Saturday, June 30, 2018

Tnoughts from Galicia, Spain: 30.6.18

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.

  • Here's Lenox Napier on Spain's dying villages.
  • The Spanish Tax Office (La Hacienda) has published a list of folk who owe them more than a million euros. There are many well-known people on it, including the ex-IMF head, Sr Rato. I can't help wondering if they're getting more lenient treatment than us little people would get.
Life in Spain
The EU
  • It would be fair to say that Amnbrose Evans Pritchard isn't an optimist when it comes to the future of the euro and the EU. The headline of the article below is: Emmanuel Macron’s "grand plan" to relaunch the euro on safer foundations lies in tatters after Europe’s northern bloc refused to contemplate any form of fiscal union, and exhausted leaders kicked the crucial issues into touch.
The World
  • North Korea has increased its production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons at secret sites in recent months, contrary to Donald Trump’s claims that it was “no longer a nuclear threat”, according to a new report. NBC News quoted more than a dozen US officials familiar with the intelligence assessments. Coming soon after satellite images showed rapid improvements being made to a North Korean nuclear research facility at Yongbyon, the developments will make it harder for Trump to claim that his summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore this month was a success. But it won't stop him, of course.
  • Spain's various police forces are very good at acting as a branch of the Hacienda and extracting fines from motorists for one offence or another. What they don't seem to be good at is using modern technology and efficient recording systems to identify the many thousands of cars that aren't insured and/or certified under the ITV system as being fit to be on the road. I'm stimulated to write this by a report yesterday of a driver who was 5 times over the alcohol limit and who was driving such a car. On a flat, straight, open road on a sunny day he ploughed into a couple and their young son who were doing the camino on bikes. The parents were killed and the boy seriously injured. It's a common comment in Spain that it takes deaths to make bureaucrats act. Let's hope these do so.
The World Cup
  • VAR: Patrick Vieira feels that not only does it make the game fairer but it also forces players to improve their discipline and avoid 'mad moments of rage'. Indeed.
Finally . . .
  • I'm reading Murder in Samarkand by Craig Murray, who was British Ambassador in Uzbekistan 2002-2004. He's just had a harrowing day, listening to accounts of torture and has retired to a bar for a stiff drink. But this isn't the only stiff item of the evening. He sees a very attractive belly-dancer and is overwhelmed by what I'd regard as pure lust for her. He initiates conversation. And, in his own words: My instinct told me this was a girl I could trust, who would return the love[!!] that was overwhelming me. But she refused to give me her address or phone number. ‘Where can I find you?’ I asked. She smiled and replied, ‘Here.’ I astonished her by saying that I wanted her to give up the club and be my mistress. I explained I could not marry her, as I was married, but I would keep her. I gave her my card and urged her to phone me. I've copied this to 2 friends, each of whom responded with the accurate comment that this is very Duff Cooper-esque. Not to mention incredibly stupid, it seems to me, in a totalitarian regime with whom Murray was already very unpopular for his brave/foolhardy public criticism of it. En passant, I'm writing my autobiography for my 2 daughters and their progeny. I can't imagine including such an episode, assuming I'd had any. At least Cooper claims he never expected his wife and children to read about his priapic adventures
A Request
  • Does any gardener out there recognise this as 'powdery mildew' on the leaves of my privet hedge?

I thought it was bird shit at first but now suspect it's a (fungal) disease of some sort.

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 30.6.18


Macron's euro dream lies in ruins after EU summit debacle Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Emmanuel Macron’s "grand plan" to relaunch the euro on safer foundations lies in tatters after Europe’s northern bloc refused to contemplate any form of fiscal union, and exhausted leaders kicked the crucial issues into touch.

After battling deep into the night over migration there was no energy or emotion left at the Brussels summit for a fight over fiscal architecture. There was no plausible backing for the French president’s great leap forward any case. The paralysis means that Europe is likely to stumble into the next global economic downturn disastrously ill-equipped. It will have no shared fiscal instruments of any scale to fight recession, leaving the weakest states vulnerable to collapse.

The eurozone is no closer to a "fiscal capacity" or proto-treasury able to contend with big shocks, or that entail US-style transfers to regions in trouble. It is still sauve qui peut , the same structure that nearly destroyed monetary union in the banking crisis of 2012. “The eurozone’s death wish has never been stronger,” said Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s ex-finance minister.

The Franco-German Meseberg Declaration on eurozone reform published with much fanfare two weeks ago – already a diluted version of Mr Macron’s original vision – never even made onto the summit agenda, let alone the conclusions. “Leaders only delivered the bare minimum. Decisions were postponed to the December summit. Extend and pretend,” said Carsten Brzeski from ING. “Perhaps someone should warn them that by delaying, they risk another nightlong European summit, this time on how to rescue the eurozone.”

The global business cycle has not been abolished. The talk at hedge fund gatherings have already rotated from how to play the final stage of the boom, to how to design a "short" strategy to weather the storm. Recession worries are edging on to radar screens as the end of central banks drain global liquidity.

The eurozone is already in a soft patch. The expected rebound keeps disappointing. German retail sales fell by 2.1% in May, the biggest drop since the onset of the 2011 crisis. European bank stocks have slumped 15% since late January, often a harbinger of trouble.

“A eurozone recession can’t be allowed to happen,” said Barnaby Martin from Bank of America. “The idea fills us with a lot of fear. The QE years in Europe have profoundly altered the structure of the euro credit market.”

Issuance of BBB bonds has exploded fourfold to €800bn (£710bn) and many of the borrowers are badly exposed to a combined growth shock and a trade war. “We worry that the ECB is ending QE, but that nothing else is planned to take up the slack.”

The eurozone can muddle through without any meaningful fiscal union as long as the global expansion rolls on. Once the cycle turns, it will be dangerously naked. The European Central Bank cannot easily come to the rescue a second time. It has largely run out of monetary ammunition.

Interest rates are stuck at minus 0.4% until late 2019. The ECB has "pre-committed" itself halting bond purchases by the end of this year. While this can be reversed in an emergency, the political bar is high and the effects of QE are in any case diminishing. The ECB balance sheet will soon reach 43% of eurozone GDP. German-led hawks will not lightly renew bond purchases if they are seen to benefit a rebel Italian government in open defiance of the eurozone Stability Pact.

Mr Macron originally called for a proto-treasury commanding “hundreds of billions of euros” to pack a counter-cyclical punch. Meseberg whittled it down to an investment fund if €30bn to help countries through an asymmetric shock, but in the form of loans rather than fiscal transfers. Even this was too much. Nothing has been agreed. This is courting fate. There is little to prevent debt dynamics spinning out of control in vulnerable economies with high legacy burden. Italy’s debt ratio is 132% of GDP and Portugal’s is 126%. A recession starting from these levels – without a clear lender-of-last resort – would be devastating. Bond vigilantes would not wait.

The only measure agreed was an EU "backstop" to boost the firepower of the Single Resolution Fund for insolvent lenders. But this will not be fleshed out until December, and the devil is in the details. There is still no pan-EMU bank deposit insurance. The 2012 "doom-loop" for banks and sovereign states remains, each threatening to drag the other down in a self-feeding crisis if confidence snaps. Markets have chosen to see the glass half full. The Euro Stoxx index of equities rose 1.2% on relief over the EU deal on migrants. It is thought enough to save Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political career.

Yet the stormy summit is a warning. It showed that the EU is dealing with new kind of animal in Italy. The insurgent Lega-Five Star coalition relishes a fight. It cannot easily be broken by the usual "Justus Lipsius method" of peer pressure and horse trading. This sets the scene for a bitter fight over Italy’s plans for a spending blitz, starting in September when the first budget drafts are prepared. The EU wants tightening of 1% of GDP under Stability Pact rules. The Lega-"Grillini" want net stimulus of 6%: a cancellation of VAT rises, a flat tax, and universal basic income, and reversal of the "Fornero" pension reform.  

