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Spanish news and property news round-up week ending 10th June
And they're off.....the race to form a Spanish government resumes
Another election campaign begins
Anyone following the Spanish media recently might have thought that the general election campaign began weeks ago, but in fact it was not until Friday 10th June that it officially got under way.
Despite that, though, throughout the week the press has been dominated by the efforts of the four main political groups to sway indecisive voters as electoral promises are already being made and policies unveiled. On Wednesday many of the headlines were made by Podemos, the new party which has in some quarters been described as an “anti-austerity” movement and which appears now to be living up to that label less than was the case a prior to the inconclusive December election.
Meanwhile, Albert Rivera, the leader of Ciudadanos, the other new party in the national parliament, has proposed that tourism should become a priority of the State and that the English language should be used in all public education, and Pedro Sánchez of the PSOE has proposed gifting two years of social security contributions to new mothers. Acting President Mariano Rajoy of the PP has responded by warning that Spain is in no mood for jokes or experiments, requiring instead a continuity of policy which only his party can provide.
And all of this, remember, comes before the campaign started on Friday….
Unfortunately, the pre-campaigning was also marked this week by a series of acts of vandalism in Zaragoza, the capital of Aragón, which left members of the Izquierda Unida (IU) party more committed than ever to fighting for tolerance, respect and freedom of speech.
On Monday night yellow paint was thrown at the regional head offices of the IU and the UGT and CCOO trades unions in Zaragoza, and regional IU leader Adolfo Barrena commented on Tuesday that it seems that some intolerant members of society have obviously started the campaign early.
Meanwhile, the latest monthly survey carried out by Spain’s Sociological Research Centre reveals that unemployment and corruption remain the two issues which are perceived as most worrying among members of the public, with only 5.2% of the participants naming the political impasse among the three major problems facing Spain.
This week a special report was published asserting that Spain's “auto-pilot” economy is flying high in spite of 6 months without a government, with mention being made of the fact that Alhama de Murcia-based family-owned meat producer El Pozo is pouring 70 million euros into building a new processing plant even as Spain enters its sixth month without a new government and gears up for a repeat election on June 26th.
Apparently, El Pozo is far from alone: click to read full report.
Economic news and tourism
As Spain still struggles to meet the deficit targets set by the EU authorities, the Banco de España has issued a report in which it is forecast that the figure will not fall below the threshold of 3% of GDP until 2018, a year later than has been stipulated by Brussels.
The tourist sector, meanwhile, shows no signs of slowing down its growth. The amount of money spent in Spain by visitors from abroad rose again in April of this year despite Easter having fallen in March, with the majority of the increase being accountable for by the continuing upward trend in spending by British tourists.
The overall monthly total of 5,647 million euros was 4.3% higher than in April 2015, and within that figure the stand-out increase was the 14% rise in spending by visitors from the UK. During April tourists and other visitors from the UK spent 1,134 million euros in this country, accounting for 20.1% of the total, with the next highest figures corresponding to those coming from Germany (823 million) and France (604 million), where the increases were comparatively small (3% and 5.1% respectively).
This has been a difficult week to say the least for the separatist regional government of Catalunya, and now, following the CUP’s decision to block the proposed budget of the government despite the party supposedly sharing the pro-independence policies of the JxSí coalition, regional president Carles Puigdemont has announced that he will bring a motion of confidence in his administration before the Catalan parliament after the summer.
Should this motion not prosper, he has vowed to call another regional election, and at the same time has questioned the motives of the CUP in vetoing the budget this week.
“If the CUP’s priority was independence”, he added, “we would have a budget by now”, adding that if he had known that this situation was likely to occur he would not have accepted the challenging of leading the regional government of Catalunya.
This crisis came after the CUP party decided on Tuesday evening to continue vetoing the government budget proposed by the JxSí group, causing worries that the process of separating Catalunya from Spain and forming an independent State could be derailed by the disagreement among the two separatist groups in the regional parliament.
In general the campaign for an independent Catalunya has until now been a peaceful one, but early on Saturday evening an incident of racial violence was directed at two women who were staffing a stand which promotes Spanish sport in general and the national football team in particular.
