Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 14.2.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
            Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • Here in Spain - as we know from recent high-profile trials - the crime of rape doesn't yet embody the concept of consent. There needs to be violence and injury. In these circumstances, you might think it would be, at the very least, ironic for a member of the Spanish government to compare Catalan independence referendum activities to rape. "Because they didn't seek permission in advance". Whatever Spaniards think, this isn't going to go down well outside Spain. Given the PR challenge the government faces, this is the equivalent of kicking the ball into your own goal straight from the kick-off and then taking half your team off the field.
  • Needless to say, this was the lead item on Sky's International News early this morning and I expect the rest of the media to take up the issue pretty soon. And then there's social media. Get ready for a twitter storm, mostly in Catalan perhaps.
  • Since we've started with sex - sort of - let's continue on the subject. The Spaniards who most 'maintain/sustain' sex are to be found in Cantabria, it says here. Where they probably spend more time indoors than their compatriots in sunnier regions.
  • Galicia normally comes near the bottom of the numerous lists which adorn the Spanish press but, in this case, our region comes in at a respectable 5th.
  • Just in case you need it this Valentine's Day, here's The Local on speaking the Spanish language of love. For those with other pursuits on their minds:-
  • Camino News 1: I saw my first 2 camino pilgrims of the year in Pontevedra a couple of days ago. They were crossing the Burgo bridge going south. I refrained from telling them that Santiago was northwards, as they were possibly heading for their accommodation.
  • Camino News 2: Yesterday I helped 2 German women - why is it always German women? - who were attempting something almost impossible in Spain - buy a bottle of wine with a screw top. I can't say they seemed to appreciate my assistance. Maybe in these times I shouldn't offer it to females. Their loss, of course.
  • Camino News 3: Such is the increase in the afluencia of 'pilgrims', Pontevedra's public albergue is going to add a floor and double its capacity. Provided the Xunta agrees with their proposal. 
  • Camino News 4: An albergue owner in O Pedrouzo has been fined for merely dumping sheets and blankets on the beds and not making them up. He took the chance to moan about unfair (desloyal) competition from 'tourist flats' and illegal albergues. And who can blame him?
  • For Brits in Spain, reproduced below is a useful checklist from The Local of what you should be doing ahead of Brexit. I've included all the links but I'm not sure you'll be able to access them all, if you've reached their monthly limit for free access. For Mac users, just click on Reader View to solve any problem arising
The EU 
  • George Soros - who I think is in favour of the EU - is, nonetheless, somewhat pessimistic about its current management. See the article below.
The UK and Brexit 
  • It's been stressed that Mrs May needs to keep a No Deal Brexit on the table to scare the EU.   One columnist has astutely noted that, in fact, she's also keeping it there to frighten the Commons into accepting the (much despised) deal she negotiated. Avoiding a hard Brexit is the only thing which gets majority support in the parliament. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is blatantly running down the clock until the last parliamentary vote just before the March 29 deadline. As someone has said, given the stakes, the word 'brinkmanship' doesn't do justice to her strategy. Not a popular woman.
The UK
  • The proportion of young people  in their 20s who are living at home has is now said to be a staggering 49%. Hardly abnormal for Spain but very new for the UK.
  • A French view: The 'Great' will soon be gone from Britain . . . In a few years she will fall to the second or third rank of European powers without hope of ever rising again. This is a comment in a Foreign Ministry report of 1779. Déjà vu?
  • As I know too well, it's easily done . . . In Alabama, the law requires a Christian clergyman be there to deliver the last nights when someone is executed by the state.
  • I recently admitted failing to recall the technical name for the syndrome of being so stupid that you don't realise just how stupid you are. Well, it's the Dunning Kruger effect and you can hear more about it here.
  • Odd old word: Rose-cold: A variety of hay-fever (allergic rhinitis) which occurs in spring or early summer and attributed to rose pollen.
Finally . . .
  • Yesterday I read, firstly, a report in a UK paper about a young couple who died when they crashed their car while being pursued by the police, and then a report in a local paper about mayhem in a restaurant when 2 families celebrating different events came to blows. In each case, I'd be prepared to bet from the information supplied that all parties involved in these events were gypsies/'travellers'. Interestingly, in neither country was this spelt out. Or even much hinted at. But one can always read between the lines, rightly or wrongly.

The ultimate No-Deal Brexit checklist for Brits in Spain

Maybe a withdrawal agreement maintaining European citizens rights will be struck. Maybe Britain will crash out of the EU and chaos will ensure. Maybe Brexit will be cancelled all together. We can't predict the future but we can help you be best prepared for whatever comes next.

Here's our 12-point check list:-

1.  Make sure that you’re legally resident in your host country.

This is the ONE thing that all Brits living in Spain should make sure they do and has been repeated incessantly by British Embassy and consular staff in the run up to Brexit.

