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Spanish and Spanish property news round-up week ending May 6th
Spain goes back to the ballot boxes, Brits spent nearly 1 billion euros in Spain during March and Eurovision accepts the Basque flag
After months of failed negotiations, Spain’s King Felipe finally dissolved parliament on Tuesday and officially called a parliamentary election for June 26th, the second in six months after an inconclusive ballot in December left the political landscape fragmented.
The new ballot follows four months of fruitless coalition talks between Spain's four main parties, including the conservative People's Party (PP) of acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy, which won the most votes in December but lost its majority.
As a result the parties are now beginning to canvas for votes, but the results of a survey carried out between January and March by the Sociological Research Centre appear to suggest that it will be very difficult for any party to achieve a significantly better result than in December. 78.4% of those questioned intend to vote the same way as four and half months ago, and the likelihood is that many of the others could choose not to vote at all.
Meanwhile, leading PP politician Javier Arenas responded this last weekend to King Felipe VI’s request for a more “austere” campaign this time round by suggesting an official ten-day campaign without posters. The poster issue is still to be decided, but it seems that there is agreement among the main parties that only the email and postal campaigns and the televised debates are really essential.
As Spain continues without a government it is still not absolutely clear whether the economy is suffering as a result. Unemployment continues to fall, with the April figures which were published on Wednesday showing a fall of 83,000 (or 2.04%) during the fourth month of the year, and the total is now 322,000 lower than a year ago at just over 4 million.
April is usually a positive month for the Spanish labour market, with more people being taken on in the services sector as beach tourism kicks into gear for the summer and agricultural concerns also requiring more labour, and 2016 was no exception. In fact, the Ministry of Employment reports that during the month a net 130,730 new jobs were created, and among these over 58,000 were in the sector of “hostelería”, i.e. bars and restaurants: the Spanish waiter may be a comic stereotype in the UK, but he (or she) is crucial in the annual improvement in unemployment figures every summer!
The improvement in unemployment is substantial, but that there is still plenty of room for improvement is underlined by Eurostat, the EU’s statistics bureau, who report that in March the highest unemployment rates in the EU were those of Greece (24.4%) and Spain (20.4%).The UK has only a quarter of the unemployment rate in Spain.
Certainly it seems almost inevitable that Spain will again miss its budget deficit target in 2016, but other factors also point to the fact that the situation is improving. Car sales in April this year were around 20% higher than in 2015, an increase which is partly explained by Easter having fallen in March but which nonetheless consolidates the rising trend of the last two years, and although consumer confidence continues to fall it did so only slightly in April.
Also in the economic news is the European Central Bank’s confirmation on Wednesday that it is to stop printing 500-euro notes on the grounds that the “Bin Ladens” have become synonymous with corruption, and tax evasion. The “euro 2” series of banknotes, of which the 5-, 10- and 20-euro denominations are already in circulation, will not include a 500-euro note, although the existing version will continue to be legal tender at least until the completion of the Euro 2 series.
One of the sectors leading Spain’s economic recovery is tourism, and this was further confirmed during the week with the publication of the March figures for spending by visitors from abroad.
The overall results continue to be extremely positive, with the amount spent by international visitors in Spain during March having reached 4,838 million euros. This is 10% more than in March 2015, with the growth being fuelled to a large extent by a spectacular 26.8% increase in spending by visitors from the UK, the largest single market. During the month British visitors spent almost a billion euros (991 million) in Spain to claim a 20.5% share of the total, the rise being almost solely due to the fact that more people came to Spain from the UK: the average amount spent by each British visitor was only 1.4% higher.
Last weekend was a long holiday weekend in both the UK and many parts of Spain due to International Workers’ Day falling on Sunday – the celebrations passed off peacefully in Spain, unlike in France and Greece - and this led to around two thirds of holiday rental properties being occupied, many of them in Andalucía. The fact that summer is just around the corner was also reinforced by the beginning of the annual Festival de los Patios in Córdoba. The event lasts until Sunday 15th May, giving visitors the chance to enjoy the charming patios of the city which were added to the Unesco list of World Intangible Cultural Heritage sites in 2012.
This year’s festival features 47 patios in competition to win the prize for the most attractive venue and another 16 institutional venues, and the hope is that the number of visitors will exceed the 100,000 of 2015.
A further significant boost to spring tourism in Spain is being made over the weekend by Li Jinyuan, the founder and owner of the Tiens Group. Tiens is a Chinese multinational conglomerate, and to reward his employees for their hard work the owner is bringing approximately 2,500 of them for a week’s holiday in Spain between 4th and 10th May.