Two female staff were shoved to the ground and one was dragged by her hair from the road to the pavement as the attackers accompanied their actions with shouts making it clear that their violence was in response to the women’s open support for Spain and Spanish sport.
In the Basque Country, meanwhile, eleven years after the authorities in Guipuzcoa (as it is spelt in Castilian Spanish) removed the Spanish flag from the balcony of the government building in San Sebastián the Supreme Court of Spain has ruled that they were not entitled to do so, following earlier rulings which were finally adhered to in 2014. However, alongside the flag a plaque was then placed explaining to anyone who reads it that the presence of the red and yellow emblem is “a symbol imposed under the threat of sanction”, and despite objections the Supreme Court has ruled that regarding this plaque there is no case to be heard.
Barcelona squatter protests calm down
Five people were arrested on Saturday after they re-occupied the “Expropriated Bank” in the Barcelona district of Gràcia from which they had been evicted on 23rd May, sparking a series of violent protests in the streets of this part of the capital of Catalunya.
Some of those who managed to cut their way through the security doors installed at the former bank branch reportedly chained themselves to blocks of concrete in an attempt to avoid being thrown out, and as a result it took four hours for the Mossos d’Esquadra (the regional police force) to cut them free so that they could be removed. This followed the announcement on social network sites by the squatters that they had managed to gain entry, a piece of news which led to numerous of their supporters gathering outside on the street where a mood of “tense calm” accompanied the events of the day.
The two drivers of a coach which was travelling from Madrid to Algeciras on Sunday were both killed when the vehicle collided with a lorry which had broken down on the A-4 motorway and was parked on the hard shoulder in the municipality of Montoro, in the province of Córdoba. The 49 injured passengers were 31 Moroccans, 16 Spaniards, one Colombian and one USA national.
Last week ended with seventeen people being injured on Friday, some severely, when one of the cars taking part in the Rally of Cantabria careered off the course and ploughed into spectators in the village of San Martín de Villafufre.
Meanwhile in Formentera, the south-easternmost of the Balearic Isles, the island’s government has launched an initiative to encourage the use of electric-powered vehicles, providing incentives to those who install re-charging points and imposing restrictions on exhaust contamination, with the long-term aim of entirely eradicating petrol and diesel engines from the island.
One of the first steps in this direction was taken on Wednesday, when the island’s government signed a deal with Citroën by which six electric e-Mehari cars will be gifted to the government and to hotels on the island. These vehicles will form part of a pilot project which as of next year will be stepped up a gear, after more re-charging points have been set up on Formentera.
More environmental and agricultural news
After three weeks the fire at the illegal tyre dump in Seseña, in the north of the province of Toledo, has now officially been extinguished, with the firefighters in the municipality of Valdemoro having completed the task of putting out the flames in the northern part of the site which straddles the boundary between Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha.
According to a press release from the regional government of Madrid, the priority is now to proceed with the immediate removal of the residues caused by the blaze, which started on 13th May and has resulted in considerable disruption for the residents of Seseña, where some of the schools have been closed for weeks.
In some parts of Spain the resurgence of the wild wolf population over recent years has become a source of some concern, but elsewhere efforts are still ongoing to ensure that the species survives in the wild and the birth of three cubs last Friday at the Centro del Lobo Ibérico de Castilla y León in Robledo, in the province of Zamora, brought no little satisfaction to the staff there. The centre is located in the north-west of the province, close to the frontier with Portugal and the boundary with the region of Galicia.
Not far away in the province of Salamanca a cattle farm has managed to produce the first crossed herd between the Aberdeen Angus and Morucha breeds of livestock, aiming to improve both the quality and the quantity of beef produced. Similar schemes have already met with limited success in Ávila, with the introduction of Angus genes increasing meat yield, and the only potential problem so far identified is that the cross-breeds do not have horns and are therefore more vulnerable to attack from other animals in the wild.
An entrepreneur and lepidopterist in the Basque Country province of Álava is setting up what is believed to be only the second butterfly farm in Europe, creating a space of 6,000 square metres in which species which are native to Spain will share their semi-freedom with others which are at risk of extinction.
