Sunday, June 03, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 3.6.18

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.

  • As I was saying/hoping, the rise to power of Sr Sánchez has taken a major step away from Spain's (ultra)Catholic past and sworn his oath to uphold the Spanish Constitution in the absence of the traditional Bible and crucifix. Officially, Spain is a non-confessional state, where no confession is the official state religion but where the Constitution cites the importance of maintaining "cooperative relations" with the Catholic Church. Less and less, one hopes.
Life in Spain
  • I've read more than once that Spain's kids are now the second fattest in Europe, after those in Malta. Here's one possible reason why.
  • If you're a Real Madrid fan – or even just a football aficionado – you'll be interested in the first article below. I can't pretend I can understand it all. And bits of it seem quite mad to me.
The EU
  • Janet Daley poses an interesting question in the second article posted below.
  • Here's a profile on Fart on today's Guardian. Interesting, if depressing, reading. But it won't be surprising to anyone who's read stuff written about him during his business career. Including the article in which he boasted of planting false stories in the New York papers. Even via phone calls in which he pretended to be someone else. What you can say about Fart is that he's always taken to heart Shakespeare's injunction that, above all, one should be true to oneself. Sadly for us.
  • Driving from Pontevedra to Vigo on the autopista, you have to cross the Rande bridge. Last year, part of it was closed off while extra lanes were added to it. The politicans promised it would be open again by the end of the year. And so it was. For a while. The partial closure was promptly re-introduced early in the new year and - almost 6 months later – is still in force. And drivers are very, very fed up with the inevitable delays. They're demanding a reduction in the tolls on the autopista but are getting no joy, either from the Galician Xunta or the private company that has the franchise. In fact, the Pontevedra-Vigo fee was increased this year, to compensate for the abolition of the toll on the short stretch between Vigo and nearby Redondela.
  • I think I might have discovered the reason for all the strimming noise last week. Because of the huge risk of summer fires, local councils were instructed to clear undergrowth by the end of May. Alas, many of them didn't manage it.
  • A local driver was recently arrested for drunk driving for the 9th time. Finally, he was sent to prison. For 6 months, rather lower than the sentence of 2 years which actually puts you behind bars, I believe. One wonders why even this took so long.
  • Excellent news . . . The Columbus (Colón) museum in my barrio of Poio opened its doors on June 1. So, you can now go and see all the evidence you'd ever need to prove that he was a local lad.
Finally . . .
  • Many planes have been forced to make emergency landings due to medical emergencies or technical difficulties. But for one Transavia flight that was travelling from the Netherlands to Spain, the "emergency" that caused a flight diversion was a passenger's "unbearable" body odour. Maybe he/she was carrying a durian fruit – the smell of which is said to evoke reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as rotten onions, turpentine, and raw sewage.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 3.6.18


1. A warning to Mauricio Pochettino - there may never have been a worse time to be manager of Real Madrid

The dethroning they were awaiting in Spain this week was that of Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, which duly arrived on Friday, but it was the previous day when Zinedine Zidane stepped down as manager of Real Madrid that caught the country by surprise.

The consensus had been that even if he had not won his third straight Champions League in Kiev last Saturday against Liverpool that Zidane would plough on anyway, in a job that no manager wants to lose but always inevitably does. “When Real Madrid come calling, you have to listen,” said Mauricio Pochettino on Friday, but Zidane, their manager who has overseen stupendous success in Europe, and a fading force domestically, did not seem to like the tune he was hearing.

The attempts to explain his decision in Spain suggested that a five-hour meeting about the state of the squad on Wednesday had ended with Zidane convinced he could not continue at Real, with their immense expectation, under the conditions proposed. Over in the Spanish parliament, meanwhile, there was another no confidence vote, this time in Rajoy, and the first lost by a prime minister since Spain’s modern democracy was established in 1975.

Next to Zidane at his Bernabeu adios was Florentino Perez, the 71-year-old club president who spent most of the press conference with the countenance of a man in custody awaiting legal representation. Just six days earlier, he had regally announced his delight at Cristiano Ronaldo having won his fifth career Champions League, “like myself”. Since then, his club have started to disintegrate at an alarming rate and Zidane’s departure suggests previously undetected fissures in the Madrid project.

