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••• The International Writers Magazine: From Our Spanish Correspondent

Our European Demons
• James Skinner writes from Vigo in Spain


As normal, last month kicked off with another round of major world events ranging from US President Donald Trump never ceasing to amuse or scare us with his incessant surprises, the consolidation of Monsieur Emmanuel Macron as the new saltwort President of France followed by the applauses of Ms. Merkel thus forging ahead a new Franco-German bond to face the now consolidated position of the UK leaving the European Union. We mustn’t forget Russia and Vladimir Putin with its cat and mouse game as well as the ongoing horrors of the Middle East and the threats from North Korea to mention but a few.

Back in Europe the issue of Brexit is again the main topic as official negotiation talks, after a whole year since the results of the referendum, began on the 19th of June.

But, as Rudyard Kipling once wrote, ‘East is east and West is west, and never the twain shall meet’. No sooner had both parties passed ‘Go’ on the Monopoly board then opposing views on each’s priorities were presented. Bad start!

Mr. David Davis, UK’s Brexit Secretary stated that Britain wished to preserve employment by limiting the numbers of future immigration and wanted to get started with deal negotiations as soon as possible, whereas Mr. Michael Barnier, the EU’s Chief negotiator was primarily concerned with the UK’s debt - still unknown as to who owes what - and preserving the present European Union citizens’ (3.2 Million) rights in the UK as well as the British in Europe (1.2 Million). The rest could wait. The British Prime minister, Mrs. Theresa May then came up with a complicated program of preservation including controls such ID cards and fingerprinting plus some sort of a varied time frame as well as a cut-off point. These were soon rejected by the European Commission. Next meeting is now scheduled for July 15th. Anything could happen. Nevertheless the clock has started and there is no looking back. Fasten seat belts!

Why then, is Spain concerned?

Despite having brought the subject up on previous essays of how it would affect both Spaniards in UK and Brits in Spain, the start has now changed from speculation to in-depth negotiation. The fact that Mrs. May has more or less put a spanner in the works, at least from the European Union’s point of view has triggered the alarm bells in a plethora of directions. In other words, instead of agreeing that rights should have been guaranteed 100% on both sides of the Channel, there is still an air of confusion. As far as Spain is concerned it has just added more anxiety to the over 200,000 Spaniards presently in Britain and the over 300,000 Brits in Spain. Will leave it there as this has just been the curtain riser of a long and uncertain play. The scriptwriters are already poised for writing the first act preparing for kick off.

Back to Spain and its internal affairs. There are plenty!

Last month I wrote about the ‘Return of the Phoenix’ or better still ‘Third time lucky’ regarding the leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE), Sr. Pedro Sanchez, the two time loser of the General Elections, who resigned, went on a sabbatical in the USA and resurrected to fight and win the leadership of his party for the third time. Since then, he has literally gone on a whirlwind tour of the country, drumming up support and finally carried out a series of talks with every party, except the ruling conservative with one moto, ‘To get rid of Rajoy!’ (President). His other statement that caused a furor in the European Union was to ‘veto’ the recent trade agreement between the Union and Canada known as CETA. Within hours he was shot down in flames by his socialist counterparts in Europe. He rectified and said he would abstain. Enough said except that Sr. Rajoy has suggested a meeting anyway. After all, the next general elections in Spain are in 2019 and that is still a long way off.

Meanwhile back in the ranch, and again, as mentioned last month, the Marxist party of Sr. Pablo Iglesias (Podemos) went ahead with the motion in Parliament that called for a ‘Vote of No Confidence’ and as expected was rejected (with the abstention of the Socialists) by all except the extreme and minor parties of the left. However, piecing together what Sr. Sanchez is scheming, Sr. Iglesias is probably hoping and planning for a second chance. The saving grace is that to obtain a majority he would need the votes of Sr. Albert Rivera’s ‘Every-which-way’ party (Ciudadanos) that is dead against the separatist lot, especially from Catalonia (Sr. Rivera by the way is Catalan) and this will never happen. All this political shenanigan sounds confusing but to summarize it, it is not as complex. One has to read Spain’s contemporary history of the 1930’s to realize that politically speaking, the country is, once again tripping over the same stone.

This brings me on to the next point. Catalonia!

Sounds like a broken vinyl 33’ record but it is not. The regional president Sr. Puigdemont has now set the date of the referendum for independence on the 1st of October, just 5 months away, thereby defying all threats from the Spanish government declaring said referendum as illegal and against the Constitution. There has been a subtle change to this whole affair. It appears that the international media, particularly The New York Times and the Financial Times have written articles basically supporting the idea of a ‘citizen’s choice’ to self-determination as per the general mandates of the United Nations. It remains to be seen what will happen next.

And now, yet another thorny subject that has been plaguing the conservatives and keeps hitting the headlines on a daily basis and is - wait for it - the never ending saga of corruption. Thanks to an ongoing media campaign, news of new scandals, although minor, keep hitting the headlines on a daily basis despite the fact that many are old hat dating back to the 1990’s (the infamous Barcenas case). Nevertheless, Sr. Rajoy, the president has to appear before the courts as a witness in the most serious case known as ‘Gürtel’ that goes back to 2009 and is related to the Barcenas affair. In a nutshell, most of the filth has already been washed through courts, despite the fact that other parties in the opposition are in the same boat. The socialist’s scandals in Andalucía are also an ongoing affair. Remember my reports years back regarding attractive judge, Ms. Mercedes Alaya? Well, she hasn’t given up and continues to unearth dirty political linen. Trouble is it hardly hits the press.

To end on a rather happy note, Michael Portillo’s famous continental train journeys (2012-2016) on the BBC, especially those in Spain have been aired on Spain’s main television station RTVE. Although I had seen it before the particular journey from Corunna, Galicia down to Oporto, Portugal was of particular interest as it concerned my own neck of the woods. Whatever one may think of Michael, his presentations are excellent. He covered every delightful aspect of this part of Spain, from the high speed train that passes through the famous pilgrim city of Santiago de Compostela to fishing for octopus - one of the local seafood delights – in one of the hundreds of small coves on the Atlantic. He may be eccentric but he is unique.’

‘That’s all folks.’ See you next month - have a great summer.     

© James G. Skinner. July, 2017.

Third Time Lucky in Spain
James Skinner

Spain has had a month of political upheavals that once again may change the course of a country that is constantly travelling on a funfair roller-coaster.

Brexit Trigger and Spain
James Skinner

It is ‘Brexit’ month when most public transport around Europe including the United Kingdom will have a large sign that says ‘ALL CHANGE’.

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