Taking over from Covid on the global stage . . .
Energy is literally the lifeblood of the economy. It’s what keeps our houses lit and warm (or cool), and our cars, industries, supermarkets and electronic gadgets running. Without it, civilisation literally comes to a halt. See the first article below . .
Life in Spain
When I went to the roast lamb festival last Sunday, I had to pass between rows of stalls. It’s truly amazing what top quality goods you can buy at these. I remember being assured at a fair in Portugal years ago that the stall-holder was an authorised agent for Lacoste, Gucci, etc. How we laughed.
There’s something on letting out Spanish properties below as the 2nd article
Cosas de Spain/Galiza
The PP mayor of Madrid says she won’t comply with the government’s restriction on nocturnal lighting. As she doesn’t, legally speaking, have a choice, it’ll be interesting to see what happens next. It’ll also be interesting to see what happens to one of our bridges in Pv city, which is always ablaze with an ever-changing light-show at night.
There’s a small island – Faisán/Pheasant – up at the border with France between Irún and Hendaye. For more than 350 years, France has ‘ruled’ it for 6 months and then Spain for the next 6 months. But now Spain has given it to France entirely, Maybe, like Corsica, it can now become a Department of France. Stranger things have happened.
There’s still no news of the virtual tour of Pv’s museum but, in checking, I came across a reference to a nice little museum near Vigo, commemorating the battle of Rande in 1702/3. Which I must get to see soon.
As for the Pv museum, here’s a 2016 video which gives a good view of exhibits before they started moving contents to the ugly new building nearby. At min 3.50 you can see one of the biggest coats-of-arms in the city, adorning the facade of a museum building which had been a funeral parlour before it was taken over. And, at min 5.30, you can see some of the works of the excellent local writer and artist, Castelao.
It’s reported that: A polo-playing Italian aristocrat has been arrested and charged with acting as a professional assassin for a Roman drugs gang. Most have been bored.
Quote of the Day
In a review about an – apparently boring – program called Love Island- The Final: There weren’t even any statements of mind-blowing stupidity that at least provided entertainment in the past, such as asking if “Essex is a continent” and whether the language of Holland is “Hollandaise”.
(Re)reading Orwell, it’s intriguing coming across words which aren’t as modern, as you thought. He was using ‘feminist’ back in 1944, almost 80 years ago, And Google’s ngram tells me it’s been around since at least 1800, with usage rocketing up in the 1960s.
Finally . . .
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. Europe has lost the energy war. The livelihoods of millions have already been sacrificed: Thomas Fazi
After a decade of financial austerity, is Europe now on the brink of a new age of energy austerity? The city of Hanover has recently introduced strict energy-saving rules that include cutting off the hot water in public buildings, swimming pools, sports halls and gyms, banning mobile air conditioners, fan heaters or radiators, switching off public fountains, and stopping illuminating major buildings such as the town hall at night.
Meanwhile, several countries across Europe are considering dimming or switching off public lights, and even adopting “energy curfews”, with early closures for businesses and public offices. And more drastic measures are under consideration — including gas rationing for energy-intensive industries such as steel and agriculture.
These measures are part of an EU-wide Gas Demand Reduction Plan, ominously titled Save Gas for a Safe Winter, to reduce gas use in Europe by 15% until next spring. Among the proposals is a provision that officials in Brussels impose fines for non-compliance if they decide the crisis is escalating dangerously.
All of this comes amid growing fears that dwindling Russian gas supplies may plunge Europe into an energy crisis this winter. Overall, Russian gas exports to the EU are at about a third of last year’s levels, falling steadily since the invasion of Ukraine. While several European countries have been reducing their Russian gas imports, Russia itself has been reducing gas flows to Europe through Nord Stream 1, the continent’s biggest pipeline, citing mainly technical issues. Just the other day, citing equipment repair, Russia announced yet another reduction in the amount of natural gas flowing through Nord Stream 1, which is now operating at only 20% capacity.
This has caused natural gas spot prices to surge to levels not seen since early March; they are now almost 10 times higher than they were two years ago. In most countries, electricity prices have risen accordingly. Soaring energy prices are already fuelling record inflation — currently close to 9% and rising in the EU — squeezing people’s spending power, plunging thousands into poverty, and placing a huge burden on industry.
This is especially true for Germany, which is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas imports. Indeed, the country’s industrial production has been contracting for over three months. Astonishingly, 16% of industrial German companies have reduced production or partially stopped their activities due to rising energy prices. This helps explain why last month Germany became the first country to escalate its warning over gas supplies to the “alert level”.
The combined effect of rising prices, lagging demand (both internally and abroad, as China goes back into lockdown) and falling production and investment is already causing economic growth on the continent to grind to a halt. While institutions such as the European Commission and the IMF, despite significant downward revisions, still predict real GDP in the EU to be around 2.5% this year, several analysts consider even these far-from-rosy predictions to be overly optimistic. Carsten Brzeski, Chief Eurozone Economist at ING bank, for example, foresees a recession at the end of the year as high prices sap purchasing power.
