Friday, November 23, 2018

Thoughts from Hilversum, the Netherlands: 23.11.18

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 Dutch
  • Still on cyclists . . . . Here's a foto of a couple of them I bumped into in Hilversum yesterday.

Matters Spanish/Galician
  • Madrid has levelled the old accusation of perfidy against the British government – around the Gibraltar issue – and continues to threaten to poop the party at the meeting of the 27 EU members aimed at approving the 2 Brexit documents 'agreed' between the UK and the EU this week.
  • Brussels is unhappy with the Spanish 2019 Budget 'blueprint'. Which might not make much difference to what Madrid actually does next year.
  • A place regarded as very nice by El País, a sentiment endorsed by my elder daughter. With luck, you could see it before tourist hordes spoil the experience.
  • An Xmas TV ad from Galicia which is said to have set the entire country a-weeping and a-wailing. Not wassailing, as they should be.
  • One or two readers might just be interested in current events, so there is a Brexit Supplement to this post, below.
  • Here's a foto I saw in an art gallery here in Hilversum yesterday. Its real title is, I think, The Haymaker. But I prefer: A Finnish Forest Floor Raker.
  • Here's why we should all be grateful this Thanksgivingtide for President Fart.

© [David] Colin Davies


During this epochal week, a number of Brexit documents have been mentioned in the media:-
  1. The Withdrawal Agreement: c.500 pages long and legally binding.
  2. A Political Declaration. Originally said to be around 7 pages long. Not legally binding. Now reported as being between 25 and 36 page long. Perhaps because it now incorporates . . . .
  3. Several Side Declarations from France, The Netherlands and Spain, on issues of specific concern to these states.
It would be classic British understatement to say these have not gone down well in the UK. Here's a few descriptions of/comments on the Political Declaration:-
  • The 174-paragraph document covers everything from defence co-operation to customs checks, healthcare to fishing rights and sets the broad parameters for the mammoth multi-sectoral negotiation that will open in Brussels in April next year.
  • At the heart of the document is the concept of “balance” between rights and obligations, in which the deeper the UK wants to engage with the EU, the stronger the commitments will need to be to follow EU rules and the writ of the European Court of Justice.
  • Designedly, it includes a huge “spectrum” of possible outcomes, depending on where the politicians draw the line between sovereignty and access to markets, and as such is a mixture of warm and woolly adjectives and hard-edged caveats.
  • Vacuous waffle. Long on ambition it puts off many of the most difficult issues until after Britain leaves the bloc on March 29.
  • 26 pages of waffle that delivers a blindfold Brexit and the worst of all worlds.
  • A wish-list addendum to the [legally binding] Withdrawal Agreement saying 'and we all lived happily ever after'".
  • Gives a strong indication of the future both sides will be set to pursue under Mrs May's watch from next March but is riven with ambiguous fudge, allowing both sides to read into it what they want
  • Everything beneficial to the EU is in the (legally enforceable) Withdrawal Agreement including £39bn UK cash; everything beneficial to the UK is in the Political Declaration (legally unenforceable).
  • A template for a comprehensive free trade agreement that belies Mrs May's suggestion that she has somehow evaded the EU's attempts to confine the UK to the binary choice of Norway or Canada. 
  • As always – but more so here – the devil is in the detail, and there's an awful lot of it, enough to keep many teams of negotiators busy for many years.
  • It remains vague on how closely aligned Britain will remain to the bloc’s rules and therefore how much access it will have to its markets. 
  • 26 pages of highly aspirational prose which begs far more questions than it answers.
All in all, a classic EU document.

Here's Ambrose Evan Pritchard with his take on it all:-

Believe it or not, this is the easy part of Brexit: Talks with the EU will get harder from now on

The Walloon Parliament blocked the EU-Canada deal for months. The UK will be vulnerable to political gaming by every country, and some regions, in the next phase 

Just remember one thing. This is the easy stage of Brexit.

