Thursday, December 07, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 7.12.17

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.

  • HT to Lenox Napier for this commentary, which I have simply lifted from today's Business Over Tapas: There’s a decidedly odd election coming up, on a Thursday, just 4 days before Christmas, between seven parties, of which one is led by a man in exile in Belgium and another by a man in prison in Madrid. Three of the parties are for an independent republic; three evenly balanced against them are the ‘constitutionalist’ parties, and there’s the odd-one out – the local version of Podemos, which, as The Local says here, ‘...the likely kingmaker according to the polls will be En Comu, the alliance made up by far-left party Podemos and Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, which according to the CIS poll would capture nine seats. The party opposes independence but backs a legally binding referendum on secession which Spain's central government deems unconstitutional...’.   On Tuesday, the day campaigning officially started, Spain dropped the international arrest warrant against Puigdemont (but only to ratchet up the pressure against him with stronger charges at home). ‘Puigdemont está kaput’ said Rajoy during the celebrations of Constitution Day, Wednesday. Puigdemont is meanwhile campaigning via video feed from Brussels, and he asks those who are against the imprisonment of Catalonian political leaders to wear yellow. The ERC, whose candidate Oriol Junqueras remains in jail in Madrid, is represented in meetings by another leader of the party – one who was recently returned to freedom after 33 days – called Carles Mundó. The Government in Madrid, meanwhile, is warning of some ill-defined ‘cyber-attack’ against the Constitutionalist vote.
  • Here's the latest comment from Don Quijones: Tasters:
- Catalonia’s recent declaration of independence may have been a largely symbolic act but the economic hangover it has left in its wake is very real.
- The economic pain is already taking a psychological toll.
- The overriding hope in Madrid (and many other parts of Spain) is that the people of Catalonia will rediscover their senses in time for December’s literally make-or-break elections, and vote into power a coalition of unionist parties. But with the government offering so little in return for such a giant step, while threatening to maintain direct rule of the region should a majority of people once again vote for pro-independence forces, the chances are that the current mood of uncertainty is here to stay
  • The party which seems to have benefitted most from this mess is Ciudadanos, a 'centrist' party which originated in Catlaluña and which might well represent commercial interests more than any other. The party's spokesperson there is Inés Arrimados. I trust its vote hasn't increased simply because we've seen a lot of fotos of her and she's something of a stunner . . . Lenox reports this morning that one of the financial supporters of Ciudadanos could be an Irish businessman called Declan Ganley. Odd.
  • Sevilla has been named as one of the world's best 10 cities to visit. Which should ensure it ceases to be.
  • The Catalan imbroglio has massively hit the region's business with the rest of (irritated) Spain. Which won't do any good for the Spanish companies which supply the Catalan companies, of course.
  • Spain continues to hold its impressive position as the world's best in respect of transplants.
  • Spanish women now have the third lowest fertility rate in Europe, at 1.33 children per family. 
  • Here's El País's view on the slow pace of constitutional change here. In English.
The EU
  • The European Union is best understood as an imperial construction, if not exactly an empire. Once you see it in this light, the moral pretences are unmasked. See the full article at the end of this post. My long-standing view, of course.
  • Here's one possible answer to my question about the World Cup taking place there next year. 
  • It's estimated - by someone who might well know - that Galicians will 'each' spend €7 more this year on Xmas's humungous national lotteries. Well, not me.
  • We've had the fewest rainy days in 10 years. For the last month or so, I think.
  • The logic clearly runs: Even though people are spending a lot on themselves at Xmas, they're going to be susceptible to appeals for charity. I have my doubts. But, anyway, British TV is currently featuring appeals for these, inter alia. Honest:-
The blind
Polar bears
Child brides 
Tailless rats

Today's Cartoon


Britain almost has to fight its way out of the EU colonial 'empire': Ambrose Evans Pritchard

The European Union is best understood as an imperial construction, if not exactly an empire. Once you see it in this light, the moral pretences are unmasked.

Belgian historian David Van Reybrouck has set off storm in European intellectual circles by breaking the taboo, and doing so at the heart of the system in Brussels, from the centre-Left. He thinks eurosceptic populism has been badly misdiagnosed, pidgeon-holed too glibly as anti-immigrant, or anti-capitalist, or as a displaced protest against hyper-globalisation.

The EU intelligentsia have been quick to hear echoes of the proto-fascist movements of the inter-War years, but they have missed the better parallel from that era: anti-colonial resistance against the Belgian, Dutch, British, or French empires – which by that stage took their "civilizing mission" earnestly.

“Life in Europe in 2017 is resembling more and more what it was like under colonial administration. We are subjected to an invisible administration that shapes our destiny down to the tiniest details. Should we really be surprised that it is leading to revolts,” said Mr Van Reybrouck, who cut his teeth on Belgian rule in the Congo (the latter phase was more benign than Leopold’s Heart of Darkness) and Dutch policy in the East Indies.

The late colonial regimes had "councils of the people" just as there is a European Parliament today, but substantive power resided in the imperial executive, acting “far away from us, without us, on our behalf”, like Brussels today. Rising prosperity was beside the point. Every nation lives in “permanent anger” when not master of its own house, wrote Indonesia’s nationalist leader Sukarno in 1930.

