Barcelona Without the Tourists

Barcelona Spain
Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, Spain (Egor Myznik)

Tourism in Spain has come virtually to a standstill as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

For many residents of Barcelona, Spain’s top tourist destination, it is a relief.

The city welcomed 9.5 million tourists last year, up from under two million in the 1990s. That’s almost six times its population (1.6 million).

Most come during the summer, when I normally avoid the old medieval city and Barceloneta beach. (The beaches north of the Olympic Harbor, which were created for the 1992 Olympics, are usually less crowded but still busy.)

Now Barceloneta is actually nice. Cops constantly check to make sure sunbathers keep two meters distance, so crowding is impossible. The xiringuitos (tapas bars on the beach) have free tables. La Rambla, which is otherwise so packed it’s impossible to get through, is now pleasant for a stroll. Read more “Barcelona Without the Tourists”

Support for Quarantine Weakens in Spain

Pedro Sánchez
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez makes a speech in Congress in Madrid, July 17, 2018 (La Moncloa)

Support for maintaining the coronavirus quarantine is weakening in Spain. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has partly lifted a two-month lockdown, allowing small stores to reopen and restaurants to serve takeaway, but the opposition is calling for a quicker return to normalcy.

Deaths from coronavirus disease have stabilized at under 200 per day. The infection rate is also slowing.

But Spain still has more known cases of COVID-19 than any country except the United States.

The government fears that without strict controls, the virus could rebound in the next six to eight weeks. Read more “Support for Quarantine Weakens in Spain”

Setting the EU Up to Fail

Paolo Gentiloni Mariano Rajoy Emmanuel Macron Angela Merkel Mark Rutte
Paolo Gentiloni, Mariano Rajoy, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Mark Rutte, the leaders of Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands, deliver a joint news conference in Berlin, June 29, 2017 (La Moncloa)

First coronavirus itself was going to kill the EU. Now we are told the bloc’s fate was sealed in the first weeks of the outbreak, when creditworthy nations in the north refused to pool their debts with crisis-struck Italy and Spain.

Ulrich Speck, one of Germany’s top foreign-policy analysts, cautioned against jumping to conclusions:

With the corona crisis we see the return of a slightly hysterical discourse about the EU: if X, Y and Z do not immediately happen, the EU will be dead. We should have learned during the crises of the last years that the EU rests on quite solid foundations.

Not everyone has. Read more “Setting the EU Up to Fail”

Trump: Absolute Power, Absolutely No Responsibility

Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron
Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France watch a flyover of American F-15s in Normandy, June 6, 2019 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

The outbreak of coronavirus disease in the United States has, if little else, given us an encapsulation of Trumpism.

As Patrick Chovanec of Columbia University puts it on Twitter:

According to the president, he has absolute power but absolutely no responsibility.

On Monday, Donald Trump falsely claimed he, not governors, have the power to impose and lift restrictions to contain the spread of the virus:

When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total, and that’s the way it’s got to be.

Yet when he was asked earlier this month why he hadn’t issued a nationwide stay-at-home order, Trump did remember, “We have a thing called the Constitution,” and said, “I want the governors to be running things.”

Which was accurate, but also an abdication of duty. Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez regularly consult with the leaders of German and Spanish states to coordinate the closing and reopening of businesses and schools, even though that is not strictly their responsibility. Trump could have done the same.

Now some neighboring states opposite policies in place and they are bidding against each other, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for medical devices and gear. Trump could have federalized the procurement of medical equipment, but didn’t. He could have distributed medical equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile to the states that need it most, but didn’t.

He has found time to criticize Democratic governors, including Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Andrew Cuomo of New York, from their handling of the crisis.

The president’s attitude is best summed up by the answer he gave in March, when a reporter asked him about the shortage of testing kits in the United States: “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Read more “Trump: Absolute Power, Absolutely No Responsibility”

British Rediscover Normalcy in Abnormal Times

Milton Abbas England
Festival in Milton Abbas in the south of England, July 29, 2017 (Shutterstock/Vivvi Smak)

“Normal” may not be the best word to describe the situation in the United Kingdom, where 60,773 people, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, are known to have contracted coronavirus disease and 7,097 with the infection have died.

Yet after years during which Britain’s exit from the European Union overshadowed everything, there are also signs that political life on the island is returning to normalcy.

As the government has tightened restrictions on public life in order to contain the outbreak, communities across the country are helping each other out. Almost every neighborhood now has a “COVID-19 Community Group” that organizes care for the needy and most vulnerable. Bitter divisions over Brexit have been set aside. Read more “British Rediscover Normalcy in Abnormal Times”

Dutch Opposition to Eurobonds Is Not Unreasonable

Emmanuel Macron Mark Rutte
French president Emmanuel Macron speaks with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte during a European Council summit in Brussels, June 24, 2018 (Elysée/Philippe Servent)

If Italians and Spaniards are under the impression that the Netherlands is refusing to help them cope with the impact of coronavirus disease, their own leaders share the blame with the Dutch’s lack of tact.

Giuseppe Conte and Pedro Sánchez have unwisely elevated the one policy they should have known the Dutch could not accept into the test of European solidarity: eurobonds. Read more “Dutch Opposition to Eurobonds Is Not Unreasonable”

Orbán Abolishes Democracy in Hungary

Viktor Orbán Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Ministers Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel speak in Brasília, Brazil, January 2, 2019 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

I try to avoid Nazi-era comparisons, since they’re seldom appropriate, but Viktor Orbán isn’t making it easy. The only thing that could make his power grab in Hungary more like the Enabling Act of 1933 is if, like the Reichstag fire, COVID-19 really had been manufactured (in a Chinese lab funded by George Soros, if we are to believe Russia’s disinformation).

Using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse, Orbán has dissolved parliament and postponed all elections — indefinitely.

The Constitutional Court technically still functions, but it is packed with Orbán loyalists and provides no real oversight. For all intents and purposes, Orbán now rules alone. Read more “Orbán Abolishes Democracy in Hungary”

The EU Is Not About to Collapse, Again

European Union flag
Flag of the European Union on Crete, Greece, January 28, 2015 (Theophilos Papadopoulos)

You would think after it survived the euro crisis, commentators would be a little more cautious about predicting the EU’s demise. But no.

As usual, American and British media are the worst. Their typical commentary is so sensationalist, it sounds just like Russian propaganda. Read more “The EU Is Not About to Collapse, Again”