Saturday, May 12, 2018

Thoughts not from Galicia: 12.5.18

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.

  • En route to Madrid, we stopped overnight in Ciudad Real. Albeit from only a brief acquaintance, I'm not sure it has anything to recommend it. It makes a lot of Don Quijote but the museum in honour of Cervantes and his best-known novel was a disappointment.
  • It's very hard to find a café open at 8.30 of a Saturday morning in the city but at least the one we did get to – naturally El Quijote – next to the large San Pedro church offered good coffee and had  a Gents toilets which scored 12 out of 13. Though the soap dispenser was tough to master.
  • We had the first and only poor service in 3 weeks in a tapas bar at lunchtime yesterday. But I've done my duty and left a negative review on Tripadvisor. I doubt they'll care.
  • I've had to change my satnav/GPS voice to that of a British female, having got tired of being told 7 times what to do each time we got near a roundabout. Now it's only 4 or 5 times and I'm told to enter these, not incorporate myself at them. Plus, the woman's pronunciation of Spanish street names is hilarious. For one thing, she gives the A sound in Spanish as Ah, which it never is. Imagine Malaga said this way, for example. Or Mañana.
  • It might be harsh but my overview is that visiting Spain's most popular tourist attractions is now akin to a trip to Disneyworld. Still worth doing but not exactly an unalloyed pleasure. As I've said, Extremadura might be an exception. For now.
  • Something I haven't been aware of while travelling during the last 3 weeks – protests by newsreaders on Spanish public TV against political interference. Note the dismissive comment of the Minister of Justice.
  • More on the trend towards authoritarianism in Spain, here and here.
  • And a further blow to Airbnb, this time in Madrid.
  • Some allegedly 'fantastic facts' about Spain's involvement in the Eurovision tat-fest.
  • Tough times for the EU as it faces up to the challenge of a post-Brexit budget. See the article below.
  • Finally . . . Duff Cooper. I really can't believe what I'm reading at times. At least to his wife, the man is what would have been called an 'utter cad' in his own times and has a remarkable ability to exculpate himself and to blame others for his weekly infidelities and their consequences. He even furiously berates his wife for her jealously, insisting that it's just sex. More on this anon but, for now, I just want to mention that the fashionable drug for the young of his era was morphine, with which his wife injected herself regularly. Possibly as an escape from the reality of living with him. On all this, I've just found this blog, which promises to explain the backcloth to DC's numerous dalliances, none of which, it seems, were carried out secretly. They were, in effect, a form of advertising.

Europe is in limbo as budget plan exposes continental fault linesSimon Nixon, chief European commentator at The Wall Street Journal. 

The commission presented its draft as an opportunity to “modernise” the EU budget. Few would dispute that modernisation is needed. For decades the bulk of the budget has been spent on compensating two particular groups for the costs of opening up their markets to pan-European competition: farmers — who receive generous subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy — and poorer countries who benefit from cohesion funds. Yet it’s long been obvious that this is money poorly spent: much of the CAP goes to better-off farmers in rich countries rather than poor farmers in poor countries, while cohesion funds have been a honeypot for corruption.
Besides, the challenges facing the EU today are very different from those even a decade ago. EU integration was supposed to deliver greater security and prosperity but it has also exposed European citizens to new risks. The eurozone debt crisis highlighted the vulnerability of all eurozone members to economic shocks and weak economic models in other member states. Similarly, the migration crisis exposed serious deficiencies in some countries’ border controls and the need for a common response to instability in Europe’s wider neighbourhood. Meanwhile, many governments fear that alleged risks to the rule of law in Poland and Hungary threaten to undermine the glue that binds the EU together: its status as a community of values.
The commission’s proposal at least makes a stab at addressing these new realities. Brussels wants to freeze the CAP and cohesion funds in real terms so that they will fall as a proportion of the overall budget over seven years, thereby filling the estimated €13 billion annual hole left by the UK’s departure.
The methodology for allocating cohesion funds would be reformed to take greater account of factors such as unemployment rather than simply wealth disparities, which should mean more money for crisis-hit countries in southern Europe. There is more money for research and innovation, border control and defence, albeit from low bases. There is an embryonic eurozone stabilisation fund financed by a slither of corporate tax receipts and the proceeds of the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme.
Most eye-catchingly, there is also a proposal to withhold EU funding from countries deemed to have deficiencies in the rule of law. Yet Brussels has already run into plenty of opposition from across the EU. The sums involved may be small in the grand scheme of things — just 1.11 per cent of the EU’s gross national income and just €109 billion of new spending commitments — but the Brussels plan exposes every major faultline in Europe. The Netherlands and its northern allies have already branded the proposal as unacceptable because the commission has ignored their demands to cap the budget at its pre-Brexit level of 1 per cent of GNI and will instead tap them for substantial rises in contributions. French and Irish ministers have criticised cuts to farming subsidies. Poland argues that providing cohesion funds to address social factors rewards governments for poor structural policies.
Crucially, the commission proposal is an attempt to tilt the EU in a more federal direction in ways that are bound to make some member states uncomfortable. For example, the rule of law mechanism as proposed at present would hand the commission wide discretion to determine a deficiency in the rule of law, removing the right of veto of individual member states.
Warsaw says any mechanism should be based on objective criteria to be overseen by the courts to avoid a breach the rule of law. Others point to the commission’s proposal to increase the size of the EU’s border force from 1,200 to 10,000, questioning where this will leave the balance of responsibilities between the EU and member states. The creation of what is effectively a new eurozone budget funded by direct taxes will also no doubt be seen for what it is: the thin edge of a wedge.
Yet remarkably, Brussels not only believes it can square these circles, but can reach agreement by the time EU leaders meet for a summit in Romania in May 2019. The commission will try to do so by appealing to national governments on two levels: by convincing them that early agreement on a budget is needed to send a strong signal of EU unity and purpose in the wake of Brexit; and to avoid delaying ratification until after European parliament elections in June 2019, which are likely to lead to strong support for eurosceptic parties.
But this may be wishful thinking. After all, it is in the nature of all budgets that they are judged solely in terms of winners and losers — and the EU budget must be agreed by unanimity among the 27 member states. Brinkmanship is hardwired into the process, which means that a more realistic deadline is when the current budget period ends in 2027. The EU’s long limbo may have much further to run.

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