See the article below: Lockdown myths need to be challenged.
Cosas de España/Galiza
The government has hiked the taxes that the self-employed (autónomas) must pay. By coincidence, I read yesterday that the UK tax office treats these folk with undisguised suspicion and distaste since, as far as they’re concerned, self-employment might as well be loosely organised crime. TBH, I think the Spanish tax office (La Hacienda) is even more suspicious and difficult. Some might argue there’s justification for this, but it’s certainly a break on genuine entrepreneurialism.
Lenox Napier tells me of the case of a judge in Marbella withdrawing custody of a one-year-old child from a woman on the grounds that she lives in “deepest Galicia”, where there aren’t multiple possibilities for the proper development of a child’s personality and for him to grow up in a happy environment. And because: The [coastal!] location is far from everything and without employment options. Unsurprisingly, the mother’s lawyer has filed a formal complaint with the disciplinary commission of the General Council of the Judiciary.
Needless to say, the Voz de Galicia goes to town on this development citing the comments of relevant associations and legal folk, viz. that the arguments of the (female) judge were atrocious, offensive, intolerable – essentially those of a little-travelled ignoramus. I wonder if said judge believes all the disadvantaged kids in Galicia should be adopted by rich folk in wonderful Marbella, one of the most expensive and snobbish places in Spain. Where there are plenty of work opportunities, as waiters and cleaners. I expect María will have something to say on this subject. Certainly the VdG has; see the 2nd article below.
It’s reported that – given the massive increase in petrol prices – Spanish drivers are flocking to the cheaper self-service stations. It would be nice to have the choice but I’m not aware we have any in my neck of the woods. Which often seems to be quite rich in cartels. Not so much Galicia profounda as Galicia corrupta.
See below for another article that Europhiles should read but probably won’t: Poland is learning, as Britain did, that the EU will never let its members be sovereign: They must make a fundamental choice between being part of a state-in-the-making and secession.
A brilliant new service . . .
The Way of the World
In what must be disappointing news for shotgun holders in Italy, it’s reported that climate change might end the winter migration of birds from Europe to Africa.
Quote of the Day
Every Boris Johnson pronouncement tends to be long on rhetoric and clever locution but short on detail.
Finally . . .
A friend has sent me a list of amusing comments from young kids. Here’s possibly the best. More anon: While working for an organisation that delivers lunches to the elderly who live alone, I used to take my 4-year-old daughter with me. She was always intrigued by the various appliances of old age, the walking sticks, zimmer frames, and wheelchairs. One day I found her staring at a set of false teeth in a glass. As I braced myself for the inevitable barrage of questions, she merely turned and whispered, “The tooth fairy will never believe that!”
This blog can be seen on Twitter and on this Facebook group page.
Note: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here.
1. The lockdown myths need to be challenged. Calls for more restrictions are all too often based on a flawed understanding of what is really happening: Raghib Ali
Calls are growing for restrictions to be introduced in response to rising Covid cases and hospital admissions. While these calls are undoubtedly well-intentioned, I believe that they are often based on certain myths or misunderstandings of the evidence that lead to the effectiveness of lockdowns and restrictions being overestimated.
The first myth is that the UK has had the highest Covid death rate in Europe and that this is mainly due to locking down too late in both waves. While it is true that we were highest after the first wave, the situation has changed significantly. Ranked against EU countries, the UK is 11th on Covid deaths and 15th on excess deaths.
Many claim that thousands of lives would have been saved if we had locked down earlier in the first wave, but almost every country with a higher death rate than the UK did lock down early. This gave them very small first waves in spring 2020 but these were followed by very large second waves in the autumn/winter 2021.
Similarly, the claim that the UK made the same mistake in the second wave and that thousands died due to the failure to have a “circuit-breaker” lockdown last October isn’t supported by the evidence. Wales – which did have one – ended up with similar Covid and excess death rates to England.
The current myth is that the UK has the highest Covid rates in Europe now and this is due to our lack of vaccine passports and mask mandates. But these comparisons are flawed. First, because they are based on case rates and ignore the fact that the UK does a lot more testing (test positivity rates also need to be compared – the UK is about average). Secondly, because other countries are at different stages of their third waves and their immunity will wane later than in the UK because their vaccine programmes started later.
The other problem with this interpretation is that Scotland and Wales (which are more valid comparisons) kept their mask mandates and recently brought in vaccine passports, but their rates have been higher than England’s. (This is specifically about mandates – I voluntarily wear a mask in confined spaces and if I’m with anyone at high risk, and encourage everyone to do so.)
The next myth is that only restrictions or lockdowns bring down cases, hospital admissions and deaths. This is clearly not true given what happened in July and September when there were no restrictions and cases fell, most likely due to people voluntarily changing their behaviour in response to risk.
