Catalonia

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy just achieved what many thought impossible having in just twenty four hours succeeded in putting Brexit on the back-burner on the ‘list of things to worry about,’ for the EU. His heavy handed and insensitive approach to yesterday’s referendum has put succession tension in the region on the world’s front pages and will have unquestionably strengthened local resolve and pushed many ‘no,’ voters across to the independence camp simply out of family and community loyalty.

Images of ordinary decent citizens being beaten up by para military police are shocking. These weren’t the usual protesting unwashed anarchists we are used to seeing ripping up paving stones at G7 summits. They were mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters who were simply out and about with the intention of casting a vote. Rajoy has blown it and there will be consequences beyond Catalonia.

A positive vote with a convincing turnout was always a low probability event but Rajoy now has a simmering feud on his hands which will be a persistent and long lasting issue for future successive Spanish governments. And let’s not be naive here. The separatists managed to manoeuvre the national government into a no-win situation by refusing to engage and offering no optionality forcing the government down a path of action which would have negative repercussions across the worlds press. Of course, the federal police agencies weren’t forced into their heavy-handed actions. That simply amplified the impression that normal people are being denied their democratic rights. Moreover, the reported 42.3% turnout lacks legitimacy even if 90% of the votes were in favour of separatism. Legislation for the vote was only passed 4 weeks ago and opponents of independence simply refused to debate or engage in any meaningful way. The referendum was held in a manner that would not pass any independent audit with separatist movements issuing their own ballot papers and the local government suggesting that voters even download their ballot papers from a Catalonian government website.  

Prime Minister Rajoy’s credibility though is shot to pieces. Rajoy anyway relies on minority parties to help him with his legislative programme in parliament and some of those may be less well disposed to sit in his corner. The problem for the EU is that this comes at a time when many national governments in Europe, including Spain, have minority governments and with Merkel struggling to form a coalition there is a striking lack of leadership across the EU with the possible exception of France where of course Macron is flying into strong headwinds of his own with his reform programme.

I have consistently repeated two views regarding the EU and Brexit. First, that we are better off out because the whole monstrous construct is structurally flawed and will anyway, implode at some future point because of accelerating national divides, (watch the trend in popularism infect Eastern Europe, Belgium and Italy in the months ahead), and economic disparity between north and south. Second, that whilst an advocate of Brexit my long-held concern is that Westminster lacks the expertise, experience and wisdom, both politically and within the civil service to ensure a smooth and elegant exit. Funny how both are manifesting themselves simeoultaenously. 

Hurrah!

We'll take that on the chin lads...

It's back. The best six weeks in the calendar with skill, drama, heartbreak and joy throughout. The Six Nations lifts the soul and gladdens the heart, whatever the hue of your jersey. It's one big happy pill to take you away from whatever aches, pains and worries may ail you. I absolutely love it.

What is there not to love about French rugby?

The French are in town today and of course we all hope they are back on track and closer to rediscovering their old flair and elan.  I have posted this before, but here again is the clip of the unforgettable try scored by Philippe Saint-Andre in 1991, who didn't have a great spell as a manager, but whose try against England was voted in England's centenary year, 2009, the best try ever scored against us at Twickenham. 

Nice; No Simple Answers

The events in Nice last night have triggered another unwanted replay of saturation disaster news coverage and waves of dread pulsing through families and friends with loved ones in the South of France. Anyone who has been to Nice has strolled down the Promenade des Anglais and it is familiar to many across the world. This being the third major terrorist event in eighteen months the French could be forgiven for suffering from emotional exhaustion. France though is a mature democracy with broad shoulders and they will get through the trauma. The tragic fact is however, it is unlikely to be the last such event.

We do not yet know for certain that the Nice attack was perpetrated by an Islamic terrorist. The French Tunisian individual identified as the driver may have been mentally ill, high on drugs or hell bent on revenge for some perceived or actual sleight. Perhaps a combination of two or all of those factors may become apparent. Apart from petty crime the perpetrator had not been flagged as a radical and was unknown to security services.