The Withdrawal Agreement passes by qualified majority voting. It cannot be vetoed by one country taking the accord hostage in pursuit of national goals. (Yes, Ireland has a de facto veto, but this is an EU-27 gesture of political solidarity.)

The future relationship and trade deal requires the support of every country and must be ratified by every national parliament. The Walloon parliament - which single-handedly held up the EU CETA deal with Canada - may stick in its oar.

This is a nightmare waiting to happen. The last-minute objections raised by the Spanish and the French this week are a foretaste of what it is going to be like in 2020.

All that Theresa May’s plan achieves is to postpone the showdown. The battle will be held later on far less favourable terrain.

Britain will have been in limbo for yet another two years. The public will be fractious and exhausted. The economy will be vulnerable to the corrosive effects of uncertainty and an investment freeze.

We will no longer have the leverage of the £39bn exit payment. The EU will have had more time to disentangle its supply chains and wind down exposure to the UK.

The updated text to the Political Declaration released today does not alter the core fact that Brussels will have legal veto power to block the UK’s exit from the Irish backstop.

Article 132 states that the European Court (ECJ) will have the final say on any dispute. The legal capture of the Withdrawal Agreement/Irish backstop is extended into the future relationship. I want to scream.

Article 135 establishes a punishment mechanism, with "financial compensation" for breaches of the accord.

In other words, Britain will be in the same position as Italy is right now within monetary union: facing sanctions for violation of the Fiscal Compact (which is an absurd, contractionary, deflationary law). The ECJ decides.  I scream again.

The EU will be able to keep Britain locked into its legal and regulatory orbit as a colonial adjunct, subject to the Acquis on the environment, labour law, taxation, competition, state aid, and obviously on tariff and trade policy. It will be in no rush to give up this extraordinary power.

“It sits rather comfortably with the UK in its status quo transition, with all the obligations of membership and none of the rights, and will use the prospective cliff edge to force concessions,” said Sir Ivan Rogers, Theresa May’s former chief Brexit negotiator.

The revamped text does say that the EU would “consider” the use of new customs technology and "facilitative arrangements”, along with recognition of “trusted traders”, implicitly as a way of ending the backstop at some point in the future.

This fleshes out the possibilities slightly. Yet the EU retains exactly the same veto. As I wrote in my column yesterday, the EU has set a trap and closed the door.

The EU’s objective is to “maximise leverage and tee up a trade negotiation after our exit where the clock and the cliff edge can again be used to maximise concessions from London,” Sir Ivan said in his recent Cambridge lecture.

“They have the UK against the wall again in 2020. We shall be having precisely the same debate over sovereignty/control versus market access as we are now. The private sector will still be yearning for clarity on where we are going, and not getting much.

“It will be obvious by early autumn 2020 that the deal will not be ready by the year end, and that an extension is needed to crack the really tough issues,” Sir Ivan said.

So celebrate this illusory truce if you want. The ghastly likelihood is that we will still be arguing about this in two, three, or four years time.

It would be better for our national sanity to resolve the matter now. Nothing is to be gained from kicking the can into the 2020s.

As I understand it, AEP now goes so far at to favour a No-Deal Brexit. With all its attendant risks. Whether you think there are gigantic or manageable after will depend on whom you read and whom you believe.

The knowledgable Richard North is definitely one of the pessimists. Here's today's post from him in full, headed A Vassal's Charter. Bear in mind that North is a Brexiteer who has never supported any of the proposals brought forward by Mrs May's government, and that he detests the extremist Brexiteers like Johnson and Reee-Mogg, whom he blames – along with others - for taking the UK to this disastrous point with their preposterous and unachievable demands. He has long championed the Efta/EEA option, and a gradual approach to disentanglement. Vide his Flexit plan:-

In a crowded chamber in the Commons yesterday, Theresa May told MPs: "the draft text that we have agreed with the Commission is a good deal for our country and for our partners in the EU. It honours the vote of the British people by taking back control of our borders, our laws and our money, while protecting jobs, security and the integrity of our precious United Kingdom".

