Monday, February 26, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 26.2.18

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.

  • Surveying the judicial scene, it should come as no surprise that Spain has moved 5 places in Transparency International's latest ranking of national corruption perceptions. In the wrong direction, of course. Spain has now fallen below the Czech Republic, Poland and Dominica. Details here.
  • As El País put it recently: More than 50 judicial processes have begun against senior PP party members. This is the scandalous panorama presided over by Mariano Rajoy.
  • Does Brussels care about this, one is forced to ask. Do taxpayers in Northern Europe, all of whose countries rank rather higher in the TI index. They do fund all the subventions going to Spain, of course.
Life in Spain
  • President Rajoy looks forward to the day when Spain has a sensible working day and everyone leaves the office at 6. I fear it's some way off. Nothing but (occasional) talk at the moment.
  • Another example of machine-based customer service is, of course, the questionnaire you get whenever you've bought (or even just searched) something. Ironically, I got one of these from a car-parts company which had responded promptly to a question on a Saturday afternoon! That said, I'm still not sure 'Felix' was a human being. Or a very clever algorithm, faking consideration for me.
The EU
  • The writer of the first article below says it's normal that the UK media should concentrate on the Brexit mess in Britain but that, in doing so, they're paying little or no attention to what she terms the chaos on the other side of the Channel. She has a point.
  • The author of the second article writes on the same theme: In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, the consensus was that the earthquake would bring down the old parties, along with much else. Pundits overseas told each other that Britain had, in the words of the Dutch leader Mark Rutte, “collapsed, politically, economically, monetarily and constitutionally”. In fact, the political collapse has taken place across the Channel.
  • And so we again get the question asked by Groucho Marx: Would I want to be a member of a club which was willing to accept me?
  • BBC News this morning: The US National Rifle Association has said it does not support any gun ban following a shooting in a Florida school that left 17 people dead. The NRA's comments appear to go against President Donald Trump's proposals to tighten gun controls. Is it too much to hope that the unhappy NRA members will use their weapons for mass suicide? After all, they're clearly religionists.
The UK
  • More Brexit confusion is guaranteed today, when the leader of the Labour Party announces a change in their policy and an end point which isn't remotely achievable – Being in the EU customs union but not the EU itself.
The Spanish Language
  • A few new words for me this weekend:-
  1. Zozobra: Anxiety, sinking. And: El estado del mar o del viento que constituye una amenaza a la navegación. Surely Arabic in origin.
  2. Oriundo: Native
  3. Chimichurri: This is a strong barbecue sauce but seems to be used, in Colombia at least, to mean 'marvellous' or 'wonderful'.
  4. Pirulo: 1. As in: Tiene 40 pirulos. 'He's the big four/He's forty; 2. A slim child. Again, possibly a South American word.
  5. Chévere: Now this really is Colombian Spanish, for 'cool/great/fabulous'
Nutters Corner
  • Kat Kerr, the self-proclaimed Christian “Prophetess” who attempted to beat back Hurricane Irma with a sceptre, then, after seeing all the damage caused by it, blamed everyone else for not following her lead, is back with a brand new prediction. She claims in a new interview that God told her Donald Trump would be president before the election. But that’s not all! God also told her who'll be in the White House for the next five terms. “He caught me up to heaven, literally, months and months and months before and He said ‘I’ve chosen Trump and people won’t like it and they won’t understand it but that doesn’t matter right now because I’m going to change America and I need him. He’s an all-American boy who is all for America, and he is smart, he can’t be bought, he can’t be moved, and he can't be controlled. And He said, ‘He will know me and he will hear my voice.’ You better step back, because this is God’s time,” For what it's worth god ahs told her that Fart will win reelection in 2020, but that Mike Pence will then be elected to 2 terms, followed by whoever is his VP. The Father is saying this, she said. For 24 years, we will have God in that White House. What is truly astonishing is not that this mad woman says this sort of thing but that millions of Americans believe it. Roll on the end of the American empire.
  • I've noted before that more and more Galicians are rejecting inheritances. There were 2,500 forfeits last year, compared with 344 in 2007. The most intriguing – but understandable - reason given is: Not wanting to get involved with the Tax Office (the Hacienda).
  • Not so long ago (Can't read my notes. Possibly 2010), Savings and Credit here amounted to €55m and €72m, respectively. Now they're €60m and €40m, respectively. Which says something about the economy, I believe. Viz, that people are spending rather less.
  • Galicia has many, many municipalities. As many as 80% of these suffered a decline in population over the last decade. As noted previously, some entire villages are up for sale. In fact, I suspect you might get paid to take them over.
  • Several folk in Pontevedra yesterday didn't seem to notice it was a summer-like day. Coats and scarves in profusion. Plus, of course, the women of a certain age who wear a fur whatever the weather is.  Because it's the season for it.
Today's Cartoons


