29 September 2021

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’ 

Covid

An interesting blog, with The 30 facts you need to know. So, will it eventually come to  be seen as a very expensive case of much ado about nothing?? But extremely profitable for some.

Here in Spain, it’s believed the worst of the pandemic is over, with the case rate being the lowest in 12 months. With a very high percentage of folk jabbed, it’s now hoped that Covid will soon be just another mildish winter infection. Possibly called ‘flu’.

Cosas de España/Galiza

This’ll be of interest to those of you who – unlike me – love cheese.

Christopher Columbus has returned to front-runner status as the ‘discoverer’ of North America, as the Vikings slip out of contention.

A lesson learned?  Britain’s newish ambassador to Spain has ruffled feathers by making light of a British attack on La Coruña in 1599, led by a man whom the Spanish love to hate – La pirata Draké.  . .  HE*’s comment during a visit to that fair city – “It seems that 432 years ago there was a small contretemps in Corunna” – was mostly greeted by Spaniards with appreciation of “English understatement and humour” but, inevitably, some were angered by what they saw as the downplaying of a brutal assault. 

  • His Excellency and, by coincidence, Hugh Elliott . . .

The UK 

As is traditional these days, the shortage of truck drivers has been blamed on Brexit. The truth is that a critical shortage was predicted away back in 2014, when discussions took place between the haulage industry and the government. Thus, a 2015 headline: An HGV driver shortage is ‘a ticking time bomb’ for the logistics sector. Brexit has, of course, exacerbated the UK situation to  a degree but the problem exists on the Continent too. As for Britain: As with the gas storage issue, nothing was done by the government in 2014, nor by successive governments. 

As regards the energy crisis . . . Is this a fascinating partial solution, albeit some way off?

Germany

Another negative overview: Germany has opted for a decade of genteel decline – and the wider European economy will be weakened by that. Why? Because the Merkel years, marked by complacency and drift, have left its economy facing huge structural challenges, from an over-reliance on manufacturing and exports, to a dangerously unstable trade surplus. See the article below.

Italy

Case in point . . . The logistics industry has called on the government to increase the work permit quota for foreigners so as to lessen driver shortage. The sector needs 17,000 drivers, but there’s an urgent need for at least 5,000 now. As far as I’m aware, Italy is still in the EU.

The Way of the World

It’s said that: People who can’t fit into jeans they wore aged 21 are at risk of developing diabetes. So that’s everyone in the developed world, no?

Thanks to a football match between Real Madrid and a team from Moldavia, I now know that there’s a breakaway region in the latter called Transnistria. Since Madrid doesn’t recognise places – such as Kosovo – which unilaterally declare independence, I wonder how the Spanish media treated it. BTW: The mighty Real Madrid were humbled by the Moldavian/Transnistarian minnows.

Spanish

I’m told these are both correct:-

Tu español es bueno.

Tu español está bien.

Can anyone explain the different verbal treatment?

Finally  . . .

My grandparents ran a large pub with 5 bars, one of which was for women only. Listening to a podcast the other day, I was reminded that one of the bars was called ‘the snug’. Here the bitter beer was cheaper and also available was the ‘mild’ variety, In short, it was a bar for the lower orders. Back in the day, bars were sometimes separated by what was called a ‘snob screen’ but I don’t recall this being so in my grandparents’ case. Happily, the pub world has moved on and everyone pays the same prices now.

Interestingly, one of the surviving pubs with a snob screen has the name Posada, Spanish for ‘low cost inn’.

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

ARTICLE

Germany’s paralytic compromise threatens to destabilise Europe. A weak coalition will strengthen both France and empire-building Von der Leyen: Matthew Lynn The Telegraph

A Grand Coalition of the two main parties? A traffic light coalition made up of the Social Democrats, the Free Democrats and the Greens? A Jamaica coalition composed of the Christian Democrats, the Free Democrats and the Greens? Or some other combination of the parties with several different potential chancellors.

There are various governments that may emerge from weeks of haggling in Berlin following inconclusive election results. But the actual result is certain. Germany has opted for a decade of genteel decline – and the wider European economy will be weakened by that.

Why? Because the Merkel years, marked by complacency and drift, have left its economy facing huge structural challenges, from an over-reliance on manufacturing and exports, to a dangerously unstable trade surplus.

While it could fix those with some boldness and vision, there is little chance of that now. And perhaps more seriously because a weak German government will strengthen both France and an empire-building European Commission in Brussels, allowing both to push for more state control. The end of Angela Merkel’s 16 years in power could have been a moment for renewal. Instead it will turn into stagnation on roller skates.

As election results go, it was not exactly a night of high drama. The Social Democrats came first with 25pc of the vote, the Christian Democrats narrowly lost with 24pc, the Green surge fizzled out, leaving the party with just 14pc, while the pro-business Free Democrats scored a respectable 11pc.

The moral victory went to the SDP’s Olaf Scholz, who has resurrected his party from near death. Merkel’s final legacy will be a fragmented political system and permanent coalition.