The last myth is that “going early and going hard” with restrictions is always better than waiting. Again, given what happened in July and September when a huge surge was predicted by many, that would have been the wrong advice. Cases actually fell significantly.
Of course, some of those on the other side of the debate have their own misplaced certainties: for example that lockdowns have no impact on Covid (they do – the more important question is whether they cause more overall benefit than harm); that the NHS backlog was caused by lockdown (it was mainly due to hospitals having too many Covid patients) and that the economy would have been fine if we hadn’t locked down (there would have been a significant hit as people stayed at home in a “voluntary lockdown”).
The division and polarisation of the past year was perhaps inevitable, but we need to recognise that we are all trying to achieve the same thing – to minimise the overall harm to health, the economy, education and society as a result of Covid and the response to it. To save lives in future it is legitimate and necessary to examine our Government’s performance and that of other countries. We must do this by working together, and by focusing on facts, not misleading claims or selectively chosen statistics.
Over the past 18 months, I have tried to do that, and there were times when I backed restrictions as it was clear that the NHS would be unable to deliver essential services without them. But we are now in a fundamentally different position due to the very high levels of population immunity and vaccines proving effective in reducing hospital admissions and deaths.
None of this is to downplay Covid’s terrible toll, and I have done what I can by volunteering to serve on the front line and with the vaccine campaign. But provided we get booster jabs into all those at high risk before winter, and we use our freedoms responsibly to protect others, there should be no need to bring back restrictions.
2. Seeing is believing: Ignacio Bermúdez de Castro, VdG
A magistrate in Marbella has issued an order for provisional measures in which she withdraws custody of her child from a woman f because she lives “in deep Galicia”. However, she leaves the sentence of the main lawsuit open to the mother to move to Marbella, in her opinion a cosmopolitan city with public and public schools, and even hospitals.
As a Galician, I think there is nothing more beautiful than what the Andalusian lawyer calls ‘Galicia profunda’. Beautiful and beneficial for a child to be raised and educated with the same advantages and disadvantages as in any large capital city. Deep? What is deep? If you mean rural, there are now many families fleeing to the countryside to escape the jungle that cities are becoming. Although deep down I have no doubt that in this case it is because some people believe that in Galicia we still wear loincloths and that we will never be able to urinate cologne as in other, presumably more elegant, places.
It didn’t happen that back then the couple decided that, in the event of separation, the mother would take care of the child. The interests of the child were not taken into account, who, according to the arguments put forward by the magistrate, was to be taken to a village in the Amazon jungle where the aborigines have not yet completed the transition from quadruped to biped.
It is to be expected that this magistrate will be subjected to disciplinary proceedings by the governing bodies of the judges that have jurisdiction, and what better sanction, if imposed, than to force her to spend a week touring what Ramón Cabanillas called our Wonderful Mother and lady! That way she will realise that we have electricity and running water. And traffic lights.
3. Poland is learning, as Britain did, that the EU will never let its members be sovereign: They must make a fundamental choice between being part of a state-in-the-making and secession: Daniel Hannan, The Telegraph
Sovereignty. It was always about sovereignty. Who gives orders and who takes them. In Lenin’s pithy formulation, “who, whom?”
Poland’s leaders are discovering what David Cameron discovered in 2015 when he tried to shore up the legal supremacy of Parliament, namely that Eurocrats are adept at doublethink. On the one hand, they deride sovereignty as a risible nineteenth-century hang-up, an empty husk, a myth invoked by nationalist demagogues. On the other hand, they care very deeply about their own sovereignty – specifically, about the primacy of EU law over the legal systems of the member states.
On October 7, Poland calmly and politely repudiated that principle. Its highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal, determined that, on Polish territory, national law had precedence over rulings by EU institutions.
On one level, all it was doing was restating, albeit in more explicit language, its long-standing interpretation of the Polish constitution. In a ruling in 2005, it had declared that “the Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic of Poland in relation to all international agreements binding it, including agreements on the transfer of competence in certain matters”.
Back then, though, Poland was an eager new EU member with a Left-leaning government, so Eurocrats didn’t much mind. Now, it is governed by vinegary conservatives who spent their younger years struggling to throw off rule from Moscow, and who now have no intention of being ordered around by Brussels. The EU has accused Poland’s leaders of stuffing the court with nationalist placemen – indeed, it was that accusation that led to this month’s ruling in the first place. Seen from the Berlaymont, the judgment was a deliberate and insolent provocation.
“This ruling calls into question the foundations of the European Union,” fumed the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. “It is a direct challenge to the unity of the European legal order.”
In a sense, she is right. The primacy of EU law is what turns a club of nations into a superstate. Take it away, and the EU becomes just one more international association like Nato, ASEAN or the Council of Europe.