As we are aware, so called ‘Lone Wolves,’ or ‘Stray Dogs,’ present security forces with very specific difficulties. They are often solitary and withdrawn individuals, frequently without ideological motivation, which makes identification through profiling difficult and clearly infiltration of potential targets, because of their singularity, is a non-starter. Given many are mentally ill they often come to the attention of the police and or health professionals prior to major incidents but that is very large haystack for security professionals to trawl through and monitor in order to identify the very few individuals who may then advance to mass murder.

Much will again be made of solitary attackers in the coming days and the threat will remain persistent. I have discussed them before but have avoided listing specific threats lest I unintentionally present some lunatic with a script. The threat however to the well-being of ordinary decent citizens goes beyond the Lone Wolf because the general terror threat is embedded in the EU.

The proximity of North Africa and Turkey to Europe, centuries of trade and colonialisation and waves of immigrants seeking work, education and advancement over generations has resulted in large numbers of Muslims living in Europe. Although some are fourth or even fifth generation immigrants many have not integrated and live in isolated Muslim dominated communities. For example, Matthew Levitt, the director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noted in a recent Politico article that only eight of the 114 imams in Brussels speak any of Belgium's traditional languages.

The backdrop is not helped by the weak European economy which has impacted the Muslim population disproportionately and while the unemployment rate for young males on the Continent is very high, (ex Germany), the numbers for young Muslims should be a source of alarm. Alienation through economic disenfranchisement and an absence of any kind of mandatory assimilation through benefits-for-work type schemes provide the purveyors of violence rich pickings with which to pollute, twist and control minds. To combat radicalisation all European countries must accept that they must do more than ‘round up the usual suspects,’ and put soldiers on the streets in a show of force after major incidents. They must meet the extreme violence of terror with radical social and economic reengineering in order to drain the pond. Without confronting the worst truths of these societies the outlook will remain at it's bleakest.

The political impact of terrorism in France will gain momentum with an inevitable uplift for the right wing National Front and the centre right Republicans in next April’s elections. Both are critical of Schengen and the demand for greater national control of borders is anyway growing across Europe both because of terrorism and migration. It is also inevitable that the French will reach out for more support in their foreign anti Jihadist operations but are likely to receive a subdued response from other European nations who lack the will, the budgets and the expertise to field expeditionary forces.

They can hope though for renewed efforts in intelligence and information sharing but many countries in Europe are themselves hampered by their own fragmented security and intelligence structures not to mention entrenched privacy laws.

For individuals, the advice remains the same. Forget all that ‘business as usual; our lives will not be affected,’ hogwash from politicians who know no better. We live in an environment of elevated risk from multiple threats and citizens should adopt a poise of situational awareness wherever they are. That doesn’t mean constantly living on edge. It simply means being aware of ones surroundings and events. That is, tune in, never tune out. Always have the basis of an escape and action plan and remember, an air of superior laissez-faire indifference is no defence against 7.62mm rounds and flying glass. You can read more here in Stay Safe.

Au contraire Mr Junker

has the average Frenchman ever had it so good?

So, Jean-Claude Junker, the European Commission President, has been slamming David Cameron in response to the jaw dropping incredulity with which No 10 greeted the latest bill from Brussels, "please pay £1.7bn by Christmas."

So Mr Juncker, as I understand it, we the British have landed this whopper because we have a growth rate higher than have others in the EU. 

I'm a simple man so in simple terms, let me get this right. I get to pay more tax to subsidise a French 35 hour working week and the rest of the nonsense that they've conjured up in the dying days of their 200 year old experiment in raging socialism.

Sure, while I'm getting my sad, tired body out of bed at 5am every morning my average French opposite number is probably just drifting home from seeing one of his mistresses and that's his god given right as a man and a Frenchman. Just don't ask me to pay for it because here's a reality check.... we're not going to and if you push the point we'll remove our northern Presbyterian troublesome selves and our dull work ethic out of the whole rotten farce.

 

 

Man Up France FFS

 

Enquiring minds might find this table from SocGen of passing interest,

 

The standout lines are that the French and Belgiums earn more per hour than do German workers, which is a straight turnaround from 2000 when the Germans made more per hour. 

That of course suggests that the Germans suffered relatively poor wage gains but stayed competitive with low unemployment and strong exports.