The Chinese visitors arrived in Madrid on Wednesday on board 20 planes, and will stay there until Sunday, when they will travel on board 4 AVE high-speed trains for another two days in Barcelona before flying home. 1,650 hotel rooms have been reserved and a fleet of 70 coaches was hired for a day trip to Toledo on Thursday.
Another sign that summer is almost upon us was, unfortunately, the first alcohol-related death of a young British tourist in Magaluf, where the lifeless body of a 23-year-old woman was found in the bath of her hotel room. An autopsy which was performed on Tuesday showed that she had died from drowning after falling unconscious, and that there was a very high level of alcohol in her bloodstream.
The theme of the approach of summer is recurring one in the Spanish news at this time of year, and one of the signs that temperatures are rising was the reports of various wild fires across the country this week. In the Andalucía province of Huelva approximately 100 residents of the village of Fuente de la Corcha in the municipality of Beas were evacuated from their homes on Tuesday as a precautionary measure due to a forest fire which broke out in the eucalyptus woods nearby, and the regional government of Andalucía activated level 1 alert status. During the afternoon the flames were fanned by winds of between 20 and 30 km/h, and the decision to evacuate the population of Fuente de la Corcha was pre-empted by some of the residents leaving of their own accord.
In Catalunya, meanwhile, another forest fire which broke out on Sunday at approximately 13.00 in the province of Girona forced the cancellation of rail services on the R11 line in the area after the flames and smoke engulfed the station of Llança.
Elsewhere there were concerns over a proposal to prospect for rare earth elements in the Campo de Montiel area of the province of Ciudad Real, where the tranquil lifestyle of the 42,000 people who live there is now threatened by the discovery of deposits of grey monazite.
One of the potential uses of monazite is the production of uranium concentrate, although it is also used to make wind turbines, low consumption lamps, lasers and hybrid cars, and the discovery of the deposits in the Campo de Montiel could stimulate unprecedented growth in economic activity in the area. However, local residents are not convinced, and have organized a protest on 21st May where they will voice their worries, chief among which is that mining would “destroy” the agricultural land from which they make their living.
Equally controversial is the issue of fracking, and this week the “Cronos” fracking project which was authorized by the Spanish government in the provinces of Guadalajara and Soria in 2013 has received the backing of the country’s Supreme Court, allowing the Frontera Energy Corporation to prospect for fossil fuel in an area of 96,000 hectares despite the objections raised by environmental activist groups.
Crime and punishment
Arguably the most important arrests to take place in Spain these week were those of three Moroccans and one Spanish national in the early hours of Tuesday morning in the region of Madrid on charges of recruiting and indoctrinating people to fight for the Jihadist cause. The arrests took place in the municipalities of Pinto and Ciempozuelos, and it is reported that the four people detained were “very active” in spreading Jihadist propaganda on the internet and via online messaging.
However, there were plenty of other crime stories to catch the eye, including the start of the trial of alleged Russian mafia boss Alexander Romanov in Palma de Mallorca – he will be represented by lawyer Cristóbal Martell, who in the past has represented footballer Leo Messi – and the arrests of 13 members of a Rumanian clan who attempted to abduct a 16-year-old compatriot in Alicante and force her to rob the elderly.
Also in the news was a 71-year-old man who, along with a 56-year-old accomplice, has been arrested by the Guardia Civil in connection with three bank robberies in Cuenca, Toledo and Móstoles (in the region of Madrid) during which they made off with approximately 150,000 euros. The 71-year-old has spent almost 30 years in prison over a long career devoted to armed robbery which dates back to the 1960s, and now, having been arrested in Jávea, in the Marina Alta area of Alicante, he is back behind bars, and the likelihood is that he will now be forced to contemplate retirement once and for all.
The issue of gender violence was once again in the news, the highest-profile story this week concerning a woman in Benalmádena, on the Costa del Sol, who was practically living as a hostage of her husband but who has succeeded in escaping from her nightmare by means of a plea for help which she slipped inside her son’s school books. Her desperate “message in a bottle” plan worked when one of the boy’s teachers was reviewing his homework and found the note.
By definition anyone reading these words ought to be aware of the fact that the amount of internet crime in Spain has increased by 60% since 2012, according to the head of the Policía Nacional. New technologies are particularly susceptible to being used for fraud, although as yet internet crimes still only account for approximately 2% of all those reported in this country.
Basque and Catalan separatism
In Spain the issues of Republicanism (as opposed to a monarchist State) and regional separatism (particularly in Catalunya and the Basque Country) are never far from the news, and as a result the issue of flags is particularly important in this country.
