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Spanish national and property news round-up w/e April 22nd
Spanish news round-up
Spain is resigned to another election
As the weekend begins, the leaders of Spain’s main political parties are preparing for next Monday and Tuesday’s round of meetings with King Felipe VI in the knowledge that if no feasible candidacy for the post of President of the Government can be presented then the nation will hold another general election on 26th June.
It is now over four months since the inconclusive election on 20th December, and if a last-gasp inter-party pact is to be agreed in the next 3 days then it will come as something of a surprise given the lack of progress during the last 124. Indeed, at the moment the efforts of the four most represented parties seem to be focused on preparing for the next election campaign rather than trying to salvage something from the last one.
Acting President Mariano Rajoy of the PP insists that he is still ready to talk to Pedro Sánchez of the PSOE about the possibility of a “grand coalition”, and effectively blames Sr Sánchez for “blocking” any possible agreement. Sr Sánchez, meanwhile, holds Pablo Iglesias of Podemos to blame for failing to join a grand left-wing pact.
But Sr Iglesias is involved in negotiations with the leftist IU party with a view to joining forces in the next election campaign, an alliance which could see the resulting group gain even stronger representation in Congress if December’s voting patterns are repeated in June.
In short, while there are still hopes of a governmental pact being formed over the weekend all the indications are that by Tuesday evening the King of Spain will have been informed by the main political parties that none of them is in a position to form a working government. Parliament will therefore be dissolved at the beginning of May in order for another election to be held.
Caretaker government news
During the week the caretaker government announced on Monday that it is finally to pay public sector employees the remains of their Christmas bonus from 2012, a decision which will mean an outlay of approximately 450 million euros in order to pay off debts to 227,000 people. This is good news for those receiving a pay bonus, of course, but there are accusations that the payment has been timed to coincide with the run-up to the general election.
More government action is expected on Friday, when Cabinet is set to approve a proposal to set aside 83.4 million euros to deal with refugees arriving in Spain at its weekly meeting. The funds will be distributed to non-governmental organizations in order to cater not only for those arriving from Syria and Iraq but also those who arrive at temporary immigrant reception centres in the north African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
Basque and Catalan separatism
As usual the calls for independence in both the Basque Country and Catalunya have not been far from the headlines over the last seven days, beginning on Saturday when the streets of Bilbao were the scene of an extremely unusual protest march.
Former convicts belonging to the Basque separatist terrorist group ETA came together to demand that their 400 or so colleagues who remain in prison be transferred to jails within the Basque Country and that an amnesty be granted for those who are still on the run. The march was led by Antón López Ruiz, alias Kubati, who was originally sentenced to 1,210 years in prison for 13 murders, and in total those taking part are now free men and women after being handed sentences totaling over 20,000 years.
Also related to ETA, a landmark decision in the national High Court of Spain has ruled that officers of the Guardia Civil who escaped uninjured from ETA terrorist attacks are to be considered victims of terrorism.
In Catalunya, meanwhile, Spain's acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy met new Catalan President Carles Puigdemont on Wednesday for the first time since the pro-separatist regional leader was sworn in more than three months ago.
The talks were not expected to yield any major breakthrough after tensions between Catalunya and the central government were exacerbated following recent spats over the amount of financing that flows to the region. Sure enough, although both men said in separate news conferences that they had agreed to keep up talks, the leaders agreed to disagree over Catalunya's demand to hold a binding referendum on secession.
Meanwhile, Ada Colau, the Mayoress of Barcelona, has rapidly gained a reputation since taking office last June for being outspoken in her rejection of the “Establishment” associated with the Spanish State, having succeeded in slighting the Monarchy, the Catholic Church and the country’s armed forces over the last ten months, and with the help of other members of the city council, she has this week added the Spanish Constitution to that already impressive list: click for further details!
Tourism and the economy
Spain’s Exceltur organization, which seeks to promote excellence in the tourism sector, has revised its prediction for the growth in the sector this year upwards from 3.4% to 3.8%, partly in the light of the positive developments in visitor numbers from abroad during the first couple of months of 2016.
The factors underlying this increase are numerous, but the Exceltur analysts believe that growth in the sector has been accelerated by the politically unstable situation in Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia. While these three countries “lost” around 870,000 tourists in the first two months of the year the figures in Spain rose by 799,000, and the suspicion that the two phenomena are linked is hard to avoid.
