14 April 2022:Castles; ‘Fast’ trains; A long promenade; & Other stuff

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 

Fascinating Spain tells us here of on an impressive and legendary castle, one of many – possibly hundreds – in Spain. The link therein is a bonus.

I trained down to Madrid yesterday. It was a comfortable 4-hour trip on a ‘fast’ train but, in truth, it was almost 2 hours before the driver could put his foot down. And the journey to Ourense – westwards, to bypass Santiago de Compostela, and then eastwards – took longer than it does by car. But, having waited 30 years for a high-speed train, we’re grateful enough for the reduction from 7 to 4 hours, so far. With the promise of an even quicker journey once the tracks bypassing Ourense are finally in place.

I mentioned the slowness of Spanish justice. I read yesterday of a case in Pontevedra’s court around an offence – selling fakely-branded clothes – committed almost 5 years ago. With one thing and another, I doubt that these delays are decreasing. The allegations of un colapso in the system are relatively frequent. Complete with fotos of stacks of files.

Talking or Galicia’s cities  . . . Let’s hear it for La/A Coruña’s impressively long sea-promenade.

The Pontevedra retail scene continues to confuse me. While all sorts of traditional outlets – of the ‘mom & pop’ variety? – continue to close down, ‘antique’ shops and art galleries continue to open up. And new cafés/bars, of course. Here’s the latest upmarket new place I’ve clocked:-

The UK 

From a Johnson critic who isn’t Richard North: Make a mess, say Sorry, divert attention – Boris treats the British public like one of his wives. The Prime Minister says ‘People have a right to expect better’ but clearly, as far as he’s concerned, there is no shame in being shameless. Johnson has spent several decades committing egregious personal and professional missteps, doing a bit of light head-hanging, then proceeding on his merry way. . . . Being a national embarrassment has never hurt the PM. Seems about right to me.

Germany

A harsh verdict? . . . Germany’s cowardice over Russian gas makes a mockery of eurozone solidarity. The EU’s largest economy is fast losing moral authority. See the rationale below.

France

A fascinating article here on how France has changed over the last 30 years or so, ‘captured by the USA`, claims the author.

Russia

A Russian has said that no one in the West really understands his country and its people. Possibly an understatement. And very few folk in the world, I suspect, understand how Putin’s brain works.  Except, perhaps, as regards his self-preservation and enrichment.

English 

In my Pilates class yesterday morning:-

Instructor: How do you say ’Sube le culo’ in English? Up your arse’?

Me (After I’d stopped laughing): No, not exactly.

Finally . . . 

To amuse . . .

This is the web page of another reader who Likes my posts.

For new reader(s): If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.    

THE ARTICLE  

Germany’s cowardice over Russian gas makes a mockery of eurozone solidarity. The EU’s largest economy is fast losing moral authority: Ben Wright. The Times

The German president is not welcome in Kyiv. Frank-Walter Steinmeier was due to travel to the war-torn city on Wednesday but Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, told him not to bother. This is partly personal. Steinmeier, who used to be his country’s foreign minister, has long advocated for Western rapprochement with Russia and was one of the main champions of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. He’s also a friend of Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. Enough said. But it’s partly political. Germany is coming under increasing pressure from both Ukraine and the global community to go further in its sanctions against Russia. Zelensky has repeatedly singled out Berlin as one of his least reliable allies. 

Perhaps fear of a frosty reception is one reason why Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, has not yet travelled to Ukraine. The EU’s largest economy is fast losing moral authority.

Germany has come up with a flurry of reasons why an embargo of Russian oil and gas is a bad idea. Very few of them hold much water. The first is that it won’t end the war (no one is saying it will; the possibility of shortening it would be reason enough). The second is that Russia will simply sell its hydrocarbons to other willing customers (which is actually much harder than it sounds).

The third is that Russia is not getting hard currency and, because of other sanctions, can’t buy much on the global market anyway. This is true up to a point but ignores the fact that the Kremlin’s petrol revenues, in whatever currency, helps it run a current account surplus and prop up the economy. The fourth is that it will hurt the German economy. There is a fierce debate now raging about whether the cost is too high or a price worth paying. 

The majority of German economists have calculated that the hit to the country would be far from catastrophic. It’s not even entirely clear it would cause a recession. One study has suggested the cost of a full embargo on Russian oil and gas would amount to between €100 and €1,000 per person. Of course, this is not to be underestimated. Such a contraction would represent real hardship for some Germans. However, there are three counter-arguments. The most obvious is that the hardship is nothing compared to that being endured by Ukrainians. How can you compare a few months of belt-tightening for even an hour under bombardment? What’s more, the German state can afford to reduce the hit by spreading the pain across generations. In common with many countries in the world, German national debt has increased as a result of all the state spending during the Covid pandemic. However, whereas the UK’s debt to GDP rose from 85pc in 2019 to 104pc last year and France’s climbed from 98pc to 116pc, Germany’s went from 59pc to 73pc.

