Trigger Warning: There’s quite a bit of negativity in today’s post. More than usual, I mean . . . But it starts off pretty positively. Don’t be fooled.
For what it’s worth: The main symptoms now.
Cosas de España/Galiza
The best beach in the world is here in Galicia, Well, on an island off our coast.
Staying with Spain’s positives . . . What do foreigners rate most highly about Spain? The estimable Ian has his answer here. It seems I’m out of step. But, then, I live here so and not just looking for an ephemeral experience.
Talking of Galicia’s claims to fame . . .Here’s why you should come to Santiago de Compostela this year, following, perhaps, in the footsteps of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath. Who presumably walked the camino inglés. As the (wonderful) poet put it in his poor English . . . She hadde passed many a straunge strem; she hadde been in Galice at Seint-Jame
More here on the Iberian-Brussels spat on obligatory reduction of energy use.
And news here of Spain’s admirable solar energy plans.
As I’ve said more than once, beggars are something of a pain in Pv city. They come and go, and last night’s new one was a guy claiming to be Cuban and offering me his passport in proof of his (rather pointless) claim. Mind you, no beggar is as irritating as the Romanian accordionist who plays the same bloody 3 tunes every day in the old quarter. To which I am now allergic.
The UK & The EU
Says the UK historian, Robert Tombs: Self-hating Remainers are blind to the EU’s flaws. See the 1st article below. Taster: Current affairs magazines run long articles on the supposed disasters of Brexit. Do they not notice what is happening in the EU? Where a massive energy crisis is brewing and it might not be possible to keep the euro plates spinning much longer. So, what should the UK do? Tombs naturally gives one answer to this question.
Germany & The EU
From that Tombs article . . . A German think tank calculated in 2019 that since the introduction of the euro, the average German had gained €23,000, the average Frenchman had lost €56,000, and the average Italian had lost €74,000. All these countries have accumulated huge national debts, while Germany has garnered the world’s biggest trade surpluses.
Germany has condemned Europe to ruin, says another Cassandra from The Telegraph. See the 2nd article below.
The Way of the World
The Notre Dame fire almost saw the destruction of the ‘(genuine’)crown of thorns. This had been bought way back by Louis IX from Venetian merchants for today’s equivalent of £2 trillion. Boy, did those scallywags put today’s Covid crooks to shame. Actually, the crown in the display case there was merely a replica of the one brought from Constantinople. As someone has said: “I can’t believe that for 30 years people came from the other end of the world to kneel and pray in front of a fake which, when we recreated it, cost us €2 to make, with some wire and one of those [gold] sprays that you buy for Christmas.”
More seriously . . . The West’s leadership crisis is about to get worse. See the 3rd article below
Quote of the Day
The art of political mendacity is to concentrate on what cannot immediately be tested – to lie about the future. The lies that led to Johnson’s downfall might have been relatively small but they were about the present and instantly falsifiable.
Underbottom: I saw this world in a sentence about female clothing. The dictionary definitions are:-
– The lowest part of the profile of a ship or submarine, and
– The underside of something, such as a waffle.
But, in the article I read, it seemed to mean the lower part of the bum cheeks, visible on a wearer of very brief shorts. If so, one sees a lot of underbottoms in Pv city during the summer, on females of a (far too)wide age range.
Finally . . .
In 2021, Dublin Airport received 13,569 noise complaints. Of these, 12,272 were from the same person. He or she actually lived more than 20 miles away and it’s speculated that they were annoyed that they were beyond the limit for purchase of your house by the airport owners.
To amuse . . .
For new readers: 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.
1. Self-hating Remainers are blind to the EU’s flaws. Their obsession with bashing Britain has not wavered, even as their project across the Channel crashes and burns: Robert Tombs, The Times
It has been obvious for over 20 years what the European Union’s systemic institutional flaw is: the euro itself, designed to lay the groundwork for a federal state. As economists and politicians warned at the time – and were ignored – a single currency in a continent marked by deep economic, cultural and political differences would be a cause of constant tension, because it would enrich some regions and impoverish others.
As under the old Gold Standard, weaker performing regions would just have to tighten their belts and work harder. Even outside times of crises, this meant increasing inequality and migration, especially of the unemployed young from southern Europe. A German think tank calculated in 2019 that since the introduction of the euro, the average German had gained €23,000, the average Frenchman had lost €56,000, and the average Italian had lost €74,000. Italy’s economy has been stagnant for a generation. All these countries have accumulated huge national debts, while Germany has garnered the world’s biggest trade surpluses.