While there can be some accounting fudge over investment spending, this is a political chasm. The market discipline of rising bond yields has lost part of its bite. There is a widespread suspicion in Italy that bond spreads are manipulated by the ECB and that this is used as political pressure tool. “We couldn’t give a damn about bond spreads,” says Lega strongman Matteo Salvini.

Brussels is likely to hit a brick wall if it tries to stop the Lega-Grillini carrying out their core policies. If the ECB ratchets up the pressure by choking liquidity to the banking system à la Grecque, the Italians might respond by activating their "minibot" parallel currency and setting the eurozone on a path towards disintegration.

In some respects it was better that nothing was agreed. Germany had demanded a licence for forced restructuring of sovereign debt before there can be rescue loans. This was a bombshell. It risked a replay of the fateful “walk on the beach” in October 2010 when the leaders of France and Germany invoked for bondholder haircuts in Greece, ignoring ECB warnings that would set off systemic contagion. The debt crisis metastasized.

Mr Macron is left with little to show for a year of frenetic diplomacy. The Dutch-led "Hanseatic League’ of eight northern states were irritated by his fait accompli and his Jupiterian manner. They decry any move towards a eurozone treasury, deeming it a green light for fiscal violators.

He has bet his presidency on a grand bargain with Angela Merkel that would force everybody to jump to attention. But Germany has offered nothing more than fiscal crumbs. Europe has largely ignored him. The political window for radical reform has closed. Recession is drawing closer.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 29.6.18

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.

  • Some excellent news about the infamous Gag Law. Spain is returning to sanity.
  • Yet more corruption. This time the other main party: The Valencia Provincial Council President and mayor of Ontinyent (PSOE) was arrested in an anti-corruption operation on Wednesday. 
Life in Spain
  • Summer dating in Spain, per The Local.
  • The reporter and the paper who revealed that a senior PP poltitician had faked her Masters have been charged with 'Uncovering secrets". WTF?
  • Here's a test of how well you  know Spain, used in the process of getting Spanish nationality. I'm pleased to say I did very well. Must make an application.
  • Down in the Canaries - named after dogs, not birds by the way - there's a new island, the 8th in the archipelago. It's a tiny - 11 square miles - rock outcrop, with no paved roads and just 721 residents, called La Graciosa. Here's are a few things someone thinks you might like to know about it. Details of each, below:-
  1. Its beautiful beaches are empty
  2. It inspired Treasure Island
  3. There are no cars - or roads
  4. It can only be reached by sea
  5. It was created by volcanoes
  6. It is ripe for hiking and cycling
  7. Accommodation is scarce - but you can camp
  8. Someone once wanted to build a casino there
  9. It has some of Europe's best diving
The EU/Germany
  • How Merkel Broke the EU. Click here. Or maybe she didn't, after yesterday's 'successful' summit on immigration. 
  • The smoke just keeps building, doesn’t it? Trump hires Manafort, who is very well connected with Putin’s inner circle, to run his campaign. People close to Putin make clear that they want to do everything they can to get Trump in office because, I’m convinced, Putin knew he would easily manipulate him. Manafort is on the receiving end of loans and payments that mysteriously never get reported on his taxes but instead are laundered through multiple foreign companies and banks to hide their origin. Those close to Trump hold meeting after meeting with Putin allies and Russian government officials throughout the campaign and the transition, then magically, and simultaneously, lose their memories of all of those meetings and fail to report them on the necessary disclosure forms. Coincidence? Not a chance.
Nutters Corner
  • Guess who: We love the countries of the European Union. But the European Union was set up to take advantage of the United States. In his dystopian black and white world: Us competing with you  – fairly or unfairly - is totally justifiable. You competing with us in any way at all is taking advantage of us. Idiocy on stilts
Social Media
  • Stop panicking about a return to the 1930s, says Philip Collins in today's Times. The next political crisis will be sparked by tech giants’ assault on democracy, rather than by populism or nationalism. He might well be right.
  • A formal investigation has begun into the high prices of fuel here in Galicia. I'm not clear what this means but I understand it's 5 years since the first denuncias were made.
  • The new Minister of Development says that he's going review all the AVE high speed train commitments made by the last (PP) government. I think we all know what that means for us. Bye-bye the 'guaranteed' date of 2020 for the start of our link to Madrid. 2030 anyone?
  • Meanwhile . . . This is a lovely bit of (inland) Galicia, if you want to walk, drive, bus, fly or get a slow train to here.
  • Talking tourism . . . Feathers have been ruffled here by the promotion of our coast by a company in León as Costa Farriña. This is a reference to the novel and TV series I'm mentioned about drug trafficking here. It's an accurate description but not a very welcome one. No one talks about that sort of thing here. Except me, of course.
The World Cup
  • So, why is it not a penalty to pull a player's shirt as he's about to head the ball?
  • England: This strange game acted as sleeping pill and wake-up call for England. Gareth Southgate’s B team failed to stir into significant life, and the fans could have been forgiven for drifting off for long periods, yet what they glimpsed through sleepy eyes was that England’s options are not as deep and rich as believed. . . . Januzaj graced a game that bordered on the shameful and sleep-inducing at times. For the first 45 minutes, Belgium did not look interested, showing little desire to score, but simply to pick up bookings. 
  • Germany 1: A German friend told me last night that: During the match yesterday, the TV commentator said: “Ladies and gentlemen, what you are presently seeing is not a slow motion replay. It's the actual pace at which the German team carries out an attack”.
  • Germany 2: A sign that the German team expected to go home early . . . 
  • Spain: Notwithstanding the El Mundo critique - The best team in Russia so far, says one British observer.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 29.6.18


Nine fascinating facts about the newest Canary Island

Tenerife, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura have a new little sister, La Graciosa, the most recent addition to the Canary Islands family.

Spain’s General Commission of the Autonomous of the Senate has agreed that the tiny rock outcrop, home to no paved roads and just 721 residents, can become the eighth official Canary Island, earning itself its own “legal personality”.

Should the decision have you pondering a trip to this 11 square mile nugget of Spain, here are a few things you might need to know.

1. Its beautiful beaches are empty

“The real gems of La Graciosa are its incredibly empty beaches, such as Playa de las Conchas (furthest from the harbour and arguably the best) and Playa de la Cocina, where near-white sand and aquamarine waters make up for the lack of any tourism infrastructure,” says Joe Cawley, who knows the Canary Islands like the back of his hand. Telegraph Travel’s Spain expert Annie Bennett said there are “just fabulous beaches and a handful of idyllic waterside fish restaurants”. Playa de El Salado is perhaps the best known, over a mile long and home to a campsite.

2. It inspired Treasure Island

The story goes that pirates used the island for shelter from the tempestuous Atlantic Ocean. In the 1760s it is said that a British crew was followed to La Graciosa by a pirate galleon and so, fearing their booty would be captured, buried their gold somewhere on the island, refusing, despite torture, to reveal its location. The story, including evidence found of an Admiral Hawke in the area in the 18th century, bears more than a coincidental resemblance to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel. Some say the treasure is still buried there today.

3. There are no cars - or roads

Trails across the island are not paved and more like dirt tracks, best to be navigated by foot, rented bike or clapped-out jeep taxi, which are allowed on the island.

4. It can only be reached by sea

So it’s hardly surprising that the island lacks an airport. Visitors must fly to neighbouring Lanzarote then take the half-hour ferry from Orzola.

5. It was created by volcanoes

As part of the Chinijo Archipelago, a series of islands and islets much smaller than the main Canary Islands, La Graciosa has gained Unesco World Heritage status, thanks to the protected Parque Natural del Archipielago Chinijo, established in 1986 (Lanzarote is also included). The geopark helps preserve the environment of the flora and fauna of the islands, as well as birdlife, but was principally created thanks to the islands’ curious volcanic creation - built almost entirely of basaltic materials during three volcanic stages. Unesco says the region is “an authentic outdoor museum”.