This will provide evidence the date of your arrival in your host country and provides proof that you were legally resident on March 29th 2019, when Britain exits the EU.

This will streamline the process when it comes to applying for whatever residency arrangement is decided after Brexit, whether there is a Withdrawal Agreement or dreaded No Deal.

READ MORE: This is the ONE thing Brits in Spain need to do ahead of Brexit

If you don't have either the A4 green piece of paper or the credit card sized certificate then you may not be officially registered.

2. Register with Hacienda

Make sure that you’ve submitted income and other tax returns if you’ve been there long enough to do so (even if all your income comes from the UK).

3. Check your healthcare

Make sure that you are registered with Spanish social security and that you have a health card. Your rights may change if there is a no-deal Brexit and the Spanish and UK authorities have vowed to strike a reciprocal agreement so will easier to prove that you were entitled to it if you are already in the system.

If you have health insurance, keep it updated and see if you can guarantee your current rate will be maintained for at least the next year. Premiums might well go up for Brits after Brexit.

4. Exchange your British driving licence for a Spanish one

If you’re still using a UK driving licence, apply to change it for a Spanish one as soon as possible because on 30 March 2019 the EU rules under which UK licences are recognised in the EU27 will lapse if there is no deal. 

In the worst case scenario, you could be required to sit a Spanish driving test.

5. Check your passport

You’ll need to comply with different rules to enter and travel around the Schengen area post Brexit although we don’t yet know what they might be.

There are two important issues that may affect your right to travel or to live here legally after exit, so it’s really important to start thinking about this now.

Firstly, Schengen Border Code rules mean that existing passports which were renewed early and therefore have over 10 years validity will no longer be valid until the expiry date written on the passport, but will be limited to the 10 years immediately after their issue date. For example, if your passport was renewed (under the old rules) 6 months before its expiry date, it would show a valid period of 10 years and 6 months. After 29 March 2019, you will effectively ‘lose’ the last 6 months validity, as third country nationals’ passports must have been issued within the last 10 years. Note: this may affect you even if you don’t travel – in order to remain a legal resident in your host country you need to make sure that the issue date on your passport is later than 29 March 2009.

Secondly, your passport must have at least 6 months’ validity on arrival, after discounting the period above. More details HERE

We don’t yet know what rights, if any, we will have to cross the border to or from any EU27 country if there is No Deal, but dealing with these two issues now is a sensible precaution.

6. Get the paperwork ready

Make a dossier as if you’re applying for a proof of residence or permanent residence document.

Collate all your income, property and other tax returns and notifications since your arrival. You may need them to prove the length of your residence.

Put together a file of utility bills for at least 10 years if you can. This will prove your continued residence.

If your name is not on the income and property tax bills for your household or on any utility bills, get it added now. For anyone who has changed their name through marriage or otherwise: make sure that the name on bills, bank statements, pension statements, payslips etc. matches the name on your passport if possible.

Put together a file of bank statements, wage slips (if employed) or income and other tax declarations (if self-employed), proof of health cover and pension payments and/or pension statements for the last 5 years if you’ve lived in your host country that long. Longer is even better – 10 years is best. You may need these to prove the stability, sufficiency and regularity of your resources.

7. Prepare financially

The following is particularly relevant to those who derive their income or have savings in the UK in sterling, says the British in Europe Group, which campaigns for EU citizens rights post Brexit. 

If you have bank accounts, savings or investments in the UK, consider moving them to your host country now. Sterling may drop suddenly in the case of a no-deal exit; there may also be temporary problems moving money in and out of the EU. If most of your savings and income are in the UK, try and make sure you have access to enough cash in euros to see you through two or three months, especially if your income is transferred monthly.

If you have a personal pension in the UK (this doesn’t apply to state or public service/occupational pensions) and have not yet retired, think about getting advice about how to deal with this and cashing it in if you’re old enough, or moving it. There may be issues with the rights of UK insurers/financial services providers to operate in the EU without having a formal presence there after Brexit and these could cause problems e.g. with insurers making payments to those living outside the UK.  Write to your insurer/private pension company in the UK to ask them what plans they have put in place for post-Brexit scenarios. 

8. Put in place contingency plans to secure your income and minimise your expenses.

This applies particularly if the bulk of your income is in sterling, which may take a serious hit after a no-deal exit. Create a personal financial contingency plan. Look at ways you can cut your spending temporarily, and how you could create additional income, particularly in euros. Get any potentially expensive dental, optical and hearing work done now, in case you have to reduce the cover on your private health insurance (if you have one)!