It is no surprise that the latest challenge to the EU comes from Italy, where the leader of the nationalist Brothers of Italy seems likely to head a new government replacing that of Mario Draghi, the EU’s man. Across eastern and southern Europe, parties critical of EU policies have been rising. Emmanuel Macron, the EU’s remaining champion, has lost control of parliament. Yet the eurozone straitjacket has so far made protest sterile, as the Greeks discovered when the European Central Bank (ECB) threatened them with financial meltdown.
Since then, southern European states, above all Italy, have become dependent on the ECB buying their governments’ bonds and thus supplying them with cash. The sums involved are astronomical, and no one knows how long this can continue or who might ultimately foot the bill. Following the resignation of Draghi – former president of the ECB and guarantor of orthodoxy – the yield on Italian debt has risen. In the face of sharply rising eurozone inflation, the ECB delayed raising interest rates because it would increase the debt burden on member states. But now it has had to do so, and also announce more compensatory bond buying.
How long can it keep the plates spinning? Another eurozone crisis is in the offing. On top of this chronic problem has come the sudden energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Germany’s choice to rely on Russian gas has made Putin’s aggression possible and gives him a devastating economic weapon. The EU is contemplating an enforced cut in gas consumption for all its members of more than 10 per cent, including those not dependent on Russia and those pretty indifferent to Ukraine. Will it work? Will it cause further political upheaval? Will the EU cave in to Putin?
Europe’s fragile economy rests on the shifting foundations of its “green” energy policy, in which Britain is supposedly a leader. Germany has ended nuclear power generation. France and Britain have allowed theirs to wither. So we have made ourselves partly dependent on wind and solar power, but mostly dependent on imported gas.
Despite promises that wind power will usher in a new era of cheap sustainable energy, basic facts will not go away: a gas-turbine generator small enough to go on the back of a lorry will produce the same electricity, faster and more reliably, than 10 offshore wind turbines the size of the Eiffel Tower. Europe has for some time been deindustrialising and has become dependent on Asia, and especially China, for most of its wind turbines and panels. The promised jobs in green energy have not materialised – except in China, of course, where “green” power equipment is manufactured using cheap energy from coal, so even the planet gets no benefit. (I am optimistically waiting for Extinction Rebellion to glue themselves to the Chinese embassy.) On its present trajectory, Europe will at best jump out of the Russian frying pan into the Chinese fire. Our present problems might then seem minor in comparison.
In the immediate future, faced with rising inflation, especially in energy and food, increasingly dependent on two aggressive dictatorships, and threatened by the side effects of likely eurozone turbulence, what should Britain do? To ask the question is practically to answer it. Rapidly increase our domestic energy resources and storage capacity. Set up a task force to accelerate modular nuclear power, as was done with Covid vaccines. Diversify our food supplies, which at the moment are overwhelmingly dependent on the EU and road and ferry links. (Why are we still imposing tariffs and quotas on imported food from outside the EU?) Ensure that our financial institutions are as resilient as possible and as distanced as possible from the euro.
There are signs that some of this is slowly beginning. But there are still many voices in politics and the media that want us to paddle back towards the EU. Project Fear is being revived. The Guardian recently showed remarkable ingenuity by managing to make the good news that manufacturing exports to the EU were increasing into a scare story about our “dependence”. Current affairs magazines such as the New Statesman and Prospect run long articles on the supposed disasters of Brexit.
Do they not notice what is happening in the EU?
I have never believed that the EU would suddenly collapse. But I thought it likely that it would gradually run out of political capacity due to lack of popular legitimacy. Many, like myself, have drawn a comparison with the Austro-Hungarian empire: divided, weak but unreformable, aiming at best to maintain (as one of its rulers put it) “a stable level of discontent” among a resigned population. This now seems optimistic. Not only is it unclear whether the EU can carry out its policies, it is unclear that it has any policies, or that there are any that could solve its problems. Its member states follow increasingly diverging paths. The ECB hesitates between unpalatable alternatives. Support for Ukraine is at best ambivalent. As a diplomatic player in the world’s affairs, the EU has practically vanished.
So why are there still Remainers or Rejoiners? This week I read two new books attacking Brexit, which give a clue. One thing they have in common is that they say nothing at all about Europe or the EU. All their considerable verve is spent in attacking what they see as pathological characteristics of Britishness.