6. It is ripe for hiking and cycling

Hiking, trail running and cycling are all available across the arid isle. Because of its protected status, it’s best to stick to the paths. The Canary Islands tourist board highlights three routes, taking in craggy mountains, white sand beaches and hidden coves. The island’s circular route is 20 miles and best completed on a mountain bike. Keep an eye out for views of the island’s tallest peak, Las Agudas, which rises to 266 metres and is popular with hikers. Surfing and kiteboarding are also available.

7. Accommodation is scarce - but you can camp

Though most visitors to the island are day-trippers, the best way to experience the solitary way of life is, according to Joe Cawley, to be one of the few who stay for longer. “To do La Graciosa full justice and sink into a pleasantly vegetative state, a week in one of the basic pensions or apartments is a must,” he says. “Caleta del Sebo is the settlement (one of two; the other is Casas de Pedro Barba) that greets you after a 25-minute boat ride from Orzola in Lanzarote. This motley collection of whitewashed houses and bar/restaurants is connected by streets of sand, and is home to most of the island’s 500 people.” Camping is also available, on Playa de El Salado.

8. Someonce once wanted to build a casino there

There has been a long campaign for La Graciosa to become an official Canary Island, some residents are concerned that any influx of visitors (it currently gets just 25,000 annual tourists), will put strain on the island’s limited infrastructure and spoil its untouched beauty. Investors once plotted to build a casino on the island and link it by cable car to Lanzarote but, rather unsurprisingly, the idea did not get much further than the drawing board.

9. It has some of Europe's best diving

La Graciosa is home to the largest protected marine area in Europe. “Thanks to the diversity of its sea fauna, its spectacular depths are home to unique beauty in all its diving spots, among which there are some suitable for all levels of diving experience,” says the Canary Island tourist board.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 28.6.18

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.

  • Under her new government, Spain is moving towards the legalisation of euthanasia. See here and here.
  • Below is the translation of an article – HT to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for this – on a scathing report on scandalous wastage on the EU's high speed trains, with specific reference to Spanish instances. Can anyone really be surprised?
  • Another HT to Lenox for this insight into how countries project themselves internationally. Spain comes in at 11th out of 110. This good ranking reflects a high rating for her 'soft presence', which has risen virtually every year since 2010 - as a result of the increased contributions of culture, tourism and migration. The contribution of the soft dimension to Spain’s global presence rose from 25% in 2010 to 32% last year. So that: Close to 60% of Spain’s presence in the Index is now due to its soft dimension. Spain received close to 82m tourists in 2017, the second largest number in the world, and at the beginning of 2018 the number of foreigners in Spain stood at 4.7m.
Life in Spain
  • This is The Local's guide to Madrid's Gay Pride festivities. Perhaps 'extravaganda' would be a better word.
Germany/The USA
  • Grenell is an [US]ambassador who seems tailor-made to exacerbate Germany's new tensions. It is hard to overstate just how brashly he has charged onto the Berlin political scene during his first month in town. A good choice, then. Image and likeness.
The World
  • Hmm . . . North Korea  has continued to upgrade its only known nuclear reactor used to fuel its weapons program, satellite imagery has shown, despite ongoing negotiations with the US and a pledge to denuclearise. A great deal, then. 
  • Local papers have taken up the reports of the deficiencies of the AVE high speed train, pointing out that on the only bit we currently have – Vigo-La Coruña – our trains travel at only half the speed the system was designed for. More seriously, if and when we have a connection with Madrid, there will still be 17km in and around Ourense which will be old track. Meaning the train will have to slow down to a snail's pace. Probably for an absolute minimum of 10 years. IGIMSTS.
  • A friend yesterday gave me a a book containing Healthy and Economic Recipes Created by Galicia's Best Chefs. It contains some lovely stuff but, unfortunately, it fell open at the page for Cow's snout in tripe sauce. Not exactly my favourite dish. Twice over.
  • There's a particularly dangerous stretch on the Camino de Santiago just north of Pontevedra, where you come down onto a main road and walk for a while where there's no real pavement. This foto adorned an article on how the local police are helping to ensure there aren't (more ) accidents there.
I do hope the policeman shown had actually stopped the traffic behind him and was not just watching the high number of 'pilgrims' who'd just joined the road so that he could call an ambulance if they'd been mown down . . . This, by the way, is the local place where trucks most frequently hit a low bridge.

The World Cup
  • VAR failure:At least one more example of excellent pictures and a poor referee interpretation of them. A major problem that needs to be sorted. As I've suggested, maybe take the decision away from the ref.
  • VAR success: The South Korean goal initially judged to be offside, after the player had been 'played on'. Leaving us all very sad that Germany were on their way out . . .
  • Germany: Last week friend in Hamburg sent me a cartoon, showing the team bus in the short-stay car park at Frankfurt airport. He insisted there was no optimism in Germany. I can see why now.
  • A sports writer on El País has had a real go at the country's team: Spain’s national team has forgotten how to play soccer, and is instead engaged in making mere plays, ones that have at least been sufficient to see them reach the quarter finals in the Russia 2018 World Cup. . . . . Spain’s performance has been getting progressively worse during the World Cup so far, and was riddled with faults in last night’s match. . . . Spain has lost its authority, dominance, rhythm, order and dynamism, and is frozen stiff on the field and on the bench. More here. By 'soccer' is meant 'football', of course. Not for the first time, I note that the translator is American.
Finally . . .
  • Here's an example of the footballese of British commentators who are ex players: It's X that's came[sic] across to take that ball . . I think this construction is called the 'footballers' present perfect tense', used when normal use would be the simple past. In this case augmented by the wrong past participle. So, a mixture of 2 past tenses - present perfect and simple.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 28.6.18


The six most absurd AVE projects in Spain and the European Union

The EU Court of Auditors denounces that the European high-speed rail network as a patchwork of poorly connected national lines.

The European high-speed rail network is merely a patchwork of national lines without proper cross-border coordination and has been planned and built by the Member States in isolation, resulting in poor connections, according to the latest report by the EU Court of Auditors. The auditors conclude that much of the €23.7 billion that Brussels has invested in high-speed rail since 2000 - in addition to a further €30 billion in soft loans from the European Investment Bank (EIB) - has been wasted on projects that provide little Community added value.

The decision to build high-speed lines in the EU is often based on political considerations and not on cost-benefit analyses, which are often not carried out, the study criticises. Cost overruns and delays are the rule rather than the exception. Trains run at much lower speeds than expected (45% on average). And in many cases the number of passengers carried is much lower than previously estimated, which jeopardises the viability of the connections.

All these problems affect Spain in particular, which has the second largest high-speed network in the world, after China. Our country is the main beneficiary of European aid for the AVE: between 2000 and 2017 it received a total of 11.2 billion euros from Brussels, a figure that represents 47% of the subsidies distributed. However, the main problems of overcharging have not been recorded in Spain (where the maximum is 38.5% on the Madrid-Barcelona line) but in Germany (which reaches 622% on the Stuttgart-Munich line). 

The European Court of Auditors' devastating report on Spain's high-speed rail system

1. Works that ends 6 km from the border

In times of economic boom, a high-speed line was planned to connect Madrid to Lisbon. When the debt crisis broke out, the project was considered too expensive and came to a standstill, even though the EU had already paid 43 million to Portugal for studies and preparatory work. The Portuguese conventional railway line now stops at the town of Évora, about 100 kilometres from Badajoz. On the Spanish side, at the time of the audit, the works on the high-speed railway line were stopped six kilometres from the border. Both Portugal and Spain are now interested in reviving the project.