Of course, Pochettino paid due tribute to the lustre of Real and their great European legacy, but even he must be wondering what it was that prompted Zidane into the most spectacular mic drop of the new century. What is known is that Real have a €404 million (£353 million) annual wage bill that is growing. Already €100 million (£87 million) greater than the two Manchester clubs, it will be swollen by another round of Champions League bonuses. They have borrowed to pay it in the past and only player sales – Danilo and Alvaro Morata – have kept them in the black in recent years.

The stadium’s adjoining shopping mall, La Esquina del Bernabeu, renewed the leases of its shops last week, more evidence that the delayed €400 million rebuild of the Bernabeu site is still a long way off. Recent studies of naming-rights potential for a rebuilt stadium assessed that it limited, unless the club were prepared to move to a new site at Valdebebas near their training ground by the Barajas airport. Where is the money to come from for a fresh push in the transfer market to begin replacing the great Real sides of the last five years?

Ronaldo and Gareth Bale could both go, but the market for them is limited. In the past, Real have staggered their own payment of transfer fees, but, increasingly, selling clubs are not keen to be so accommodating. The reason that the club did not sign Kepa Arrizabalaga was because Athletic Bilbao were unwilling to negotiate on the goalkeeper’s then €30 million (£26 million) buy-out clause or accept anything less than a lump sum.

How could Perez rejuvenate Real’s finances, in order to generate the kind of fees that might pay for Neymar, Harry Kane, Eden Hazard or even to extract Pochettino from his new Spurs contract? He could sell players but the other suggestion is that he might sell part of the club, owned by their 92,000 socio members and requiring a change of legislation to allow him to make an executive decision over the heads of the members. The Bayern Munich model is attractive to Madrid, whereby the German club have a 75 per cent majority shareholding of their members, with the rest of the club owned by friendly blue-chip partners, Allianz, Audi and adidas.

Their investment funded the new Allianz Arena. In order to create conditions to do the same at Madrid, Perez would require a political climate favourable to the club, and the no-confidence vote in Popular Party leader Rajoy means that there is anything but that in Spain now.

There is a new prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, from the Socialist Party, and there will be elections by the end of the year. Perhaps it will return a PP leadership upon which Perez might be able to rely, but there are no certainties. In the meantime, Sanchez is an Atletico fan, a former player for Estudiantes, the basketball club that has been eviscerated by the financial power of Real Madrid’s basketball club – and not a man who looks a natural Perez ally. There is no denying that on the pitch it has been an era of unprecedented success at Real, and one in which Perez has never been one to remain in the shadows. His profile around the world is much bigger than it would be were he just the chairman and principal shareholder of ACS, one of Spain’s biggest construction and infrastructure companies. Yet the sudden resignation of Zidane is the first suggestion that keeping the show on the road has proved a strain on resources.

What lies ahead for Madrid is a fundamental question, but Pochettino would be right to assume that following a triple-winning Champions League manager is not going to be simple even before one factors in the reasons that individual himself left. Pochettino might even be right in assuming that there has never been a worse time to be Madrid manager with expectation so high and the future so uncertain.

It would seem that Pochettino is prepared to let someone else have a go at following Zidane before he makes his own managerial move. For many years, with the exception of Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, the identity of the manager at Real Madrid seemed less crucial to Perez than the next big signing, although that is another aspect of the club that seems to be changing in this new era.

2. Surely you can see, Mr Juncker, that it’s time for the EU to reform? Janet Daley, Daily Telegraph

You might have thought that the European Union would at least consider reforming itself. Given that so many of the problems which it finds infuriating – Brexit, the Italian election debacle, the rebellions in the Eastern bloc over migration, the rise of antagonistic populist parties – all come down to the same complaint, that the EU Commission is seizing too much power, there seems a clear remedy. 

Why on earth, then, are they not even prepared to countenance the obvious option? If the peoples of the EU member states are expressing a common and widespread frustration over what used to be called, rather quaintly, the “democratic deficit”, which is to say the loss of national self-determination, couldn’t the EU just give way a teensy bit on its relentless centralising project?

No, apparently not.

