would reconcile reality and realism, legality and legitimacy, and the willingness of regions with different national realities to agree on the terms of their voluntary union.

The crisis is a political one, a consequence of the lack of a political willingness for dialogue, even though honest dialogue is the only peaceful solution. The Spanish government should, now more than ever, after threatening to intervene in legitimate Catalan institutions, open a realistic avenue for dialogue, given that the basic concept of sovereignty is at stake.

I want to propose two principles for that dialogue. The first is the responsibility to avoid any internal political or social clashes between territories. The second principle is that of reality; in other words, recognising that there is popular support for different expressions of the national project in Catalonia, the Basque country and in the rest of the Spanish state.

On my first day in office, I informed the Spanish prime minister of the need for a shared and far-reaching reflection on the relationship that the Basques and the Spanish agreed at the end of the Franco-era dictatorship in 1978. This model ratified the “imposed unity” contained in the 1812 Cadiz constitution and upheld to the present time. It quashed the “voluntary union” model and the historical rights of the Basque people, which did not enjoy protection and respect until the 1978 constitution.

But this reflection has still not begun. I cannot understand or share Madrid’s approach to the decade-long crisis regarding the Basque country, which has now extended to Catalonia. Even less so when, in the Catalan case, the government refuses to address politically a conflict that is political by its very nature, and seeks purely legal answers. I completely reject the extreme measures taken with regard to Catalan civil society and institutions in the past month. These actions will make solving the present impasse even harder.

We have recent and close models that offer us acceptable solutions combining the principles of legality and democracy. The relationship between Quebec and Canada, and the Scottish referendum, are precedents for solving such disputes in a democratic, constructive and civilised way. In both cases, consultations enabled citizens to express their wishes and to see that their opinion had been considered.

In the Basque country, after decades of violence and terrorism, we are promoting a model of self-government that combines nation-building and social construction with the participation of all Basque political traditions.

The premise is coexistence between different identities, based on mutual recognition and respect. This ideal could root a plurinational Spanish state closer to its reality. It would mean the cultural, social and political-legal recognition of the Basque and Catalan nations, along with the Spanish. It proposes an agreed and constructive view of distributing sovereignty. The goal of coexistence between different identities can be achieved by assuming the European concept of co-sovereignty, or shared sovereignty. I therefore advocate setting up legal channels to allow political communities who wish to consult their citizens on their future to be able to do so.

The Catalan crisis is an international legal issue, the outcome of which has a bearing on the future of Europe. This is a future that has been our concern since 1916, when a Basque delegation took part in the Conference of Lausanne. What happens next can and must be resolved between the directly involved parties (as happened in Scotland’s case). But in the absence of this dialogue, there should be an appeal to the EU, which should provide the means for it. As a matter of principle, sure, but also because Europe is not sustainable with such an open conflict. The situation directly affects the future of the European project, and the identification and coexistence of citizens within the union that the project represents.

2. The Harder Brexit Gets, the More Necessary It Seems: Clive Crook

The costs of the split in 2019 will be high -- but it might be now or never.

Waiting will only make it more painful.

Nobody was surprised that the European Union's leaders refused to move the Brexit talks forward at last week's summit. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk talked of progress and suggested there'd be more at the next gathering in December, but this speck of encouragement shouldn't obscure the bigger picture. The process is moving too slowly, and with each passing week, the chances of a chaotic U.K. departure from the EU grow.

The closer this calamity comes into view, the more certain it seems that Britain has miscalculated -- and the more I’m coming round to the view that the U.K. was right to want a divorce.

In the debate about Britain and Europe, I've been a reluctant Remainer. The U.K. has been an ill-fitting member of the EU all along. As the union integrates further over the coming years -- which it probably must, if it's to succeed -- Britain's discomfort was bound to grow. The U.K. did need a fundamentally new relationship with the rest of the EU.

But the government should have worked to create this new status -- a kind of associate membership -- from a position of strength inside the union. Its approach to the creation of the euro could have been the model: Be a nuisance, refuse to go along, and win special dispensation. Instead, by giving notice to quit the union altogether, on an EU-determined timetable, the U.K. surrendered most of its bargaining power. That huge tactical error is going to cost.