2. Iberia gauge survives

Although one of the reasons for building a high-speed network with Spain from scratch was to improve connections with the rest of the EU using the European gauge. The auditors' report denounces that the Spanish gauge still survives in important sections and makes this connectivity difficult: on the Atlantic Axis in Galicia, part of the Madrid-Galicia line and the Madrid-Extremadura line. The result is that on these sections the maximum speed that can be reached is 250 km/h instead of 350 km/h. And track gauge changers are needed. In January 2017, there were 20 such exchangers in Spain, costing around 8 million each and for which Brussels has provided funding of 5.4 million.

3. Train and track changes at the border

There are also problems in the connection between Spain and France via the Basque Country. As the stretch between Bordeaux and the Spanish border is not a priority for the Paris government, the border infrastructure is outdated and incompatible with a modern high-speed network. France does not want to invest in this infrastructure and has not asked Brussels for subsidies. But this will have a negative impact on Spain and Portugal's connections to the EU network in the Atlantic Corridor. In the Spanish part of the border, work continues on connecting the Basque Y with the rest of the Spanish high-speed network. The result of this dissonance is that at Hendaye station all passengers have to change platform and train to cross the border.

4. Cost overruns and station delays 

The high-speed train station in the German city of Stuttgart is the single most expensive individual project in the EU (86%). The infrastructure has received 726.6 million in grants from Brussels. Construction costs have skyrocketed due to unrealistic initial estimates of what tunneling would entail in a densely populated urban centre and the lack of sufficient assessment of the geological, environmental and cultural heritage impact. The price of 4.5 billion euros that had been calculated in 2003 increased to 6.5 billion in 2013 and 8.2 billion in 2018. The start of construction work was delayed from 2001 to 2009 and according to the latest estimates the work will not be completed until 2025 (the initial deadline was 2008).

5. Stops without connections or passengers

The study examines the accessibility and connectivity of 18 high-speed stations and concludes that access to 14 of them could be improved. The most emblematic case is the TGV station in Meuse, in the Greater East region of France: it is located in an isolated location in the countryside and the only way to get there is by private car and a couple of local bus lines. The auditors also consider that it is inefficient to keep some stations on the Madrid-Barcelona-French border line open (in particular Guadalajara-Yebes and Calatayud) because of the small number of passengers living nearby.

Finally, the report criticises the fact that there are no connections between the AVE and the airports of Madrid and Barcelona, but there are connections with the airport of Ciudad Real, which has no passengers.

6. Ghost lines that nobody wants

One of the most absurd cases reported by the Court of Auditors is that of the high-speed ghost line between Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg, the aim of which was to connect Brussels and Luxembourg in 90 minutes. In 1994, the project was declared a priority by the EU and a deadline of 2020 was set for completion. However, in 2004, none of the countries concerned had made this a national priority. Although the EU has provided €96.5 million to upgrade the conventional line, train travel from Brussels to Luxembourg now takes 3 hours and 17 minutes. That is, almost one hour more than in 1980, when the same distance was covered in 2 hours and 26 minutes. The result is that many potential passengers simply travel by car.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator [but improved by me]

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 27.6.18

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.

  • Good to read that Spanish is on the verge of overtaking French as the language of choice for both O and A level students in the UK.
  • The new Spanish PM has been demonstrating his fluency in English. Which is said to have stunned the public here, given the parlous ability of all previous job-holders.
  • If you're a holder of shares in BBVA bank – or maybe just an account holder – this article will be of interest. The bank is very exposed to the troubled economies of Turkey and Mexico.
Life in Spain
  • Remember the orang-utang Jesus? How could anyone forget it? Well, here's news of another chapuza(bodge), though one not quite in the same league.
  • What's the first word that springs to mind when you see this cartoon about a Moroccan player negotiating the price in camels for the Spanish goalie's girlfriend?

Whatever you'd say, my guess is that the majority of Spaniards would merely say 'Funny'. And would argue furiously with you, if you claimed it was racist. Unfair?

The EU/The UK/Brexit
  • No. 10 can be cheered today however by a report from the Times’ man in Brussels that big EU27 splits are starting to open over the future relationship with Britain. He says most EU nations are expecting a compromise deal whereby Britain stays aligned to EU rules and regs in return for better single market access … Even though chief negotiator Michel Barnier and power-behind-the throne Martin Selmayr both view the idea as cherry-picking. A senior EU source tells Waterfield: “We all know this is the future … The Commission and Selmayr are obsessed with purity. The EU is not pure. It is always about trade-offs. The final Brexit deal will be bespoke.”
  • The US has an online entry application process for EU residents before a trip of 3 months or less. But you can't avail yourself of this if you've been to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen. If so, you have to apply for a visa. So it was that former NATO chief, Javier Solana, had his online application turned down for having travelled to Iran when he was taking part in negotiations on a nuclear deal. I wonder if I'd also been rejected for having lived in Iran in the 70s, even if it was before the Islamic revolution there. Probably, as I can't imagine a computer making such a distinction.
The World
  • Hmm . . . North Korea  has continued to upgrade its only known nuclear reactor used to fuel its weapons program, satellite imagery has shown, despite ongoing negotiations with the US and a pledge to denuclearise. Some deal.
  • One of the advantages of living in Galicia – especially in the southern half of it – is that Portugal isn't far away, providing the opportunity for regular dips into another culture. Next weekend there's an equestrian fair in lovely Ponte de Lima, which I might just make. If so, I'll take the opportunity to stop in Valença for some roast wild boar(javali) or kid(cabrito). For reasons not clear to me, these are hard to get here in Galicia. Or maybe trout(truta) in PdeL. Washed down with lovely vinho verde.
The World Cup
  1. Was the Nigerian player pulled over or did her throw himself to the ground? I'm not sure this even went to VAR but, even if it did, the interpretation was down to the ref. Who made a mistake in my view. But others will differ.
  2. This chap, for example: Grappling had been one of the clear problems in the early days of this World Cup with defenders getting away with far too much. Mascherano must have missed the memo. Wrapping his arms around Leon Balogun was by no means the worst example that we have seen but it was still a foul, and a stupid one. At least we agree that Mascherano was incredibly dumb to give Balogun the chance to fake a foul for the referee or VAR, or both.
  3. But, anyway, two brilliant goals by Messi and Rojo of Argentina took them through to the final 16, which has to be right. Even if this is an accurate comment about most of their performance: The maestro had done his bit, with a wondrous goal that perhaps only the world’s best footballer can score, but was being let down once more by the mortals around him.
  4. As for Messi in particular and Argentinean football in general, this is a brilliant article by a member of the World Cup winning team of 1986, penned before last night's match. Taster: When the World Cup starts Messi becomes a tortured soul who carries the fierce demands of 45 million people on his shoulders. And yet it’s not true: Messi has defended Argentina’s footballing pride like no one else for 15 years now and he has done so with an astonishing, scandalous consistency. But that perception became received wisdom and Messi is treated as if he was any old player by journalists who demand an excellence from him they cannot even dream of. . . . . Not even a genius can make up for so many failings. Still less, a genius who is dispirited.
  5. Has there ever been a World Cup when so many big guns have faltered and been on the edge of elimination in the first round?
  6. Is it too soon to say England are going in the opposite direction and have at least a chance of appearing in the final? Probably. Ask me after their next match.
Nutters Corner
  • Maradona: I knew God was with us. Having been AWOL in earlier matches, I guess.
Finally . . .
  1. I'm still not getting email notification from Google of Comments.
  2. Here's a nice notice from a shop door somewhere in Spain:-

3. And here's something you'd never see in the UK – a set of huge knives on display at the petrol station counter, next to the credit card machine.

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 27.6.18

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 26.6.17

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.