This has been typical of Remainer discourse since 2016. Those 1930s enthusiasts for communism who visited the Soviet Union came back with descriptions of a workers’ paradise. True, they were blind to the starvation, the repression and the fear, but they did have a vision of what they wanted, however illusory. But I’ve never read a Remainer book (and I have quite a collection) describing how wonderful the EU is: the talents of its Commission, the friendly atmosphere of the Parliament, the spacious motorways built with regional funds.
I have read many on how contemptible Britain (or rather England) is, how weak, how isolated, how mocked by the foreign press. But not much sign of knowledge of or interest in Europe.
Their real aim is to discredit the Brexiteers by any means available. At the moment, that even includes supporting tax rises at a time of pressure on modest incomes and probable recession. Would even a collapse of the EU change their minds? No, they would blame it on their great bête noire, Boris Johnson.
2. Germany has condemned Europe to ruin. Berlin’s vacillations on Russia and failed energy policy have left the whole of the EU vulnerable to Putin’s shameless gas blackmail: Daniel Johnson, The Telegraph
When the Russian state energy giant Gazprom resumed pumping gas through the Nordstream 1 pipeline yesterday, after a ten-day shutdown, a collective sigh of relief was audible across the capitals of Europe. Yet Russian gas is flowing at only 30 to 40 per cent of normal capacity: enough to meet immediate demand, but not enough for EU countries to build up stocks for the winter to come.
So it is rather clear what Vladimir Putin intends to do – to play with Europe like a cat with a mouse. He was hinting at something when he said menacingly this week: “Maybe they will turn it off at some point, and Nord Stream 1 will stop, and that’s it.”
Indeed, Putin has already forced the EU Commission to impose a 15 per cent cut in gas consumption across the board. Once this comes into effect, it will sow division by penalising member states that don’t depend on Russian gas as much as those that do.
Such tensions, already undermining the EU’s response to the Ukraine invasion, were compounded yesterday by the European Central Bank’s decision to raise interest rates for the first time in eleven years. With inflation spiralling, a recession looming, and no fiscal union, the question of how to distribute the economic pain will be at the forefront of minds on the Continent.
EU officials have been scrambling around, desperately seeking alternative gas and oil suppliers, such as Azerbaijan, but there is no chance of replacing the enormity of Kremlin-controlled supplies anytime soon. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, knowing this, has warned that “Russia is blackmailing [the EU].” Her fears are supported by letters from Gazprom to its customers declaring a “force majeure” to justify cutting off supplies at any time due to “extraordinary” circumstances beyond its control.
We’ve already had a demonstration of the impact the Kremlin’s gas manipulation can have on Western leaders. Nord Stream 1 has been running below capacity since June, ostensibly because of a turbine being repaired in Canada but held up by sanctions. After EU pressure was applied on Ottawa, the Canadians returned the turbine, provoking furious protests from Kyiv.
At the heart of this concession was Europe’s largest economy, Germany, whose industrial base is a huge gas guzzler. A single plant, the BASF chemical giant’s headquarters in Ludwigshafen, consumes half as much gas as the whole of Denmark. If Putin were to turn off the tap, the consequences for Berlin would be “the most severe economic crisis since the end of the Second World War,” according to BASF’s chief, Martin Brudermüller.
A conservative estimate is that the German economy would contract by 6 per cent. That is the consequence of the Ostpolitik – what others might call opportunistic naivety towards Russia – pursued with myopic zeal by former German chancellors Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel.
The current Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, hasn’t been much better. He continues to prevaricate as Europe prepares to freeze. He was happy to burn vast quantities of coal to deal with the recent heatwave, but refuses to restart decommissioned nuclear plants to placate his Green coalition partners.
Around him, the dream of a strong and united European Union is crumbling. Italy has seen its ruling coalition fall apart. Prime Minister Draghi, in confirming his resignation, despaired that some in the Italian establishment were eager to appease Russian demands. With elections coming, populists such as the Brothers of Italy will exploit the energy crisis to steer the country on a pro-Russian course. And in France, Emmanuel Macron is as good as a lame duck, having lost his parliamentary majority last month.
Nor can this troubled Union rely on support from across the Atlantic, where Joe Biden is plumbing new depths of unpopularity, looks destined for defeat in November’s midterms, and will want to shore up his own ailing economy as much as possible.
If the Russians turn off the taps this winter, the European Union will be a lonelier and more divided force than at any point in its recent history. Far from leading the West’s response to Ukraine, as Brussels originally claimed, the Continent is being held to ransom by the Kremlin.
