Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 3.8.21

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

– Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’ 


Cosas de España/Galiza  

Here’s The Independent on Spain’s success in overtaking the UK on jabbing its population. This might sound a tad churlish but it’s not customary in Spain for anyone to believe official statistics. Just sayin’, though I really do hope it’s true.

Well, it looks like there’s not going to be an ‘Amber Watchlist’ in the UK. For this week at least. But no one is denying that Brits already here on holiday won’t be told that Spain has suddenly been moved to the Red box. And so they’ll have to pay for (very) expensive quarantine when they go home. Hard to plan in these circumstances.

Here in Spain, we’ve been free to jettison masks in public for a week or two but – in Pontevedra at least – nearly everyone is still wearing them. My UK visitor tells me that, in contrast, hardly anyone is wearing masks there since ‘Freedom Day’.

Talking of masks . .  I left mine at home yesterday so went to the nearest pharmacy for a new one. This conversation took place as I stood at the door:-

I’d like a new mask, please.

A medical grade one?

No, a basic one.

OK, wait there and I’ll bring it to you.

If you’re going to do that, why can’t I come in and get it?

Because other people might then come into the shop.

But they won’t. Everyone waits outside if there’s someone already inside. But never mind. How much is the mask?

70 centimos. 

How come some pharmacies charge me only 20 centimos for the same basic mask.

Err . . . This one comes in its own envelope.


I then entered the shop to pay for the mask and get my change at the counter, albeit wearing the mask the pharmacist had brought to the door. IGIMSTS.

Here in Galicia, we’ve been waiting for the AVE high-speed train service to Madrid for just under 30 years. So, we can perhaps be forgiven for greeting with a wry smile this assurance from the Transport Secretary: “There’s no reason to think the AVE couldn’t arrive in Galicia this year.”

Spanish regionalisation: If someone from my home county of Cheshire won an Olympics medal, try as I might I couldn’t imagine him/her publicly dedicating it to ‘all of Cheshire’. Contrast the Galician bronze medal long-jumper, who insists that ‘All of this medal is Galicia’s’. 

I mentioned that the camino in Galicia has been made safer at various points. You can see a new path and safety barrier in this foto. You can also see the less-than-perfect mechanism for warning buses and trucks of an imminent low bridge. Meaning regular crashes:-

Sorry for the poor quality of that. Dirty camera lens, I guess. Or taken when I was walking.

The UK 

Surprisingly, it’s reported that research shows there’s no trace of Covid in train stations and carriages. But it’s consistent with the claim that you can’t catch the virus from surfaces. It brings back a memory of me arguing with a mask-zealot in the open air on Pontevedra station a couple of weeks ago.

The EU

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have significantly raised the prices of their vaccines. One wonders if they’ll now get as much stick as Astra Zeneca, who – in contrast – sells its vaccine at cost price and is making no profit on it. 

In every crisis, from the 2008 crash to Covid, the EU’s structural flaws re-emerge and hold it back. And now the eurozone is yet again struggling to keep up with the rest of the world. Says the writer of the article below


Fingered as  factor in that article re the EU’s slower-than-elsewhere economic recovery.


Looking to place the blame on Europe – specifically Italy – for the Covid outbreak.

The Way of the World

This is not going to impress feminists. Or possibly most of everyone else: Some UK hospital trusts have told staff that male-born sex offenders who identify as women can be treated on female-only wards after a risk assessment: “When placing trans patients, a criminal history should be part of an assessment but it should not prevent admission in all cases. People should be admitted to wards based on the gender they identify with and can choose which shower and lavatory facilities to use.”

Finally  . . .  

Venice has another landmark to sit alongside its gothic treasures – a 16m footbridge made by a robotic 3D printer using a new type of “concrete ink”. The structure, called Striatus, is formed of several large pieces. Each was created by a robot, which squeezed a specially formulated concrete through a nozzle, as if piping icing on to a cake. Layer by layer, this concrete “ink” forms a three-dimensional shape.

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


Yet again the eurozone struggles to keep up with the rest of the world. In every crisis, from the 2008 crash to Covid, the European Union’s structural flaws re-emerge and hold it back: Matthew Lynn The Telegraph

America’s economy has already recovered the ground lost during the pandemic and is powering forward. China produces more now than before the first outbreak of Covid-19. Even a relatively mediocre economy, such as the UK, for example, with one of the worst outbreaks of the virus and facing all the headwinds from leaving the EU, is staging one of the most rapid recoveries in its history. The global economy is bouncing back strongly, but there is one exception.

