Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia 22.11.17.

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.



  • 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.

The EU
  • 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?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 21.11.17

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.

  • So, Barcelona did lose out - to Amsterdm - in the contest for the post-Brexit location of the EU's Medicine's agency. Who knows how the final decision was affected by the recent events there but the Spanish government will surely claim that it was a lot.
  • But Sr P et al keep us smiling
  • As for December, the latest poll suggests a very high voter turnout of 82% and confirms the likelhood that the (divided) secessionist parties will have a majority.
  • So, I guess it's not a surprise that Madird is talking up the Commission to look at changes and the possiblity that Cataluña can have back the concession on tax collections that the PP government took back from it a few years ago. Better late than never, I guess
  • Today finds me in the charming seaside town of Ericeira, which probably doesn't seem quite so tranquil during the summer months. Especially as it's a surfing centre. I have many fotos but these 2 are pretty representative of the place:-

Germany: Europe
  • According to one commentator: The “leader of Europe” is likely to be entirely inward focused in coming months/years - at a time when the European union will be facing a host of new issues regarding closer union, banking union, reform of the ESM, bailout and QE policies. There will also be new potential crisis points – Italian elections next year - Greece bailout, renewed immigration crisis or a blow-up with Trump. And these are just the known unknowns. This has profound implications for the so-called French/German axis as it slides towards Paris. We are not going to see a new German government “waste time” on issues like closer EU union, European Banking Union, or critical finance issues like reforming the ESM or new approaches on QE and Bailout funds. 
  • Here's another view:- The collapse of coalition talks kills off any lingering hopes of a Franco-German ‘Grand Bargain’, intended to relaunch the eurozone on viable foundations with a fully-fledged fiscal union. French president Emmanuel Macron will emerge by default as the de facto leader of the EU for a while as Germany grapples with its internal crisis. Yet this is unlikely to do him any good. He will emerge by default as the de facto leader of the EU for a while as Germany grapples with its internal crisis. Yet this is unlikely to do him any good.
  • And, at the end of this post is Ambrose Evan Ptitchard's take on the surprise developments in Germany and their impact.
  • Finally, here's Don Quijones on the subject.
The UK

  • What does the German development mean for the Bexit negotiations? A. No one knows. But a certain Mr Tilford says that months of introspection in Germany spell trouble for Brexit talks. Germany is absolutely crucial in brokering a deal between the other member states. A disengaged leadership caught up in internal wrangling is not going to be focused on knocking heads together.  There is  view that Germany is the real problem for Britain in the great showdown over Brexit since the whole structure of the single market, the euro, and the EU regulatory regime, has worked so well to its advantage. Europeanist moral rhetoric is all too often a mask for German power. The country has the greatest strategic stake in preserving the EU status quo.

  • I wonder if this Papal appeal will have any impact in Galicia. I rather think not.


Germany pays the political price for leaving its poor behind

The last time Germany proved unable to form a government was under the Weimar Republic. We will not see a repeat of the Thirties this time, but the failure of coalition talks after two months of deadlock is no trivial matter either.

The country faces a constitutional crisis. There is no clear-cut legal mechanism for snap elections. A fresh vote is unlikely to resolve the impasse in any case since the fragmentation of the Bundestag may well be even greater. 

Opinion polls suggest that minor parties in various states of populist or ideological revolt – above all the hard-Right Alternative fur Deutschland – will make further gains. "It is an unprecedented situation in the history of the Federal Republic," said president Frank-Walter Steinmeier.  

With hindsight the election in September is taking on much greater significance than widely thought at the time: it marked the end of Germany’s post-war order, the happy era of moderation and the dominance two great incumbent volksparteien.

This rupture is a direct result of the economic and political model pursued by the German elites for the last fifteen years, known to critics on Left and Right as hyper-globalisation.

“It is better not to govern at all than to govern badly,” said Christian Lindner,  leader of the pro-market Free Democrats (FDP), after cutting off the talks. His real game is to tap into simmering discontent over immigration, calculating that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats have left him an open goal.

“Germany is turning to soft nationalism. People on low incomes are voting against authority because the consensus on equality and justice has broken down. It is the same pattern across Europe,” said Ashoka Mody, a former bail-out chief for the International Monetary Fund in Europe.

Mr Mody said the bottom half of German society has not seen any increase in real incomes in a generation. The Hartz IV reforms in 2003 and 2004 made it easier to fire workers, leading to wage compression as companies threatened to move plants to Eastern Europe.  

