Friday, June 07, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 7.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain

  • Impressively, Spain comes out of 'special measures'. For now, at least. 
  • The British historian, Paul Preston, takes issue with Spain's Supreme Court on a critical definition.
  • People get what they deserve. It's reported that the rise of small dog ownership in the UK has led to a higher incidence of bites, because these insults to the canine race can be very aggressive. As there's the same trend here in Pontevedra/Spain, I do hope the same thing is happening here
  • Here's one of The Local's odder lists - places in Alicante province with no British resident. Of course, this really means that no Brits have registered with the relevant town hall. Which is not uncommon.
  • Maybe the police were right to eliminate a zebra crossing in a nearby town on the grounds it was dangerous in inviting people to risk their lives. For, in my barrio of Poio earlier this week, a young girl was hit on one by a truck at 8.15 in the morning. Fotos show that the crossing was badly painted:-

 But the reality interesting facts are that it's a crossing with lights and that they were blinking amber. The report says that this means that pedestrians had priority but I do wonder if all drivers are aware of this. As I've said, my experience is that only a minority will stop when I'm standing at the edge of such a crossing and some will even protest with their horn if I venture out onto it when, allegedly, I have the right do so.
  • Another month, another new camino. El Camino de los Faros. The Camino of the Lighthouses. Between Finisterra and Malpica on the NW Galician coast. Not included in the 39 here. Soon you won't be able to walk anywhere in Spain that isn't on a (money-making) camino. Meanwhile, I think it's safe to assume there'll be several more caminos in Galicia before we get our AVE high-speed train link toMadrid
The EU
  • Since 2000, America has reduced its carbon emissions by 16%. Germany’s have fallen by just 10%.  It is not America that relies on coal for 39% of its electricity generation, but Germany. Of Europe’s top 10 carbon emitters, 7 are German power stations. All in East Germany, I'm advised. See the first article below on the reasons why Germany merits more criticism than the USA in several areas. Hence the accusation of hypocrisy.
The EU and Brexit
  • See the second article below for a sceptical view on the EU's success in out negotiating the UK.

Social Media 
  • The freedom to spew forth vitriol under a false name  . . . was that what our forbears died for? It’s time to impose decent human values on social media platforms by sweeping away the cloak of anonymity once and for all. 
  • Human dignity1:  It's the specious reason given by Fart for his personal decision to end stem cell research. Which will please Evangelists and Catholics, of course.
  • Human dignity 2: President Trump spent his last night on British soil staying up late tweeting insults to his adversaries. The night before he was due to attend WWII events in Normandy. 
  • Word of the Day: Hielo.
Finally . . .
  • In Madrid last weekend, I was surprised to see how many people were trailing carry-on suitcases behind them. Since it was midday, I guessed they'd all just been chucked out of their Saturday night accommodation. So, I wondered if noon to 1pm should be 'christened' La Hora de las Maletas. Suitcase Hour. As 1 to 4pm is 'The Dead Hour'.

1. The Left's trendy anti-Americanism reeks of hypocrisy: Nick Timothy, the Daily Telegraph.

Hysteria about our most important ally is harmful and ignores other offenders like Germany 

America is beastly, isn’t it? Refusing to join the fight against climate change. Using its economic might to bully its allies. Fighting weird culture wars about gay marriage and abortion. Electing a leader with questionable connections to Russia. Now they want to dismember our precious NHS.

This caricature of Britain’s most important ally is as stupid as it is dangerous. The United States is our biggest export market, trading partner and source of investment. More of our pensions and savings are invested there than in any other country. Its intelligence agencies work with ours to keep us safe. And – as D-Day's anniversary reminds us – its military strength is the cornerstone of our security.

But the fashionable dislike of America is not only stupid, it’s hypocritical. Four years ago, when Xi Jinping came on a state visit, Jeremy Corbyn ignored China’s many human rights abuses and donned white tie for the banquet. There was no insulting blimp above London, no hateful placards and no milkshakes.

Some insist they are simply holding America to a higher standard than China. But that is not true. Just look at their behaviour towards other democracies and allies. Germany is often held up as America’s antithesis and a beacon of light. Read Angela Merkel’s speech at Harvard last week, in which she attacked President Trump and warned about climate change, and you can see why.

But consider the facts. Since 2000, America has reduced its carbon emissions by 16%. Germany’s have fallen by just 10&. It is not America that relies on coal for 39% of its electricity generation, but Germany. Of Europe’s top 10 carbon emitters, 7 are German power stations.

America is often attacked for “economic imperialism”, but look at how Germany treats the Eurozone. Berlin ensures Europe’s monetary policy works in German interests, and blocks fiscal transfers that would help weaker member states. According to one study, the single currency added €280 billion to the German economy in 2017, but reduced the Italian economy by €530 billion, the equivalent of €8,756 per person.

Even during the Eurozone crisis, Merkel refused to cancel Greece’s debts and forced it to pursue brutal austerity policies. The bail‑outs Germany did agree – for Greece, Portugal and Ireland – simply covered the liabilities of German banks in those countries.

