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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: 9.6.21    
09 June 2021 @ 11:08

 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

Here's a thing . . . It's now said that the variant which swept Continental Europe last autumn originated in Spain. But, unlike the one identified in Britain, escaped being labelled the Spanish variant. Seems a tad unfair.

Cosas de España/Galiza 

Details here on Spain's involvement in the EU digital certificate scheme

The Spanish Health Ministry has admitted that its traffic light system for coronavirus restrictions is not obligatory for the regions. Although regional and central authorities initially insisted the measures included in the scheme were ‘mandatory,’ the text states that they can be modified according to each territory’s epidemiological situation

Portugal

Seems to have been given something of a free pass on slavery, which it got very heavily into in the 15th century. First in Africa and later in China, Japan and Korea. So many slaves were brought to the markets of Lisbon that they represented at one time 10% of the population. Details of this sordid era here.

Far more serious . . . I just checked on the availability of IKEA's hammock in both Galicia and North Portugal, to find it costs €45 here but €65 down in Braga. Maybe the latter comes assembled, whereas ours will cost you €19 to have a company assemble it for you.

The UK

Oh, dear. A lawyer has been suspended by her own firm over a tweet suggesting the Sussexes’ new daughter be called Doprah. And the termagant columnist Julie Burchill has been sacked by the Telegraph for suggesting her name should have been Georgina Floydina.

Click here for a long but worthwhile portrait - essentially for (North) Americans - of Boris Johnson - A man who has spent a lifetime turning ambition, opportunism, and ruthless self-promotion into extraordinary personal success. And who understands the art of politics better than his critics and rivals.

The EU

Thanks to resistance from national governments, Brussels is said to have lost it fight -post Brexit - to block UK scientists from involvement in technology projects. Dear me.

Germany 

Brexit Britain may soon have a new best friend there, claims AEP in optimistic mode in the article below.

The Way of the World  

That G7 tax deal . . . Not exactly what it purports to be, it says here.

Spanish

I’ve heard a large beer glass called a bok, a bol and, last night, a bos. Possibly in the last case by a South American lady. Any more?

Quotes of the Day

1.The inevitable consequence of what we call progress (at all levels, economic, political, scientific, technological) is self-destruction.

2. Nudists have no fashion sense

Finally  . . . 

Stretching the limits of credibility beyond breaking point  . . .The TV ad for a British insurance company: It's our heart which sets us apart. A bloody insurance company!

THE ARTICLE

Brexit Britain may soon have a new best friend in Germany. Read this exclusive extract from our Economic Intelligence newsletter and sign up at the bottom of the article to get it every Tuesday: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard The Telegraph

Berlin’s political leaders are mostly too young to know much about the extraordinary role of British military officers in the post-War reconstruction of Germany.

That episode of visionary statecraft and creativity has faded from collective consciousness. It never had much hold over Angela Merkel, who grew up in Communist East Germany with a binary sense of Cold War politics. But Armin Laschet has not forgotten, and he is now the odds-on favourite to be the next Chancellor.

The British military administration created Laschet’s industrial state of North Rhine-Westphalia in 1946 under “Operation Marriage”, partly from chunks of Prussian territory. It then nurtured the region back to economic health in difficult times. “The founding history of North Rhine-Westphalia is intimately bound up with the United Kingdom and the remarkable dedication of our British friends,” he said.

This occurred at a time when the initial impulse of the occupying powers was a Carthaginian settlement intended to hold the Germans down, and make them pay. The prevailing view in some quarters was that the Allies had not been tough enough after the First World War and that this time there should be systematic de-industrialisation and crippling retribution.

The punitive policy did not survive first contact with reality in the British zone. “The officers were shocked by the extent of destruction. There was a feeling that you can’t just let people starve,” said Christopher Knowles, an historian at King’s College London and author of Winning the Peace: The British in Occupied Germany, 1945-1948.

General Bernard Montgomery swung quickly to a reconstruction policy. He let mid-ranking officers in their twenties run with the baton. Ivan Hirst, a 28-year-old major in the Engineers, found himself in charge of the smashed Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg with initial instructions to dismantle the production line and ship the machinery to the Midlands as war reparations.

He did the opposite, producing an olive green Beetle from bartered materials and scrap parts to meet the needs of the British army. It was the start of a stunning revival. Hirst oversaw the first freely elected Works Council of VW employees, part of the push by Clement Atlee for a pluralistic trade union movement as a cornerstone of post-War German democracy.

Volkswagen was handed over as a trust to the West German government and Lower Saxony in 1949. Hirst became a revered figure in Wolfsburg.

John Seymour Chaloner, a 21-year-old major in the Westminster Dragoons, commandeered offices and recruited an ex-Wehrmacht radio operator called Rudolf Augstein to create an unfettered weekly news review. Chaloner put up with the unvarnished reporting even when an early edition accused the British authorities of providing starvation rations to workers in the Ruhr. The story caused a storm in London but tolerance of criticism ultimately prevailed. What became Der Spiegel magazine was launched under German control in 1947.

