Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 4.7.21

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.  

– Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Cosas de España/Galiza

Our local police have decided to get tough with kids doing what kids do, threatening fines of €300 per infraction. As ever with the young in Spain, the response seems to have been slow. Reminding me of what a teacher friend said years ago: Thanks to Franco, there’s a fear of being labelling authoritarian in Spain. We don’t know how to say No to our children. Maybe she was right.

Latifundios are (very) large estates, associated for centuries with rich, absentee owners. Mostly in the South. Here in the North West, we have the opposite situation – minifundios – small or even tiny plots resulting from regular divisions on inheritance. The source of many land disputes. The Diario de Pontevedra recently reported that there are actually 2.5 minifundios for every person living in Pontevedra province. 

The UK

The EU/Germany

AEP takes another critical view – below – at Mrs Merkel’s legacy, both for Germany and the EU.

The USA

Q. Is James Corden the UK’s most annoying export?

A. Yes. And has been for quite some time. Many in Britain heaved a deep sigh of relief when he took his cheeky-chappy routine across the pond. Now some Americans have cottoned on to Corden’s guilty secret: he isn’t very funny.

The Way of the World

The pandemic has presented yet another intoxicating way for one group of people to assert its beliefs over another group of people. It is grating to watch. For nearly a year now, it’s been happening: the casual demonising of the vast majority who aren’t being sufficiently “vigilant” or “honest”. It doesn’t matter if you have in fact spent months hiding in the dark, wiping down vegetables, or if you are double-vaxed, or if your own mother nearly died of Covid. You must fully demonstrate you are morally pure by showing how dedicated you are to doing exactly what this tiny minority wants at all times, even if that means wearing your mask outside and not going on holiday, or testing your child repeatedly. 

Spanish/English

I contend it’s easy to see when something in English has been translated – even if totally correctly – from the Spanish original. Not so much, say, the word order as style. Or ‘floweriness’. In the Madrid museum last week, I was rather fascinated by word-perfect English versions of the information plaques which, nonetheless, seemed to me not to have been done – or approved by – a native speaker. Possibly the striving for perfection. Or, more usually, the use of words or phrases that a native speaker would confine to specific occasions. For example ‘the wee hours of the morning’. And then there are the phrases which might just sound better or actually mean something in Spanish – such as Over the last years or The Plurality of Contrasts. Finally, there’s the words such as quintrelle and which almost no native speaker would recognise. And such translations as Royal Progresses for Jornadas Reales. Though, with its 15 meanings in the Royal Academy’s dictionary, jornada certainly does present a challenge. Including: Viaje que los reyes hacían a los sitios reales, and Tiempo que los reyes residían en un sitio real. I rest my case.

The museum, by the way, stressed that there was no  planning involved in the expansion of Madrid during the 18th and 19th centuries. Which didn’t come as a huge surprise, given the residual Spanish aversion to anything as un-spontaneous as planning or making genuine commitments . . .

Finally  . . .

On WordPress, this blog seems to be followed by a disproportionate number of folk in India. They aren’t exactly spammers but in some way must be trying to promote their own sites. Possibly in the vainglorious belief I will go to them . . 

Note: If you’ve arrived here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try this.  

THE ARTICLE 

We all love Mutti Merkel but she leaves a trail of wreckage across Europe. Angela Merkel is a reassuring figure on the international stage but her policy errors have harmed Europe and the German economy    Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. The Telegraph

The long unadventurous reign of Angela Merkel will go down in history as Germany’s Brezhnev era, a time of deceptive stability that masks the onset of slow structural decline. The country has clung to comfortable immobilism and a pre-digital business model. Beguiled by relative ascendency within Europe and the mercantilist advantages of an undervalued exchange rate, it seems only dimly aware of the dangers. “People don’t realize it now but we are witnessing the end of Germany as an economic superpower,” says Ashoka Mody, former deputy-director at the International Monetary Fund in Europe. The verdict is even blunter from Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin and author of Die Deutschland Illusion. “We’re living in cloud-cuckoo land,” he once told me.

German outperformance compared to the rest of Europe – but not the world, which it lags badly – is mostly the fruit of an ‘internal devaluation’ within the closed eurozone system. This was made possible by the Hartz IV wage compression policies enacted before Chancellor Merkel took power. It became easier to fire workers. Unit labour costs in German manufacturing fell 4.6%in the single year of 2005.