The reforms pushed seven million people into part-time ‘mini-jobs’ paying €450 (£399) a month. It lead to corrosive "pauperisation". This remains the case even though the economy is humming and surging exports have pushed the current account surplus to 8.5pc of GDP. 

The electoral landscape is a cry of protest by those left behind. The Marxist Linke party is running at 10pc in the polls. AfD and the FDP are between them on 25pc with competing kulturkampf platforms, with the Bavarian Social Christians shifting in their direction to cover the Right flank.

The economy has certainly been firing on all cylinders this year. Growth was 0.8pc last quarter. The momentum will carry Germany through the next year whether or not it has a government, but this does not in itself alleviate the deeper crisis for the post-Rhineland model.

The Bundesbank says the current boom is unsustainable. The economy is in the grip of cyclical overheating due to ultra-loose monetary policy. Behind this screen is the curse of stagnant productivity (as in Britain), lowering the future economic speed limit. Trend growth rates are heading for 0.75pc a year by 2021.

One’s perception of the Wirtschaftswunder depends on where one sits. Marcel Fratzscher, head of the German Economic Institute (DIW), writes in Die Deutschland Illusion that Germany’s growth since 2000 has lagged East Asia, Scandinavia, and the Anglo-Saxon states. It has fallen far below the country’s own past standards.

“It only looks like a boom in comparison to the dire performance of the southern eurozone,” said Simon Tilford from the Centre for European Reform.

“Germany’s real weakness has been the lack of public investment. They have been running down their public sector stock even though they could borrow at negative rates,” he said. The austerity doctrine and the quest for balanced budget above all else has left deep structural problems. The country has neglected digital infrastructure. It has the lowest ratio of high-speed broadband in the OECD club.

The collapse of coalition talks kills off any lingering hopes of a Franco-German ‘Grand Bargain’, intended to relaunch the eurozone on viable foundations with a fully-fledged fiscal union. French president Emmanuel Macron will emerge by default as the de facto leader of the EU for a while as Germany grapples with its internal crisis. Yet this is unlikely to do him any good.

“There may be a eurozone finance minister as a fig-leaf appointment. The likelihood of a substantive pooling of resources is zero,” said Mr Tilford. Monetary union will face the next global downturn with the old unresolved pathologies and no real buffers against an asymmetric shock. 

Mr Tilford said months of introspection in Germany spell trouble for Brexit talks. “Germany is absolutely crucial in brokering a deal between the other member states. A disengaged leadership caught up in internal wrangling is not going to be focused on knocking heads together,” he said.

Florian Hense from Berenberg Bank said there is a unified view across Germany that the cohesion of the EU single market is sacrosanct and cannot be compromised, even if it means disregarding the interests of German car makers. “It makes no difference which government is in power,” he said.  

There is a view that Germany is the real problem for Britain in the great showdown over Brexit since the whole structure of the single market, the euro, and the EU regulatory regime, has worked so well to its advantage. Europeanist moral rhetoric is all too often a mask for German power. The country has the greatest strategic stake in preserving the EU status quo.

“They always talk about European interests when they really mean German interests,” said Gisela Stuart, head of Change Britain and herself Bavarian-born.

It was Germany and France that took the toughest line before the last EU summit in October, overruling Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier when he called for compromise.  “The commission is more technically pragmatic and in an odd way it may be easier to reach a deal if left to them,” she said.

Stranger things have happened.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 20.11.17

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.

  • Madrid must be delighted to have the support of President Juncker, an outstanding EU politician, if ever there was one. And popular, too. Back home in Luxembourg.
  • But at least the man knows how to wear a tie, something beyond President Fart . . . 

