October 14 2021: Bloody masks; Rising unemployment; Sr Fixer in court; Renfe incompetence; Anglo-French relations; & a bit of Galego.

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 

Galicia now has the lowest rate of Covid cases in Spain. Nonetheless – and as feared –  some ‘experts’ are saying masks should stay compulsory indoors until at least February. Nationwide, I mean. If so, I’m going to be told off for my absent-mindedness many more times.

Unemployment has long been higher in Spain than anywhere else in the EU, with the exception of Greece. But things seem to have got worse in the last year.

We await with bated breath the unfolding of the trial of José Villarejo, a man involved for many years in very dirty work at the Spanish crossroads. Says one observer of his projects on behalf of the powerful or rich: Compared to this scandal, Watergate looks like child’s play. See here and here on this.

Much of a vast new commercial centre at Vigo rail station opened a couple of weeks ago but it seems no one at the nation rail carrier (Renfe) realised this would markedly increase traffic between that city and nearby Pontevedra and Vilagarcia to our North. Which has led to problems for folk with more serious reasons to travel. But then, Renfe, is infamous for not having much of a customer orientation. Rather like British Rail years ago. 

France

Relations with the UK are at a very low ebb. The writer of the article below attributes this largely to an ‘arrogant and uninspiring’ M Macron. Who might well have a different take on things.

The USA

American has again been classified as a declining democracy – in contrast with most European states.

English

‘Enclothed cognition’: This seems to mean being allowed to wear whatever you like at the office.

Finally  . . .

I put this Galician sentence into Google Translate – Non sei bailar: son un heavy que produce rap y fai merengues – and got: I don’t know how to dance: I’m a heavyweight who produces rap and makes meringues. But I guess ‘ a heavyweight’ really should be ‘ a heavy metal guy’.

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

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THE ARTICLE 

Anti-British, anti-Brexit Macron has turned France into a hostile state. Ministers are furious at the French president who has brought relations to a multi-generational low:  Allister Heath. The Telegraph

Tragic doesn’t even begin to describe it. Relations between France and Britain, Europe’s two greatest nations, the country of my birth and the country of my home, are at a multi-generational low. The situation is far worse than almost anybody realises, a heart-breaking state of affairs which will make it even harder to successfully renegotiate the Northern Irish protocol.

The anger, resentment and sense of betrayal on the British side is greater even than when General de Gaulle (rightly) vetoed our applications to join the European Community in 1963 and 1967. No recent event even remotely compares: not the row with Jacques Chirac over Iraq, not the lethal use by Argentina of French Exocet missiles during the Falklands War and certainly not the endless spats over beef, BSE, fish or European treaties over the years.

One needs to go back some seven decades to recall a worse time. The present moment is obviously nothing like the horror that was the necessary destruction by Britain of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir in Algeria in July 1940, killing 1,297 French servicemen, after the Allied defeat in the Battle of France, but the bitterness it caused in France lasted for decades, and today’s Anglo-French dispute could end up with a similarly poisonous legacy.

British ministers point to a series of events that shattered their faith in Emmanuel Macron’s character and intentions. The worst was the French president’s decision to impose a complete blockade on lorries entering Britain in December last year, after Matt Hancock, then Health Secretary, panicked over the Kent variant.

Britain was between 72 and 90 hours away from catastrophic shortages of food and medicines, ministers say, all inflicted upon us by a country that was supposed to be our ally. It was a reprise of Napoleon Bonaparte’s ultimately ill-fated blocus continental, a traumatic moment that signalled that history hadn’t in fact ended and that nothing ever really changes in geopolitics.

One of the many ministers involved says that this was easily the most stressful time of their professional career, though a public inured to ambient chaos fortunately didn’t realise just how much of a near-miss it all was. That minister and others are still incandescent, and believe that it is an urgent strategic imperative for the UK to reduce our dependence on France. We must shift away from the roll-on, roll off model – whereby truckers drive end to end from the continent to Britain – encouraged by the single market and low labour costs, and back towards container trade, with ships unloaded at a variety of ports, they argue. The Calais bottleneck is Britain’s Achilles’ heel, and we must return to our maritime roots to diversify our supplies. Colbertiste France, like Putin’s Russia, treats commerce as a political weapon, rather than as a mutually beneficial free exchange.

Another minister said that France would have caused a no-deal Brexit had it not relented on its blockade in the nick of time. This dreadful episode was the modern equivalent of the Fashoda crisis of 1898, when both nations almost took up arms over empire.

The second casus belli came earlier this year when, in a shockingly illiberal decision that will never be forgiven by the present Government, the EU diverted millions of batches of AstraZeneca jabs intended for Britain from a Dutch factory. It then repeatedly invoked export controls. Ministers believe that Macron was the major advocate of both moves, which may have cost British lives, and describe the act as “hostile”. To add insult to injury, Macron himself had earlier unfairly trashed the reputation of the Oxford vaccine.

This takes us to the mess that is the Northern Irish Protocol, an unequal treaty par excellence. Ministers believe that Lord Frost will not be merely negotiating with Maroš Šefčovič, the EU representative, but also with the French, viewed as the main supporters of a hard line. One minister goes as far as to claim that France was motivated solely by anti-British and anti-Brexit sentiment, and doesn’t care about the “integrity of the single market” or the fate of the people of Ireland.

This staggering absence of trust is one reason why Britain has set the removal of the protocol from the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction as a red line in the negotiations: as Lord Frost pointed out in his speech this week, the Commission’s choice to launch infraction proceedings at the first opportunity shows why the UK cannot afford to allow the EU to mark its own homework.

As if this litany of grievances weren’t enough, the French keep upping the ante. They are lobbying to prevent the UK from fully participating in Horizon, the EU’s research programme. They cannot accept that they have lost the right to freely fish British waters, and are threatening to cut off not merely Jersey but the UK’s electricity supplies via the interconnectors. Are they bluffing, or could they actually press the red button? This would make a mockery of the international law and sanctity of contracts Remainers claim to believe in. It would also represent a cataclysmic escalation that would jeopardise military cooperation between Europe’s only two defence powers, and in extremis even collapse the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

I’m parti pris in this fight: I believe that Brexit was practically and morally right, and that the French have no right to object. Many in Paris disagree: they believe the UK ruined the historic opportunity to unite Europe (and contain Germany) and that, as a result, it deserves to be treated as a foe. The French are also extraordinarily upset at the Aukus deal, which has shattered their complacent view of their post-imperial mission.

But the real stumbling block to renewed post-EU friendship is Macron himself, an arrogant, uninspiring president desperate not to end up a one termer like Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. With an election looming, he wants to shore up his nationalistic credentials in a country that is shifting Right-wards culturally. There is no way this Government will ever trust him after all that has happened, which is why it is so keen to complete Brexit’s unfinished business in Northern Ireland.

For much of the past 900 years, France and Britain were in conflict, if not actually at war, until the Fashoda scare led to the Entente Cordiale in 1904. We desperately need another such reconciliation today, but only a fool would be optimistic.

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