And so it comes to pass that our prime minister is reduced to the status of a common liar. By any measure – other than that of Mrs May and her cohorts - the draft withdrawal agreement is a very bad deal. Not in any way does it honour the vote of the peoples of the United Kingdom – a group which our prime minister consistently fails to address, as she refers to Britain and not even Great Britain.

Unabashed, she delivered much the same mendacious message standing outside No.10 Downing Street (pictured), announcing that approval of the whole package, which now includes the political declaration, "is within our grasp".

Attempting to adopt stern, Churchillian tones, she concluded by declaring that she was "determined to deliver" this fabulous agreement. But, if she intended to inspire, she did not. All she managed to do was sound faintly ridiculous.

What isn't ridiculous is that political declaration. A mere 36 pages of double-spaced text (including the cover page), it was agreed yesterday afternoon by the EU-UK negotiating teams. But, if the sudden "breakthrough" was theatre, it wasn't very good value. They didn't even spin it out until Saturday.

The substance of this thing is very much as one might expect – a template for a comprehensive free trade agreement that belies Mrs May's suggestion that she has somehow evaded the EU's attempts to confine the UK to the binary choice of Norway or Canada.

Mrs May argues that the political declaration recognises that there is a spectrum, with the extent of our commitments taken into account in deciding the level of checks and controls. But, in more general terms, she had a binary choice between a multilateral or a bilateral agreement and she's chosen the latter. The rest is detail. The best we can even aspire to is a variation of the Canada agreement, with some tweaks and some additions.

As always – but more so here – the devil is in the detail, and there's an awful lot of it, enough to keep many teams of negotiators busy for many years. Perhaps, therefore, the most significant part of the declaration is Article 144, towards the very end.

With the intention of concluding an agreement that can come into force by the end of 2020 (Article 138), and working within the framework of Article 218 (TFEU), it is envisaged that the Parties will "negotiate in parallel the agreements needed to give the future relationship legal form".

That means that the intention is to avoid sequencing, where one part or chapter must be agreed before moving onto the next, which is the way the withdrawal agreement has been handled and the way accession treaties are negotiated.

However, while the willingness may be there (in theory), such a process is highly manpower-intensive and it may be that the Commission will not want to (or can even afford to) commit the resources necessary to secure expeditious progress.

Nevertheless, we should see some signs of where they stand very quickly after Brexit. The intention is that, immediately following the UK's withdrawal, the Parties have committed to agreeing a programme setting out the structure and format of the negotiation rounds and a formal schedule of negotiating rounds.

Setting out such a detailed timetable is rare, and represents a huge gamble on the part of the UK. It gives a venal media exactly the sort of points they can focus on, which even the average political correspondent can understand – a series of cliff-edge deadlines over which they can hyperventilate without having to address any of the details.

Drilling down into the detail, we can already see that the future agreement is built round concessions which the UK will have to make for the thing to work. Clues can be seen in the juxtaposition of multiple contradictory statements in Articles 24 and between that and Article 25. The combination rather gives the game away.

Opening Article 24, we see the "motherhood and apple pie" sentiment to the effect that the parties will be "preserving regulatory autonomy", followed by the commitment to "put in place provisions to promote regulatory approaches that are transparent, efficient, promote avoidance of unnecessary barriers to trade in goods and are compatible to the extent possible".

Of course, if "unnecessary barriers to trade in goods" are to be avoided, then there must be regulatory alignment. That means that "regulatory autonomy" on one side or the other will have to go. And we don't even have to guess which party will have to make the sacrifice. Article 25 tells us that "the United Kingdom (not just 'Britain') will consider aligning with Union rules in relevant areas".

If there is to be anything approaching frictionless trade – and the gentlemen and ladies of the press have already noted the absence of this phrase from the declaration – then the UK will have to do a lot more than "consider". Here lies the vassal's charter, with not even the tempering provisions of the EEA, which require consultation on all new initiatives.

In fact, the UK admits later on in Article 24 that we will have to go much further than mere regulatory alignment. "Disciplines on technical barriers to trade (TBT) and sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) should build on and go beyond the respective WTO agreements", the Article says.