In the region of Madrid, a large fire which broke out on Sunday afternoon in Alcalá de Henares, in the region of Madrid, resulted in the destruction of numerous industrial premises but fortunately ended without any injuries being reported.
As for the issue of noise pollution, the Town Hall of Madrid has announced that the organizations taking part in the closing ceremony of last year’s LGTB Pride event in the Spanish capital are to be fined 12,400 euros, after the maximum noise levels established by local byelaws were found to have been exceeded. In general terms the current council in Madrid is seen as being an upholder of the rights of the groups concerned, but the fine was confirmed this week.
Crime and punishment
Officers of the Guardia Civil have discovered almost 50 kilograms of marijuana hidden behind the false ceiling of an ambulance bearing French registration plates in the Madrid municipality of Soto del Real, and have arrested both the driver of the vehicle and a man who worked on the land on where it had been parked.
In Granada, meanwhile, 24-year-old Alejandro Fernández presented himself at the Granada prison of Albolote on Tuesday to begin serving the five-year prison sentence to which he was sentenced after being found guilty of using a cloned credit card six years ago, when he was 18. The fraud he committed amounted to no more than 79.20€.
His pleas for a review of the sentence and even an effort to gain a pardon from the national government have fallen on deaf ears, and unsurprisingly this case has received a good deal of attention in the national press, most of the attention focusing on what appears to many to be a disproportionate punishment for a relatively trivial offence.
The start of summer traditionally coincides with an increase in the numbers of would-be illegal immigrants making their way towards Spanish territory across the Mediterranean to Andalucía and the Atlantic to the Canary Islands, and last Sunday a total of 90 sub-Saharans were picked up by maritime rescue services while attempting to complete such perilous voyages.
At the same time, evidence came to light during the week that the controversial practice of returning would-be illegal immigrants to Morocco without observing the relevant administrative and legal protocols is still being carried out by officers of the Guardia Civil in the north African enclave of Ceuta.
El Faro de Ceuta has released footage which shows at least four people being summarily returned to the Moroccan side of the border fence last Saturday, despite the UN having issued a reminder to Spain last week that this procedure is not legal.
Sports stars in the spotlight
Following last week’s highly publicized court appearance in Barcelona by football superstar Leo Messi, on Tuesday it was the turn of his FC Barcelona colleague Neymar to face press speculation concerning a possible trial. Neymar da Silva is required by the public prosecution service to answer questions related to alleged fraudulent practices surrounding his signing by Barcelona in 2013.
Meanwhile, Jorge Fernández Díaz, the acting Minister of the Interior in the government, announced on Tuesday that the Spanish police are collaborating with the French authorities in the security operation surrounding the Euro 2016 football tournament which begins this coming weekend. Spain are first in action on Monday against the Czech Republic, and Spanish fans will be policed by officers of the Policía Nacional.
After witnessing the shameful violence between English and Russian fans in France this weekend it's to be hoped that Spanish fans will be more interested in football than fighting.
The Nóos Case trial
The high-profile witnesses and the accused have already given evidence in the Nóos Case corruption trial in Palma de Mallorca, where the King’s sister Princess Cristina and her husband Iñaki Urdangarín are among those facing charges, and this week it was the turn of some of the tax collection officials whose information led to the charges being pressed in the first place.
Attention on Tuesday was focused on whether or not their investigations were subtly altered at any stage in such a way as to exonerate the Princess from any blame, an allegation which was strongly denied, and on Friday Cristina was back in court to hear confirmation that the charges against her are not to be dropped.
The amount of attention being paid in the Spanish media to the trial has waned in recent weeks as the witnesses have become less glamorous, but interest is certain to grow as the verdict nears.
Cantabria adopts British-style school year
In Cantabria the regional government has taken the proverbial bull by the horns and re-organized the academic year in a move which will mean schoolchildren adapting to terms and holidays similar to those which are the norm in more northerly countries such as France, Germany and the UK.
As things stand in Spain at the moment, most schoolchildren have no classes between mid-June and mid-September, the long summer holidays mean that other holidays during the year are generally short and infrequent, apart from a two-week break between Christmas and Three Kings Day on 6th January.
It may be because Cantabria is one of the cooler regions of Spain, but it has been decided in the regional capital of Santander that the time has come to change this. Under the new arrangement, which is designed to make terms shorter but more numerous and more productive, students will have a week of holidays every couple of months, and the school year will begin at the start of September and end in late June. There will still be a total of 175 days of classes during the year at all levels of education, from infant schools to non-compulsory secondary education.
The move has met with support from all of the trades unions which represent teachers in Cantabria and were consulted, the consensus being that it will benefit pupils and teachers alike, but Ceapa, the organization representing parents’ associations, rejects it on the grounds that they were not consulted.
As temperatures in parts of Andalucía rose to 40 degrees during the week, work began on Wednesday in Sevilla to combat the summer heat by installing awnings over streets in the old city centre, a procedure which has become habitual in recent years. The current heatwave is forecast to last until the middle of next week.
Obama to visit Pamplona bull runs?
It is not known how up to date US President Barack Obama is on the growing opposition to bull-related fiestas in Spain, but it has emerged from a press conference given by White House spokesman Josh Earnest that the possibility of him paying a visit the bull runs in Pamplona cannot be ruled out.
Mr Obama will become the first American President to visit Spain since George W. Bush in 2001 between 9th and 11th July this year, and when asked whether he planned to visit the “Sanfermines” Mr Earnest replied “I suspect that he could possibly be interested in that”. Should he go to Pamplona, of course, the next question is whether Barack Obama will actually join in the bull run itself, but his security guards may question the wisdom of such an adventurous step!
Spanish property news
The latest residential property sales figures which were published on Thursday by Spain’s central statistics unit appear to quell any lingering doubts that the country’s uncertain political situation could be having any negative effect on the real estate market, with the monthly total of 35,199 sales in April representing a 29% increase on the same month last year.
This is the single highest monthly figure in over five years, apart from a brief burst of activity which was reflected in the totals for January and February of 2013, and equally encouraging is that the year-to-date sales figure for the first four months of 2016 now stands at 134,312, which is 13.8% higher than at the same point last year.
The April figures were higher than last year in all 17 of Spain’s regions, the most notable increases being those reported in the Balearics (61.7%), Galicia, (51.6%), the Comunidad Valenciana (46.6%) and the Region of Murcia (44.2%)
At the same time, price data which showed not only that the market is growing in volume but also that the value of property is on the up, having risen by 6.3% in the twelve months ending on 31st March 2016. This year-on-year increase is the eighth in a row after a downward trend which lasted six years from early 2008, and the most significant in the last eight and a half years.
Meanwhile, the latest residential property price survey conducted in May by leading valuation firm Tinsa shows that in Spain as a whole the average market value per square metre rose by 1.3% over the previous twelve months, although the accumulated rise in the first five months of 2016 was slightly higher at 1.5%. The best performing markets were those of the Balearic and Canary Islands and Spain’s regional capitals and other large cities, where prices this May are reported to have been 3.5% higher than a year ago.
Tinsa also published their latest “market snapshot”, which underlines numerous reasons to expect continuing upward movements in the value of homes in Spain.
Elsewhere, as inroads are made into the excess supply of unsold residential properties which remained when the market collapsed in late 2007 and 2008, in some areas of Spain the need for new housing is such that off-plan buying is at last making a comeback in order to meet increased demand.
In parts of Madrid, Barcelona and the Costa del Sol the existing stock of unsold completed properties is now “practically non-existent”, and not only does this lead to an increase in market price, it also brings about a reactivation of the construction activity which ground to a halt in 2008. As a result last year the number of building licences granted for new residential properties shot up (from a very low level, admittedly) by 42.5% and this year, judging by the licence statistics, the recovery has continued.
An example of this can be seen in the Costa Blanca, where in Orihuela Costa on Tuesday the Town Hall granted licences for the building of 270 more homes. Among the 270 new properties planned are 245 on a development in the Las Filipinas area in a project which was originally approved as long ago as 2003, demonstrating that after the prolonged slump in the real estate sector there is once more sufficient demand to make such a development viable.
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