The eurozone. It is the weakest link in the global economy, and it could be years before it claws back to 2019 levels of production and output. Even worse, it isn’t the first time that has happened. After 2008-09, the eurozone also saw the weakest and slowest recovery from the crash. A coincidence? Not really. True, there are special circumstances in each case. But a pattern is also starting to emerge.

Every time there is a major global recession, the countries sharing the single currency stage the most sluggish and tepid recovery of any major economic bloc. The zone is not about to collapse. But with each turn of the cycle, it emerges a bit poorer, a bit smaller, and a bit weaker – and there is no sign of that changing.

The strength of some of the recoveries from the Covid-19 crisis has been remarkable. The US, helped by President Joe Biden’s massive stimulus plan, has already caught up with its pre-pandemic level of output, and the IMF projects it will grow at 7% this year and almost 5% next. China managed to sail through the crisis with just a slowdown in growth, and will expand another 8% in 2021. Canada will expand 6.3% this year, and the UK by a healthy 7%, which should put it on track to claw back all its losses in output by the end of the year.

Major emerging economies should do just as well; India saw a 7.3% drop in GDP, but 9% growth this year will make up for that; and Brazil’s 4.1% fall will be restored by a 5.3% expansion. A combination of fiscal support, massive borrowing, and easy money have engineered a resilient recovery. The eurozone, however, is not doing quite so well. Growth figures last week were disappointing. True, the zone is growing, but at a far slower pace than the rest of the world. Overall, the zone expanded by just 2% in the second quarter. Italy was the best of its major economies, at 2.7%, while Germany managed to eke out 1.5% growth for the quarter, below expectations, and hardly making up for the 2.1% fall in the first three months of the year. France was even weaker, with quarterly growth of just 1%. Overall, the IMF expects the zone to expand by only 4.6% in 2021, after a 6.5% fall last year. When will it get back to its pre-pandemic level of production? No one really knows. At the current rate, it will be a while.

After the financial crisis of 2008-09 the eurozone also had the slowest recovery. Both the US and the eurozone witnessed a 5% slump in output in that crash. But America had clawed back that lost output by 2014, while it took the countries sharing the single currency until 2016. The US got back to almost its pre-crash growth rate. The eurozone never did. 

For the second time in a row, the eurozone’s recovery will be significantly worse than the US, and this time around may be weaker than the UK, Canada, and probably Australia as well, at least if it can get its vaccination rates up. Is that just a coincidence? To some extent. Last time around, the European Central Bank stumbled into a disastrous rise in interest rates that choked off its recovery before it had even begun, and then the Greek crisis precipitated a collapse in the peripheral countries. This time around, botched procurement of vaccines meant a relatively slow rollout, and while that has now finally been fixed, it slowed down the pace of reopening. But there is more to it than that. In fact, the eurozone has 3 huge structural flaws, and in every crisis they keep on re-emerging.

First, its institutions are always far too slow to react. Trying to forge a consensus among 27 members is painfully slow, and for each government to secure agreement in its own parliament takes even longer. We have seen that all over again in the fiscal response to this crisis. President Biden has already sent out billions of dollars in cheques to every American household and the money has been spent. By contrast, the EU’s €750bn (£641bn) Coronavirus Recovery Fund won’t start affecting economies until later this year. You can argue about whether it is too little – but there can surely be no dispute that it is too late.

Next, credit growth restricts any expansion. The single currency remains a half-finished project, with no real banking union and some of the strictest capital adequacy rules for its banks in the world. The result? No one wants to lend any money. It is impossible for an economy to expand without expanding credit, but in the eurozone that remains virtually impossible.

Finally, the dominance of the German trade surplus means demand is constantly sucked out of the other economies*. Even with a slump in global trade, it still racked up a surplus of $261bn (£188bn) in 2020. It runs a $45bn surplus with France, and a $12bn surplus with Italy. The zone will always find it hard to grow with those structural imbalances built into it.

Sure, the eurozone will struggle on. The ECB is committed to printing money like crazy, and it has loosed its inflation target to provide plenty of room to keep the presses running for years to come. There is no immediate crisis on the horizon. And yet it comes back from every global recession slightly weaker and slightly poorer and with more long-term problems – and right now there is no reason to expect that to ever change.

* Like London and the rest of the UK, I guess.