Germany takes pride in its fiscal conservatism but it would be perverse to preserve in this approach when loosening the purse strings might help to shorten a war. Prudence without purpose can look a lot like cupidity. And it is fair enough for the world to ask Germany to step up to the plate now when so frequently in recent history Berlin has been indirectly dictating how foreign capitals manage their financial affairs. Southern European countries were forced to adopt policies of extreme austerity by the European troika during the eurozone sovereign debt crisis in the wake of Lehman Brothers’ collapse, in large part because Germany and other northern European countries repeatedly ruled out debt relief. 

Between 2009 and 2013, the Greek economy contracted by 21pc and unemployment soared to 27pc. At the time, Berlin claimed these measures were for the best and designed to prevent the eurozone from imploding. But if that was an acceptable price for Athens to pay, how can Berlin baulk at a 2.2pc hit to German GDP and the loss of 400,000 jobs as a result of turning off Russian gas taps? If southern European countries had to pay the price for their fiscal irresponsibility, how can Germany refuse to accept the consequences of its geopolitical naivety?

Germany’s reticence is all the more galling as it steadfastly chooses to ignore the most obvious solution to its predicament. In a decision that was ridiculous even before Putin invaded Ukraine and now frankly beggars belief, Germany shut down three nuclear power plants at the beginning of January (just 103 days ago) and is planning to close its last three by the end of the year. If Germany goes through with this, it’s going to need even more Russian gas. But if it halts the self-defeating policy and reopens shuttered plants, it will need less. Again, there have been a litany of excuses for why this is not possible. The Budestag says turning the country’s nuclear reactors will require a change in the law (which is kind of what governments are for). It’s also worried about being able to source enough fuel, spare parts and personnel.

Yes, these are genuine obstacles but, no, they’re not insurmountable. Surely Germany could borrow resources and know-how from other members of the EU, not least France, which have nuclear industries? The pandemic has provided ample evidence that impressive feats are possible if you put your shoulder to the wheel. Before the pandemic no mRNA vaccine had ever been licensed for use in humans and Pfizer was producing 200m doses of various jabs each year. In 2021, the pharma company churned out three billion doses of its Covid mRNA vaccine.

It is ironic that the green part of Germany’s traffic light coalition is putting the brakes on the most obvious way out of the country’s political predicament. Germany’s anti-nuclear movement is long-standing and entrenched. But politicians are paid to navigate the least bad route. At the moment Berlin is giving the strong impression that it is more anti-nuclear than anti-war.

Vladimir Putin clearly calculated that European reliance on his natural resources would allow him to get away with invading Ukraine. It has fallen to Germany to prove him wrong. If Scholz reopens Germany’s nuclear power stations, turns off the Russian gas taps and heads to Kyiv to tell Zelensky the good news, he’ll receive a hero’s welcome.

2 comments

  1. An excellent article on why Germany are fluffing their lines. Maybe a stray Russian missile might help them see things more clearly. Radical I know, but the decisions they take now could very well come back to haunt them in years to come, and that may include an emboldened Putin or his next iteration pointing said missiles at Berlin. The Bear must be stopped in its tracks, which means to stop feeding it honey. Not much point in closing your nuclear power stations, when the French next door have got plenty to keep you occupied should one go belly up.

    Speaking of the French, a special mention. Macron’s Chamberlainesque socially distanced pals act with Mad Vlad was a total waste of CO2 emissions. But his latest decision to avoid the term ‘genocide’ after Bucha is utterly pathetic. The alternative? Mental Marie who says ‘after’ the war NATO should engage with Russia. After? The poor French people, what on earth did they do to deserve this mob of so called politicians.

    Yes. Coruñas promenade, really is fantastic, and ever so popular. Due to its length you can see a little bit of everything from the older industrial port areas, to the crystal galleries and marina, San Anton Castle, then the huuuuuge breakwater, La Torre de Hercules, the parks, the aquarium, the beaches, the stadium, the Millenium tower, the glass elevator up the side of Monte San Pedro, and then on to the beautiful tiny port of Portinho. It will certainly keep you fit. ….. Sorry, got a bit carried away there.

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  2. Germany’s so-called green credentials are predicated on Russian gas supplies, otherwise known hereafter as Merkel’s Muck Up, after she shut down the nuclear power stations. Just whom did she think she was fooling? Herr Frank-Walter Steinmeier isn’t a petrologist (neither am I), but I do read reports & look at maps. Matt Pratten, a Senior Intelligence Analyst for Intelligence Fusion wrote a report in 2012 titled: The Russia-Ukraine Donbass conflict and the threats to the oil and gas industry.

    There are very substantial oil & gas fields in Ukraine, which could assist in keeping the lights on in those parts of Europe that have come to the aid of Ukraine. Just saying, is all. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
    https://www.intelligencefus

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