The distinction is critical, and is worth pondering. Europhiles often use “sovereignty” as a loose synonym for “power” and argue that, since countries are necessarily constrained by external forces, they cannot be sovereign in any meaningful sense. Back in 1989, when the Bank of England raised interest rates following a similar decision by the Bundesbank, Leon Brittan remarked that Britain’s sovereignty had lasted all of 20 minutes. Michael Heseltine argued that “the very language is about a long-lost world”.
But sovereignty has never implied some imagined ability to trample at will over other nations. Rather, it means having the ultimate right to decide things with no higher arbiter. Obviously a sovereign country cannot stop the oceans rising; but it can decide whether to respond by building sea-walls, evacuating its coastal areas or doing something else.
Nor is sovereignty at all incompatible with international treaties. A sovereign state is at liberty to enter into agreements with its neighbours and submit to binding arbitration mechanisms. What makes the EU’s treaties different from every other international accord is that they do not just apply to their signatories as states; rather, they create a new legal order that is directly binding on citizens with or without implementing legislation at national level. If there is a conflict, decisions by EU institutions override national statutes and even national constitutions. The EU is, in the exact sense, sovereign over its member countries.
Why, you might ask, did the member countries agree to this surrender? The answer is that they didn’t – at least, not until very recently. The primacy of EU law is not to be found anywhere in the Treaty of Rome. It was invented, rather, by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in a series of controversial rulings which even committed federalists now admit amounted to a power-grab. In particular, two landmark cases in the 1960s – Van Gend en Loos and Costa vs ENEL – established that EU rulings were directly binding upon individuals and businesses within the member states, knocking aside any national legal acts that might contradict them.
For a long time, this blatant judicial activism went unacknowledged in the treaties. It was only in 2009, in a declaration attached to the Lisbon Treaty, that the member governments retroactively acknowledged the supremacy of EU law “in accordance with well settled case law of the ECJ”.
Several of their supreme courts had expressed a different understanding. In their eyes, supreme authority came from their constitutions and they, as arbiters of those constitutions, could not derive legitimacy from elsewhere.
Many supreme courts had explicitly affirmed the primacy of their own constitutional orders in language not so very different from that of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal. France’s Conseil d’Etat had declared that all foreign treaties derived their authority from the constitution, and therefore could not be set above it. The Bundesverfassungsgericht had ruled that nothing could have precedence over German’s Basic Law. The Danish and Italian supreme courts had made equivalent declarations.
The outlier was Britain, which had no written constitution – and, until an eye-blink ago, no supreme court. In this country, sovereignty has always been vested in the Crown-in-Parliament. The position was spelt out by A V Dicey in his 1885 book, The Law and the Constitution, still regarded as definitive: “The principle of Parliamentary sovereignty means neither more nor less than this, that Parliament has the right to make or unmake any law whatever; and, further, that no person or body is recognised by the law as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament.”
It was this understanding of the constitution that informed British Eurosceptics from the beginning, going right back to Harold Macmillan’s first application in 1961. Read the debates that surrounded the passage of the 1972 European Communities Bill. Its opponents – Powellites, Bennites and everyone in between – objected above all to Articles 2 and 3: the clauses that declared EU rules to be supreme over parliamentary statutes. To the end of his life, Enoch Powell argued that amending those clauses would be enough to reconcile him to membership.
Precisely the same concern powered the Leave campaign in 2016. In the run-up to the renegotiation, both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove decided that this was the issue which would determine which side they backed.
At first David Cameron sought to accommodate them, exploring the possibility of a Sovereignty Act that would expressly guarantee the supremacy of Parliament over overseas courts and foreign treaties; but Brussels would not countenance the idea. Cameron then tried something more limited and cosmetic, something the EU might live with, and reportedly sent Oliver Letwin to try to sell it to the two men; but it was plain that the UK would remain subordinate, and they duly came out for Leave.
The episode is worth recalling for two reasons. First, because people who voted Leave are getting fed up with having their motives explained to them by people who voted Remain. History is not always written by the winners. Europhile commentators have spent five years trying to show that the referendum was really about economic insecurity or anti-government feeling or racism or something-or-other-and-mimblewimble – anything, indeed, except the restoration of sovereignty summed up in the slogan “take back control”.
Second, because the EU’s intransigence is revealing. It might have tried to keep its second greatest financial contributor on board without setting too great a precedent. It might, for example, have allowed that, as the only country without a written constitution, the UK needed unique safeguards for its parliament, such as the right to pass national legislation before regulations took effect. Had it done so, it would have won over most of the leading figures in Vote Leave and the referendum would have become a formality. But the EU was readier to lose its second largest member than to allow any deviation from federal unification.
If that was its attitude toward the UK, we may be sure that Brussels will seek to crush Poland, a substantial net beneficiary from the budget and a country whose government and population favour continued membership.
Poles will learn, as we did, that the choice is between membership of a new polity, a state-in-the-making, and secession. There is no middle way, no Europe of nations option. We spent half a century trying to find one, and failed. That, in the end, is why we left.