Everyone else saw wages go up, and competitiveness reduce and now they're looking for German handouts.

 Except the UK where earnings per hour have fallen dramatically since 2008 which is demonstrative of the British taking their medicine.

Onlookers should remember, many things have gone very wrong in the UK but to our credit we started to face up to problems immediately after the crisis. There is a ton of unfinished work in the UK but at the time, the French swept most of their bad news under the carpet and hoisted a sign that said, "no problems here (especially in their banks), nothing to see, move along now." 

Guess what.... your problem, grow up, stop whinging and deal with it.

 

Wales v France

 

 

"They're so unsporting. They don't do things for the sake of doing them like the English. We play the game for the sake of the game. Other nations play the game for the sake of winning it."

Captain Paul Waggot, Whisky Galore

 

After last Sayurday's debacle, the two Crumble boys played rugby at school. One had an easy win, slicing through the oppo and had a "job jobbed," feeling at the end of it. The other boy's team was squarely beaten but he was upbeat given he had a good match, played in a new position and put some useful tackles in. The boy who lost had a better and more rewarding game. Call me old fashioned but having read the press this week most of the England team, management and the RFU still don't get it, (and this is the last I'll say about England). 

It wasn't leaving the tournament early that has made people up and down the country in the clubs and schools angry; it's the manner of the defeat. Play, play as hard as you can and if you're going down don't make it easy for them. On that basis, supporters from inumerable other countries enjoyed a more fulfilling tournament, Russia, Japan and Canada are just a few worth throwing out there.

Anyway, over to the Welsh. I'll be joined by a few friends to enjoy some sausages, (formerly known as the pigs Mac & Mabel), an ale and will do my best to be big hearted and support Wales. Not much of a choice emotionally is there, Wales or France but not for me the churlish attitude of the Andy Murrays of the world, (support anyone playing England), so for 80 mins I'll be a boyo. Good luck to them.

In the highly unlikely event that any passing Welshman doesn't know the rules then heres a refresher. Have a great weekend!

Another Fine Mess..................

 

It's around about now, when things generally are going to hell in a handcart, that my old driver Bombardier Clark, full of expectation as to how his new boss planned to dig himself out of the proverbial, would utter the helpful phrase, "Well Sir, things are bit fvcking fvcked up now aren't they Sir," 

This phrase is probably becoming well worn in the Ministry of Defence and I'm sure they're glancing over to the Foreign Office and No 10 with that same bemused air as Libya starts to come apart at the seams and we approach a pretty important fork in the road.

It's clear that little has been learned from previous conflicts, not least of all the vacuum of diplomatic activity before we embarked on what some people obviously thought would be a tidy and quick little war where the bad guys would fall over in quick time and no one would have the temerity to shoot back. We're left now with a coalition consisting almost only of Britain & France but, with a myriad of vested interests hanging around the fringes but not wanting to get their hands dirty. Meanwhile Libya is descending into the chaos that we earlier thought probable and the fork in the road points to deeper involvement or cutting and running.

The clearest signal that the engagement is unravelling is that the allies are all beginning to blame each other. This never looks good in the Arab world, especially at a time when Gadaffi is sending envoys and letters across the world asking for a ceasefire and peace whist we're dropping 1000lb bombs on antiquated pieces of armour. 

As time drags on and Gadaffi is able to consolidate after the earlier shock attacks, France and Britain may be faced with a stalemate that will inevitably lead to partition and Gadaffi remaining in situ. Whether he remains or not, the tribal make up of the country would suggest maps will be redrawn whatever the outcome and there will be the obvious rebuild cost to us for that. You simply can't wander around blowing up things and not be left with a bill at the end of it.

One of the first lessons traders learn is, "the first cut is the cheapest," and as for trading the same is true of warfare. If we've made a mistake, and I think we have, we must extract ourselves quickly. The national interest of the UK lies further East in the Gulf and we must maintain stability there at all costs. To maintain our involvement in Libya we will have to lever up our participation and engage on the ground; it can be the only outcome and that is not something that most British people would sign up to, not that anyone expects to be asked about these things.