Taking us into the spider's web of the EU's regulatory "ecosystem", it tells us that the TBT disciplines should set out common principles in the fields of standardisation, technical regulations, conformity assessment, accreditation, market surveillance, metrology and labelling.

As far as animals and animal products go, the parties commit to treating one another as single entities as regards SPS measures, "including for certification Purposes". Furthermore, they will "recognise regionalisation on the basis of appropriate epidemiological information provided by the exporting party".

Effectively, we remain within the orbit of the EU's regulatory system, with profound implications for making trade deals with other third countries outside the EU sphere of interest. This is a straight rebuttal of the claim that the "British" people will be "taking back control of our laws". We won't.

Another climbdown lies within the realms of our relationships with EU agencies. In March 2018, the fatuous Mrs May spoke at the Mansion House in London, arguing for something she had absolutely no chance of delivering.

"We will also want to explore with the EU, the terms on which the UK could remain part of EU agencies such as those that are critical for the chemicals, medicines and aerospace industries: the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, and the European Aviation Safety Agency", she said.

Burbling on, this stupid woman then declared that we "would, of course, accept that this would mean abiding by the rules of those agencies and making an appropriate financial contribution", before going on to set out what would be the non-existent "benefits" of this approach.

Associate membership of these agencies, she said, is the only way to meet our objective of ensuring that these products only need to undergo one series of approvals, in one country. The agencies had "a critical role" in setting and enforcing relevant rules, and associate membership could permit UK firms to resolve certain challenges related to the agencies through UK courts rather than the ECJ.

Coming down to earth with a bump, all the declaration will allow is for the parties to "explore the possibility of cooperation" of UK authorities with agencies of interest.

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of EU law would tell you that this had to be the case. But our brilliant prime minister knew better. And for her next trick, she will walk across the English Channel to get to Brussels. What she doesn't escape from though is "a fair and appropriate financial contribution". She doesn't get a ticket to the party, but she still has to pay the bills.

Moving on, we find customs dealt with in a completely separate section, defined by Articles 26 and 27. The Parties are to "put in place" ambitious customs arrangements, in pursuit of their overall objectives.

In what has been hailed as a resuscitation of "MaxFac", the Parties envisage making use of all available facilitative arrangements and technologies to achieve this. And that actually makes sense – the direction of travel in customs management is towards more automation.

But, in a distinction that will be missed by many, this provision applies only to customs. Technical barriers to trade and the all-important sanitary and phytosanitary provisions lie outside the scope of these Articles.

Thus, while "facilitative arrangements and technologies" will also be considered in developing any alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing, broad spectrum regulatory checks are still on the agenda.

Altogether, Mrs May's government has taken us down this laborious road to achieve so very little that even the meanest intellect must be wondering why we didn't go for the much superior Efta/EEA option. But that won't include Mrs May. She is in "broadcast only" mode, settling out to sell her package to the indolent and terminally thick.

Outside parliament, she will also have to struggle, but when a prime minister is prepared to lie, and does it so fluently, the world is her oyster. If she repeats her lies often enough, there may be enough people who will believe she has achieved something worthwhile.

In reality, she really has sold us out. But we knew that had to happen ever since her 2017 Lancaster House speech. A flock of rather bedraggled chickens has come home to roost.


Geoff said...

I'm puzzled as to why your RSS feed seems to have stopped working :-( Is this part of the withdrawal agreement?

Geoff said...

Here is the real Finnish forest raker in action

Colin Davies said...

Thanks, Geoff. As for the RSS feed . . . dunno. Are you saying your reader no longer shows my posts?

Geoff said...

Yep Feedly shows feed unavailable. I suspect Google has 'updated' the Blogger software and now you have to turn it on see

Colin Davies said...

Hmm. I tried to subscribe in The Old Reader but it was aunavilable there too. I got this incomprensible stuff. Plus many more lines of text from my posts. Will take a look at the site you've cited. Ta.

Congratulations! [Valid Atom 1.0] This is a valid Atom 1.0 feed.