The stalemate in the exit negotiations is proof. At the same time, though, it draws attention to those very aspects of the European project that most concern so many Brits -- not just the 52 percent who voted to quit (despite endless dire warnings) but also an unknown number of reluctant Remainers like myself.

The difficulty of disentangling EU law from U.K. law, and putting the U.K.'s international commitments back on a sovereign-country basis, is becoming all too clear. The threat of enormous disruption is real. Yet the scale and complexity of this task also show how deeply and broadly the EU has penetrated British governance. Few would argue that Europe's system of democratic accountability has developed to a commensurate degree. So the harder it is to exit, the more glaring the union's "democratic deficit" seems.

For many British commentators, in fact, the coming disruption means this was never a matter of weighing long-term pros and cons of EU membership: There was no real choice, in their view, except to remain. But that draws attention to another problem. The irrevocability of EU membership was not previously advertised. Until recently, Article 50 in the European treaties was supposed to affirm that participation in the project was voluntary, contingent and subject to popular consent. Now it's portrayed by Remainers as a kind of suicide clause.

Remember that the European Union is a work in progress. "Ever closer union" remains a guiding principle, and, with the creation of the euro, deeper integration has become a practical necessity as well. It's happening -- haltingly, messily, and leading in the end who knows where. But if quitting the EU now is hard, how much harder will it be in ten years, or 20? And by then, what kind of union will the EU be?

Thus, on the one hand, the costs of Brexit in 2019 will be high; on the other, it might be now or never.

The current stalemate, in addition, has arisen partly by EU design -- which undercuts Remainers in another way. Europe's chief negotiator has a mandate to achieve "sufficient progress" on the exit payment, the status of EU citizens in the U.K., and the Northern Irish border before moving to discuss the future relationship. This makes a deal much harder to strike. Complex talks succeed through bargains made in parallel across the full range of issues in contention -- not in rigid sequence, with the hardest questions up front.

Presumably this staging was deliberate: It's taken for granted that the EU wants to punish the U.K. for deciding to quit, partly to teach other restless members to behave, and partly because Britain just has it coming. I see the reason in such thinking -- but it doesn't advance the EU's larger purpose of a closer union based on popular consent[
Ha ha ha].
You can strengthen obedience by making examples and threatening reprisals, but you don't build loyalty that way, and loyalty is what the EU most sorely lacks.

The EU should be more confident about its prospects with or without the U.K. If it believes in the strength of its union, and in the power of the four freedoms that the U.K. is reluctant to accept in full, then it should expect Britain to regret departing even if granted terms that cause the minimum disruption to trade and commerce. The EU should believe that the U.K. will see the error of its ways in time, even if the exit goes well. Until then, the EU would surely be better off having a prosperous friend, trading partner and military ally just off its coast, rather than a beaten and resentful enemy.

Britain's tactical choices have been terrible and it faces severe consequences. But, judging by this process so far, the EU isn't much better at seeing where its interests really lie.

Article 3: The EU may abhor separatism, but its imperial structure encourages it: Philip Johnston

The crisis in Spain over Catalonia’s bid for independence is about to come to a head, with a stand-off between Barcelona and Madrid threatening to tear the country apart. The imposition of direct rule by the central government of Mariano Rajoy could precipitate a declaration of independence by Catalonia as early as Thursday.

Three weeks ago, a referendum deemed illegal by Madrid showed 90 per cent in favour of secession on a turnout of 43 per cent. Were the Catalans to declare independence, it would be the first time an EU state has lost part of its territory and Spain would be the first Eurozone member to crack apart. The financial consequences of losing its richest province are impossible to calculate, which is why Madrid is determined to stop it.

There is a school of thought that the potential fragmentation of Europe spells doom for the EU and the Catalans are being egged on by those who would like to see it collapse. Yet the opposite may be true. For potential statelets such as Catalonia, the EU offers an over-arching form of governance able to accommodate their distinct cultural and linguistic characteristics outside of an artificially constructed nation state.