  • The Guardia Civil this weekend boarded a yacht stocked with 18 tonnes of cocaine. This happened near the Canary islands but there's a yet no confirmation of my suspicion it was heading for our coast.
  • This is sad news on sexual crimes but, of course, it might well be a case of increased reporting rather than more offences.
Life in Spain
The EU
  • More on its travails and challenges in the longish article below. It's entitled Nationalists are Ripping up the Franco German Map of Europe and I cited bits of this yesterday. 
  • This article – cited by reader Perry – suggests there's a core of Republican neocons who are determined that the USA's foreign policy objective should remain regime change, rather than deals with authoritarian regimes in the commercial/strategic interests of the USA. Apparently these folk see Iraq and Libya as huge successes. More than a tad worrying.
The UK
  • I've never seen Love Island but this comment struck me as both pertinent and funny: A worrying story in the weekend papers reported that teenage boys who go to the gym are being tempted to use steroids in the hope of getting “Love Island bodies”. More worrying still is the way they are being tempted to bash their heads repeatedly against concrete walls, in the hope of getting Love Island brains.
  • I've said there's a list of as many as 15 criteria for a good public toilet. One of these, of course, is a door which closes. The bar toilet I used yesterday lacked this. Because the cable for the hand dryer was plugged into a socket outside the toilet and then threaded between the door and the door jamb.
  • After the weekend San Xoan fiestas, 22 people were admitted to hospital for alcoholic poisoning. About 10 times more people were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
The World Cup
  1. More (mis?) applications of VAR show that things still depend on the quality of the referees. The final decisions currently remain with them. And their conclusions, as in the Portugal-Iran match, can differ from those of the rest of the world. You can't eliminate human error. But you can give the VAR interpretations to someone with less of a vested interest.
  2. Despite last night's controversies I'm still with those who think VAR is a good thing but that it needs to be better used.
  3. A British newspaper has a test of your ability to call decisions prior to seeing what VAR shows. I'm pleased to say I did very well at this. Maybe I should apply to replace the ref of the Iran-Portugal match, who – to say the least - didn't impress the British commentators.
Finally . . .
  • That old buffoon Alfie Mittington is furious with me for not identifying him as the person who pointed out my De Tocqueville/Montesquieu error of Sunday. Despite his occasional useful pedantry, I could happily do without him as a reader. . .
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 26.6.18

Nationalists are ripping up the Franco German map of Europe: David Charter

With immigration and economic policies failing, Merkel and Macron are unable to keep a lid on the revolt against integration

The raw emotion of the British withdrawal finally proved too much for Angela Merkel this week. In between talks to save her governing coalition, she allowed her true feelings to show at a special farewell concert where she led wild applause tinged with regret.

Not even the threat of German and EU political meltdown could stop Merkel from attending one of the final performances given by Sir Simon Rattle as he bowed out as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic after 16 years.

The symbolism of his departure — his last concert will be on Monday, two years and a day after the Brexit vote — has not been lost on the Germans.

For Merkel it comes at a time of growing disharmony, not just among her own conservative alliance, but between rival factions openly battling for control of the European Union, a project that has always been close to her heart.

Anyone reading this week’s Meseberg Declaration could be forgiven for thinking that the “Franco-German motor” that drives the EU was fully revved up for the next round of reform. The formal statement by Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron after their meeting at Schloss Meseberg, Germany’s Baroque version of Chequers, included several classic aspirations of the federal European dream.

There was the push to end national vetoes over common foreign policy as well as creating an EU security council, the call for “harmonising asylum practices in the member states” and turning EU border patrol agency Frontex into “a genuine European border police”. And of course there was the French president’s centrepiece project of a single budget for eurozone members by 2021.

Yet never before have such steps on the EU’s path to “ever closer union” seemed more fanciful or harder to agree. Two years after the British referendum, the 27 member states being left behind by the United Kingdom have maintained a remarkable unity on the withdrawal negotiations but can point to precious few areas of agreement on what to do next with their own union.

“In the past the Franco-German motor worked when the other countries went in behind France or Germany, depending on their point of view” said John Springford, deputy director of the Centre for European Reform in London. This meant that when Paris and Berlin agreed, everyone agreed. “The problems now are the new dividing lines between the traditional allies of France and those of Germany. Anti-European integration nationalism is taking hold in traditional partners of internationalism.”

Despite the claims of some Brexiteers, it’s not Britain’s imminent departure that threatens the EU, but the rise of nationalist parties, driven largely by the bloc’s failing immigration and economic policies.

And at the epicentre of the EU’s degeneration sits one person: Angela Merkel. It would have been an unthinkable claim to make at any other time in EU history — a German chancellor to blame for the fragmentation of the organisation which enabled Germany’s postwar rehabilitation, and guilty of stoking nationalism across Europe including in her own country.

But don’t take my word for it.

In a blistering article in Thursday’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung — the sober conservative newspaper regarded as the in-house journal of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party — the editor, Holger Steltzner, denounced the 63-year-old German chancellor. He blamed her for splitting the EU with her migrant and euro policies, contributing to Brexit by allowing too many asylum seekers in, and endangering German taxpayers’ cash with a reckless commitment to Macron’s eurozone budget plans.

“Angela Merkel claims to want to prevent the division of the EU,” Steltzner wrote. “Yet with her ‘welcome policy’ and also with her euro bailout policy, she is driving several wedges between the member states. Although nobody in the chancellery wants to hear it: three years ago, she suddenly and alone decided to open the borders for more than one million migrants without consulting her EU partners (except for Austria), without clarifying their identities and entitlement to asylum.” He added: “An immediate consequence was the Brexit vote because the images of uncontrolled influx were the famous straws that broke the British back. In Germany, Merkel’s lonely decision led to a lasting surge by the protest party AfD (Alternative for Germany). The climate in society has also become increasingly toxic ever since.”

This was an important sign of the conservative establishment preparing to jettison Merkel as her grip on power weakens after almost 13 years at the top. But it was also a frank admission that Germany is killing the EU goose with its insistence on euro austerity and the common acceptance of migrants.

Take a look at the flags on Norman Foster’s restored Reichstag building in Berlin: the German tricolour flies from three corners and the EU’s ring of gold stars on blue from the fourth. This is designed to show that the EU is one of modern Germany’s founding pillars, part of its DNA. Not any longer, it would seem. Suddenly Germany has become the symbol of everything wrong with the EU and a struggle has begun for control of the direction of the bloc. Rising young power brokers like Sebastian Kurz, the 31-year-old right-wing chancellor of Austria, have very different ideas to the ‘founding fathers’ of European integration. His country is bruised from years of uncontrolled borders that have brought voters to boiling point over illegal immigration. Nor did the brash new leaders of Italy arrive in office by accident. Italian appeals for “solidarity” from their EU friends to help cope with the increasing number of asylum seekers using Italy as a gateway to the Continent fell on deaf ears for years.

In 2011, an exasperated Silvio Berlusconi used words which sound an awful lot like those heard from Merkel today. Berlusconi wanted other EU countries to help accommodate and process the migrants who entered the bloc through Italy and he wanted more funding for Frontex, the fledgling multinational border patrol force. “Europe is either something real and concrete or it does not exist. In that case it would be better for us to separate again and follow our own fears and selfishness,” he said on a visit to Lampedusa, the tiny Mediterranean island where the boats from Africa often first dock in Europe.

The answer from Merkel’s government? Hans-Peter Friedrich, the then interior minister, told Die Welt: “Italy must settle its refugee problem itself.” Now the boot is on the other foot.

Friedrich was a senior member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian conservative party that has had its fill of asylum seekers coming over the border from Austria. The CSU has given Merkel until July 1 to strike bilateral deals with EU arrival countries like Italy before Horst Seehofer, the CSU leader and Germany’s interior minister, orders thousands to be turned away at the Bavarian border. This will cause chaos all the way down the line to the entry nations.

