Sunday, February 25, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 25.2.18

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.

  • The pension overview I'm developing, with a bit of help from readers, is that: 1. If you work for a company, your state pension will be a good percentage of your final salary, even if neither you nor your employer have made contributions; and 2. If you haven't worked for a company, your pension will be relatively poor. 3. Those pensioners in the first category have done very well in recent years and now enjoy better incomes that the young of 18-35. 4. There are big clouds on the horizon for everyone. 5. Private pensions are not well developed here but the government is now pushing these, with the endorsement of the not-very-ethical banks. I stress this overview could be very wrong and welcome corrections.
  • Here's a nice article on one of Spain's best culinary contributions to the world.
Life in Spain
  • Reader Maria endorses my view that nobody cares for customers' time here. She warns me the notary will never call me back. But I'll give him until the end of Monday and then go and see how the land lies.
  • I'm reminded of the many, many times I've been asked for my name and number here and then never called back to tell me my order is ready or the product is in stock. The best case was of the shop which didn't have the rat trap I wanted. When I went back to ask if they'd got my order in, they told me they'd had 4 delivered. When I asked for one, I was told they'd all been sold. I asked why on earth they'd taken my name and number if they were never going to call me, to be met by a blank stare. Not even a Gallic shrug.
  • As for the Dutchman's trenchant criticisms of Spain, my overview is that it isn't only foreigners making these from outside Spain but also foreigners who live here and who, like me, love both Spain and the Spanish. Even more telling is that the fiercest critics are probably those Spaniards who've lived elsewhere, developed wider perspectives and then suffer culture-shock when they come back to live and work in Spain. Maybe Sr Esteban Hernández et al should contemplate the implications of this before merely saying that some Brits get very drunk and jump off balconies.
  • As I've said a few times before, much as I love living in Spain, I came here to retire (early) and – minor irritations notwithstanding – Spain suits me perfectly. But I'm not all convinced I'd be happy working here. Just too 'Anglo', however hard I try not to be. [Actually, I did set up a business here a few years ago but it was my Spanish partner who dealt with everything Spanish. I just dealt with the Brit clients. It worked very well].
  • Every few years, my gas supplier writes to tell me the law obliges me to have my system checked and that they'd be delighted to do this. And, of course, charge me €57 for it. A nice little earner, then. Especially as their leaflet shows 8 things to be checked. So, plenty of scope to find something wrong. As they always do. Just do the maths on this government-company initiative. Worth many millions. I don't recollect ever being compelled by the state to check things back in the UK. But perhaps things are different now.
The EU
  • A 'Machiavellian' German has just made himself the most powerful person in Brussels, effectively for as many years as he wants. See the Politico Article below. I'd be prepared to bet not many of us would recognise him from a hole in the ground.
  • Ahead of a general election there: 80% of Italians think their economy is bad, 78% don’t trust their government and 78% think their vote doesn’t count. The number of Italians viewing Brussels favourably has halved to under 40% in the last decade. Italy is unhappy. It is a decade since the financial crisis, but Italy is still angry: from the small-town piazzas of northern Italy, to the picket lines of the old industrial heartlands around Turin, it is the smouldering rage of the people that dominates final campaigning for next weekend’s election.
The USA/Nutters Corner
  • Could it get any worse, you were asking. Well . . . During his speech at CPAC yesterday, former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka insisted that the election of Donald Trump was proof of the Christian God’s existence. "If you ever had a doubt that God exists, guess what?", Gorka said, "November the 8th was all the proof you need". As someone has commented: Gorka is saying that God was on the side of the thrice-married, affair-having, porn star-paying, lying white-supremacist who will do everything in his power to break up families of immigrants and hurt the poor. That means God was against the devout Methodist whose running mate was a Christian missionary. Possibly a tad confused. But, then, strange indeed are the ways of the Lord, they say. Too mysterious for me.
  • I've seen Gorka on TV, defending Fart. He really should be in an institution. Or just shot.
  • I've mentioned a hilly, serpentine section of the A55 between Vigo and the Portuguese border. This was the scene of another crash on Friday, for which it's notorious as the worst accident black spot in the entire country. I think I've mentioned that the government built a bypass in the hills above it which virtually no one uses because it's an expensive toll road (autopista). And that now there are increasingly strident calls for a tunnel. Anyway, driving this stretch twice on Friday, I again noted just what a confusing mess it is, with the old speed signs covered up, and ('temporary') yellow speed limits changing on every curve, and the normal white lines being supplemented by the yellow lines which normally (but not in this case) indicate road works. So I was pleased to see this headline in a local paper yesterday: The chaos is enhanced by the signalisation.
  • Last night I deleted ALL the cookies on my computer. This morning I found several had returned even though I'd done nothing on my computer. And some of them were from companies I'd never heard of. How does this happen, I wonder. And how to stop it?
Today's Cartoon