1. It’s just as well we’re going to diverge from the EU, given the chaos over there: Janet Daley

So far as we know, The Great Chequers Summit to resolve the Government’s Brexit position produced general accord and harmony. That is pretty much all that it was possible to surmise from the minimal official briefings that followed. Nobody shouted at anybody else. There was civility all around. Very nice. Next week, we will get the result of all this agreement in the form of a speech by the Prime Minister that will become part of the canon of historic pronouncements, alongside her Lancaster House and Florence speeches. It will make clear that Britain demands the right to diverge from (some) EU laws and regulations after we leave the European Union. Given that the whole point of leaving was to achieve such divergence, it seems surprising that it took eight hours to reach unanimity on this point – but there we are.

The mildly sarcastic tone of these opening lines is not intended to indicate disbelief or misgivings. I fully accept the need for this process of visible “confrontation”, followed by equally visible reconciliation. The Cabinet has been seen to be divided to the point of chaos and only such a ritual show of harmony could remedy that. Also, somebody had to be seen to win some significant points if the event was not to look like a staged pretence (or “fudge”, as it is sometimes known). To that extent, the Brexiteers appear to have been the net winners. That is to say, they claim to have carried the day on the point of “divergence”.

Italy, a founder EU state and, for all its problems, still a major economy, is about to hold national elections that are almost certainly going to result in great gains for anti-Brussels parties under a coalition led by – don’t laugh – Silvio Berlusconi, who cannot legally hold office.

But since, as I have said, divergence from the EU was the whole point of this exercise, it would have been truly extraordinary if they had not. In fact, as everybody has pointed out, no divergence at all would mean no Brexit at all, or else the worst possible outcome: loss of any say in the decisions from which we would never be permitted to diverge. So The Great Chequers Summit was a necessary spectacle. It was intended to prove that Theresa May could establish a unanimous government policy and that therefore, she was not a busted flush as a national leader in these fateful negotiations.

But there is something oddly parochial about this view of things. A huge amount of attention has been paid to Mrs May’s weakness as head of a minority government and the fragility of her position within her own party. Her authority and that of the UK government, it is said, are so tenuous that our relative strength in dealing with a united, formidable EU is hopelessly compromised. Perhaps it is understandable that the British press would concentrate on the condition of its own government and domestic political scene, but strangely enough it is the most Remain-friendly, pro-EU, anti-xenophobe organs of the media that have failed to attend properly to the other side of this equation: what is going on in Europe itself. Yes indeed, we do have an ineffectual prime minister who crippled her own government by calling an unnecessary election, and we have a divided Cabinet and an opportunist Opposition prepared to say anything to exploit all those problems.

Supporters of the Alternative fuer Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) political party, hold up protest signs at a rally in the city center on November 6, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. Credit: Chad Buchanan

You may have noticed, however, if you are an assiduous student of these matters that – at the time of writing – Germany has no government. The country that was a model of EU stability, in which the political power and the economic muscle of the whole outfit was thought to reside, has succumbed to electoral paralysis. And worse, it has seen the rebirth of a neo-fascist party, AfD, which is set to become the official opposition.

What is more, the German domination of Europe’s economic policy – which broke the back of an inconsequential member country like Greece – will now come up against a new and much more substantial threat. Italy, a founder EU state and, for all its problems, still a major economy, is about to hold national elections that are almost certainly going to result in great gains for anti-Brussels parties under a coalition led by – don’t laugh – Silvio Berlusconi, who cannot legally hold office.

