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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: 28.5.21
28 May 2021 @ 11:07

 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' 

Detailed info on Galicia and Pontevedra city here

Covid 

The UK: Back on the pessimism downswing, thanks to the growing number of Indian-variant cases. The June 21 Freedom Date is now said to be hanging in the balance. The 7 day moving average of deaths has risen slightly to 8, from 6 four days ago. 

Unlike Spain, Portugal and (I think) Greece, France has placed restrictions on travellers from the UK because of said variant. Which is already widespread there.  

Cosas de España/Galiza

The Spanish (socialist) government is naturally looking for more taxes and is attempting to harmonise inheritance tax rules across its 17 regions. But the Galician government objects to imposed changes to our laws, under which we can reduce taxes by making lifetime gifts - via a notary, of course - to our kids. Our president had describe the new law(s) as an illegal violation of the the sovereignty, competences and civil law of the Galician people. He also doesn't like the prospect of the Xunta having to repay taxes on car registrations. I guess we're heading for the Constitutional Court. Nice for lawyers.

I was premature to says the government was going to pardon the Catalan politicians. For the Supreme Court has rejected the pardon as an unacceptable solution. Quite where this leaves things, I'm not at all sure. Some insight here.

Can you travel to Spain for your summer holidays? Possibly. It all depends.

Not that I go to the beach very often but this certainly has my support: For more than 2 years the organisation No Fumadores (No Smokers) has been gathering signatures aimed at transforming our 4,964km of coastline into areas free of cigarette smoke and discarded cigarette butts. And now a petition signed by more than 283,000 people calling for ban smoking at all its beaches has been delivered to the country’s environment minister.

 The UK 

As if we didn't know by now . . . Boris Johnson is the master of chaos and confusion. Bottom line . . . Johnson is not going to change. This method, after all, has got him to where he is today. That said, his career will, of course, end in failure - as all political careers do. But not just yet. 

I may yet get to vote in the 2024 general election: The government plans to scrap the arbitrary rule that prevents citizens from voting if they've lived abroad for more than 15 years. But it doesn't look as if, despite being a taxpayer, I'll ever be allowed to vote in a Spanish general election. Unless I become Spanish, rather than Irish, to regain my EU citizenship. 

The EU  

As its leaders sat down in Lisbon yesterday for talks re economic measures, the mad despot running Belarus said he'll flood the EU with migrants and drugs, if they impose sanctions because of his Ryanair heist. Not a nice chap. 

Switzerland: In the article below, AEP accuses the EU of being nasty to it. The EU, he avers, poisons relations with every neighbour. In a sense, he adds, the EU has made the same error as it did vis-a-vis the UK - being imperious and disrespectful. Tellingly,  Swiss support for EU membership is said to have collapsed to only 10% now, from around 50% in the early 1990s. Norway next?

Spanish

To be hanging in  the balance: Estar en tela de juicio. Or (better?) Pender de un hilo.

Finally  . . .  

My Irish nationality process was supposed to take 6-9 months but has already taken 18 and is still suspended because of Covid levels in Dublin. So, money down the drain at the moment. Fortunately, my pre-Brexit rights have been retained under the Brexit deal and, unlike Brits who ignored the many warnings/advice, I have my TIE to prove it.

THE ARTICLE 

Switzerland's ordeal ends all doubt: the EU poisons relations with every neighbour. The bloc has overplayed its hand and now risks a disorderly breakdown in relations - another pyrrhic victory for EU statecraft: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the Telegraph

The EU has ‘lost’ another country. It has overplayed its hand against Switzerland. It now risks a disorderly breakdown in a crucial diplomatic relationship with its fourth biggest trade partner.

While the US sustains a mostly amicable modus vivendi with a fully sovereign Canada, the EU is chronically at odds with its near abroad, forever seeking to extend its regulatory and judicial reach, and to impose its ideology. 

Switzerland’s rejection of its Framework Agreement with the EU after seven years of negotiating agony is a brave act of  defiance. Brussels long thought it would never come to this because the economic price for the Swiss would be too high, and because it assumed that pro-EU elites in Bern would succeed in slipping through the terms against the expressed wishes of their own voters.

Prof Carl Baudenbacher, the veteran president of the EFTA court until 2017, said the framework deal was essentially an attempt to hustle Switzerland into the European Economic Area by the back door, under the implicit jurisdiction of the European Court, and subject to ‘dynamic alignment’ with future EU laws.

