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.

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