Angela Merkel inherited a regime in which German industry had acquired a competitive edge of 20-30& against the Club Med bloc, which was nigh impossible for the South to reverse without going into debt deflation and making matters even worse. Ultimately this was untenable for a currency union, as became all too clear. The other reason for German outperformance over the Merkel years has been the role of Deutschland Inc as chief supplier of engineering equipment and industrial goods to China, a phase of development that is waning as China moves up the ladder and pursues an autarky policy of import substitution under Xi Jinping.

Chancellor Merkel is an immensely reassuring figure on the European stage and deserves a cordial welcome on her valedictory visit to Britain. But she also bears much of the responsibility for Europe’s Lost Decade, a calamitous episode of monetary mismanagement and austerity overkill that set the stage for Brexit. She allowed the eurozone debt crisis to fester for 3 years until it engulfed the Spanish and Italian debt markets in mid-2012 and threatened to set off a cataclysmic chain of sovereign defaults. Only then did she agree (after US intervention) to let the European Central Bank assume its critical role as a lender of last resort.

Her government used its control over the EU’s institutional machinery to impose austerity overkill on southern Europe, driving the whole region into a contractionary vortex that pushed debt-to-GDP ratios even higher and was largely self-defeating even on its own crude terms.

Although she agreed to joint debt issuance under the EU Recovery Fund last year, the sums are modest when stretched over six years and the structure reverts to the status quo ante over time. It is not a permanent fiscal entity or Europe’s ‘Hamilton Moment’.It does not correct the original sin of the euro, the creation of a federal currency without a federal EU treasury or economic government to make it workable. Indeed, Mrs Merkel has spent 16 years digging in her heels at every juncture to prevent it happening. The dysfunctional halfway house remains in place to cause the next crisis.  

The Merkel austerity formula for Europe caused several hundred thousand economic refugees from Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and even France at one point, to migrate to Britain in search of work. It also diverted large numbers of Eastern Europeans who would have worked in other EU states to come to Britain too. These migrants have, thankfully, prevented the National Health Service and British care homes from keeling over. We should cherish them. But the sudden influx of so many people led to social tissue rejection at a critical moment in 2015 and 2016. Chancellor Merkel’s decision to throw open the doors to the vast refugee caravan from the Mid-East (mostly economic migrants, and not from Syria, as it turned out) fed the mood that Europe was out of control. If that had been the only problem, Brexit would never have happened. But Angela Merkel rammed through a series of EU initiatives that successively undermined British consent for the EU project.

She revived the European Constitution after it had been rejected by the French and Dutch people, repackaging it as the Lisbon Treaty and expediting it by executive fiat without fresh referenda. Tony Blair acquiesced under the pretence that it was a cleaning-up exercise. The effect was to transform the EU from a confederacy of treaty states into a quasi-federation with Germany constitutionally established as primus inter pares. It greatly extended the writ of the European Court and made the Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding, subverting the Common Law system and allowing euro-judges to rule on almost any matter, such as UK intelligence sharing with the US, or Swedish tax policy. It created a de facto supreme court for Europe. This was revolutionary.

Mrs Merkel circumvented David Cameron’s veto of the EU Fiscal Compact when he requested safeguards for the City, pushing through a separate treaty that isolated Britain and created a very nasty atmosphere. Mr Cameron was right as it happens: the Compact was economic vandalism, and has proved unenforceable.

She ignored him when he tried to stop the appointment of arch-federalist Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission president, breaching an EU tradition that no large state should ever be overruled on this choice. The broad British public may not have followed these episodes but political, media, and financial opinion did take note, and that was to tip the fine balance.

Mrs Merkel acted with a single-minded determination in what she saw as the German national interest (while always calling it the European interest), but lacked Fingerspitzengefühl for what it might mean to anybody else.

In the case of Britain, it meant Brexit, which has deprived the EU of its second biggest net contributor, its financial hub, and a leading defence and security power. It has deprived Germany of a blocking minority against the French-led protectionist states in the EU Council, and jeopardised its captive export market in the UK. In short, it brought about a diplomatic reverse of the first order for Germany itself.

At home, Mrs Merkel never seriously challenged the balanced-budget ideology of the German establishment, more or less letting the maniacal Wolfgang Schauble do his worst. Public investment has been negative for most years since the early 2000s, even though borrowing costs were zero and the economic multiplier on infrastructure spending is known to be high. The result of this flat-earth policy has been predictable.