It has been said that David Cameron is quick to admit mistakes. Where we go from here is going to drill down to exactly that; a politicians pride and vanity or the common good. As it is, we are now at risk from terrorist strikes............ (quick and tidy wars do not exist outside of Hollywood), and the further dilution of sparse assets that are required elsewhere. The Americans decided early on it wasn't worth the trouble and the Germans and Spanish didn't turn up at all. It's make your mind up time Mr Cameron.........

 

British / French Defence........ It's All About Germany.... again.

David Cameron obviously doesn't hold the centuries long held conviction that Frenchmen are there for Englishmen to practise shooting arrows at.

The ridiculous defence agreement with France, which David Cameron signed yesterday, brought back some memories of when your intrepid, and at that time much younger, writer played his own small part in the Entente Cordial.

In the far off halcyon days of the Cold War, when there was order in the world and we knew who our enemy was, I took part in an exercise in Germany called Tripex. The friendly forces consisted of a battalion of Jocks, (1 RHF), a US tank regiment, which carried the nickname "Hell on Wheels," and French Artillery. Working with the French was somewhat unusual at the time because they weren't NATO members and spent most of their overseas time skulking around the darker parts of Africa. They also had a presence in Berlin  given they were one of the Berlin powers, mostly as a result of three inebriated Frenchmen hitching a lift on a British Churchill tank in Normandy and accidentally arriving in Berlin at the end of the war.

The aim of the exercise, which was politically driven because it would have been suicide in practice, was for the battle group to punch a corridor through Eastern Germany to relieve Berlin should it again be blockaded. In reality of course, the undertaking would have been like A Bridge Too Far, only we would have lasted 20 mins against 3rd Shock Army rather than the full 3 hours of the movie.

Despite being an utter nonesense I expect it ticked a few boxes in Washington, London and Paris........ just as yesterdays agreement ticks a few boxes in London and more importantly for them, Paris.

The point of the agreement has nothing to do with military capability or sensible husbandry of reduced defence spending, because even stupid people in Whitehall know that the French can't be relied upon to do anything, with anyone or anywhere unless it favours their own direct self interest. Rather, it is to give the French an alternative to the Franco-German alliance that has bestrode Europe for the last fifty years.

In European terms, the winner from the recent financial crisis has been Germany. It's fiscal discipline, sense of common purpose and strategic industrial base has seen it emerge stronger than it's European partners. The geo political centre of Europe has moved from Paris to Berlin. Germany is not without it's own internal tensions and stresses but in geo political terms, they are in the driving seat. That worries the French.

This agreement then, simply expands France's options and is a starting gesture to diluting Germany's growing political influence over the extended EU.

So, sending some special forces to crawl about in the dark with knives between their teeth is a modern version of the old Tripex exercise. That however, didn't end quite so well.

Unsurprisingly, the Jocks and the septics rubbed along together just fine and the Americans soon learned to stop leaving their shiny new bits of kit lying around. That was until.................... until we had a couple of days off and were billeted in Sennelager Camp. Soldiers from various cap badges gathered in the huge NAAFI there and everything was going just fine until one very large septic knocked down the tower of empty beer cans that the boys from C Company had been diligently building all night. Then it all went off.

The instigating American immediately had a 5'6'' Jock hanging off his shoulders and bodies were soon flying in all directions, including one or two that went airborne, exiting through the windows. Tables, chairs, beer cans and the odd REME artificer were flying from one side of the room to the other as the whole place erupted in a bar fight worthy of a John Houston western.

Unremarkably, the French were nowhere to be seen.

After a while, the scenes of carnage and chaos quietened down with the arrival of the guard, some RMP's and some over enthusiastic barky, bitey guard dogs. Of course, the Jocks and septics suddenly became the best of friends and resumed drinking, swapping tales and kit.

Note to David Cameron, families fight but they're still family. For one thing........ they speak the same language.

Friday Insight

This week in our regular Friday geopolitical update we take an in depth and detailed look at France. Some people question the importance and relevance of France in todays world and even suggest that it's influence is waning. Here at Junk HQ we sweep such sniping to the side and continue to focus on France as one of the more critical centres in world affairs. Lets take a look at a summary of events over there,

No, I haven't a clue what she's saying either but somehow, the world just seems a brighter place for having watched her. What is there not to love....?