Merkel’s answer was to press Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, to call an extraordinary summit on immigration with nine other national leaders in Brussels on Sunday. Its aim, ostensibly to head off a row at next week’s full meeting of the 28 EU leaders, is transparently all about saving Merkel’s coalition from a CSU walk-out. Her main appeal is for “solidarity” from Germany’s European friends, chiefly Italy and Greece — the two countries most clobbered by German EU policies over the past decade. In Merkel’s chancellery the sound of chickens coming home to roost must be deafening.

She does not seem to have learnt anything from her attempt in 2015 to force every EU member to emulate the German approach of distributing asylum seekers around its own 16 states. This move persuaded 12.6 per cent of Germany’s voters to back the AfD last year and hand a party with far-right xenophobic tendencies a significant presence in the Bundestag for the first time since the Second World War.

But the multilateralist world which has served Germany so well for decades seems to be unravelling almost as fast as her own tenure as chancellor. Just as unthinkable as the rise of the AfD until recently was the refusal of EU member nations to follow EU law.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia opposed the law which mandated the distribution of migrants to every member country in the common asylum area (a system Britain opted out of in 1997). Hungary and Poland, following a change of government to the anti-immigration Law and Justice party, simply ignored the legislation and took no refugees despite being set quotas of 1,294 and 5,082 respectively. The Czech Republic took in 12 and Slovakia 16, against quotas of 1,591 and 802. The European Commission is threatening fines but the awkward squad have no intention of relenting.

It is a sign of things to come. One of the key reasons for Brexit was the seemingly remorseless push by true believers in Brussels towards “ever closer union”, which prompted David Cameron to negotiate an opt-out from the treaty clause that enshrined the phrase.

The political philosophy behind the EU’s obsession with “ever closer union” was neofunctionalism. It originated with the union’s founding father, Jean Monnet, who believed that by integrating in areas of general agreement, further integration in more controversial areas would become irresistible as the power of the supranational institutions grew.

Britain never bought into neofunctionalism. Now, it seems, central and eastern EU countries share our view. Mr Kurz of Austria has become their unofficial shop steward and has potentially far more influence than Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister reviled in Berlin for his egocentric nationalism. The awkward squad, also comprising Poland, the Czech republic, Slovakia and Italy, want a new wave of EU development which sees power flowing back to national capitals. They are not alone.

President Macron’s attempts to further integrate the eurozone, seen by those outside the single currency as cementing a two-tier EU, already face opposition from the Dutch, Finns and Austrians — all net EU contributors within the inner core who are wary of demands for extra money. In the outer ring the Polish president’s chief of staff sounded an apocalyptic note: “If the eurozone states decide to spend extra money for this budget, then that is their internal matter, but if it were to be created at the expense of their contributions to the general (EU) budget, then that would be the end of the EU.”

Nevertheless in Berlin there is still optimism for the future of the EU, especially because of the way Brexit has boosted support for the organisation rather than encourage others to flirt with departure. The sheer hell it has exposed of decoupling from the EU, its institutions and treaties, has given sceptical nations pause for thought. And the increasing unilateralism of President Trump has caused them to dwell on the value of Europe being able to fight a trade war and tackle climate change coherently.

Even the most fervent nationalist governments cannot imagine life outside the EU — Austria for economic and monetary reasons, Poland over defence and security, and Hungary over trade and the funding benefits.

The Meseberg Declaration showed how even in the ten months since Macron set out his goals for greater European integration, his vaunting ambitions have been reined in. His calls last September for European universities, a European carbon tax and pan-European lists for the European Parliament elections have been kicked into the long grass. Progress still seems possible on European defence forces and limited eurozone reforms, although the search for a common asylum policy remains elusive.

Olaf Wientzek, a European policy expert with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Berlin, insists: “There is still a willingness to keep unity and a relatively strong consensus that, together as 27, we are better off. Even the Italian government has toned down its heavy rhetoric on Europe now that it is in office. On migration, those states which advocate greater national sovereignty at the same time say they need better security at the EU external borders, which you cannot do just through national sovereignty.”

It is hard, however, to imagine Spain’s left-wing government finding common ground with the Italian populists after the Aquarius incident, when Rome repelled a boat load of 629 African migrants who eventually found a berth in Valencia this week.

As the 27 member states struggle to shape their post-Brexit union they would do well to take a look back at the now-forgotten Bratislava Declaration, issued in September 2016 after the first heads of government meeting without the British. Among many of the same goals reheated by Macron a year later, they stated: “Although one country has decided to leave, the EU remains indispensable for the rest of us… We committed in Bratislava to offer to our citizens in the upcoming months a vision of an attractive EU they can trust and support. We are confident that we have the will and the capacity to achieve it.”

A clue to what France and Germany are now trying to achieve is contained in the language of Merkel and Macron’s Meseberg Declaration. It talks mainly about “cooperation” and avoids the suggestion of a new EU treaty, the traditional vehicle for taking a leap forward but now seen as virtually impossible given the consent required from every national government and parliament. “France and Germany are strongly committed to not only preserve the achievements of the European Union but also to further strengthen their cooperation within the European Union,” they said. The real goal among today’s pro-EU forces is not so much to advance their project as to preserve it.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 25.6.18

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 latest development in a horrible saga dating from the Franco era.
  • Spanish nationalisations numbered 6,144 in 2013 but fell progressively to only 496 in 2016. The blame has been laid on an 'IT problem' which the government says it's working on. Maybe.
  • The mayor of Pamplona says he'd like to get rid of the bullfights while keeping the famous bull running. Quote: With regards to the future, nobody can imagine a form of entertainment based on animal cruelty. Society understands this more clearly everyday. Well, not quite all of Spanish society. Can't see it happening for a while.
Life in Spain
  • I took a visitor to the train station on Saturday so that he could both get a ticket to Santiago that day and another from Santiago to Madrid on Sunday. As regards the latter, he was told: “We don't do advance bookings at the weekend”. Is this a national situation or one confined to Pontevedra and other small stations? There's always the internet of course but it has to be said that Renfe doesn't offer the best web page in the world. Or even just in Spain.
  • The government is said to be planning to crack down on tax avoidance in the wine industry. Which should raise prices in my favourite tapas bar, where the absence of any labels on the bottles indicate clearly that no taxes have been paid at any stage of its production. An open secret. I imagine the head of the local Guardia Civil force eats there occasionally.
The EU
  • One view of the recent Merkel-Macron get together: Anyone reading this week’s Meseberg Declaration could be forgiven for thinking that the “Franco-German motor” that drives the EU was fully revved up for the next round of reform. The formal statement by Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron after their meeting included several classic aspirations of the federal European dream. There was the push to end national vetoes over common foreign policy as well as creating an EU security council, the call for “harmonising asylum practices in the member states” and turning EU border patrol agency into “a genuine European border police”. And of course there was the French president’s centrepiece project of a single budget for eurozone members by 2021. Yet never before have such steps on the EU’s path to “ever closer union” seemed more fanciful or harder to agree. Meanwhile . . . 
  • Angela Merkel’s efforts to save her government by forging a deal on migrants were dealt a blow as an EU emergency summit that she had arranged was overshadowed by a row between France and Italy. As for said summit . . . Four eastern European countries boycotted it and refused to take part in any EU scheme for refugee quotas. Doesn't sound promising, does it? But it won't stop the technocrats – as with the euro – trying to find a one-size-solution that fits all. And failing.
  • The French political thinker I cited the other day was actually De Toqueville, not Montesquieu. I'd listened to BBC podcasts on both in the same week and got them confused. Well, all Frenchmen look the same to me. The opening words of the podcast on the former are:- De Toqueville was worried that American democracy valued equality more than liberty, that the majority could terrorise the minority once the vote had been won, and that the people could elect a despotic, charismatic leader who would easily undermine democracy. It took a while.
The UK/Brexit
  • One political commentator feels that Mrs May needs to stop being Mrs Nice Girl. See why in the article below. Incidentally, is it really true that the ineffable Mr Juncker said last week that Britain was a country that does not “yet know that they are small”. Well, here's his exact words from this speech to the Irish parliament: There are two types of Member States: small ones and those who do not yet know that they are small. The other day I said that there are only two great countries in Europe: Great Britain and the Grand Duchy [of Luxembourg]. Thinking about it, Herr Juncker does know a lot about delusions of grandeur.
The World
  • This is a thought-provoking article on the dangers arising from growing inequality of wealth. Taster: Global inequality is a security risk—and not just because it breeds resentment, violence, and mass migrations. It also makes the entire system prone to collapse. 
  • It says something that, here in Galicia, the average age of the applicants for the maestro teaching qualification last week was over 30. This has risen in the last decade because few posts were made available and aspirants had to wait years for the exam. Presumably living off their parents in the interim.
  • As for the average age of the inhabitants of the region's cities . . . Pontevedra's has risen to 44 (from 40 in 2010) but it's still the lowest of the 7. Lugo, Santiago and Vigo come in at 45, and La Coruña, Ourense and Ferrol are at 46, 47 and 50, respectively.
The World Cup
  1. Nice to see England win rather easily yesterday, but there was still plenty of evidence of the besetting sin of giving the ball away. And of a level of skill in trapping the ball some way below that of other teams.
  2. Where was VAR again when:-
- It was incredible to see Panama's tactics at corners. Even by modern standards, has there ever been another set of players so dedicated to restricting the mobility of their opponents? Their approach led to Kane’s penalty, to make it 5-0, when Aníbal Godoy manhandled him to the floor. Yet that was the norm, rather than the exception
- England ought to have had a penalty inside 90 seconds after Gómez swung an elbow into Lingard’s jaw. Gómez, a repeat offender, went down clutching his own face and the referee was taken in by the deception.
- Later, an elbow from Armando Cooper bloodied Maguire’s nose. Román Torres responded to Maguire’s complaints by flicking his opponent’s nose and pushing in his forehead in the manner of a rutting stag.