In this context the Basque region won a minor victory this week regarding the Eurovision Festival, which will be held this year in Stockholm from 10th to 14th May, with a decision to ban the “ikurriña” flag of the Basque Country having been hastily reversed by the European Broadcasting Union in response to the outrage which was caused by its inclusion on a blacklist.
In Catalunya, meanwhile, the new “national” Hacienda tax collection agency has been dealt a blow by the Town Hall of Barcelona, where it has been decided that PAYE contributions of 12,000 council staff will continue to be made to the Spanish Hacienda, but although Mayoress Ada Colau and Carles Puigdemont, the president of the regional government of Catalunya, may not see eye to eye on all issues, in the matters of the anti-eviction law in Catalunya and the reception of refugees from Eastern Europe and beyond they have united against the common enemy of the national government in Madrid.
In response, Sra Colau has requested that Sr Puigdemont and the regional parliament seek mechanisms by which the anti-eviction law can be defended against attempts in Madrid to outlaw it, and on the question of refugees both of the political leaders lamented the “ineffectiveness” of the national government. Sra Colau describes Spain’s record of having received only 17 refugees out of a quota of close to 17,000 as “shameful, inadmissible, unjustifiable, immoral and illegal”.
On the quirky side of the Spanish news this week there is plenty to choose from.
Almost 400 students at the Campuses of the la Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) in the Ciutadella and Poblenou districts of Barcelona are currently living in fear of being attacked by carrot-wielding assailants as part of a five-week war game, and in Madrid the ever-controversial Mayoress has ordered 40 ball shaped glass recycling containers to be removed from the city on the grounds that they are “offensive and sexist” due to the “Recicla por Pelotas” slogan which appears on them.
The slogan, which is difficult to translate in any meaningful way, makes use of a play on words based on the fact that the same word can be used to refer to tennis balls and parts of the male genitalia, and despite the campaign having been endorsed by Rafa Nadal the Town Hall has decided that the containers are in bad taste, are offensive, and appear to be directed only at men.
There is also the curious situation which led to Antonio Cerrillo, an adviser to the Town Hall of Cantoria in the province of Almería (Andalucía) and husband of the Mayoress, Purificación Sánchez, being thrown out of a council meeting last Thursday for insulting the local PP spokesman José María Llamas, but possibly the winner in the “and finally” category this week is Pipo, a seventeen-year-old hippopotamus who surprised residents of Palos de la Frontera in the province of Huelva on Tuesday night when he calmly took a stroll through the streets of the town.
Adult hippos grow to an average weight of 1.4 tons and attacks on human beings have been reported on numerous occasions, but the population of Palos de la Frontera are a sturdy breed and they appeared to be equally unconcerned about the unexpected intruder in their midst. Rather than alarm, the hippo provoked curiosity and surprise among those who witnessed its excursion, and many approached to take photos and videos.
As the recovery of the residential property market in Spain continues the signs are that the demand for new construction is beginning to re-awaken after an eight-year slump, with the data published last week by the Ministry of Fomento showing that the number of properties for which building licences were issued in February reached 5,663, an increase of 34.8% compared to the same month last year.
An illustration of how severe the boom-and-bust effect has been over the last decade is that in September 2006 licences were granted for the construction of over 126,000 homes, but by August 2013 the figure had dropped to only 1,585. No-one is realistically expecting a return to the levels of ten years ago as it is essential that the building and buying frenzy of the boom years is not repeated, but at the same time it is encouraging that the construction sector is at last required in order to begin replenishing the stock of unsold properties in certain areas.
One of the factors currently contributing to the recovery of sales figures and the Spanish residential property market in general is the increase in the profitability of buying to rent, according to one analysis.
According to the report, this has been brought about by the combination of low market prices and the ease of obtaining mortgage finance. For cheap apartments priced at under 45,000 euros near universities in medium-sized towns the refurbishment costs tend to be minimal, and the result is a rate of return on investment which cannot be matched by any bank fund at present.
In addition, in large cities it is now relatively easy to obtain mortgages on property purchases for up to 100,000 euros, and this brings smarter properties in central locations within the range of investors who seek to rent out to retired couples, divorced individuals and even young couples looking to climb onto the property ladder for the first time.
As a result of these factors the buy-to-rent market is reported to have grown by 40% over the last year, and with market conditions remaining stable there would appear to be no reason to rule out further growth in the medium-term future.
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Cádiz Province, Andalucia
Granada Province: Andalucia
Huelva Province, Andalucía
Jaén Province, Andalucia
Málaga Province, Andalucía
Region of Andalucia
Seville Province, Andalucía
Córdoba Province, Andalucia
Autonomous Community of Galicia
Castilla La Mancha
Castilla y León
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