At Burgos Cathedral, the efforts to attract more visitors have led the authorities to use drone technology in order to capture images of the ornate decoration which is too high off the ground to be appreciated by those standing on the cathedral floor. During April a small drone has been repeatedly touring the interior of the magnificent building, climbing to the ceiling in order to capture images and perspectives of some of the architectural and artistic details, and a selection of the images captured, including sculptures, the stained glass windows and the famous “Papamoscas” clock, will then be displayed on the redesigned cathedral website, making a full “virtual” visit possible.
The tourism sector may be performing well, but this is not necessarily the case for the rest of the Spanish economy. On Tuesday the European Commission and the European Central Bank confirmed in a joint statement that Spain’s deficit was amongst the highest in the euro zone, and that although the government debt to GDP ratio decreased slightly in 2015 its high level remains a burden for the economy. At the same time the acting government said it aimed to cut its public deficit target this year and nextat a slower rate than had originally been proposed, and the targets for the seventeen regional government have also been revised.
Last weekend saw a spate of would-be immigrants into Spain being intercepted or rescued as they attempted to make their way across the Mediterranean, the latest incident being the arrival in the port of Motril (province of Granada) of 39 sub-Saharans who were spotted at 17.00 on Sunday thirteen miles from the Isle of Alboran, which lies between Morocco and Andalucía.
The immigrants included three young children and six women, and all were reported to be in good healthafter arriving in Andalucía on Sunday night. They were located by the maritime rescue service officers on board the Sasemar 101 aircraft, and were brought to the province of Granada by the “Guardamar Polimina” vessel.
Just 24 hours previously another 24 would-be immigrants had arrived in Motril after being found 40 miles from the Granada coast, including two pregnant women and a five-month-old baby, and during the weekend another 75 were rescued from two more boats in the Mediterranean and brought to safety in the neighbouring province of Málaga.
Environmental and weather news
In Asturias, wolf experts have proposed that donkeys and mastiffs be used in order to protect livestock from attacks, the argument being that this solution is more workable than culling or capture and sterilization proposals.
Elsewhere, the recent Supreme Court ruling which stiffened the laws regarding invasive wildlife species in Spain has been welcomed by ecologists but is being met with considerable resentment in specific areas where the local economy is threatened by the restrictions imposed.
In Guardamar del Segura, in the province of Alicante, for example, the ruling means that catching and selling the Atlantic blue crab are effectively banned, the theory being that this will lead to the invasive species dying out due to lack of interest, but the local fishermen disagree strongly.
The crabs which have reproduced on the beaches of Guardamar are feeding on the larvae of red prawns, which are a local speciality, and locals are also worried that the sharp pincers can cause damage to their nets. A further risk is that eventually the Atlantic blue could even present a risk for bathers in this part of the Mediterranean, and in the light of all these factors the fishermen are demanding that they should be allowed to capture the crabs in order to limit their population.
Only a few kilometres west of Guardamar in the city of Orihuela tests are being carried out to ascertain how and why the water of the River Segura turned red this week – should this spread downstream the colour will contrast nicely with the blue crabs!
Other news in the Comunidad Valenciana
Víctor Gómez, the Instructing Judge in charge of the investigation into the “Taula” case involving corruption in the Town Hall of Valencia, has requested that the Supreme Court investigate Rita Barberá, the former Mayoress of the city.
As a Senator in the national parliament Sra Barberá is effectively immune from investigation by the lower courts, but Judge Gómez has decided that there is sufficient evidence to request Supreme Court intervention on the grounds that the explanations offered by the former Mayoress to date are “insufficient”. The Judge has also clarified that the PP political party to which Sra Barberá belongs will be required to give evidence in the courts of Valencia regarding irregularities in election campaign financing.
Still in Valencia, an employee at the ABC Park multi-screen cinema complex in Valencia was startled on Tuesday to find the dead body of a woman in one of the emergency exits, having investigated the staircase in which the corpse lay after noticing an unpleasant smell. At present there is no suspicion of foul play, as the body shows no signs of the woman’s death having been a violent one, although no explanation has yet been offered as to why the woman had strayed into an emergency exist stairwell and how her body was not found for a week.
Other incidents to make the news in Valencia concern a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed by her former partner on Tuesday evening in the city centre, just a few metres from the regional government building, and a young man who used his Facebook account to publish insulting comments about the Policía Local. The man climbed on top of a parked police car in the city last week and later published a photograph of himself making an insulting gesture, accompanied by a short but extremely abusive text. Unsurprisingly, the police force were not content to let the matter lie, and although the individual concerned was laboring under the misapprehension that if he published photographic evidence of his behaviour on Facebook he would go unpunished he has, like many others, learnt the hard way that he was wrong.