  • En passant . . . A German friend tells me that the player who went down ahead of the foul that led to the last minute goal is (in)famous in Germany for hitting the dust at the slightest touch.

Finally . . .
  • I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would want a bulldog, whether the French variety or the even uglier and more deformed British variety. To me, breeding or even owning these stunted, breathing-impaired dogs amounts to animal cruelty. And I'm not surprised that one of the British sort has just won a US competition for the world's ugliest dog. The entire breed should be eliminated on aesthetic grounds alone. 
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 25.6.18

It’s time for Theresa May to stop being ‘Mrs Nice Girl’ with the EU: Janet Daley

Maybe it’s time to play hard ball. Theresa May has had a plausible excuse up to now for conceding and retreating and stepping back from the brink over and over again in her “negotiations” with Brussels. She was the leader, as she and the EU gang were fully aware, of a divided party. At the mercy of a gaggle of her own Irreconcilable Remainers who were in league with an orchestrated campaign whose battle plan was formulated in concert with the EU protection racket enforcers (sorry, negotiating team), she appeared to have little choice but to fudge and tactically retreat whenever Brussels barked. The threat of being defeated in a Parliamentary showdown which would have thrown her government into genuine danger and Brexit into total paralysis left her with little room for anything but obfuscation. Or at least, that was the claim. There are those who would argue that a bit more noisy resolve and gumption, even under those circumstances, might have transformed the situation. But never mind. We are on the brink of a new era.

The Irreconcilables, it turns out, were not so impregnable after all. Having brought down upon their heads the tumultuous fury of a formidable swathe of the population, not least among their own constituency parties (Tory HQ, I gather, has been besieged with requests for de-selection instructions), they caved. The submission, offered with much portentous verbiage but no substantive demand for reciprocity, was total. What they were offered was euphemistically described as “neutral”. In fact, it was nothing. The war is over. In the House of Commons at least, the Remain onslaught has collapsed. That was on Wednesday. On Thursday night, Philip Hammond took the opportunity of the traditional Mansion House speech to complain defensively about the charge that he and his Treasury were “the heart of Remain”. That is so not true, he said. Not only are we not the last stronghold of the Resistance Army but we take no side in this matter at all. We simply want whatever arrangements are best for Britain, etc, etc.

Whether you believe that or not is up to you. The important point is that the Chancellor felt compelled to say it. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so very clever and superior to be fighting Brexit in the last ditch. There may be a number of reasons for this. One is certainly the exasperation of the electorate who find the endless procrastination of the Government inexplicable. Or, to the extent that it is explicable, they see it as the fault of the tirelessly vexatious Remain lobby – which is why they became so furious with what looked like a Parliamentary ambush.

Another is the escalating offensiveness of the Brussels “negotiating team” whose unpleasantness (particularly by British standards) is truly staggering. The latest threat from Michel Barnier to exclude the UK from European security arrangements, when Britain is acknowledged to have the most professional (and through its link to the Anglophone Five Eyes network, the most comprehensive) intelligence services in the world, simply beggars belief.

It is hard to imagine any British prime minister in living memory making a threat as crass and irresponsible as this on the international stage. But perhaps that’s the problem. Mrs May’s entire canon of set piece statements on the matter have been models of gracious generosity and diplomatic dignity: it’s been all about “closest possible cooperation”, and “our shared history and values”, blah-blah. And meanwhile there was Jean-Claude Juncker, the Brexiteers’ best ally, telling the Irish Parliament last week that Britain was a country that does not “yet know that they are small”. Small are we? Think this is poor little Greece you’re dealing with, do you? You ought to remember what we’re like when we get angry…Sorry, where was I?

Indeed Brussels sent both Mr Juncker and Mr Barnier on this flying visit to flatter the Irish who can scarcely believe that they have become such huge stars in the global firmament. I hope they realise that when this charade is over and they have served their purpose, Brussels will go right back to hammering them into submission over their low corporation tax which is undercutting other member states and undermining the EU goal of business tax harmonisation. But in the meantime the EU will continue to incite anger and suspicion in Anglo-Irish relations which they must know have such a deeply traumatic history.

So what exactly has all this very British civility and open-handedness got for us? Given that the EU countries have at least as much (or more) to lose than we do if trade negotiations collapse, and given also that they have huge internal problems to deal with (migration) that constitute an existential threat to the entire project, what might happen if our government decided to play rough?

Or, at least, to use our generous impulses tactically as Sajid Javid has done by making a clear and decent offer to EU citizens who live here, thus wrong-footing Brussels which has as yet made no such offer to British citizens living in EU countries. The most consistent complaint about our negotiating stance has been that we haven’t told Brussels “what we want”. That was, to a considerable extent, because the governing party, being split, could not agree on what it wanted (hard vs soft, customs agreement vs WTO rules, etc). But if the influence of the Remain camp is receding, why not state an unequivocal set of demands and go on the offensive?

If the ideological schism is defunct and the vested interests are put to flight, the technical problems should be soluble with much less difficulty. What if we were to play this theatrical game as hard as the other side? What if Mrs May stood up and retaliated against the insults and the condescension: no more Mrs. Nice Girl? That seems to be what the people I hear from want – and they describe Brussels in terms far more indelicate than I could ever put into print.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 24.6.18

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.