To make matters worse, the ECB’s recent decision to raise interest rates will do little or nothing to curb inflation caused by supply-side factors, but will almost certainly further depress economic activity, making it harder for states to mobilise resources needed to cushion the effects of the energy crisis. And as for the ECB’s recently launched Transmission Protection Instrument (TPI), aimed at helping countries in financial distress, it may only be activated for those countries judged to be “fiscally sustainable” (a questionable concept in itself), even though the current polycrisis is inevitably bound to put a strain on the public finances of European countries.
Furthermore, even though the EU has sensibly — for once! — proposed to keep the EU’s fiscal rules suspended for another year, several countries, led by Germany, have announced their intention to embrace austerity once again. “For Germany, it’s clear: we will not make use of the general escape clause,” said the German Finance Minister Christian Lindner, arguing that the priority now had to be fighting inflation. “We will return to the debt brake. We have to stop the addiction to ever more indebtedness.” For this, he added, “we have to get out of our expansionary fiscal policies, and out of the debts, so that the central bank has the space to fight inflation with its means”.
In other words, Germany seems intent on once again plunging the continent even deeper into recession through utterly self-defeating austerity, just as it did in the wake of the financial crisis. Europe is already heading for a stagflationary scenario — a situation where high inflation is associated with low or negative growth. Austerity would simply make a bad situation even worse.
If things are bad now, however, it goes without saying that a further decrease in Russian gas flows, which still account for 40% of the EU’s gas imports — not to mention a full stop — would have utterly catastrophic consequences, especially if that were to happen during the winter, when demand for gas it at its highest. Energy, after all, is literally the lifeblood of the economy. It’s what keeps our houses lit and warm (or cool), and our cars, industries, supermarkets and electronic gadgets running. Without it, civilisation literally comes to a halt.
This is why if Europe’s energy supplies are unable to meet demand, the consequences would be almost unimaginable: factories would be forced to close, workers would be laid off, and households forced to restrict electricity and heating use to certain hours. It would be nothing short of societal meltdown. Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock recently admitted that shortages of natural gas this winter “could spark popular uprisings”. Think riots, looting, martial law, possibly even toppled governments.
In an attempt to stave off this doomsday scenario, the EU has adopted a regulation providing that underground gas storage on member states’ territory must be filled to at least 80% of their capacity by the end of October (it’s currently at 67%). That, however, depends on stable flows in the following months. Moreover, even if the 80% target is reached, that still wouldn’t be enough to get countries through the whole winter without continuous supplies of more gas. While at current capacity, the EU would have just enough gas to get to the end of November (assuming an October 1 start to winter).
Moreover, storage levels and storage capacity vary greatly in the EU. Some countries, such as Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria and Croatia, would run out by December even at full capacity (while others are lagging seriously behind in filling the tanks up). Germany remains the most exposed. Despite having by far the largest storage tanks in Europe, its demand for gas is equally large and its tanks only hold 108 days of consumption — full tanks would run dry on February 16 and they are currently only 67% full, which would be emptied in December if Russia turned off the gas tomorrow.
Overall, it’s highly unlikely that Europe would survive a full cut-off of Russian gas. While some countries have successfully managed to partially replace Russian gas imports with alternative, albeit more expensive, sources of gas — such as liquefied natural gas, or LNG — others, first and foremost Germany, remain heavily dependent on Russian imports.
So ultimately we have little choice but to hope in Putin’s good will if we want to make it through the winter. Yet Russia’s leader is not the only one to blame for our current predicament. If today we find ourselves on the brink of disaster, and already facing massive economic hardship, the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of European leaders. Put to one side the fact that waging “total economic and financial war” on a nuclear-armed regional power that shares more than 2,000 kilometres of borders with Europe could hardly be considered a sensible move, it was glaringly obvious that cutting off Europe-Russia economic relations was going to hurt the former much more than the latter, given Europe’s dependency on Russian gas. Indeed, European leaders indirectly admitted this when they excluded Russian oil and gas exports from the sanctions regime. There’s something pathologically infantile about the behaviour of European leaders: they enjoy strutting around on the world stage and making grandiose speeches about “democracy standing up to autocracy”, and yet they don’t seem to be cognisant of the real-world consequences of their words.
The question of Russian supplies is a perfect case in point. At the start of the conflict, the EU, which before the war got some 40% of its gas from Russia, announced its intention to reduce those gas imports by two-thirds by the end of the year and phase out Russian gas entirely by 2027. Indeed, for the past six months European leaders have been boasting about weaning themselves off it in order to “hit Putin where it hurts the most”. And yet today they moan about inflation and rising prices — what did they think would happen? — and were gripped by panic and moral outrage when Gazprom announced that it would be slashing its gas flows to Europe.
