Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.
If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.
- Blame. As expected . . . .
- During the recent financial crisis, the Portuguese government decided to increase revenue by making every half-decent road in the country a toll road. But they didn't install payment booths; instead, they erected gantries every few kilometres and placed cameras there to capture your car's registration number/matriculation. This would be OK if it were easy to register with the system but it ain't. What would be helpful is a machine at the entry point to each new toll road where you can simply insert you credit card and then drive knowing there'll be a legion of small payments appearing on your next statement. But this, I guess, would be very expensive. So, as far as I know, there are only 3 such machines in the country. There are at least 2 other ways of making sure you pay the tolls but these are too complex for me to understand. In other words, the same approach is taken towards the new toll roads as to the payment for metro tickets – the installation of a system far more complex than it needs to be. Or is it me?? Anyway, the result is I drive without paying on the new toll roads and expect one day to be stopped and fined. En passant, I am not the only one who does this. The Portuguese government is owed millions by Galician transport companies which take advantage of it. Did no one anticipate this?
- Wifi in Portuguese hotels: They all offer it but my impression is that - unless you're in a 5-star hotel – you're lucky if you can decent wifi in your room. Or maybe it's my 6 year old Mac laptop.
- See the first article below, by someone who asserts that: The chancellor has repeatedly mishandled or ignored her country’s most pressing problems.
- See the second article for a view of how German developments impact on 'The [vainglorious] Project'. By Gisela Stuart – an English MP who's German.
Finally . . .
As every driver knows, a satnav/GPS can be brilliant or useless. Two days ago mine insisted that a restaurant I was looking for was in the middle of a field. And yesterday it led me on an hour-long merry dance in the centre of Santarém – in the car and on foot – in search of an hotel which didn't actually exist at the address I finally found. The perils of modern travel . . .
1. More Merkel is the last thing Germans need Roger Boyes
The chancellor has repeatedly mishandled or ignored her country’s most pressing problems
Germans have become too comfortable with the rule of Angela Merkel, so cosy in their governing compact, so gemütlich that they failed to recognise they have a Merkel problem. For the past 12 years the chancellor has ducked big choices about Germany’s role in the world, about the need for change, and now the country is paying the price.
The meltdown in Berlin is about more than Merkel’s future. It is about the governability of Germany. A constitutional order installed after the defeat of Hitler to ensure a stable political centre and the stifling of dangerous populist movements is turning out to be ill-equipped for the modern world.
The result: the arrival in parliament of 92 far-right deputies, the failure of mainstream parties to agree a common vision for Germany or a common diagnosis of its problems, and an enduring confusion about national identity. It’s a system frozen in aspic. And a recipe for trouble.
The great hope that accompanied the election of Merkel in 2005 was that she would usher Germany into the modern world in a non-threatening, non-Thatcherite way. Instead, without a guiding idea, her various coalition governments have been about crisis management: the global financial breakdown, the eurozone in disarray, Greece hurtling towards bankruptcy, an increasingly aggressive Vladimir Putin, the flood of refugees from apparently insoluble wars. She was never under-employed but along the way she lost the plot.
Since her political convictions were never laid out clearly, she felt free to steal the political clothes of her various coalition partners, the Free Democrats and the Social Democrats, claiming them as her own. She even dressed herself up as a Green by suddenly renouncing nuclear power after the Fukushima accident in 2011, thus keeping options open for a future alliance with the party.
The corrosive effect of leadership without a compass has become clear over the past weeks. Neither the Free Democrats nor the Social Democrats trust her as a partner; they both bled votes after being in coalition with her. All parties are feuding furiously with each other, making a nonsense of the chancellor’s claim to be a consensus politician. Her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union is alarmed by her drift leftwards and by her misjudgment in opening up Germany’s borders to a million migrants and refugees. The CSU faces a regional election next year. In public it swears loyalty to Merkel; in private it knows that the association with Merkel is likely to be toxic, driving even more voters towards the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Out of this stew, a successor for Merkel will eventually emerge. The question is not so much who that person is, but rather what Germans want from a new chancellor. The lazy formula of the Merkel team, that Germans demand stability and security, is no longer an adequate answer. Her own policies have undermined stability. The AfD notched up an extraordinary 12.6 per cent of the national vote in the autumn election, and are likely to better that in new elections, because of the Merkel government’s failure to control the borders. At a local level the problem of integrating hundreds of thousands of newcomers is creating real social strain and resentment. On the other side of the political spectrum, the Linke, a leftist anti-austerity grouping, won 9.2 per cent of the vote.