The markets, not very surprisingly, hardly moved on the results. Why would they? After all, it looks as if it will be months before a new government is finally formed, and even then it is not likely to be very different from the last one. The German voters have opted for as little to change as possible.

Here’s the problem, however. Germany needs more reform than its calm prosperity would suggest. Nearly all the GDP gains on Merkel’s watch came during the first few years. An obsession with balancing the budget has starved infrastructure of investment.

Its painfully slow internet speeds symbolise its lack of competitiveness in the digital economy. It has only 18 tech ‘unicorns’, as start-ups worth more than $1bn are known, compared with more than 100 for the UK, while 43pc of German companies still use fax machines, a woeful performance for a country that was a world leader in the first and second industrial revolutions, and has a heritage of technical and scientific brilliance.

It has poured resources and political energy into a car industry that is still struggling to come to terms with the switch to electric vehicles. Perhaps most seriously of all, it has focused on building up a massive trade surplus, running to 7pc of GDP this year, that does little to make ordinary Germans richer, and destabilises the global economy. None of that is a recipe for prosperity or competitiveness in the 2020s and beyond.

All of that could no doubt be fixed with some modest reforms. Higher public spending would build a lot of infrastructure and bring down the trade surplus. 

Tax incentives for entrepreneurs would fix the digital deficit. Investment in alternative energy sources would bring down power costs and reduce reliance on Russian gas, while leaving BMW and Volkswagen to fend for themselves in a brutally competitive global auto market would steadily reduce the reliance on the car industry. 

None of that would be terribly difficult, and Germany is in a stronger starting position than almost any other developed country (including of course the UK). But a Scholz-led coalition is not going to have either the will or the power to make even modest changes. 

The last four years will look like a whirlwind of activity compared with the years ahead. For the wider European economy that will have three big consequences.

First, expect genteel decline. It certainly won’t be a catastrophe. Germany is too wealthy, and too stable, and with lots of strengths, and can easily afford another couple of decades of slow growth. By the 2030s, its population will be so elderly perhaps no one will care very much anyway. But its structural flaws will worsen and worsen and that will make it very hard for the whole continent to expand.

Next, German leadership will fade. Whoever leads the next coalition, with three partners it will be far less stable, and seldom more than a crisis away from falling apart.

The German government will become a lot more Italian. The result? France will take the leadership of the EU, and so will a hyperactive, power-hungry EU Commission in Brussels (indeed, by far the biggest winner from the election was the EU’s President Ursula von der Leyen, now by any measure the most powerful German politician).

That will shift the EU towards top-down, centrally planned statism, and that always damages economic growth.

Finally, below the surface, German politics will become steadily less stable. The centrist parties did well this time around, but the far-right Alternative for Deutschland still scored 10pc, and its support is strongest among younger voters.

Indeed, in former East Germany, if only the votes of the under-60s were counted, the AfD would have won the election. It would be rash to conclude the German political system will remain as stable as it has been.

In truth, there was nothing to celebrate in the result. It may be months before there is a German government, and when one emerges it will be so patched together with so many compromises it will be hard to work out what it stands for.

The wider European economy needs a revitalised, re-energised Germany – but that is not going to happen for a long time now.

7 comments

  1. “Tu español es bueno” vs. “Tu español está bien.” The latter means that your Spanish is fine, like in the response to the usual question, “estoy bien.” “Bien” can also simply mean “fine.”

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    • Spanish is one of the only languages to have two versions of “to be.” Italian also has two versions, but tends to use one of them on far fewer ocassions than Spanish.

      “Ser” is used for permanent states, in general. “Tu español es bueno” means that all of your absolute knowledge of that language is good. “Estar” is used for transitive states, with few exceptions (“Estar muerto” means “to be dead”, and that is pretty permanent, though one could argue that the use of “estar” refers to a belief in being born to a new life in heaven, and that being dead is pretty transitory.). “Tu español está bien” can refer to the fact that you are learning, and your level at this moment is good, or that your use of that language at a specific moment is good. By using “está”, the speaker is implying that your present level can change and that you are in the process of changing it.

      Both statements can mean the same at the time they are said, that your use of the language is good. In fact, most people interchange them without thinking.

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  2. Thanks, Mark.

    Yes . . . “By using “está”, the speaker is implying that your present level can change and that you are in the process of changing it.” This is why I was surprised when ‘Tu español es bueno’ was said to someone at an early-ish stage of learning it.

    Plus, since everyone can improve their level of a language – especially foreigners – my thought was the even a speaker at a later stage would have a changeable/’temporary’ level of ability, justifying Estar.

    A friend has suggested it’s analogous with ‘Eres guapa’ and ‘Estás guapa’ [hoy] but am not sure that works.

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    • “Eres guapa” means a woman is beautiful in her own right. It’s permanent until age does its thing. “Estás guapa” means she’s spiffed up today, whether or not her face is like Helen’s. It’s not quite the same as the knowledge one holds of a language.

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