Is Russia weaponising the flow of gas in its tug of war with Europe? Of course it is. But Europeans started this game. Or perhaps they thought they could engage in a unilateral energy war with Russia, at their own pace and conditions (which is why they excluded Russian oil and gas exports from the sanctions regime), without the other side firing some shots back at them. To make matters even more grotesque, not only has the “gas war” not weakened Russia — it appears to have actually strengthened it, by helping Russia massively increase its inflow of foreign reserves on the back of rising energy prices.
For all the barbarity of Putin’s war, the livelihoods of millions of Europeans have already been sacrificed on the altar of the gross incompetence of European leaders. And the livelihoods of millions more are at risk. They’re right about one thing, though: the future of Europe depends on the struggle between democracy and autocracy — between us, the people, and them, the autocrats.
2. I’ve ditched my Spanish holiday let – it was a catastrophe. Negative equity, Brexit and a leaky pool took the shine off my retirement home in the sun
Based on the average age of buyers on A Place in the Sun (my guilty pleasure) my partner and I were relatively young when we bought a holiday rental.
We weren’t flash or rich when we bought, but we were naïve and able to take out a mortgage in another country. Equipped, at that time, with two good UK salaries and what we thought to be a long and prosperous relationship with Europe (we’d only ever known free movement within the bloc), we hurtled ahead and signed a gazillion papers in Spanish.
We don’t speak Spanish. But we didn’t let that little fact get in the way of what we decided would be a good way to invest for our future retirement home in the sun. In any case, interpreters are readily available to Britons willing to part with cash in pursuit of Spanish chars. How much of the 45-page mortgage document they actually translated and we understood is a moot point.
Our initial foray into letting a holiday home abroad was easy. The developers had a management company and as novice investors (this was prior to me becoming a full-time landlord) they took over the whole enterprise and every month deposited a healthy amount into our bank account which covered the mortgage and costs.
But then the developer went bust. Soon after the swimming pool – the main attraction of our complex – got a leak. The next seven years saw various legal battles with the managing agents and developers arguing over who was responsible. Us owners were left to foot the bill. The apartment was rented at a pittance to locals and barely scratched the surface of the mounting costs. The icing on the cake came when we fell into negative equity.
Fast forward a few years and our enthusiasm was reignited. The swimming pool was fixed, I renovated the apartment and holiday makers came flocking. Then Covid hit. While my business plan had allowed for voids, I had not made provision for a 110-week hiatus. I had also not allowed for the big jump in tax now that UK nationals are no longer EU citizens, or the additional licensing and raft of admin that got introduced.
Add to that: enhanced cleaning regimes, longer turnaround times, and the knowledge that our future retirement home came with visiting limitations, meant I had started to question if the plan was still on track.
When I visited again to inspect our holiday home before we commenced re-letting, it was with a heavy mixture of emotions. The place looked gorgeous, the town was thriving and everything looked pristine and happy – just how you want a holiday to be. But still there was a niggle that niggled and wouldn’t stop niggling. “Is this really what you want?” was a question that plagued me, along with:
“How do the sums stack up?”
“Is the additional admin worth it?”
“Are visitor expectations now beyond reach?”
And what did these changes mean in terms of my quality of life?
Like any judicious holiday home owner, I took my dilemma to the pool with a glass of wine in hand. And it was at the pool I recalled the joyous comments I had received over the years, the happiness our home had helped create. Then I remembered some of the off days: the late-night calls because the toilet had blocked or a cockroach had wandered in.
It was over my second glass that I realised if I continued with this “dream” there was no let-up. Holiday letting is not like buy-to-let, it’s a turbo-charged environment where expectations and service level demands are ridiculously high.
I mused over these niggles and pondered into my ever-diminishing wine bottle. But it was when I spied a missing pool tile that I felt my stomach lurch.
I leapt from my lounger and inspected further. There were only a few missing, but the decrepit greying grout was enough to tip the balance. Post-Covid holiday letting was going to be tough, but I had absolutely no intention of footing a big pool maintenance bill ever again. My place in the sun is now owned by a German.
I’ve been to the Rande Museum twice. It’s an interesting place, almost under the Ponte de Rande. It’s entrance is hidden, and coming from Pontevedra, you have to make almost a 360° turn onto a little lane that leads down to what looks like an industrial area, where you park the car and continue on foot down a dirt lane.
If you pass by it and hit the rotary where you have left Redondela, turn and go back. It’ll be easier to see it on your left.
We all chirp on the energy problem, but I remember the energy crisis of the 70’s, when I was a little girl. That was when conservation was first introduced, and we adjusted to it and continued onward in our destruction of the planet and civilization.
Yes, I was aware of that challenge since I first identified the place before it changed its name to Museo Meirande . . .
Been meaning to go for ages.And it was nice to see the fotos on the web page, Might make it with visitors this month.
***king peasant writers, Energy can be neither destroyed nor created. It can be captured & concentrated & is then is known as FUEL, FFS! Basic physics.
In the aftermath of the Battle of the Rande, Philip V ended up with most of the loot.
Five years later, Admiral Shovell went down with his ship. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scilly_naval_disaster_of_1707
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