3. The West’s leadership crisis is about to get worse. It’s a cliché to lament the inadequacy of those in power but Europe and the US seem unable to escape rule by third-raters: Gerard Baker, The Times
There’s no more predictable trope of political punditry than the loud, extended complaint about the quality of contemporary leadership. To every generation of commentators the current crop of statesmen are always a shadow of those who went before. Supposedly dispassionate observations about our fallen state are all tinted by an unwitting nostalgia, the tendency to view the past in sepia, the present in garish Technicolor.
Meanwhile the accelerating rush to judgment of modern media compels only scorn. If Twitter had been around in the more challenging years of Napoleonic France we can guess what the early 19th-century versions of today’s blue-check comedy writers would be tweeting: “How much longer do we have to put up with this preening little megalomaniac? He’s no Robespierre, is he?” In late second-century Rome there would have been clever pundits in togas telling their followers that Marcus Aurelius made Nero look like Caesar Augustus. Just because we compare today’s leaders unfavourably with those of the past doesn’t mean the current lot are not, in fact, objectively terrible. Like the stopped clock, the perennially negative critique must be right some of the time.
Which brings us to the present. The Tory party may be about to produce a 21st-century version of Winston Churchill, though signs are not encouraging. More likely it seems it will be yet another figure to keep good company with the B-list of the wider West’s current leadership.
Because, to be fair, this isn’t just a British problem. The inadequacy of the men and women at the top of the big democracies is global. The landscape of western leadership is not even like Disraeli’s famous range of exhausted volcanoes. It is more like a flat field dotted with dull molehills of varying sizes.
Take the G7. The man who runs Germany looks and sounds like he’s trying a second career after peaking in a regional bank at middle-manager level. Canada is run by a man-child. Italy is once again looking for anyone to run it. Japan’s only seriously visionary leader of the past 50 years was just assassinated. France has a president elected twice only because the alternative was so frightening and who couldn’t even persuade the voters to give him a
co-operative parliament. Then of course there is the United States. Polling this week shows President Biden’s approval ratings have hit a new low for his presidency. Remarkably, he has dropped below the point that Donald Trump bumped along for much of his term.
That means we have had, back to back, the two American presidents with the most sustained popular disapproval numbers in history.
You might think there would be some Darwinian process at work, that this condition would produce fresh blood, candidates with new thinking offering new hope. But no. There is a very strong possibility — I would rate it above 50 per cent — that these two all-time losers (Biden has lost two of his three bids for the presidency; Trump lost one of his two, or two out of two if you count the popular vote) will represent the choice on offer in 2024.
The understandable disdain the US has for its leaders goes well beyond the two presidents. Kamala Harris, the vice-president, has an even lower rating than her boss. Support for no other Republican matches Trump’s. Congress and the Supreme Court are both heavily disliked. We shouldn’t of course mistake unpopularity for unsuitability for office, but can anyone look at this political leadership and honestly demur from the voters’ judgment?
A seasoned observer of Washington’s steadily degrading political class tells me the deterioration is bipartisan and makes even famously failed figures from the past seem like gods. “Walter Mondale could materialise in the White House today and be reasonably confused with Apollo.” What’s gone wrong?
Circumstances, of course, have been gruesome for any leader for a long time. It has been an especially disillusioning couple of decades for the West. But our leaders are in part the authors of these misfortunes and in any case past challenges have produced greatness to match. We are still waiting for ours.
Much is made of politics today being a less appealing career for talented people. The relative financial attraction of private sector jobs has grown massively in 50 years and the cost of a political career is not just lost millions. The relentless scrutiny and intrusion of public life deter many who might have been motivated.
But I also think part of the problem is a particular generational one: the character formation of our current generation of leaders. As recently as the 1980s we were led by a class that had done extraordinary things before they went into politics. Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet was peppered with winners of the Military Cross. Ronald Reagan’s featured men like George Shultz who had already had multiple careers and spent the Second World War in the US Marine Corps, or George H W Bush, shot down by Japanese fighters over the Pacific.
This is emphatically not to say that military service is essential to being a successful statesman. Thatcher herself proved that. But experiences like these, real experiences, outside the self-actualising bubble of media and political unreality, imbue men and women with a completely different understanding of the needs and nature of public service.
We are led today instead by the members of a self-serving political class whose greatest hardship was the fear of getting caught with a twist of cocaine in their pocket on their way to a party at Oxford, or pulling a series of all-nighters to pass their bar exams. We probably deserve them.