Lepe is the Spanish equivalent of what Ireland used to be in British jokes, Derry in Irish jokes and Belgium (I think) in Dutch and German jokes.

A hacker from Lepe deactivates a radar machine.


How Martin Selmayr became EU’s top (un)civil servant

Juncker’s right-hand man consolidated power in typical style. It was less about grabbing power than keeping it.

The move was classic Martin Selmayr — deeply shrouded in secrecy, designed to bulldoze any and all opposition, and catching even some of the most senior EU officials by complete surprise. Only this time, the Machiavellian machinations of President Jean-Claude Juncker’s powerful chief of staff were decidedly personal: springing a vote on European commissioners to install him as secretary-general, the Commission’s top civil service job.

Selmayr has won fame and disdain and spurred envy and fury by deploying ruthless autocracy in the name of European democracy. His sudden election ensures the German lawyer and avowed European federalist will retain a perch at the apex of power in Brussels beyond the end of Juncker’s mandate in 2019 — for as long as he desires, or until a new set of commissioners dares to try to remove him.

Selmayr’s elevation was so sudden that even Juncker seemed not quite sure of the choreography. The Commission president, who rarely holds long press conferences, found himself back in the press room Wednesday to make the announcement just a week after he had been there to present proposals on EU governance.

Selmayr has shown time and again that he would fit in well with the cast of ruthless characters in the political drama “House of Cards.”

“I didn’t know I would be coming back quite so quickly,” Juncker admitted. He also didn’t seem to know the whereabouts of outgoing Secretary-General Alexander Italianer, who was watching the news conference with Selmayr on television.

“Is he not here?” the president asked, searching for him in the audience. “But anyway, I have known him for 25 years.”

The Commission tried to use slicker spin later in the day, sending out a tweetcomparing the switch from Italianer to Selmayr to the handover between captains of Star Trek’s starship Enterprise. In doing so, however, the Commission bolstered a widespread belief in Brussels — that Selmayr is its real captain, not Juncker.

One senior EU official referred to another TV series when describing their first reaction to Selmayr’s sudden promotion: “House of Cards life.”

In more than three years as Juncker’s chief of staff, Selmayr has shown time and again that he would fit in well with the cast of ruthless characters in the political drama. He has steamrolled higher-ranking commissioners, blocked legislation, upended negotiations and picked fights with officials from national governments.

In the upper-floor suites of the Berlaymont, the Commission’s headquarters, Selmayr’s election as secretary-general and the appointment of his deputy, Clara Martinez Alberola, to succeed him as Juncker’s chief of staff, were regarded as affirmation of the status quo.

Martin holds all the power in the future,” one senior Commission official said. “And she is deputy in the future as well. Period.”

However, the move gives Selmayr a bigger institutional title and means he is guaranteed to retain influence even after a new Commission takes office following the European Parliament election next year.

“He takes all the power — completely,” said another senior Commission official, who works closely with Selmayr. “But he now has more legitimacy and rules-based authority for using this power.

“He will secure being the most powerful man in the town for the time being, over the elections over the change of the Commission,” the second senior official said. “Even the president-elect cannot fire him. It needs to be the new Commission at some point if they want to make changes in the senior management.”