Both parties have been ruled out as too extreme to be part of a Merkel government: that is, some 22 per cent of the electorate has been left out in the cold. Yet their views do address some anxieties felt by ordinary Germans, the frustration with the fudge of the quarter of a century since unification.
When people complain about the global business elite and the featherbedding of the banks, they’re not crying out for revolution. They want companies to start building trust with consumers. The diesel emissions scandal covered up by Volkswagen was a big blow to national self-esteem, to the Made in Germany brand, but it did not trigger a Merkel crackdown on corporate accountability.
The nuclear shutdown meant deepening German dependence on coal-fired power stations and on Russian gas; Merkel is fond of saying that all decisions carry consequences yet these consequences were not properly thought through. Privately too you hear far more eurosceptical opinions than in the public domain. That adds to pent-up tensions between the leaders and the led.
Germans don’t want to pay the bill for a global leadership role that they did not seek. Budgets are squeezed. Merkel allowed herself to be celebrated as a putative leader of the free world. She is wise enough to know she stood out largely because the supposed statesmen and women around her in Europe have been so mediocre.
To the German voter, though, it seemed like hubris. Too many problems have been ignored or mishandled on her watch. As the master of damage control she now has to realise that she herself is damaged goods.
2. The collapse of Angela Merkel's coalition shows her dream of a united Europe is falling apart: Gisella Stuart
The rise of Euroscepticism is an inevitable consequence of the EU's failure to secure consent for its designs
A new sensation is coursing through the German body politic: panic. It has been brewing since September’s dramatic election result, which saw Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party much diminished, and the Right-wing Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) capture 94 parliamentary seats. Naturally, Chancellor Merkel did what she always does when things get tough – reassure her people “das schaffen wir” – we can do this.
Not this time. Her attempts to form a colition have unexpectedly collapese and Germany is in turmoil. I have no doubt the Federal Republic will find a short-term solution. It has a functioning government and while this is inconvenient for Brexit talks, it’s all manageable. But it does raise wider issues about consensus, democratic legitimacy and the future of the EU. We are talking tectonic plates here, not just local difficulties.
Before we had a single currency it was perfectly possible to talk about a two-speed Europe, but there has never been a currency union without a political union. With its dream of creating a supranational identity, replacing ideology with a bureaucratic promise of a better tomorrow and becoming a significant global player, the EU has over-stretched itself.
Like it or not, to have a functioning single currency you need some basic things such as a single minister of economy, the ability to transfer debts and enforcement mechanisms. Not that the superstate is simply economic.
Last week, 23 EU members signed a defence pact to increase military cooperation. Meanwhile, President Emmanuel Macron sketches out his plans for a refounding of the European project, Jean-Claude Juncker delivers aspirational speeches, and there are suggestions that the European Parliament seats vacated by departing British MEPs be given to members elected from a pan-European list.
Politicians may have stopped talking about a United States of Europe, but all their actions point to one. There is just one problem: the voters aren’t with them – not even, as the failure to form a government has shown, in Germany. And in a democracy, that is a fatal flaw. The failure of the German coalition negotiations reflects the deeper fracture of democratic consent apparent across the EU.
Every European election I’ve ever been involved in has been decided on national issues fought by national political parties. We have no pan-European political parties and no European demos. The European constitution was rejected by voters first in France and then in the Netherlands.
The The UK was promised a referendum by all three political parties in 2005, only for the promise to be ditched after the rehashed constitution emerged as the Lisbon Treaty. Having learnt the lesson that asking the people is a dangerous thing, France, the Netherlands and the UK passed the treaty by parliamentary procedures. The rise of Eurosceptic parties should come as no surprise.
What loyalty do the people and governments of the EU27 have to Brussels’ fetish superstate project? Poland and Hungary may hope to profit from EU membership, but they show no great eagerness to comply with rules and obligations. And while German politicians are reluctant to talk about “German interests”, in Germany you see border controls when coming from Austria.
Nor is there appetite for tax increases to make up for the funds lost when the EU’s second largest net contributor – Britain – leaves. Talk of transfer payments to Greece or any other euro country that may run into trouble is a complete no no. Indeed, objections to debt mutualisation were one of the reasons German coalition talks failed.
The reality is that Germany, like other European nations, still puts her own interests above EU interests, because democracies require consent. If eurozone countries want a superstate they must spell out what that means – fiscal transfers and all – to their voters. And if the voters say no, act on that.
Currently EU members like to fudge things, and if voters disagree they are tempted to “dissolve the people and elect another one”, as Bertolt Brecht said. Heeding people’s wishes is a far better way forward, and for the EU that may mean shelving its grandiose superstate dream and accepting the reality of doing less. For if Angela Merkel can’t sell the dream, who can?