  • I see that Portuguese drivers share with their Iberian cousins an aversion to signalling.
  • So, Germany is in political chaos after the collapse of talks around 4-party coalition talks. Which means, of course, that Europe is in chaos too. It's a legacy of Mrs M's promise to let more than a million immigrants into Germany and the subsequent rise of the right wing Alternative for Germany party. Interesting times. One's forced to ask – If Spain and Germany can't hold themselves together, how on earth can the EU? But I guess it has the advantage of not being democratic and so is impervious to the popular will. As it was with Ireland, France and Holland, as I recall. Maybe it can hold out a bit longer against the grain of history.
  • Here's fellow Brit-in-Galicia blogger Paul, with a tale of his attempts to get his fellow villagers to cut back on water use, in the face of the long drought. 
  • Even more distressing is this video of one of the recent spate of fires in Galicia, courtesy of reader Paedeleo.
  • A mere 15 years later, a court in Galicia has pronounced on the damages payable from the Prestige oil spill disaster off our coast. I wonder how long the delay for payment will be. Assuming anything is ever paid, of course.
Finally . . . I'm always bemused, in Spain, when you pay for an entrance ticket then 2 seconds later someone else either takes it off you or rips it a bit. Increases employment, I guess. But things went even further yesterday at the castle in Leiria, where the woman at the desk hand-wrote a receipt for 2 of us, complete with details of our discounts, the respective prices, and the date. Plus the total at the bottom. I was surprised I wasn't asked to sign it. But at least there was no one else to take it from us or tear it a bit. Of, if there was, he or she was slacking on the job. Maybe the official looking chap standing outside the ticket place and chatting to a friend.

Today's Cartoon

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 19.11.17

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.

  • As expected, all the prominent nationalists will be standing in the Dec 21 elections, but this time not as members of a united separatist front. The ERC has rejected a joint ticket but might well end up as the majority party. 

  • What we foreigners rate most highly about Spain. French folk might well laugh - or at least smile - at the winner.
  • It's been known for a while that Rajoy's PP government was robbing blind the country's pension fund. But Don Quijones tells us here just how far things have gone and what the consequences are and will be. As he says:- There are 2 main causes for Spain’s pensions nightmare: the rapid ageing of Spanish society, and the mass destruction of decent or semi-decent paying jobs in the wake of the financial crisis. Both problems are evident across most advanced Western economies, but they are particularly pronounced in Spain.
  • I've mentioned a few times how sensitive the Spanish forces of law are to anything which they feel insults them. And that they have an infamous law to help them assuage their hurt feelings. Here they are, at it again.

  • It has to be said that there are some truly ugly buildings here. Plus many beautiful ones, of course. The Portuguese do seem to have a love affair with cheap-looking, brutal, modern stuff. It would he hard to find the winner of a contest but this one in Figueira de Foz would be a good contestant. That said, it's possible I'm being unfair, as it might be unfinished and abandoned. Hard to say.

  • As far as I'm aware, on-street pay-for parking places in other countries are designated by blue lines. Not in Portugal, where they're the normal white lines. And the parking notice-cum-machine in the square in front of your hotel might not be at all visible. Result – an unexpected and unwelcome fine. But at least they give you the bad news in good, polite English as well as in Portuguese. I can't help feeling it was a mistake to give me 15 days . . .
  • In case you need to know, Fartura appears to mean 'shop' or 'stall'.

We are now beginning to see the consequences of the dominance of a half-educated elite. More here.

The UK
Here'sthe first 2 most read items in today's Sunday Telegraph. Surely tells you something about British society:-
  1. Dog 'dies of a broken heart' after being dumped at airport by her owner
  2. World's first human head transplant a success, controversial scientist claims

The Spanish Language:

A 'very Spanish' phrase - Estar en Babia.

Nutters Corner
If they kill our president or they destroy him or whatever, if we elect the other side this is it. I think maybe Trump is here to give us time to get ready because all hell is going to break loose. We’re not going to have the Antichrist just show up to get the sign of the Mark of the Beast on our forehead or hand. It won’t happen without hunger. Hunger is going to be the main thing. Most people don’t get it. They don’t want to get it. But that is why I am so obsessed with you all being prepared. - Evangelist TV host, Jim Bakker. Who just happens to sell buckets of food. Such as the 60 dollar 'Pancake Bulk Bucket', which contains enough goo for 400 pancakes. And with which you get a free Christmas ornament. You might not be surprised to hear that Mr B has already served time.

  • A description I'd never heard before: The city where pedestrians are kings. Pretty true. If you ignore the cyclists.
  • But . . . More drug news here. Though the Daily Mail didn't think Pontevedra merited a mention.

Finally . . .

Bit of a suprise, courtesy of my friend, David.

Footnote: Sorry, Maria. I accidentally erased your last comment. I will come back on the exact location of the speed trap but must say it was a few years ago. For now, I can advise it is/was between Tui and Tomiño.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 18.11.17

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.

