Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 22.4.21


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

NOTE: Info on Galicia here. Detailed info on Pontevedra coming soon. 

Cosas de España

Another odd Spanish court decision.

And another odd thing . . . Unesco threatens to withdraw world heritage status for Burgos cathedral over new doors

Cousas de Galiza

Vigo’s Urzaiz railway station is still a building site for a massive shopping mall. It takes 5-10 minutes to get out of it – via several escalators – to an exit 5-10 minutes further away from the city centre than the old one. But that wasn’t my biggest frustration yesterday . . . Returning to Pontevedra, I made 5 abortive attempts to get the machine to give me a discount on the tickets of myself and a confused woman I was trying to help. Each time, the instruction on the screen was to go to the ticket office. But there wasn’t one. A desk by the side of the 3 machines was unpersonned and there was no sign of an office elsewhere. So I gave up and paid the full price. Only to later find that, shortly before departure, they set up a temporary ticket desk near the gate on the floor below. Not great customer service, then. But the Renfe staff are always pleasant when you do speak to them.

María’s Level Ground: Days 17 & 18

The UK and The EU 

Good news. A divided European Union that is slow to reach messy compromises on climate change targets welcomes British competition in the “race to zero” on greenhouse gas emissions. In a tempestuous period for relations between Britain and the EU, especially since the coronavirus vaccine “war” in February and March, climate change policy has been an area where co-operation has quietly deepened.

Returning Brits . . .

Germany, Spain and the EU

What on earth is happening? AEP: The ascendant Greens will turn Germany and Europe upside down. With Germany and southern Europe swinging in opposite directions, sharing a monetary union is about to become even harder. The full article below.

The Way of the World

Name your poison. Which form of greed do you prefer? Uefa and Fifa’s hypocrisy is astonishing; their greed ruined this game long ago. Listening to the Uefa president, thundering about “greed” and his Fifa counterpart, citing “self-interest” and former players wailing on TV about an assault on football as a “community asset”, I couldn’t help but giggle. When we look back on this incident, we will marvel at mankind’s capacity for hypocrisy. Not a unique view. More here.

A propos  . .  The [aborted] European Super League: Lame apologies do not begin to repair owners’ reputations. They’ll be back. For all the stirring opposition Operation Greed will return. John W Henry, the principal owner of Liverpool, is a businessman, not a benefactor. His show of contrition and attempt to make peace with fans may have been genuine, but so is his desire to make money. As with the even more loathsome Joel Glazer at Manchester United and arrogant Stan Kroenke at Arsenal, these are men wanting to monetise the emotion filling famous English clubs. 

An amusing news item:-

Quote of the Week 

I can relate . . . I am ‘triggered’ by scissors that come in impenetrable plastic packaging requiring scissors to open. Would I be buying scissors if I had scissors? 

Finally  . . . 

On British TV there’s an ad for a decking company called Trex. Are they really unaware that Trex is a large blog of vegetable fat used in baking, as with Crisco in the US. 

There’s also an ad for an air freshener which the company puffs as a ‘limited edition’ for spring. As if it were a bloody work of art.


The ascendant Greens will turn Germany and Europe upside down. With Germany and southern Europe swinging in opposite directions, sharing a monetary union is about to become even harder   Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Expect 130km speed signs across the German Autobahns, with 30km per hour becoming the general rule in all towns. Expect a ban on sales of combustion engines by 2030, and a regulatory squeeze on overpowered trophy cars. Expect a halt to domestic short-haul flights wherever trains are viable. 

Prepare for a German carbon tax of €60 a tonne in two years, and perhaps a wealth tax, a Tobin tax, a supertax on high incomes, and an end to corporate tax deductibility for pay above €500,000. Dream no longer of an EU-US trade deal (TTIP) or any other trade deal unless the ideological principles of German ecologists are satisfied.

All of this is in the draft manifesto of Die Grünen, the German greens, and right now there is no conceivable combination in which they will not be a central pillar of the next coalition. The likelihood of a Green chancellor has soared after the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) picked the back-slapping Armin Laschet as the “continuity candidate” in a leadership stitch-up – blocking Bavaria’s disruptive rising star, Markus Söder, so clearly preferred by the grassroots and the German people. 

To insist on Mr Laschet was a fateful decision for a stale exhausted party so badly in need of a makeover after 16 years in power: an era when Germany began to rest on its laurels, neglecting digital technology, cutting public investment to the bone in pursuit of balanced-budget shibboleths, doubling-down on 20th century industries.

It also mistook the mercantilist advantages of the euro system (an undervalued synthetic D-Mark) for a second Wirschaftswunder. Only later will it become clear that Angela Merkel has presided over “peak Germany” and the onset of decline.   

Annalena Baerbock, the trampolinist and newly chosen Green candidate, has vaulted into the lead at 28pc following her party’s smooth leadership contest. It is a movement on the march, hungry for power. “They are disciplined and extremely well-run,” said Giles Dickson, head of renewable lobby WindEurope.