Life in Spain
  • There's a great deal of – understandable – emotion around the release on bail of the gang of youths convicted – possibly correctly under existing Spanish law - of a sexual offence short of rape, even though their victim was undeniably raped. Click here on this.
  • I forgot yesterday to record my long-standing view of Spanish football match commentaries. Viz, that they're essentially radio with pictures. Or, as a friend noted yesterday, rather more useful for blind viewers that for those of us who can actually see what's happening on the screen.
The EU
  • Mrs Merkel and M Macron are reported to have agreed to have further discussions about doing something meaningful to tackle the EU's potentially fatal challenges.
Social Media
  • A truism: Twitter is the bastion of self-publicising, self-obsessed idiots on one side and relentlessly outraged lefties on the other.
  • That famed Mediterranean diet doesn't seem to be working its magic here. Galicia – at more than 25% - is second only to Asturias in the obesity stakes. I'd guess the percentage is higher among kids than among adults, meaning that the number will rise. Fat-laden fast food? Sugary drinks?
  • One of our major drug barons – Sr Oubiña – has published his autobiography, taking advantage of the interest generated by by the novel (and now TV series) - Fariña - about our major industry. Sale of this book, by the way, is currently court-embargoed at the insistence of the corrupt ex-mayor of a local town. Only in Galicia?
  • For Spanish speakers/readers, here's an article on the Camino bum(boom). As I've said a few times, there must be ways I could make money. If I weren't so lazy.
  • Someone shot a dog and dumped it, still alive in a drain. A local animal protection society has offered a reward of €1,000 for the identity of the perpetrator. Which seems rather a lot for a charitable organisation (presumably) short of funds.
The World Cup
  • Today's talking points:-
  1. I guess I was one of many who predicted exactly where that last-minute German free kick would go?​
  2. And I'm sure there were many of us asking why Sweden had no player(s) on the line to defend against the obvious shot. Or possibly 11.
  3. Earlier, why wasn't VAR used to show it was a clear penalty against the Swedish striker by the German defender?
  4. Everyone watching the immediate replays could see it was a penalty. (The Times: Jerome Boateng had in the first half escaped the scrutiny of both the referee and the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) panel for a incident Sweden thought merited a penalty). If the referee wasn't told this in his earpiece, why not? What is the point of having the technology and not using it to ensure justice?​
  5. If the referee was told that it looked like a penalty, did he ignore this advice?
  6. ​If so, does this mean the final decision on whether to use VAR is in the hands of the person whose decision is being questioned?
  • Postscript to my comment on match commentaries: Don't run away with the idea that I enjoy the British approach. While the commentaries during the match might be tolerable – unless by some ex player or manager – the in-studio discussions at half time or after a match are frequently utterly banal - unless an intelligent Dutch, German or Spanish player is participating. Ruud Gullit,for example. British footballers, on the other hand, are famous for being pretty thick and incapable of speaking correct English. But are paid handsomely for their statements of the bleeding obvious. See the nice (and accurate) article below on this subject.
Finally . . .
  • Looking for a ring I've lost for a second time – having only found it recently after 4 years – I put all my grass cuttings of 2 days ago in a large pile, with the intention of scanning them with my metal detector. Spreading out the cuttings last evening, I was truly astonished at the heat in the centre of the pile, not to mention the smoke that emerged. Here's the results of a net enquiry:
  1.  There are literally millions of bacteria in every gallon of grass cuttings. They eat the grass clippings and other organic material. When they are finished, the leftover is called compost. Being living things, their metabolism, just like yours and mine, results in the creation and release of heat. The pile of cuttings is self insulating, trapping the heat and thus allowing it to build up. If you want to prevent the heat build-up simply do not "pile" the grass clippings, but instead spread them out in a thin layer so they can dry out. On the other hand, place the pile in a safe place away from any combustible structures or dry grass or weeds, and let the creatures do their thing and make compost for you which is great fertiliser.
  2. If you have compost pile, putting grass clippings in it really helps getting it started. Add water every once in a while and also make sure you turn it every other week, as introducing air makes for a better compost. 
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 22.6.18


It’s a world of two halves, lads. Women have a right to talk World Cup balls too: Camilla Long

Let’s imagine you’re an ageing male sports writer. It’s column day and, yet again, you are scrabbling around for a subject. Something in the corner of the room catches your rheumy and shrivelled eye. It’s a bloody woman. On the TV.

Not only is it a bloody woman on the TVh, it’s a woman on the TV during your World Cup — a strictly eyes-front, nothing-funny, men-only sporting occasion that’s only ever supposed to feature four blokes in awful spray-on grey suits or impenetrable foreigners in inexplicably epauletted athleisurewear talking utter Kaka about Brazilian midfielders and “sliding one over” and “bending it into the bottom corner”, or saying, slowly, “He’s good on paper, but the trouble is . . . this game’s not played on paper. It’s played on grass.”

And, good God, what’s this? She’s actually talking. She’s opening her mouth and words are coming out. Even worse, they are “polished” and “engaging” words, providing “a refreshingly different tone to the coverage”. This sickening display must be stopped, Gary. She’s got a first-class law degree, Gary — that’s very suspicious. She could easily slip up the far side and plant one in the back of the net, using trigonometry or Latin — you must write a column destroying her immediately, in case she raises the tone of football commentary for ever.

Yes, it’s reached that point of the World Cup. It happens at every big sporting event: Wimbledon, the Olympics, World Fishing Day, Crufts. National morale reaches such a state of honking, back-biting insanity that some bovine commentator decides it is time to take it out on the wife, laying into any women who’ve had the temerity to go anywhere near the men’s matches.

“The fact is that the World Cup is competed for, exclusively, by men,” sniffed Simon Kelner, the former editor of The Independent, last week. There is a huge amount of “diversity” in the competition but not in terms of “gender”. While women are “knowledgeable” and “enthusiastic”, he continued, as if sizing up Labradors, “I would question the insight they offer”.

Asking someone like Eni Aluko, who has more than 100 caps for England and 17 years as a footballer — or as Kelner might put it, footballeress — to commentate on World Cup games “is like getting a netball player to discuss major league basketball”.

I’ll skip over what I call the tiresome Sandra Bullock Fallacy — the bizarre liberal-fascist anti-free-speech brainfart that only certain people can comment on certain things; for example, only women can review women’s films. It’s patently stupid to suggest only men can comment on men’s games, just as it’s patently stupid to say only fish can commentate on World Fishing Day or, as one wag put it, only ships can read the shipping forecast.

Instead, I’ll focus on where Kelner’s argument really goes wrong. Darling, darling little man. Far from a noble and high-minded pursuit, most sports commentating is drivel. It’s a bunch of nonsense: mixed metaphors, unconnected thoughts and observations so bland, you’d be better off watching any given match in Serbo-Croat. 

It is the sort of arena in which someone might say something as sloppy as “it is like getting a netball player to discuss major league basketball”, even though he’s comparing two people who play the same game, whereas netball and basketball are entirely different sports with different balls, rules and teams. You simply can’t defend commentating on the grounds of “skill” or “quality” if you say something as facile as this.

You certainly cannot continue the pretence that football commentating is a complicated or sophisticated occupation that demands the involvement of a penis. Even men who’ve scored goals in front of billions can’t always string a sentence together. So my question is: if commentating isn’t about quality but entertainment, why on earth can’t women do it? And if the men are this awful, what’s wrong with the women supposedly being this awful as well?

An opinion is opinion; analysis is analysis. No one agrees in football — and that’s one of the joys of the game. Deciding you don’t trust someone’s opinion because, I don’t know, they didn’t balls up a World Cup penalty in 1998 suggests that you rate the opinion of someone who does balls things up. Which, I think we can agree, lacks logic.

It doesn’t make sense to reject someone like Eni Aluko in favour of, say, Didier Drogba, a man I wouldn’t trust to select the right Big Mac meal, let alone commentate on Iceland v Nigeria (“The team have to be a bit more quicker”).

What I do want to know is why on earth any of these clever female pundits want to hang out with the likes of Drogba and Glenn Hoddle*.

[Me: * By far the most stupid of the many thick ex-players/managers.]