Most Britons would be surprised to learn that Germany has had one of the slowest growing economies in the advanced bloc over the last 20 years. The OECD says productivity growth has averaged 1.2% annually since 1995, compared to 1.7% in the US, or 3.9% in Korea, which has spent its money pulling far ahead in G5 coverage and artificial intelligence.

Germany has sought to future-proof itself against its coming ageing crisis by controlling debt rather than modernising the economy. The Bundesbank says the old-age dependency ratio will rise to  39.35 by 2025, reaching 505 by mid-century. Greens deem this utter folly. They will launch an investment blitz if they sweep into power in September, but Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats are more likely to win and they still worship at the altar of fiscal rectitude.

The country has by now woken up to the slippage in digital technology, disturbed to discover that fibre-optic cable coverage lags Turkey and is too limited to support basic IT operations in extensive regions. The Tesla shock is too great to ignore. Almost everybody understands at this point that the German speciality of superb diesel and petrol engines is obsolete in a net-zero world. Volkswagen’s Herbert Diess says German carmakers risk going the way of Coventry within a decade unless they can quickly master the production of computers on wheels, where Silicon Valley has a large but not unassailable lead.  At stake is an industry of 800,000 workers that supports a wider ecosystem amounting to 10%  of German GDP.

There is of course much ruin in a great nation, to borrow from Adam Smith. Nothing is foreordained and it would be a mistake to underestimate the resourceful German people. But it is hard to see how anything of substance is going to change as long as the Merkel mentality holds its suffocating grip on Germany. We all love Mutti and wish her well. But long survival in office is not the same as statesmanship.  

One comment

  1. I am out of Stoke Mandeville Hospital. My first admission was the evening of Monday 21st with an infective exacerbation of COPD. I was out by 7 pm on Tuesday 22nd & a respiratory nurse visited the next day, who arranged for portable home oxygen to be supplied on Thursday 24th. At 9 am that morning, I had the first rectal bleed & called 111. Then the oxygen cylinders arrived. A second bleed was not flushed until the ambulance crew arrived. As I was stable at that point, it was decided I’d be driven to A & E, so they left.

    Some weeks before this, the New Oral Anticoagulation Service NOAC had written to my GP Dr. Anzak on 28th April about a very recent diagnosis of Atrial Flutter AF & to confirm that they had spoken to me about the stroke risk from AF & that Rivaroxaban anticoagulant treatment was on balance, recommended, even taking into account the 3 previous episodes of rectal bleeding; the last 2 being in February & March 2005.

    Three more bleeds prompted a 999 call & off I went. On arrival, I bypassed A & E & was taken direct to Resuscitation, as my bowels were very swollen. In very short order, my lower half was bared & I sat on a commode & let go. No false modesty for me. My BP plunged & I collapsed face down onto the examination bed. Instantly the team placed pads & rolled me onto them, whilst placing cannulas in both arms. I was feeling really ill & could hardly breathe. They infused Tranexamic Acid to reverse the effects of the Rivaroxaban & transfused 1 unit of Red Blood Cells RBCs.

    Soon, I began to feel better & was despatched to surgical ward 16 to await a CT scan. The bleeding slowed & stopped by 3 am on Friday & the CT scan later that day could not locate the source of active bleeding although it’s suspected to be somewhere amongst the many diverticula surrounding the ascending colon. Whilst in the ward, I received Co-amoxiclav for my chest infection & another unit of RCBs, eventually exiting stage left, on Thursday evening 1st July.

    Having been taken off Rivaroxaban, I give myself injections of Dalteparin Sodium twice a day to prevent strokes, but I am going to be fitted with this device, which is suitable for my type of AF. The cardiologist is on holiday until 14th July!

    https://www.bostonscientific.com/en-EU/products/laac-system/watchman.html

    So, I have an appointment with Mr Baharami at Harefield Hospital on 12th July to discuss possble/impossible surgery to repair the aortic root aneurysm, postponed from 2018. I have a further appointment with Dr Turner’s Tumour Screening Clinic, on 17th August, at Churchill Hospital in Oxford, following 4 weeks of radiotherapy for a malignant metastatic neoplasm in my neck. That treatment finished on 28th May & the lump is almost gone. I shall also have an endoscopy in 6 – 8 weeks. All in all, times have been interesting.😏

    Things only patients know. Equipment alarms are routinely ignored, especially when the drips run out. Order only drinking chocolate as the tea, coffee & drinking water are inexecrable. Order soup with biscuits & cheese. Crumble biscuits & melt butter into soup to prevent crumbs in bed. The cheese also improves the taste.😉

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