The hapless Mr Laschet has collapsed by six points to 21pc. The Social Democrats (SPD) have crashed to 13pc and risk going the way of the French Socialists. The two great Volksparteien that have run the country since the Second World War cannot muster more than 34pc between them. The Germany that most of us have known all our lives is about to change in radical and unpredictable ways.

The Green Party was born in 1980 with a mission to tear down capitalism and end the affluent way of life. The Fundis – the fundamentalists – like to ban things. The origins of the movement could hardly be further removed from the Ordoliberal spirit of Ludwig Erhard, economic father of modern Germany, who lived by the motto “if in doubt, always choose the freer path”.

Ms Baerbock is from the pragmatic Realo wing, which has captured the leadership. “She has spent the last three years talking to business and she understands that you have to use the free market to steer the economy in a green direction,” said Holger Schmieding from the German bank Berenberg.

While the vested interests of Deutschland Inc are horrified by the prospect of a Green victory, there are even more powerful interests in the new economy and finance that can see the lucrative opportunity. They think the great fortunes of the 2020s will be made in green tech and data analytics, and that any country clinging to the metal-bashing fossil age will be left behind as the US and China run away with the prize.

Erstwhile sinner Volkswagen has changed sides, betting all on electric vehicles with €30bn of investment under the new management of Herbert Diess, who warns of a “Nokia Moment” for companies that fail to make the switch in time. “German business has seen the light. They know they have to go green,” said Mr Schmieding.

The difficulty with the Greens is that the unreconstructed Fundis dominate the party base and shape its character, more so than Labour’s defeated Corbynistas. As a political culture, they are inimical to free enterprise.

If a Chancellor Baerbock went into coalition with the Christian-Democrats reduced to a junior partner – as in Baden-Württemberg – she might be able to keep her hot-headed troops in line and force them to accept centrist compromises. But the Fundi youth wing aims to block any deal with Mr Laschet, a coal supporter and closet-climate denialist. 

What might emerge instead is a Red-Red-Green coalition with the ex-Communists of Die Linke and a broken SPD party lurching leftwards in search of its lost soul.  

This is the stuff of nightmares for the German establishment. “The party base will pull the Greens to the hard Left if they are in coalition only with other left-wing parties,” said Mr Schmieding.

What the Greens cannot do is fund a vast Bidenesque fiscal expansion by tapping the bond markets, much as they would like to. That would breach the constitutional debt-brake. It takes a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament to change the Basic Law. 

The Greens would have to raise taxes or cut spending elsewhere to pay for lavish welfare spending and their plan to lift public investment by €50bn a year (an extra 1.5pc of GDP), comparable in scale to Joe Biden’s infrastructure push. That would rob it of its stimulus effect. 

Nor would they be able to ram through their plan for an EU treasury or fiscal capacity, or transform the European Parliament into Germany’s supreme legislative body at the expense of the Bundestag. Such a transfer of power to the EU crosses constitutional lines and cannot be imposed by simple majority. 

For Britain, a Green Germany would be a chilly adversary. The party is supra-nationalist, inclined to scapegoat City ‘speculators’ for the world’s ills (an atavistic reflex), and above all ideologically hostile to the concept of the sovereign nation state. 

Die Grünen want a European federal state, on alleged grounds that environmental disaster knows no borders and that the only way to save the planet is to avert a race to the bottom by competing states. They are an extreme millenarian pro-EU party even in their new technocrat guise, like Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche party but without his mitigating Gaulliste streak and regalian idée de la France.

If it were just a matter of ecology, Boris Johnson would get on swimmingly with Annalena Baerbock. The UK’s plan to cut CO2 emissions by 78pc from 1990 levels is just as ambitious as the Green’s 70pc cut by 2030 and it will be committed to law much earlier. 

The UK’s coal phase-out by 2025 is five years ahead of the Green target, though the date scarcely matters since rising EU emissions contracts – now €46 a tonne – will price coal out of the German market long before 2030.

But the rift over identity politics trumps climate unity. The UK is a Westphalian state under the 1648 settlement, or trying to become one again, and the Greens are the fer-de-lance of the Holy Roman Empire in its modern form. 

Which raises an intriguing question since southern Europe seems to be swinging in the opposite direction from Germany: what happens if Marine Le Pen takes France next year, as she well might if the centre splits and Mr Macron is knocked out in the first round? Her party has dropped the anti-euro clause from its platform for tactical reasons but it has not become federalist.

What if Giorgia Meloni takes Italy a few months later at the head of a hard-Right alliance of Fratelli d’Italia and the Lega? And what if the Spanish conservatives (PP) take Spain with supply and consent from the rising neo-Franquista Vox party?

We may have Red-Red-Green Germany facing a triple nationalist front across the Latin bloc, obliged to share monetary union across the North-South divide, and agreeing on almost nothing. Good luck with that.