Neither does Germany pay its fair share towards Europe’s security. By failing to meet its commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence, as Nato asks, the Germans have saved an estimated $142 billion in the last five years. The US, by contrast, deploys around 70,000 active duty personnel in its European Command, and its defence spending accounts for more than 70 per cent of the Nato budget.

America is always criticised for undermining international institutions through its impatient unilateralism. But is Germany any different? In 2015, Mrs Merkel single-handedly sparked Europe’s migration crisis. In a single year, 1.8 million people were detected crossing Europe’s borders illegally. Merkel did not stop to ask other countries if they agreed with her migration policy, but she soon expected them to share the burden.

The double standards abound. While many rail against “corporate America”, there was remarkably little blowback against Volkswagen when it was found to have rigged emissions testing for its diesel cars. While some Brits fight US culture wars as if they were American themselves, they ignore the fact that Merkel personally resisted same-sex marriage in Germany. They ignore the German law that purposefully restricts advertisements and public information about abortion services.

And while everybody speculates feverishly about Trump’s links to Russia, one politician certainly in the pay of Moscow is the former German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. In one of his last acts in office, in September 2005, Schröder approved the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. Within three months, he joined Nord Stream AG, the firm in charge of the project and a subsidiary of Gazprom, the state-owned Russian company. He also sits on the board of another state-owned Russian energy giant, Rosneft.

The most hysterical fear about America is that it wants a trade deal with Britain so its private health companies can “carve up” the NHS. This is not only untrue, it ignores the obvious fact that many NHS services are already outsourced. And EU procurement rules mean that German companies can bid for the contracts. DHL did so when it ran NHS logistics services until earlier this year. The Department of Health has even talked to German healthcare companies about taking over NHS hospitals.

Of course, Germany is no more beastly than America. Each has domestic politics alien to ours, and each acts in its own interests. Each is a friend and ally to Britain.

But the double standards really must end: our American alliance is too important to risk.

2. Trump is offering a trade deal, the EU is not. Let us dance with the Americans: Ambrose Evans Pritchard.

Turn the telescope around on Brexit. Look back across La Manche. Three years after the Referendum the EU has failed to secure a trade deal or political arrangement with its nearest neighbour.

It has failed to lock in a partnership with a country that is arguably Western Europe’s leading defence and intelligence power.

Read Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's weekly column on every Wednesday from 9pm
It has failed to secure unfettered access to a market that absorbs €400bn of EU exports each year and which could be cut in half by a no-deal Brexit - according to a study by the IW Institute in Cologne. Europe’s supply chains are left dangling. Relations with the UK are terrible. Brilliant.

As night follows day, the US is swooping into the vacuum, tempting Britain with a sweetheart offer, or a “phenomenal trade deal” in the superlatives of Donald Trump. Such an embrace would draw the UK deep into the American strategic, scientific, and economic orbit, with large consequences for Europe over the next half century.

Has there been any self-criticism in EU governing circles for “losing Britain”? Not much. The European Policy Centre in Brussels says Michel Barnier’s handling of Brexit was so successful - the acme of “inter-institution governance” - that it should be a model for all future EU negotiations.

The Barnier method preserved unity. It “strengthened the Union’s negotiating position”. It delivered a “result that respected the EU’s red lines”. It headed off the “Brexit domino effect”. All this led to a “an improved negotiation outcome”.

Except that there is no outcome. The EU presented Parliament with terms that it could not accept. Mr Barnier succeeded only if you think the chief objective was to manage the EU’s internal tensions and deter other escapees. Such is the mindset of the EU Curia. It looks deranged to the rest of the world.

I let others dissect British responsibility for this state of affairs. That angle receives ample coverage every day in the British and EU media. There is a larger point. For Brussels to argue that Britain is entirely to blame and will suffer the greater damage from trade rupture does not constitute coherent diplomacy.

The EU has no margin for strategic and economic error. It has already lost Turkey to the Erdogan dictatorship and the Ankara-Moscow alliance. It is looking straight down the barrel of US trade sanctions.

The eurozone is in a deflation trap with no monetary tools left to fight the next global slowdown. My presumption - sticking my neck out a long way -  is that recessionary forces will engulf the world economy this winter. Central bank tightening has already baked this into the pie. Citigroup has already issued its recession call for December based on credit dynamics and the inversion of the yield curve.

Yields on 10-year German Bunds have just crashed to an all-time low of minus 0.23pc. The distortion can no longer be blamed on quantitative easing. The European Central Bank has stopped buying bonds. Europe’s debt markets are pricing in a Dark Age.

Bank of America says investors no longer believe that the ECB is capable of stopping the spiral into deflation under its legal mandate. Policy rates are already at rock-bottom level of minus 0.4pc. Its credibility is shot.