The Americans also moved crabwise toward reconciliation but with a lag, while the French resisted for longer. It was the British who pushed for the revival of German industry at key talks in January 1946. “They were the most liberal and led the way,” said Knowles.

It would be a stretch to describe Armin Laschet as a committed Anglophile. The Christian Democrat candidate is a deal-maker at heart who likes to keep the lines open to everybody, including Vladimir Putin. “He hails from Achen (Charlemagne's lair) and will always put the Franco-German relationship first when push comes to shove,” said Holger Schmieding from Berenberg Bank. Yet Mr Laschet gave a striking answer when asked in the first presidential TV debate which country should be the primordial partner for the European Union. “We must do everything we can to keep the British very, very close alongside us,” he said.

You could say this is an implicit recognition that the EU mishandled Brexit negotiations, more or less forcing the UK into a hard Brexit by insisting on dynamic legal alignment and sweeping oversight for the European Court as a sine qua non for basic free trade. His chief wrath is instead directed at states that remain in the EU, eagerly spend hand-outs from Brussels (ie, from German taxpayers), while ignoring the rules of the EU game when it suits them. The British may have been prickly but they did not abuse the system in such a way.

When Green candidate Annalena Baerbock was asked the same question on foreign policy, her Pavlovian non-sequitur response was to agitate for more “Europe”, which captures a fundamental difference in ideology. She is a reflexive supranationalist. There is little place for the democratic nation state in her philosophy. Labels can be confusing. The German Greens are not particularly “green” any longer by OECD standards. Their 2030 coal ban and CO2 emissions targets are both less ambitious than laws already passed by a British Tory government. They have instead evolved into a hardline Europeanist movement, advocates of EU fiscal union, a joint foreign policy, and a European defence force. They want to whittle down the national veto.  In short, they have become the “Brussels party”, although they have not gone as far as many British Greens in actively trying to break up their own country.

As a matter of hard Realpolitik it is surely a relief for Downing Street that the Baerbock bubble of the last month has definitively burst. The Christian Democrats (CDU) won a resounding victory in the regional elections of Sachsen-Anhalt over the weekend, the last beauty contest before the national vote in September. The Green surge fizzled out. They won just 5.9pc of the vote, albeit in a small quirky state. The Left Party fared even worse.

The back-slapping Armin Laschet does not set passions alight. He is the post-Merkel “continuity candidate” picked by the CDU’s old guard against the clear wishes of the party base. But he is nevertheless running five points ahead in the latest nationwide Insa poll.

The German vaccination campaign has kicked into gear and is now rolling along with the Teutonic precision that we expected earlier. A V-shaped economic recovery is in full swing and the Christian Democrats will enjoy a reopening dividend. It is looking ever more likely that Mr Laschet will lead the next German government, probably in coalition with the Greens as junior partners. If so, this effectively kills off “Hamiltonian” plans by EU integrationists hoping to turn the Recovery Fund into a permanent economic government, eviscerating national parliaments in the process.

It is not clear what Mr Laschet means by keeping the British “very, very close” but it implies a willingness to bury the hatchet after the bitter Brexit divorce, a switch from a punishment policy to something closer to a win-win for both sides. This is in contrast to public statements by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, who both stated that the UK must emerge from the Brexit process in worse shape than the status quo ante, otherwise the example would pose a threat to the EU project. They brushed aside proposals by a group of European academics, economists, and elder statesmen for a Continental Partnership with the UK, one that could become a model for the ring of countries around the EU that want friendly ties and open trade but without the full package of the superstate. This chance was missed. The EU still has no formula for its near abroad, or for its own nationalist members in Eastern Europe. It is quarrelling with everybody.

The British military administration of Northwest Germany after the Second World War was far-sighted by comparison, given the blood-letting and horrors that preceded it. Needless to say, it was more muddled and less benign than we like to imagine. But in the round it was remarkable.

In my view the EU will ultimately come to the conclusion that the “pastoralisation” of Brexit Britain – to borrow the analogy of the Morgenthau Plan for post-War Germany – will give way over time to an amicable modus vivendi. It is already under pressure from the Biden administration and will have to sort out the Northern Irish Protocol, which is currently being pushed by the EU with a pig-headedness that violates the dual consent principle of the Good Friday Agreement.

The message of the early trade data is that EU exporters are rapidly losing share to global rivals in the UK market, with much of this damage concentrated in North Rhine-Westphalia. This will get worse when Britain ends its (unreciprocated) grace period of light-touch rules for goods imports from Europe. It is a hard deadline of sorts.

What is needed is a fresh cast of EU leaders willing to question the canonical orthodoxies of the EU’s Brexit Task Force and turn the page. A Chancellor Laschet would be a good start. The souverainiste surge building up in France, Italy, and Spain may broaden the base.



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