Mr Van Reybrouck says the colonial reflex was to portray rebel leaders as deviants. He quotes a Dutch minister dismissing Indonesia’s resistance movement as a hopeless endeavour that drew on the lowest, least-educated castes. Sound familiar? “It is the routine: always reduce the problem to a few rotten apples contaminating the rest,” he said.

Defenders of the Project will retort that the EU is a voluntary treaty club of sovereign states, and each has a seat at the table. This is what Plato would have called a "Lie in the Soul". The grim ordeals of Ireland in 2010 or Greece in 2015 exposed the emptiness of that shibboleth, and Britain’s tortured efforts this year to extract itself shows that the EU is unlike any other treaty organisation of modern times. You have to fight your way out.

I don’t wish to reopen the Referendum chapter, but we risk getting bogged down in Brexit minutiae and forgetting why we are leaving. It is not a whimsical choice. The decision was forced upon us because the EU began to assert "totalitarian" reach, using Hannah Arendt’s term advisedly to mean a systematic assault on prior traditions and institutions in order to create an entirely new order.

We do not wish to live under a higher supranational regime, run by a European Council that Britons do not elect directly and can never remove – even when it persists in error – and guided by a Commission priesthood with quasi-executive powers. Nor do we want to live under an EU supreme court that acquired sweeping supremacy under the Lisbon Treaty, with no right of appeal.

We are retrieving lost prerogatives, much as the American colonies in the 1770s aimed to retrieve legislative powers whittled away by George III. Even if you do not accept this description, it is clear that the monetary union must lead ineluctably to fiscal and political union over time or fail, and that leaves Britain in an impossible position. The Project veered away from us. It has become a “Utopia without nation states”, as EU president Donald Tusk called it in a moment of candid despair.

Let us not lose sight of this constitutional struggle as talks reach a crunch point in Brussels. As I feared, the Government has fallen into the Greek Syriza trap: it tried to bluff the EU, with the same outcome of concessions and retreat. It is now so determined to secure a Phase 1 deal that it is grasping at delusional formulae such as EU "regulatory alignment" for Ulster.

What are we to make of the latest twist by David Davis, who now talks of such alignment for the whole UK? A straitjacket of this kind would prevent Britain striking trade and service deals with the US, China, Japan, or India. If it means anything, it means staying within the EU Customs Union. It would leave the UK trapped in limbo, an EU member without a vote, unable to break free step by step in the future.

Such a concession might unlock a transition but this solves nothing. It defers the cliff-edge, and is in any case a fast depreciating asset. As Lloyd’s of London chairman Bruce Carnegie-Brown said at the Milken summit this week, financial services are being forced by regulators to act as if there were a no deal scenario. “A hard Brexit is being baked into the plans already,” he said.

Nor is a move to Phase 2 talks on trade likely to resolve much since the Government is pursuing the illusion of a "Canada Plus" deal. No such deal is available or legally plausible. Leaked documents from EU negotiator Michel Barnier suggest that Britain will get nothing more than a “standard” free trade agreement (FTA) that covers basic goods but not services.

It might in fact be even less than Canada’s CETA deal – perhaps "Canada Dry" as some suggest – since services are a “mixed” competence and require the backing of all member states, with sundry spoilers such as the Walloon parliament. The political hurdle is high. The shocking revelation in recent days is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was willing to give up ratification of CETA (which everybody thought settled) in order to forge a coalition with the Greens. If Berlin can be so frivolous in dealings with a dependable democratic NATO ally like Canada, Britain should count on nothing.

A mere FTA deal for goods does not need ratification but it is also worthless. It preserves the EU’s unfettered access to our goods market and safeguards their £80bn trade surplus, but offers no reciprocal access on services that make up four fifths of the British economy and where we have a large surplus. It hangs the City out to dry.

If this is all the EU has to offer, we should not waste any further time and credibility asking for it. We should opt for a WTO framework with today’s very low tariffs, and make the £50bn divorce settlement contingent upon the EU displaying common sense on airline landing rights, Euratom, sensitive food trade, and other cliff-edge matters. If the EU wishes to offer a better deal later, the door should remain open.

There were only two options for the UK after Brexit: a WTO "clean break" or a Norway package in the European Economic Area. I always preferred the softer Norway route, a compromise that would have preserved a high access to the EU single market, with passporting rights for the City, under a separate (EFTA) tribunal.

We would have been outside the customs union and therefore able to strike other trade deals. It would have meant escape from EU fisheries and farming, as well as European Court (ECJ) sway over swathes of policy ( "Pillar 2", "Pillar 3", and the Charter), with an emergency brake on migration.

Sadly, it is too late. Had Theresa May pushed this after the Brexit vote, she might have carried it. If she were to ask for it now, in desperation and a weakened political condition, the EU would not grant a deal on Norwegian terms. It would contrive a showdown over the Irish border to keep Britain in the customs union, and would push a maximalist position on the ECJ.

We are now at an impasse: a soft Brexit on tolerable terms is no longer available; Canada Plus is a chimera; and there is no majority in Parliament for a decisive clean break.

How would Sukarno have handled this situation, or Nehru, Nasser, and Nkrumah, one wonders? 

They certainly would not a have lost a moment’s sleep over a point or two of GDP. Their sole objective was to achieve independence, and they succeeded by displaying the stronger will.

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