Selmayr’s consolidation of power sets the stage for more clashes with the European Council, the body representing the governments of the EU’s member countries. A number of Council officials view Selmayr as poisonous and claim he created a fight in his own mind between the institutions over who would lead the Brexit negotiations, leading to the rushed appointment of Michel Barnier as chief negotiator.

Berlin connection

Selmayr is widely acknowledged as an excellent strategist, making it unsurprising that he was thinking about his next job a year and a half before his current one ends. A senior German official said Selmayr had tried to line up a job as a state secretary — a de facto deputy minister — in the German government but the move did not pan out. A Commission spokesman dismissed this assertion as “nonsense.”

Selmayr has not always enjoyed good relations with Angela Merkel’s chancellery, but German officials acknowledge he has helped Berlin on a variety of issues — including the refugee crisis — and they appreciate having him at the heart of the Brussels bureaucracy.

That link with Berlin, however, also carries risks for Selmayr.

Selmayr will be only the seventh person to hold the secretary-general’s job since it was created in 1957.

Some EU diplomats griped angrily that Selmayr’s election will concentrate too much power in the hands of Germany — already the predominant power in the EU. The secretary-general of the European Parliament, Klaus Welle, is also German, as is Helga Schmid, the secretary-general of the European External Action Service. One senior EU diplomat, while recognizing Selmayr’s commitment to the Commission, nonetheless complained, “There needs to be a balance of nationalities. Three Germans is too much.”

Selmayr will be only the seventh person to hold the secretary-general’s job since it was created in 1957. The first, Émile Noël, served for 30 years. Italianer, the incumbent who is retiring, has been in the job only since September 2015. His was widely viewed as having little power — largely because of Selmayr’s domineering force and Juncker’s effort to impose a more top-down, politically-driven management system.

Selmayr is now expected to restore the broad authority wielded by Catherine Day, an Irish civil servant who worked in the Commission for 26 years before being named secretary-general in 2005, and then held the top job for a decade.

Unlike his predecessors as secretary-general, Selmayr does not have extensive experience in the upper ranks of any of the Commission’s directorate generals. Day, for instance, led the environment department, while Italianer headed the department for economic and financial affairs, and competition.

But few would expect that to pose any problems for an operator so shrewd that some officials compared his move to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2008 job-switch, when he became prime minister to circumvent the constitutional term limits that prevented him from seeking reelection as president.


Maria said...

The suggestion of starting your own pension fund is laughable in these times of diminishing salaries. To have a pension of one thousand euros a month from age 67 to age 87, a retiree needs a pension fund of €240,000. Assuming the bank is putting the fund in good investments that are safe, you will probably be paying in a little less than five hundred euros a month for forty years. If the bank invests in high-return funds that are less safe, you'll probably need to pay in around a hundred or so, until the bank fails and you find out your pension fund wasn't guaranteed and it mostly disappears.

And, of course, it doesn't take into account the cost of living that goes up every year. Earning a pension of a thousand euros twenty years from now is probably like earning one of four hundred now. And who has five hundred euros lying around at the end of the month? Does the government want to deduct them from the salary obligatorily? What friendly bank will the government partner with? This is the point where I start picking up heavy objects and looking where to fling them.

Colin Davies said...

Thanks, Maria. Yes, I've read commentary along these line. Surprise, surprise the only real beneficiaries will be the banks. And the government's PR department . . .

Other goverments do oblige employer and emplee contributions from salary, I think. Opting out options are limited in the UK, as I vaguely recall.

Imagine having to make an obligatort contribution from a net salary of €800 a month . . .

Which would, of course, be wise if you were paying it into a safe corporate scheme. Of which there are fewer and fewer these days.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

Let me see...

The English make jokes about the Irish...
The Canadian make jokes about the Newfies or Newbies (Newfoundlanders)
The Dutch make jokes about the Belgians...
But the Belgians and the Germans make jokes about the Dutch...

So you got that last one wrong.

But the true question is: who dares to make jokes about the Germans??


Eamon said...

ComincAl - Ze English hef vays of making jokes vis ze German accent.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

My dear Eamon,

Accent does not humor make...

ComicAl (forget the superfluous N please...)

Eamon said...

ComicAl - It does ven you are a German. Humour my dear boy.