Saturday, June 09, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 9.6.18

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
The EU
  • Below is a second another article, by a French commentator, on Mrs Merkle's less-than-fulsome response to M Macron's EU vision. I guess they'll be chatting to each other about it in Canada this weekend. Anything to avoid having to listen to bombast from Fart.
  • Here's an article on recent diplomatic gaffes by Fart and his folk.
  • Will Fart succeed in Singapore? This writer thinks not. A couple of tasters: Far from being a genius of the negotiating table, Donald Trump’s record as a dealmaker is appallingly bad. And: He struggles to understand any motive besides money. Perhaps that’s no problem for a real-estate tycoon. But in politics he misses the myriad other pressures that define what is and is not possible. (It’s why he failed to put together a healthcare reform package that even his fellow Republicans could agree on.) And: Trump is not a master negotiator: he’s a conman. 
  • There's a roundabout that I negotiate 4 times a day, on my way into and out of town. One corner of it is at the bottom of one of our gypsy encampments. Two tax drivers were attacked and robbed there this week, resulting in the arrest of 2 brothers from said settlement. If I were a taxi driver, I'd be a tad reluctant to respond to calls from the small industrial park in another corner of the roundabout. In so far as roundabouts have corners.
  • Here's a nice article on Galicia's Ribeira Sacra/Ribera Sagrada area. I can confirm its attractions.
Finally . . .
  • My younger daughter this week returned to the blog game, after a brief lay-off of 5 years . . . . Her topic is the travails of a troubled mum of 2 little kids. If this strikes a chord with you, here's Living with Tinies.
  • And here's some valid and valuable advice for travellers in Europe.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 8.6.18


Angela Merkel dashes Emmanuel Macron’s eurozone dreams. Pierre Briançon

Germany won’t back anything resembling a full-fledged fiscal union, chancellor signals.

In the end, Emmanuel Macron may wish he hadn’t bothered.

After more than eight months of waiting for Angela Merkel to respond to his proposals for reforming the eurozone — a progressive (if vague) vision aimed at bullet-proofing the single currency against another existential crisis — Macron received the answer in the form of an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, the Sunday bulletin of Germany’s establishment.

The gist: Berlin will put a little more money on the table and accept a bit more risk-sharing, but France and the rest of the eurozone can bury any lingering hope that Germany will pursue a great leap forward in eurozone integration by endorsing anything resembling a full-fledged fiscal union.

“Solidarity must never lead to a debt union, but must come in the form of help towards self-help,” Merkel told the newspaper.

That protestant prescription essentially cements the status quo at a time when many political observers are calling for a bold action in the eurozone in response to Italy’s new Euroskeptic government and other pressures.

After the eurozone was caught flat-footed in its 10th year by the emergence of Greece’s debt crisis in 2009, forcing wealthy Germany to back a series of emergency bailouts to stave off the collapse of the euro, many economists argued the currency would remain exposed to such shocks as long as it wasn’t underpinned by a fiscal union.

To recap: When the euro was introduced, the European Central Bank took responsibility for setting the currency area’s monetary policy, but the power to tax, spend and invest remained firmly in the grip of national governments. In order to complement the ECB’s one-size-fits-all monetary policy and forestall another crisis, reformists argued the euro required more risk-sharing among member countries and pooling of financial resources to even out imbalances. Suggestions included eurozone-wide bank deposit insurance (to avoid bank runs) as well as a financial backstop to deal with failing banks. While there’s been headway on some of those fronts, Germany, together with a few other northern countries, remains wary of taking on too much risk for its neighbors.

“Without some degree of fiscal union, the region will continue to face existential risks that policymakers should not ignore,” the International Monetary Fund warned earlier this year.

Macron’s prosposals, which he laid out in a speech to the Sorbonne in September, were aimed at addressing such issues. He also pushed for a eurozone budget in the hundreds of billions of euros and for a eurozone finance minister with real power.

In Berlin, Macron’s proposals were met with a combination of skepticism and fear, especially among Merkel’s conservative base.

Though no country has benefited more than Germany from the currency union, many Germans remain convinced that much of the rest of Europe — particularly the Mediterranean states — is trying to pick its pockets. The Greek bailouts, which cost Germany little in the grander scheme of things, only hardened that impression.

In fact, for much of the German establishment, Macron’s ideas are nothing less than an open invitation to raid Berlin’s treasury.

Last month, 154 German economics professors signed a five-point manifesto — published, like Merkel’s Sunday interview, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine — opposing Macron’s ideas, which they warned “carry high risk for European citizens.”

Given the pressure she has faced from within her own party to push back with Macron, Merkel’s tepid response is less than a surprise.

Macron’s only hope to salvage what remains of his eurozone vision is to focus on the few areas where Merkel shows a readiness to move. She backs the idea of a joint eurozone investment budget, albeit a modest one, and she’s ready to consider giving the European Stability Mechanism — the eurozone’s bailout fund — the capacity to extend short-term loans to countries under stress. The ESM, if Merkel gets her way, would be transformed into a European Monetary Fund with the power to evaluate EU countries’ economies. Instead of the European Commission, it would be controlled by the states.

The idea, first championed by ex-German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble last year, is typical of the technocratic, rule-based regimen Germans love and Paris has long resisted.

Nonetheless, given the pressure on Macron to show some success on the euro front, it’s easy to see how Merkel’s proposals, which aren’t far from those the two governments have been discussing, could merge, after a few technical compromises, into what the European Commission also proposed last week.

The main takeaway from Merkel’s interview, however, is that she seems to declare an end to the debate. With the conservative wing of her Christian Democrats promising to resist Macron’s reform push, and her coalition allies from the SPD too weak to seize the initiative, she has had little to work with.

Though her answer came much later than Macron would have liked, Merkel has now said how far she’s willing to go.

And modest as the proposal is, Macron probably has little choice but to accept it.

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