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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 25 November 2020
25 November 2020 @ 12:51

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.  

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'*    

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

It was disappointing to read - and not just because I'm British - that proficiency in English in Spain is still low. I seem to recall president Zapatero promising that all this would change once hundred of thousands of native speakers started teaching in Spanish schools. From what I hear around me in Pontevedra's bars, there certainly are quite a few of these (young and unqualified) assistants in Spain. But they don't seem to have had much effect on national competency. Apart from keeping the price for a class to what it was 19 years ago. So, in real terms, now half of what it was then.     

And not just in English . . . A relevant comment: Failure to produce political consensus has been a hallmark of all of Spain’s attempts at education reform in a country where students regularly underperform in the PISA international assessment program.

The latest major reform - assuming it gets through parliament - will be the 8th since 1978 and is A replay of the discord triggered by the 7 earlier reforms. More here.

Of course, it doesn't help if you're up against the interests of the powerful and entrenched Catholic Church, as well having to satisfy - or at least not alienate - nationalists in Cataluña, the Basque Country and Galicia. And to be operating where politics in this young democracy are rather tribal. 

I see the dreadful potholes in the backroad I use to get to my the parking lot in Lérez were filled in 2 days ago. I might be very wrong on this but it already seems to me that the top level of the new tarmac has sunk. Another chapuza?

The EU

Says the writer of the article below: A new 'Iron Curtain' is descending on the EU, and threatens to collapse the project. . .  Brussels may now have an even bigger problem than Brexit to deal with.

The USA  

I'm afraid I have to report there's no truth in the rumour that the turkey refused to pardon President Trump  in the annual White House ceremony this week. Though one turkey did pardon another, of course.

It may never be known whether Donald Trump truly believed he won the 2020 US election, or if the last 2 weeks have been an extended face-saving exercise. . . . It was reportedly decided that Mr Trump would never need to formally concede, but could begin the transition.

Who'd believe a novel or film with this plot?

Spanish

Two words new to me yesterday:- 

Zozobra

1. Restlessness/anxiety/distress/anguish which doesn't permit calmness, because of something bad threatened or already suffered.

2. Capsizing

Ahijada: Goddaughter

The Way of the World

Zozobra in context/action.

Finally . . .

I read that there's something called The Power Hour. I like this comment on it: It's nice that someone has written a book about getting up an hour early called How to Focus on Your Goals, but what if your goal is to be less tired?

THE ARTICLE

A new 'Iron Curtain' is descending on the EU, and threatens to collapse the project

Brexit is a non-issue compared to the deepening East vs West rift    Jonathan Saxty, Daily Telegraph

The clock might be running down on Brexit but the EU may now have a more serious problem on its hands. 

Last week, Hungary and Poland vetoed the bloc’s €1.8 trillion budget and recovery package, responding to plans for a new mechanism which would allow for the reduction of funds if member states violate ‘rule of law’ principles. 

Poland and Hungary claim this is a power grab, and that Brussels is trying to bully conservative eastern and central European states. The rule of law mechanism only requires a qualified majority to pass. However unanimous backing is required to allow the EU to raise funds to finance the recovery plan and budget. 

France and the Netherlands suggested pushing ahead with an intergovernmental plan which excludes Hungary and Poland. This however is considered to be complex and possibly premature.

Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union allows for the suspension of certain rights, such as voting, from a member state. However, there is no mechanism to expel a member state.

Many businesses are depending on the cash and, given the ‘second wave’ of coronavirus hitting the continent, concerns are mounting that the Visegrád Group allies could undermine a recovery in the bloc. 

The veto is likely to exacerbate tensions not just between central and eastern European member states and those in the West, but among Western European member states too. Already this year, ‘coronabonds’ were shelved after heated debate, while financial agreement was only reached after concessions to the so-called ‘Frugal Four’. 

Without a December deal, the EU would have to resort to an emergency spending programme which would extend 2020 spending ceilings but allow money to flow only to some ringfenced areas. 

The veto is yet more evidence of a new Iron Curtain coming back down the spine of Europe. This Iron Curtain is however cultural, not economic. Brussels has made no secret of its displeasure that many central and eastern European states will not sign up to ‘progressive’ values. 

For the likes of Hungary and Poland, their view of the EU as a kind of EFTA-plus organisation runs counter to the ambitions of Berlin and Paris, never mind the goals of federalists. 

For all the talk of certain south European states being the Achilles heel of the EU, central and eastern Europe states – most having retained their own currencies – are generally better placed to extricate themselves from the bloc. 

While it is commonly believed that central and eastern European states will not leave the EU owing to the financial benefits, evidence suggests these countries are benefitting less from the EU as their economies grow (ironically the EU may have helped them get to the point where they have less need of the EU). 

According to the European Commission, GDP forecasts for this year suggest that Hungary (-6.4%) will fare better than both France (-9.4%) and Italy (-9.9%), and even the EU27 (-7.4%). Meanwhile Poland (-3.6%) will fare better than Germany (-5.6%).

When it comes to budget balance as a percentage of GDP, Hungary’s figure of -8.4% is the same as the EU27 for 2020, while Poland’s figure (-8.8%) is better than those for both France (-10.5%) and Italy (-10.8%).

In terms of Government debt as a percentage of GDP, Hungary’s figure for 2020 (78%) is not only lower than those for France (115.9%) and Italy (159.6%), but the EU27 as a whole (93.9%). Moreover Poland (56.6%) again fares better than Germany (71.2%).

Anyway, money is unlikely to induce Hungary and Poland to change their beliefs. A victory for the two states may in fact encourage other central and eastern European states, not least Czechia, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Indeed, while not actively joining the veto, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa wrote that it would not be appropriate for a body to adjudicate in disputes over the rule of law. No doubt other central and eastern European leaders sympathise.

Central and eastern Europe states are particularly sensitive to perceived infringement on their sovereignty. While Western Europe is de-Christianising, central and eastern states are re-Christianising, the faith having been a rallying point against communism. 

Central and eastern European member states want a better standard of living, but not at any price, least of all (as they see it) at the cost of their sovereignty and identity. Brussels may now have an even bigger problem than Brexit to deal with.

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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