Herein lies the secessionists’ paradox. They want to break away from what they regard as an alien form of governance yet stay in the EU.

Brussels, in turn, seeks to obstruct these separatist movements under a doctrine set out by Romano Prodi, former President of the European Commission. This asserts, though without any legal basis, that a region breaking away from an EU member will automatically be ejected from the club and have to reapply for membership, a protracted process that could take years.

In the meantime, the pariah state would be cut off from the rest of the EU, unable to trade easily and forced to use a different currency. This is why Madrid is calling Catalonia’s bluff: it holds all the cards and the impact on the new country’s economy of leaving the EU without agreement would be huge, even if it does generate much of Spain’s wealth.

For those who believe in the efficacy of the nation state these are difficult issues.

When we look at what is going on from a British position, and especially from an English one, we are anxious to preserve the integrity of the nation. We would not countenance, say, the independence of Yorkshire, or of London for that matter.

Yet we recognise that Scotland was until 1603 a separate kingdom and until 1707 had a separate parliament that pooled its sovereignty with England to form a union. It has the right to break that arrangement should it choose to, and in 2014 it chose not to.

But most European countries do not have a thousand years of nationhood to keep them glued together. Germany was not a nation until unification under Bismarck in 1871 and then again under Kohl in 1990, nor Italy until Risorgimento led by Garibaldi in 1861. Modern Germany encompasses previously powerful states in their own right such as Bavaria and Prussia, though its federal structure and high degree of autonomy keep separatist pressures at bay.

But in Italy the centrifugal forces continue to be felt. Last weekend, two former independent states, Lombardy and the Veneto, held referendums to press for greater autonomy from Rome. Both are run by the Northern League, which objects to subsidising the poorer south.

Will Italy still be in one piece 30 years from now?

Arguably, the existence of the EU as a default form of supra-national governance encourages secession movements. The Prodi doctrine is aimed at countering them, but history is against it.
For centuries much of continental Europe functioned under imperial suzerainty, either through the Holy Roman Empire centred on Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia or the Ottomans. Living in a country such as ours, whose borders have been pretty well set for 800 years, it is often hard to appreciate the fluidity of European statehood, though recent events should remind us.

Thirty years ago, the old EEC comprised just 12 member states – Spain and Portugal, both had just joined. Today it numbers 28 (soon to be 27), a direct result of the implosion of the old communist empire centred on the Soviet Union.

Its unravelling freed the eastern bloc nations, formerly satellites of Moscow, to go their own way. It also triggered the dismantling of Yugoslavia and the recreation through conflict of the old territories that had once been under the Ottomans or Austro-Hungary.

Few outside Serbia and Russia opposed the right of the Kosovans to break away from the rule of Belgrade and were, indeed, prepared to wage war to allow it. Its secession was judged legal under the concept of self-determination of peoples enshrined in Article One of the UN Charter.

Countries that suppress the legitimate desires of their citizens to be separate political entities are in breach of that provision. So why is Catalonia any different? And yet, if the Spanish army takes to the streets of Barcelona to impose rule from Madrid, the rest of Europe will back the central government against the separatists.

Here lies another paradox. The more starry-eyed Europhiles have always wanted the Union to supplant nations. That was one purpose of Maastricht – to create a European identity and citizenship that would transcend statehood and accommodate every ethnicity and expression of cultural exceptionalism. That is what would-be breakaway nations such as Catalonia want. They don’t seek its destruction.

Perhaps the EU’s destiny is to become an expanded version of the Holy Roman Empire, ruling over scores of nations, autonomous statelets and ethnic groupings. The old empire collapsed after its defeat by Napoleon at Austerlitz in 1805 and was often derided as unwieldy, feudal and inefficient. Voltaire sniffily dismissed it as not holy, not Roman and not an empire, though it did last 800 years.

Unlike the EU, the nation states that rose from the imperial ashes provide a direct connection between the people and the expression of their democratic will. But what happens when that bond is broken and loyalty to the nation breaks down among a large part of its population? Spain is about to find out.