  • The case against the delinquents holed up in Brussels has been adjourned until December 4, so that they can have more time to prepare their cases, at the start of what promises to be a protracted legal battle, says the BBC.
  • The ex Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, has interviewed Sr P on RT News, the Moscow mouthpiece. Prior to this, Mr S had embarked on a career as a stand-up comic. Maybe that remains his real ambition.

  • El País insists that the cases of PP corruption going through the courts prove the independence of the Spanish judiciary. While this is good to see, I suspect there is a counter argument
  • The Spanish economy evinces excessive control and insufficient investment for the future, says an FT article here, if you can access it.
  • Spain has enough doctors but not enough nurses, it says here. Perhaps there'll be more of the latter when Spanish nurses flee the UK's NHS after Brexit.
  • Ambrose Evans-Prichard reports that El Pais has warned that – [following the imminent budget developments cited below] – Spain fears a cliff-edge halt in transfers to large areas such as Andalucia, Extremadura, and Castilla-La-Mancha that depend on projects and development schemes financed by Brussels. AE-P adds that: During the 2014-2020 period, Spain’s share of EU structural funds of this kind is over €37bn (£33bn). A cut-off would hit the country disproportionately hard. It would provoke a furious political reaction from Madrid, famous for fighting its financial corner tooth and nail. . .  While – [for the EU as a whole] - the sums are manageable in macro-economic terms, they are politically neuralgic and run across deep cultural and ethnic fault-lines.  Cuts risk inflaming the simmering dispute between the Dutch-speaking Flemish and the francophone Walloons, and aggravating the North and South rift in Italy over subsidies. The separatist clashes in Spain could become even harder to handle. Money is a crucial element in all these tensions.

  • Brussels has begun to circulate the first confidential papers on how to plug the gaping hole in EU finances after Brexit, provoking serious alarm in regions and poorer countries across the bloc. British withdrawal will slash EU revenues by 16% once the current budget framework ends in 2020, forcing Brussels to confront vocal vested interests. It threatens to ignite bitter divisions. . . . There is zero chance that the EU’s front of disciplined unity over Brexit will survive once the battle of the budget starts in earnest.
  • Ask yourself: how do you build a national, healthy party democracy when millions of voters’ first affiliation is with their language-based identity? How do you get people talking about questions of policy and competence if politics is about guarding your cultural grouping? How do you win loyalties through and across society when party following is fuelled more by identity than policy? Where is nationwide democratic consent when a general election becomes a contest between internal groups? Which brings us to Belgium, which has not had a nation-based rather than region-based general election since the 1950s, and which took a record 589 days to form a government in 2010. The Walloons and the Flemings are essentially two tribes. The Flemish in the north, the Walloons in the south, plus a bilingual nugget in the middle, more commonly known as Brussels. Walloons vote for Walloon parties, Flemings for Flemish parties. Governments are always coalitions, and only an almost hermetically-sealed federal structure stops the country falling apart. Maybe this is why - friends tell me - the country is rife with inefficiency.
  • Sir James Dyson, Britain's best known entrepreneur, on the EU-UK negotiations : I don’t think they’ll do a deal. You can’t negotiate with that lot, as I’ve found out from 24 years of sitting on European committees. No non-German company has ever won anything, and nobody has ever been able to block any suggestion from the German cartel. Never. They stifle innovation, the EU. And the European Court of Justice, well, that’s frankly crooked. Fighting words from a Brexit supporter, then. Despite the fact he's getting millions in subsidies for his massive farming interests in the UK. 

The UK
  • Helpful advice from a UK judge on the issue of the moment: A reasonable, right-thinking member of modern society would not consider it shocking or discreditable for a man, at the end of a social evening alone with a single woman of equal status whom he found attractive and friendly, to put his arm around her waist and ask her if she would like them to become closer. Provided he did nothing positively indecent, and took ‘no’ for an answer, most right-thinking people would accept this as a normal part of life.
  • And more on this theme from William Hanson, author of "The Bluffer’s Guide to Etiquette": Any potential relationship should be initiated away from work. These days people have to have a heightened awareness of what is acceptable. I would verbally, without any physical contact, seek a signal that they are interested in pursuing a relationship. The British like to tiptoe around the issue. It is much better towards the end of a meal to say ‘Please correct me if I am wrong but have I been picking up on some signals that you would like to be more than colleagues?’. If you get a ‘no’, laugh it off. There is no need to feel awkward.

I do hope my male compatriots find that helpful.

Today's Cartoon

More on today's UK society . . .

Health and Safety regulations, I'm afraid, Mr Molestropp".

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