If there is a difficulty with the inexorable progress of ever-closer union, the cure must be even closer union. Having pauperised the Mediterranean states with monetary union (the “German cage”, as it was so colourfully described by the man who would have been Italy’s economics minister if the EU had permitted it), we must now contemplate the possibility of fiscal union. This is a uniform tax and expenditure policy to embrace all of the member states, no matter how wildly disparate their economic conditions.

The consequence of this insane idea would be to render national elections almost entirely pointless. On what basis do you generally decide which party will get your vote? Surely it is largely on the grounds of their tax and spending policies. And if those policies are taken out of the hands of national governments, what exactly is it that you are choosing? That’s not just a democratic deficit, it’s the outright abolition of democratic accountability in the area that most voters believe to be central to the electoral mandate.

So I repeat the question: why is the EU so purblind to the disastrous political consequences of its remorseless drive to unification, and so oblivious to the rage it provokes?

To listen to the remarks of those philosopher kings in Brussels, you would think that this was pure arrogance: that the EU attitude was a product of bureaucratic power mania and personal vanity.

The Barniers and the Junckers scarcely bother to conceal their disdain for those office-holding upstarts sitting in their absurd state capitals, surrounded by the anachronistic machinery of national mythology, who presume to challenge the authority of the great supranational body which is the only possible future. With the help of their supporters within those capitals, they manage to thwart unpalatable developments which threaten their hegemony – like the appointment of an Italian economics minister who is a critic of the euro.

Perhaps surprisingly, I do not think it is the peculiarly vainglorious nature of one particular bunch of commissioners which is wilfully driving this strategy, however much their public posturing might make it seem that way. The deliberate undermining of the nation states – and the power of their elected governments – is not a silly mistake, or a historical accident: it was the whole point of the project.
The EU was designed, quite consciously, to put a permanent end to the dangers of nationalism and the cult of the powerful individual state government. That these governments were democratic was thought to have little redeeming value since, left to their own parochial inclinations, electorates had shown an alarming tendency to vote for the wrong people. Germany infamously did so in the 1930s, and Italy has just done so (by EU standards) this year. No, the people were definitely not to be trusted. The European fear of the mob would finally be codified into a system that would prevent forever the kind of benighted rule which could too easily be legitimately installed by an inflamed populace.

There is a great irony here, of course. The original mob mentality – the murderous, destructive uprisings which have left such terrible memories in the collective European consciousness – were provoked precisely by arrogant, insensitive rulers whose disdain for the great mass of the population led to insurrection.

Now the EU Commission isn’t exactly a match for the French 18th-century aristocracy or the Weimar Republic, but its imperious contempt for the concerns of ordinary people and the historical identities which are precious to them has managed to create a modern-day version of precisely the rebellious bitterness which it hoped to abolish.

This is the EU’s worst nightmare: the populist mob is back. No sooner is it crushed in one corner (France) than it crops up in another (Italy).

The EU version of benign oligarchy, built on the premises of social solidarity and shared prosperity, is not being accepted as a trade-off for national governments answerable to their own populations. Here’s the lesson: the more you discredit and despise the concerns of the people, the more they will hate you, no matter how benevolent and conscientious you think you are. Self-respect and self-determination are more important to the populations of advanced countries than the patronising architects of the EU understood.

But wait a minute; maybe there is some recognition of the importance of national powers in Brussels, after all. In the depths of the Italian crisis last week, Jean-Claude Juncker made a quite remarkable utterance. In his familiar endearing way, he asserted that the Italians themselves had to take responsibility for their own poor regions, which meant “more work, less corruption, seriousness”. The EU might offer help but “[ultimately] a country is a country, a nation is a nation. Countries first, EU second”.

So when countries have problems, it’s up to national governments to deal with them – but the EU, in the person of Mr Juncker, is entitled to tell them to shape up, get serious and work harder. The video of him saying this was removed from the EU website and then later reinstated. For what it’s worth, he apologised the next day.


Perry said...

Giles Tremlett from yesterday:

"The surprise in Spain is not that the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has gone, but that he lasted so long."

GT must be a student of history.

"The tragedy for the English was not that Ethelred II the Redeless, 978-1016 was a bad king, because the English had had many bad kings before him. It was that ....... he ruled so long!"

williambli92982 said...
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