The Italian dissident parties like the vaguely anarchic Five Star movement (which polls show is likely to receive the highest number of votes) and the Northern League are said to be planning to subvert the euro from within by engaging in deficit spending. Whether Berlusconi, from his puppet master position, will be able to prevent this – and what he will demand from the EU in return – is anybody’s guess. All this will be going on while Angela Merkel’s CDU-CSU alliance definitively loses control not just of government but of Germany’s political mission. Now that’s what you call chaos. It leaves France as the only major EU state with confident, secure leadership. Emmanuel Macron is surely ready and eager to take charge of the EU project, but he is saying very different things in different contexts.

To the Brussels gang, he presents himself as a determined centraliser, enthusiastic about the next steps toward supra-national unification (so long as they are determined by France, of course). But when he visits the UK, he makes charming offers of “bilateral” agreements between our two countries which quite explicitly transcend (or ignore) the Commission negotiators’ insistence that any policy must be agreed with all 27 member states. France, it seems, can “cherry pick” its arrangements, but naughty Britain cannot. So who has the real power now? Who, in fact, are we – from our position of notorious weakness – negotiating with? Is it a paralysed Germany, or a divided collection of EU heads of government presiding over resentful and rebellious electorates, or an EU Commission happy to step into the vacuum and fulfil its historic destiny as a benign oligarchy rescuing Europe from the unruly mob?

One theme appears to get unanimous acclamation in the midst of this disunity: that the UK must accept every present and future EU rule and regulation dictated by the 27, if it is to have any deal at all. The Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who has proved so useful to the EU, has provided a new metaphor for this: we cannot have à la carte access to EU trade. We devour the whole smorgasbord or we get nothing. I think you can see where this has to end.

2. Project Fear got it wrong: the chaos is on the continent, not in Britain

The last general election reversed a 30-year trend toward political fragmentation in Britain. Contrary to all expectations, the two big parties scooped up 82 per cent of the vote between them. According to the latest poll, that figure has now risen to 85 per cent. All of a sudden, our party system is looking remarkably – well, strong and stable.

Who’d have thought it? In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, the consensus was that the earthquake would bring down the old parties, along with much else. Pundits overseas told each other that Britain had, in the words of the Dutch leader Mark Rutte, “collapsed, politically, economically, monetarily and constitutionally”.

In fact, the political collapse has taken place across the Channel. Insurgent parties are now leading the polls in Italy, Spain and, according to some predictions, Sweden, where this year’s election may be won by the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats. The recent German election saw the Christian Democrats get their worst result since 1949, and the Social Democrats their worst since 1933. In France, neither of the two traditional parties made it into the presidential run-off last year. Even in Mr Rutte’s Netherlands, the latest poll has the Forum for Democracy, which wants to leave the EU, in second place – a truly extraordinary achievement for a party founded only 18 months ago.

Nor has Britain experienced the predicted economic collapse. Investment, exports, retail sales, manufacturing orders, consumer confidence, employment and the stock exchange have all risen – as has the number of EU nationals working here. This week, the BBC spoke grimly about a “fall” in that number – but what was falling was the rate of increase, not the number itself. Seventeen EU nationals are still settling here for every 10 who depart – a vote of confidence in our future.

Will those EU nationals be greeted by the racism that, if you believe The New York Times, the referendum “unleashed”? Hardly. On every metric, the UK remains one of the most tolerant countries in Europe. Compare openness to immigration, mixed marriages, multi-ethnic neighbourhoods. On every issue, Britain scores as one of the most liberal societies in the region – along with the other European states where there is a tradition of democratic Euroscepticism, notably Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. Paradoxically, the loudest complaints about Britain ending automatic free movement tend to come from those Central European governments who insist on closing their own borders to refugees.

None of this should surprise us. Still, it is utterly at odds with what we were threatened with during the referendum. David Cameron kept telling us that voting Leave would bring about “Nigel Farage’s Britain”. Instead, it led to the extirpation of Ukip, and there is now no significant populist anti-immigration party in Britain. The same cannot be said of most EU states. Maybe they should try exit referendums of their own.


Sierra said...

"... in the EU customs union..." - think the term being used is "... in AN EU customs union..." - subtle difference

Colin Davies said...

Very true. But see tomorrow's post . . .