If you have a business that relies on attracting people from the UK, think about changing your client base. If there is a no-deal Brexit, people may not want to travel to the EU next year and you’ll need to find new clients in the EU 27 if you’re to survive financially. Make sure you have a website in the language of your host country, if you haven’t already, and that you begin to advertise NOW to attract EU27 customers.

If you have a business that relies solely or partly on UK customers/clients, put contingency plans in place now to deal with potential issues with VAT, excise, billing, professional insurance cover, etc.

9. Prepare for applying for long-term residence and think about citizenship.

If you have lived here for more than five years you can apply for permanent residency and if you have been a resident for ten years, you are eligible for citizenship, although you have to pass a language and citizenship test.

10. Top up your medication before 29 March 2019.

If you currently rely on an S1 form for access to the local health service and you need regular medication, think about making sure you have a good supply of it on 29 March 2019 – if the worst happens and the reciprocal health care system stops on that date it might take several weeks to get an alternative system up and running and there may be short term chaos. Making sure that you have the permitted 3 months of long-term medication would mean that you’d avoid having to pay full whack for your meds while the situation was resolved.

11. Get your professional qualifications recognised now.

The European Commission has said that, whatever the outcome of the negotiations, Brexit does not affect decisions made pre-Brexit by EU27 countries recognising UK qualifications under the general EU directive on the recognition of professional qualifications (Directive 2005/36/EC).  For details of which qualifications are covered see HERE

So if you have a UK qualification covered by that Directive and you need to be able to use it, apply to get it recognised before 30 March 2019.

12. Make sure that you’re in your host country on 29 and 30 March 2019.

This is probably not the best time to make a family visit to the UK! Transport could be chaotic, with no agreements on air or other travel between the UK and EU.

Ideally it would be best to be in your host country on those dates but if not possible, try to be somewhere in the Schengen zone.

13. Keep informed

Make regular check-ins to The Local Spain for updates about how Brexit might affect UK nationals. Become a member and sign up to our newsletter for updates straight to your inbox.

FCO website Living in Spain HERE and their Facebook page HERE

Spanish government dedicated Brexit information page HERE


EU could collapse like Soviet Union, warns George Soros

The billionaire investor George Soros has warned that the European Union is “sleepwalking into oblivion” and risks collapsing like the Soviet Union.

Citing the spasms of upheaval in Italy, Britain and Germany, he said that Europe had drastically underestimated the threat from its “internal enemies” and was on the cusp of tipping into “the nightmare of the 21st century”.

Mr Soros, 88, who is Jewish, survived the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary in 1944 and the Soviet siege of Budapest in the following year before fleeing to England in 1947.

In an article for Project Syndicate, a Prague-based website, he said the rise of anti-EU populism before the European elections in May could once again throw the continent into violent chaos. Nationalist parties are expected to win substantial numbers of seats in countries such as France, Italy, Sweden, Germany and Poland, and may emerge as one of the most powerful forces in the next European parliament.

“Neither our leaders nor ordinary citizens seem to understand that we are experiencing a revolutionary moment,” Mr Soros wrote. “Most of us assume that the future will more or less resemble the present, but this is not necessarily so. In a long and eventful life, I have witnessed many periods of what I call radical disequilibrium. We are living in such a period today.”

Mr Soros’s championship of liberal causes has made him a scapegoat for radical right-wing parties in many countries, and particularly in his homeland, where Viktor Orban, the prime minister, has cast him as an object of hatred. The climate in Hungary has become so hostile that several organisations linked to Mr Soros, including the Central European University and the Open Society Foundations, have elected to leave the country over the past year.

Yet the philanthropist reserved his most bilious criticism for supporters of the EU, who he said had failed to realise that it was in existential danger from Mr Orban and his allies. He argued that the “antiquated” party systems in many states, including the UK, had left pro-Europeans with little or no political representation.

He also condemned the ruling conservative bloc in the European parliament for tolerating Mr Orban’s presence in its ranks “in order to preserve its majority and control the allocation of top jobs”.

He wrote: “Anti-European forces may look good in comparison: at least they have some principles, even if they are odious. One can still make a case for preserving the EU in order radically to reinvent it. But that would require a change of heart in the EU. The current leadership is reminiscent of the politburo when the Soviet Union collapsed – continuing to issue ukazes as if they were still relevant.”

In 2017 MEPs voted for the first time to launch disciplinary proceedings against Poland, whose right-wing government had forced several judges out of the country’s constitutional court. In September the same clause was triggered against Hungary for alleged breaches of the EU’s “core values” such as academic freedom and equal rights.

While both countries could ultimately have their right to vote suspended, critics argue that the sanctions available are too weak and could easily be hindered by a group of nations acting in concert.

Mr Soros said there was “a lack of legal tools for disciplining member states that violate the principles on which the European Union was founded”.

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