There is no Deus Ex Machina in the wings. Germany has vetoed fiscal union, joint debt issuance, or Keynesian reflation. The EU’s fiscal police are doubling down on contractionary policies deemed utter folly by the Nobel fraternity. They are telling Italy to tighten budget policy drastically into recession. These people are unhinged.

What Donald Trump is offering the UK is a fast-track free trade deal. Talks will be tough. Washington has preponderant power. But a US deal does not entail a customs union or the legal subordination of a single market, or accepting the writ of the US Supreme Court over swathes of UK domestic policy.

What the EU wants is a different animal. It is not a trade deal. It is legal capture. Under the Political Declaration - the minimum starting point, before Emmanuel Macron has done his worst  - the UK must accept chunks of the EU Acquis in perpetuity.

It stipulates “level-playing field clauses” over state aid, competition, the environment, social policy, employment, climate change, and ‘relevant tax matters’. The state aid clause, nota bene, means the EU will be able to set Britain’s farm support policies. We will not get agriculture back after all.

The UK must accept the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights “as an essential prerequisite” for talks even though this Roman text is incompatible with English Common Law practice. This has nothing to do with trade. What it does do is give the European Court reach over anything.

The Political Declaration locks in the customs territory through cross linkages to the Withdrawal Agreement. As EU negotiator Sabine Weyand told ambassadors, it “requires the customs union as the basis of the future relationship”.

The point is that the EU retains a lockhold over how this country governs itself. It intrudes on intimate matters of national policy and law. The structure blocks radical reform by Left or Right. It is in fact the vassal relationship so widely decried.

Nor is the EU Acquis benign. The EU’s ‘precautionary principle’ and its risk-averse approach to innovation  - which we would have to accept - is a key reason why Europe has been left behind in the hi-tech revolution of the last quarter century.

It is why the EU has no great digital companies. It is why Europe has become the ‘museum of world farming’, to borrow from Owen Paterson MP, and why it is about to repeat the same mistakes with gene editing.

“Just look at artificial intelligence right now. Europe is a spectator while America and China dominate everything,” said Emma Marcegaglia, ex-head of the pan-EU business federation, when we chatted in Davos this year.

“We have a cultural problem in Europe: You cannot embrace new technology unless you accept risk, and the EU is afraid of risk,” she said.

The precautionary principle is a potent tool for vested interests. It allows them to game the regulatory committees in Brussels and shut out competition. The EU ban on beef hormones and GMO crops is closer to protectionism than evidence-based science. Note that EU lost both cases at the WTO. Note too that it refused to comply.

Does it worry me that US companies might gain access to NHS contracts? Of course not. Matt Hancock’s disqualified himself from the Tory leadership with his tub-thumping warning that “the NHS is not for sale”.

Mr Hancock, the NHS already is for sale. Private firms secure 70pc of NHS clinical contracts. They run hospitals. European companies bid under EU procurement law - which recently forced an Oxford NHS trust to farm out its PET-CT imaging for cancer to a sub-contractor against the vehement protest of doctors. Europe’s ‘big pharma’ are not exactly pussy cats.

What is the ground - other than visceral anti-Americanism - for preventing US companies from also bidding for work, and bringing world-class competition? It does not undermine the NHS as a social welfare institution to put this tendering process on the table - which is what Donald Trump surely meant after correcting himself - any more than it is already being undermined. The Government can still regulate prices and the quality of service as it does now.

Chlorinated chickens do not bother me either, perhaps because I ate so many during a large stretch of my life in the US. The EU’s food safety regulator EFSA says there are “no safety concerns” at relevant doses. I happily eat Spanish salad leaves from supermarkets soaked in the same “pathogen reduction” rinsing.

Personally I prefer Europe’s “farm to fork” philosophy, with its greater emphasis on animal husbandry, than the US sledgehammer of chemical treatment. But be wary of the refrain that Americans have lower standards or fewer safeguards on health.The rate of campylobacter poisoning is three times higher in the EU. An average 67 people die each year in France from salmonella. Unrinsed chickens are the chief culprit. That is why the US rinses them.

Americans eat nine billion chickens each year and thrive on them. Prices are 79pc of EU levels. The proper compromise is to let this meat be sold in this country with a label of origin and let consumers decide. If the real concern is the fate of British farming when faced with an onslaught of highly competitive food imports, it can best be addressed by other mechanisms.

My two sticking points on a US trade deal are 1) if Mr Trump tries to impose a poison clause giving Washington a droit de regard or veto on any future deal with China - as it has imposed on Canada in the revamped NAFTA talks - we should resist.

2) If he demands changes in UK domestic law under a unilateral enforcement mechanism - as he is demanding from China  - it becomes an “unequal treaty” of Qing dynasty character that we cannot accept.

So long as America deals on terms of sovereign respect and mutual recognition, everything can and should be on the table.

The EU has told us in categorical terms that it will not negotiate with us on such a footing. The choice we should make as a self-governing liberal democracy is therefore ineluctable.

The Americans are wooing us. So let us dance with the one who brings flowers.

No comments: