Monday, September 24, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 24.9.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Spanish
  • As I walked into town yesterday, it struck me why Sunday is special here in Spain. It's not just because it's still like the now-extinct British Sunday of my childhood. No, it's because the shops are all closed. Meaning no errands and no shopping. Meaning no disappointments and frustration. So, Sunday here really is a day of rest and relaxation.
  • Just after I'd had this thought, the first ATM I tried rejected my bank card and the second was not working. I had to find a third one to get the cash to pay for my tiffin and Sunday squid. A tad ironic.
  • Education is one of the areas where Spain doesn't do well in international surveys. Simply put, not enough money is spent on it and too much is left to the Catholic Church, which - until relatively recently - used to do pretty much all of it. I was reminded of this when reading of the amounts spent annually by parents per child in the various regions, to compensate for what isn't spent by their governments. Galicia's total is c. €900, but this pales beside the €1,624 of Madrid. 'Books, insurance, activities, trips, 'scholastic materials', meals, lodging, transport, etc.' I guess the numbers cover tertiary as well as primary and secondary education.
  • In contrast, Spain – per a Bloomberg Index – does very well when it comes to 'healthcare efficiency', ranking 3rd behind Hong Kong and Singapore. The UK, in contrast, doesn't figure in the top 20. Surprised to see France at 15. Excellent but very expensive? All a bit crude, I suspect.
Matters European
  • In truth, Brussels is a democracy-free zone. Says the ex Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis. Not for the first time. In this Guardian article of May 2017 - The six Brexit traps which will defeat Theresa May – he justifies this view on the basis of his experience with the EU Commission a few years back. Reading about Brussels' 'Truth reversal' tactics after boning up on Newspeak in Orwell's 1984 last night was an unnerving experience.
  • For a more recent - and not dissimilar take - on the nature of the EU beast, see the article below. Varoufakis, by the way, said 16 months ago that the only hope Mrs May had was of a Norway-style deal - the Efta/EEA Brexit always favoured by Richard North. Who has expressed fears the window for this has closed. His hard-puching posts of yesterday and today can be read here and here, by those few seriously interested in these matters. Today's is headed A State of Chaos. In it, North sets out how progress can be made towards achievement of this option, in the light of a failure to realise it was the only feasible 'compromise' from the outset of negotiations. A chink of light?? Maybe. But North remains pessimistic about Mrs May's ability to seize the only sensible opportunity available to her. 
  • Finally on this, I recommend a reading of this Peter Hitchens article cited by North.
Matters Galician and Pontevedran
  • Pontevedra city and Vigo have been enemies - rather like Manchester and Liverpool – ever since the latter ceased to be a little fishing village and became a huge port and a city with more than 3 times the population of the provincial capital, said Pontevedra. I imagine the people of Vigo are not over-pleased to see all the international reportage on the 'Paradise' of life here. Nor the several pages in the local papers at the weekend. Which, by the way, gave a more balanced view than that of the Guardian writer.
  • Because they neither like or trust the banks, almost 50% of Galicians keep their savings in cash at home. No wonder the burglary rate is rising.
  • Because of the success of the Spanish/Galician forces of order against our local narcotraficantes, the Dutch are said to be moving in and negotiating directly with the Colombians who bring most of their cocaine to this coast. Along with the inevitable Albanians. I hope the Netherlanders know what they're doing.
  • Road deaths here in Galicia are double what they were last year. No one seems to know why. But doubtless there are various theories. They can't include Because the police have dropped their guard.
© [David] Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 24.9.18

THE ARTICLE

The EU is a religion – and Britain is up against federalist fanatics: Janet Daley

Who would have thought that the EU would so disastrously overplay its hand that the Prime Minister would be driven back into the arms of the Brexiteers who thought she had abandoned them? By Friday, there was little else for her to say to the Rees-Moggs and the Redwoods of her party than, “You were right all along.” She didn’t disown Chequers but she made it clear that it had been roundly rejected and it was up to the other side to create a plausible alternative. So we await your response: otherwise good-bye and good luck.

Theresa May’s performance at Downing Street was pretty much note perfect – even if it had been an unconscionably long time coming. We are beyond what is normally encompassed by the word “negotiation” now: this is a mud fight. When the French president, without contradiction from his EU partners, describes major political figures of a friendly country as “liars”, the normal expectations of diplomacy have been abandoned. They may have been crass and amateurish – revealing of his political inexperience – but Emmanuel Macron’s insults were certainly deliberate and calculated for effect. Misjudging the British, as the French have a tendency to do, he got more than he bargained for.

How do we begin to make sense, with our Anglo-Saxon preconceptions, of this absurd situation? If the European Union had been a British invention, whoever was in government in the UK would now be saying, at least in the privacy of his own advisory chambers: “Hey, this isn’t working very well. The member states to the east are refusing to co-operate on migration, the Mediterranean countries are being forced into an economic backwater as well as being furious about migration, and populist movements are running amok even in the founder nations. Let’s see if we can find some changes that will make the system more acceptable to everybody, shall we?”

And then, either through official or unofficial means, the rules would be adjusted, the expectations modified and the demands made less repressively stringent. There would be acknowledged and unacknowledged concessions, a bit of semantic rearrangement and quite a lot of looking the other way. In the end, the project would be less rigorously coherent but a lot more pleasant and humanly viable. To put it in the traditional terms that characterise the difference between French and British discourse, it would be less rational but more reasonable.

But it wasn’t, goodness knows, a British invention: the European Union was a Franco-German project so it is not a practical solution to concrete questions about trade and mutual co-operation. It is a metaphysical system with absolutist truths at its centre and a rigid set of premises which follow inevitably from them. The tragedy (or comedy depending on your degree of cynicism) that unfolded at Salzburg was the most vivid demonstration of this doomed misunderstanding. This didn’t start with Theresa May, although her personal style of obtuse tunnel vision certainly made it peculiarly agonising. David Cameron’s futile efforts to make the EU reform itself – as much for its own good as for the UK’s future membership – fell foul of this basic philosophical misconception as well.

The British have always thought they were doing politics while the French and Germans were actually doing theology. For the EU, Brexit is not just a mistake, or a setback, or an economic dilemma. It is a heresy. At one point in that agonising fusillade of anathema that spewed forth from the EU leaders, Emmanuel Macron reiterated the great apostolic truth: there were “very clear principles regarding the integrity of the single market” which could never be breached. The “integrity” of the single market? These are trade agreements for heaven’s sake – not revealed truths whose principles, once laid down, must never be transgressed.

Virtually by definition trading arrangements need to be flexible: they must evolve, adapting to new circumstances and changes in the way that societies and communities do business.

So if, for example, the free movement of people is producing consequences that are unexpectedly disruptive of social cohesion or damaging to indigenous labour forces and this results in the rise of dangerous populist movements – then perhaps that “very clear principle” as Mr Macron describes it, needs a bit of reconsideration. But of course, you can only reconsider a principle if it is part of a practical package – not if it is the tenet of a sacred text. Needless to say, Mr Macron’s appeal to revealed truth was brought into play for his own very practical ends. His popularity at home has crashed and he is now not just eager, but desperate, to become the spiritual leader of the EU as Angela Merkel’s dominance recedes. So the French are doing politics too – as is everybody else because each of these leaders must explain himself at home.

Brexit, they may say, is not much of an issue to their electorates, so the drama at Salzburg will not receive that much attention. But what is important to all those national leaders who are having trouble with rabble-rousing populist movements – or even having to form coalitions with them – is precisely what is at issue in the Brexit farrago: the self-determination of nations or what we might call, to adopt the Macron vocabulary, the “integrity” of the democratic state.

It is totemic that the greatest uproar among the restive European populations is about migration. This is not, as the malign caricature would have it, because so many Europeans are bigots. It is because the sense of historic identity – of inherited cultures and proud communal loyalties – is perceived to be under threat from an overweening, insensitive, unaccountable authority whose decrees on migration are the most obvious symbol of its contempt for public opinion. The EU has clearly decided that it must expunge the unbelievers without mercy.

How this ends may very well depend on how great an example to the others, Britain is prepared to be.

1 comment:

Sierra said...

Surprised at your comment on banks and Galicians - our local district has a population of 2,700 (INE 2017) and there are four bank branches - 1 per 675 (UK average - 1 per 6,870)!!