Thomas Aeschi, parliamentary leader of the Swiss People’s Party, said cross-clauses in the text give the ECJ reach into tax codes, farming, healthcare, and cantonal state-aid policies. “We end up becoming a passive member of the EU without voting rights,” he said.

The EU’s maximalist push has failed because it was never going to get through the upper chamber representing the hardline cantons, or survive a referendum. The labour unions deem it a threat to Switzerland’s social model, undercutting the Swiss wage protection regime in a race to the bottom.

The political right balks at giving EU migrants access to the Swiss social security system, as if it were a birthright the moment they set foot in the country. Swiss negotiators say they must come with adequate funds: Brussels says Switzerland must swallow the EU’s Citizens’ Rights Directive with all its implications for political union. As the Swiss foreign minister put it, that would “constitute a paradigm shift in Switzerland's migration policy”. 

In a sense the EU has made the same error as did in its handling of the UK. Had Brussels been less imperious (and more respectful) in Brexit talks, it would have helped Theresa May keep the UK closely tied to the EU custom area as an economic satellite. 

Instead, the EU lost Britain altogether. It ended up with Boris Johnson and a much harder Brexit, with all kinds of consequences. One is that European exporters are now losing UK market share rapidly to global rivals; another is that the UK will move further into the US regulatory orbit. 

The Brexit deal also embroils the EU in co-responsibility for a Northern Irish settlement that is unworkable and will continue to poison EU-UK relations for years to come. This will have knock-on effects for security and defence, where the EU is often the demandeur. The rupture becomes final and total.

Switzerland is now in a delicate position. Some 120 bilateral accords will lapse one by one, progressively shutting the country out of the single market and its EU cooperation arrangements. This has already begun with the expiry of a deal on trade in medical devices.  Renewable certificates are next on the list.

EU negotiators weaponised energy linkages to browbeat the Swiss - a tactic used against the UK -  dialling down co-operation on power grids and network codes. This has disrupted intraday market flows. 

But energy is double-edged and the Swiss know it. Switzerland is a European power hub. Some 10pc of the EU’s electricity passes through 40 connection points on its territory. These are an economic lifeline for the Italian industrial heartland of Lombardy.

Swiss hydro-power - 60pc of its electricity output - is ‘dispatchable’ and needed to buttress intermittent renewables in the EU. It is the ‘Alpine battery’ for German and French solar power.

Prof Carl Baudenbacher wrote in the Brussels Reporter that the European Commission has ratcheted up the pressure over the years as a ruthless negotiating tactic, practising “a policy of punishment that is difficult to reconcile with good faith”. 

These include a “discriminatory refusal of stock exchange equivalence” since July 2019; threats to exclude it from the joint Horizon research programme: a refusal to update the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and other accords; and even the exclusion of Switzerland from the EU system of Covid surveillance apps. All entail a degree of self-harm.

The view in Brussels is that Switzerland will be forced back to the table once the escalating cost of resistance becomes clearer. The working premise is that the failure is entirely Switzerland’s problem. The Swiss people can lump it, or leave it.

“The EU is always arrogant, inflexible, stroppy, and does not care about annoying neighbours, because for them there is no cost to it,” said Charles Grant from the Centre for European Reform. The Swiss are doubly vulnerable because they do not bring security and defence chips to the diplomatic table. 

But the result of this coercion policy over the years is that Swiss popular support for EU membership has collapsed to 10pc from around 50pc in the early 1990s. It has nurtured a simmering national resentment.

“The EU never learns. It keeps overloading its demands and trying to advance its judicial machine but this can never be a basis for a sustainable relationship. It keeps backfiring,” said Pieter Cleppe, former head of Open Europe in Brussels.

Norway is a different story, but the echoes are striking. The country has acquiesced, repeatedly and under threat, to EU directives that erode the solidarity principles of Nordic society, and in one case had to accept an ECJ ruling stripping Norway of its right to set basic employment protections for workers on its own soil.

Tensions are coming to a head again, this time over the EU’s energy package, which greatly increases the Commission’s power over management of natural resources. Norway’s opposition Centre Party wants to halt integration into the EU’s energy system and pull out of the regulatory agency ACER, a course that would lead to a Swiss-style showdown.

What is remarkable about EU statecraft is the lack of self-critique or any misgiving about the wisdom of provoking every country in its immediate orbit. You could argue that Russia and Turkey deserve it under their current leaders. But the pattern of insensitivity is common to all.

The question has to be asked: is it actually possible for a sovereign state in Europe to have good neighbourly relations with the EU?



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