This feed is valid, but interoperability with the widest range of feed readers could be improved by implementing the following recommendations. [Tags not accepted by blogspot for this message]

Colin Davies said...

Have now taken some steps in Bloger. Might just work . . .

Perry said...

What do we know about Finnish forest floor rakers. Slash & burn, baby. Slash & burn. The problem with art appreciation courses is that they miss the wood for the trees. The link Geoff provided needed the goggle translate service & this is what I got.

The central figure of the painting is a light-headed girl in the foreground, looking at the viewer. Next to the girl there is a man dressed in tuxedo hat, hat and jerky clothes, and other servants in the background. The chase is high on the hill. Blue dangers are spotted in the background, but the picture angle of the painting does not look like a top-down view, as sometimes in the patriotic Koli landscape. [5]

It is easy to identify the image of a sad and helpless girl. The unknowns of dying have interpreted the painting in many ways. It has been shown to illustrate, among other things, the post-fire homelessness or the child with the burials and the burned village ruins. [5]

Raiders of money have been seen as a Tolstoy and socially-based painting that describes the hardness of the working population. Realistic painting has been combined with the modernization of society and the working people of Ilja Repin's powerful paintings during which the Finnish intelligentsia fought for liberation from Russia. [6] Painting has also been regarded as a religious work because smoke forms a saintly circle around the head of a girl. The painting is uniquely tinted in Järnefelt's production. He made folks even later, but had a humorous, quality-inspired feel. [3] [2]

The painting is named after Kalevala's pockets, "Tuop" is a maid Pikkarainen, a money-maker. " The beam is worthy because the beatings are payrolls, for which the wages were paid for grain. They were left unpunished if the debris took the grain. [3] The raather meant in a savannah curves a coffin. [7]

No wonder that the Finns have elevated gloominess to an art form.

Oh, misery, miseryyyyy. What's gonna become of meeeee? B. Holly.

Geoff said...

Feedly's last entry is
Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 20.8.18
Maybe overnight things will improve

Colin Davies said...

@Geoff. Spent a couple of frustrating hours last night trying to get mmy RSS feed. After many failed attempts, I finally got a Feedly button installed on my blog together with what seems to be the right RS feed html code in Blogger. Now, it seems, my current posts are displayed. I will check later if today's comes up. Or perhaps you could let me now.

As for The Old Reader, which I use, . . . So far success has eluded me. This, too, is not showing current posts. Leaving me wondering how many readers are.

Thanks again for pointing this out to me. I've suspected for a while that Google Analytics was not showing reader traffic. Now I realise this might well be because there was none! For example, Feedly used to say I had almost 100 readers. Last night it was 2. But then fell to 1. Possibly me!

Colin Davies said...

@Geoff. Correction. Just went to Feedly and check my blog. Got this:
Feed not found
Wrong feed URL or dead feed


Colin Davies said...

BUT . . . If I use the Feedly button on my blog page, I DO get my latest posts . . .

Colin Davies said...

Just tried to get my poasts via a new reader to me, Feedreader. Whether I inserted Atom or RSS feed in the box, I only got posts up to 20 August. . . .

I'm guessing I have to something basic on my Blogger dashboard/Settings. But what??

Geoff said...

Yep creating a new feed from your glossy Feedly button does seem to work :-) Many thanks for your efforts I can now once again enjoy your thoughts :-)

Colin Davies said...

Hold your horses, Geoff.

I just opened a Feedly account on someone else's computer and successfuoly got today's post. Guess that's true of your feed on Feedly.

BUT the Feedly button on my page appears to be stop on yesterday. So the RSS there is clearly still not the right one . . .


But very pleased the Feedly feed now APPEARS to be OK.

Geoff said...

One thing I've noticed is that other Blogger accounts I follow on RSS are still using http:// whereas I notice yours is https:// so maybe there is some setting related to that.

Geoff said...

Examples -

Colin Davies said...

Thanks, Geoff. I'll pursue that, tho not sure how . . . Don't know who defines that, or where or how.