In Alicante, meanwhile, the case of the murder victim whose dismembered body was discovered last year in two suitcases in a lake in Rabasa, in the outskirts of Alicante, continues to provide new twists and turns, with the latest development being the assertion by the main suspect that the crime was in fact committed by a mysterious greengrocer named José.
Further north in Castellón this week saw thestart of the latest trial of the latest trial of Jaime Giménez Arbe, a robber who carved out an impressive reputation for himself as a “Billy the Kid” figure during a career which spanned 14 years and included 36 stick-ups in bank branches all over Spain. Giménez Arbe, who is nicknamed “El Solitario”, is well-known for his maverick personality, and he has always maintained that rather than “robbing” banks he simply expropriated financial assets from them.
Finally, back in Alicante a dispute between the local police force and the Town Hall of Catral appears to the outsider to be verging on the absurd. In February the Policía Local imposed a traffic fine on the owner of a motorbike whose ITV roadworthiness test (equivalent to the British MOT) was two months and eight days overdue: this in itself is not at all unusual, but in this case the owner of the vehicle is the Town Hall and the vehicle concerned is the patrol bike used by the Policía Local themselves!
Osborne move into the beer market
The name of Osborne in Spain is inextricably linked to sherry and to the bull logo which still stands prominently in various roadside locations in Spain, but in a changing market and an attempt to expand, the company has considerably widened its activities in recent years.
The latest addition to the product range is a new artisan beer which is to be produced in conjunction with a company named Premium Beers From Spain. The new product, perhaps unsurprisingly, is to be launched as “Toro beer”, and is described as being 5.5% proof alcohol, copper-coloured and “easy to drink”. At 2.90€ per 33-centilitre bottle it had better be!
While farmers in the south-east of Spain continue to bemoan the prolonged drought which has left the soil parched and is threatening their short- and long-term livelihoods, the situation in parts of the north of the country is exactly the opposite and numerous reservoirs have opened their flood gates to relieve pressure on the dams.
The sight of water cascading out or reservoirs and into rivers such as the Pisuerga and others in the Duero basin will be hard to bear for agriculturalists in Murcia, but the heavy rain over recent months in the mountains of the north and the spring melt of the snow which fell in the Pyrenees and other ranges has led to most reservoirs in Asturias and Castilla y León being well over 80% full. The River Pisuerga is swollen close to the point where it could burst its banks, as is the River Esla, and the Duero itself is also close to its maximum safe flow volume.
During the week various reports have been published pointing to a consolidation of the recovery in the Spanish property market, the most eye-catching being one from BBVA research in which it is forecast that the average price per square metre of residential property will rise by 3% this year.
At the same time, sales figures are likely to rise by around 10%, and the rise in demand will also lead, again according to the BBVA team, to an increase in the number of building licences issued for new properties of approximately 30%.
In other words, the recovery of the property market is at last believed to be strong enough to breathe life into the construction sector, where activity practically ground to a halt after the property bubble burst in late 2007.
Meanwhile, the latest Spanish residential property price survey published by leading valuation firm Tinsa concludes that the market value of homes in this country was 0.8% higher in March 2016 than in the same month last year, with the bulk of the increase being explained by appreciation in Mediterranean coastal areas and in the Balearic and Canary islands.
In both of these categories prices are reported to be 4.3% higher than a year ago, and in Mediterranean areas this is the seventh time in the last eight months that Tinsa have observed an increase. In the Balearics and the Canaries five months of price rises in a row have now been reported,
It is now over six months since the first Spanish residential property purchase financed by crowdfunding was completed, when 49 investors combined to raise the 80,500 euros needed to buy an apartment in Madrid, and now the Housers platform which made that transaction possible is allowing people to take part in property purchase and reform projects for as little as 100 euros.
Until now this kind of investment had been restricted to large-scale investors but now it is open to practically anyone, and in fact most participants invest between 500 and 5,000 euros. The data compiled so far reveal that 43% of investors are involved in only one project and the average investment is 1,464 euros.
Currency Exchange Rate this week
It's important to keep an eye on the exchange rate if buying a property or transferring your pension
This week the Sterling-Euro exchange rate has recovered a little more from the 10 month lows recorded recently and is at a 3 week high, meaning that anyone transferring 100,000 euros over this week to perhaps buy a property, would get 3,260 euros more for their money than 3 weeks ago.
When rates are as low as they are at the moment, choosing how you transfer money and when, really does make a difference.
With British voters evenly split over whether to stay in the 28-member bloc, the campaign to convince the large numbers of undecideds has become increasingly fierce.
On Monday Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said a vote to leave the European Union would do permanent damage to the country's economy and could cost each household 4,300 pounds ($6,100) a year by 2030.
Seeking to focus voters on what he called the biggest question of their generation, Osborne said all the alternatives to remaining in the union would leave Britain's economy smaller than if it stayed in the world's biggest trading bloc.
"Put simply: over many years, are you better off or worse off if we leave the EU? The answer is: Britain world be worse off, permanently so," Osborne said.
Mixed bag of opinion polls this week
Most opinion polls show the rival campaigns running neck and neck although one published on Monday showed the "In" campaign had retained a seven percentage-point lead.
Another poll published last week showed voters were very sensitive to the cost to their own finances of a Brexit.
Pollster YouGov said 45 percent of respondents backed 'In' compared with 36 percent for 'Out' if the cost of a Brexit for them was 100 pounds a year.
Brexit supporters say Britain's economy would flourish outside the EU as it would be free to negotiate its own trade deals and could chop the bloc's rules and regulations.
One of the leading "Out" campaigners, London Mayor Boris Johnson, has said Britain could strike a trade deal with the EU similar to the one reached between the bloc and Canada, meaning Britain would no longer have to contribute to the EU budget and keep its borders open to workers from around the bloc.
Osborne said that kind of agreement would not cover Britain's powerful services industry and would leave the economy 6 percent smaller by 2030 than if it stayed in the European Union.
That estimate is higher than many other forecasts of the impact of a Brexit.
It is also central to Osborne's calculation of economic damage, which divides the value of a projected growth shortfall among Britain's roughly 27 million households.
Opponents of EU membership have said the government is selling Britain short by saying it cannot stand alone.
Far right French politician hopes that Britain will leave the EU
France's far-right party leader Marine Le Pen is planning to travel to Britain to campaign for the country to leave the European Union, a party official said on Wednesday.
Le Pen has said she would organise a referendum on leaving the EU in France if she were to come to power. Her party has been monitoring the British referendum closely, hoping for a Brexit vote that would boost its agenda at home.
"The date has not been set, it would be at the end of May or early June," National Front (FN) spokesman Alain Vizier said, "she will campaign for Brexit."
Barack Obama makes unprecedented comments on Brexit
However, the most widely reported story relating to Brexit took place on Friday, when American President Barack Obama made an impassioned appeal on Friday for Britain to remain in the European Union, saying membership had magnified Britain's place in the world and made the bloc stronger and more outward looking.
Fearful that a British exit could weaken the West, Obama arrived in London to applaud Britain's EU membership which he said had helped make the world freer, richer and better able to tackle everything from Russian aggression to terrorism.
Praising Britain's "outsized" influence in the world, Obama invoked the interlinked history of the two countries and the tens of thousands of Americans lying in European war graves as his reason for speaking as "a friend" on the June 23 referendum.
"The European Union doesn't moderate British influence - it magnifies it," he wrote in an article placed on page 20 of the eurosceptic Daily Telegraph newspaper under the headline "As your friend, I tell you that the EU makes Britain even greater."
"The United States sees how your powerful voice in Europe ensures that Europe takes a strong stance in the world, and keeps the EU open, outward looking, and closely linked to its allies on the other side of the Atlantic".
"Now is a time for friends and allies to stick together," Obama said. "Together, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union have turned centuries of war in Europe into decades of peace, and worked as one to make this world a safer, better place."
But the president's comments drew scorn from opponents of Britain's EU membership.
New York-born London Mayor Boris Johnson, who heads the "Out" campaign, said that he did not want to be lectured by Americans about EU membership and that the United States would never countenance such a transfer of sovereignty.
"For the United States to tell us in the UK that we must surrender control of so much of our democracy -- it is a breathtaking example of the principle of do-as-I-say-but-not-as-I-do," Johnson wrote in the Sun newspaper.
"It is incoherent. It is inconsistent, and yes it is downright hypocritical," Johnson said.
Opponents of the EU, many of whom laud the U.S. alliance, have said that membership has shackled Britain to the corpse of a failed German-dominated experiment in European integration, and that Britain, if freed, could prosper as a sole trader.
Nigel Farage, a prominent opponent of membership as leader of Britain's UK Independence Party, called Obama the most anti-British American president to date.
"This is an unwelcome interference ... Mercifully, he won't be in office for much longer."
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