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Spanish news and property round-up week ending April 29th
Spain will go to the polls again in June after six months without a government
After only three months it appears that for the eleventh legislature of the Spanish government since the end of the dictatorship it’s all over bar the shouting, and there is likely to be plenty of that over the next two months: the country will now hold a repeat general election on 26th June after King Felipe dissolves parliament early next week, and pre-campaigning has already begun as each of the major parties holds the others responsible for the failure to form a workable government after the election on 20th December.
Acting President of the government Mariano Rajoy asserted on Sunday and Monday that he is ready, willing and able to lead the PP through the next two months, but speculation is growing in the press that should results not go his way in June, he may be ready to step down and hand over the party leadership to someone else, particularly if this is the condition stipulated by Ciudadanos to form a potential governing alliance.
Sr Rajoy has become inextricably associated with the numerous corruption scandals which have rocked the PP over the last five years. One of the latest concerns former Valencia Mayoress Rita Barberá, who this week was upset when a slogan reading “Rita corrupta al paredón" was painted next to the main entrance door to the building in which she lives. The phrase translates roughly as “Corrupt Rita to face the firing squad”, and has been reported as a death threat by the former Mayoress.
That another election is inevitable was confirmed by the latest round of meetings between the political leaders and Felipe VI, and although none of the politicians admits to being disappointed polls suggest that the Spanish public is distinctly disenchanted with their failure to reach any working compromise deal: polls suggest that turnout this time round will be significantly lower in spite of the urgent necessity to swear in a working government.
Possibly the last act of the 11th legislature will be to debate and approve the prolongation of the 426-euro-per-month supplementary benefit which is received by those among the long-term unemployed who have family commitments. Assuming it is passed on Thursday, this will most probably be the only legislation with the status of Real Decreto (royal decree) to have been implemented since the general election in December.
While the political situation in Spain remains unclear, at least some of the economic data appear to suggest that the country’s economic recovery is continuing and the latest quarterly Active Population Survey, which was published on Thursday morning, contained positive results.
The first quarter of the year is almost always a poor one for employment in Spain, with the number of people in work falling and the number of unemployed rising correspondingly, but between 1st January and 31st March 2016 this trend was significantly less marked than in previous years, and the number of people in work fell over the three months by only 64,600 to 18,029,600, according to the survey.
The unemployment rate is now 21%, as opposed to 23.78% a year ago, and over the last year unemployment has fallen by a creditable 12% (or 653,000).However, this is still four times that of the UK and Spain remains right at the top of the European unemployment league table, beaten only by Greece.
The data also reveal that the number of households with no regular work income has dropped by 10.2% over the last 12 months, and that the figure for unemployed under-25’s has fallen over the last twelve months from 51.36% to 46.49%. However, the effect of emigration on this percentage should not be forgotten: a telling statistic showing how hard it is for young people to find a job is that while this age group accounts for almost 14% of Spain’s unemployed, they represent only 4.27% of those currently in work.
The solution for many youngsters of course, has been to leave Spain and seek work elsewhere, although concerns continue that should the UK decide to leave the umbrella of the EU, this could affect the open-doors policy for young Spaniards moving to England in search of work. In the UK there are now distinct pockets of Spanish migrants, and paella is as easily available as pork pies in some places!
Another positive sign for the Spanish economy is that the international tourism sector appears to be set for a bumper year in 2016, with the UK market at the forefront of the increase in visitor numbers.
During March the total of 4.82 million visitors to Spain from abroad was the highest ever for the third month of the year, and the number of people coming to Spain from the UK, the largest single market for international tourism in Spain, was a full 25% higher than in March 2015 at 1.12 million, accounting for 23.1% of the total. In March the UK was the leading source of foreign visitors in the Comunidad Valenciana, Andalucía and the Canaries, and was the second largest contributor in the Balearics (behind Germany).
Next week tourism expenditure figures should reflect the contribution made to the Spansih economy by British visitors.
One of the most spectacular tourism successes of recent months has been in the Castellón coastal town of Peñíscola: for many of us the news that Drogo, the dragon of Daenerys Targaryen, has appeared out of nowhere in Daznak’s Pit means little, but for fans of Game of Thrones it means the end of the fifth series and the beginning of the sixth and for local tourist authorities the success of the series puts the town firmly on the map for Game of Thrones fans. Is Jon Snow as dead as a dodo or is he about to undergo a miraculous resurrection: one episode in and the producers are still teasing viewers.
In addition, for the local economies of various towns in Spain it means a huge shot in the arm, with the estimated economic effect of the new episodes having been filmed in this country exceeding 1,000 million euros in Peñíscola.
A little further south, optimism for future growth in tourism is also apparent in Vaelncia, where the port authority has announced that 8 million euros are to be invested in a new terminal specifically for cruise tourism, the aim being to almost double the number of passengers stopping off in the city over the next four years.
Crime and punishment
A large number of crime-related stories have hit the headlines over the last seven days, one of the most commented upon being the case of a 31-year-old off-duty Guardia Civil officer who was arrested on Monday morning in Madrid after allegedly killing a Moroccan driver by firing no fewer than five shots at him with his regulation firearm.
Similarly shocking were the instances of gender violence which occurred last weekend in Catalunya, where there were three separate killings in the provinces of Barcelona and Tarragona. Those arrested were a a 53-year-old homosexual Colombian man who killed his 57-year-old partner a 36-year-old woman from Belarus who stabbed her partner at their home in Barcelona and a 39-year-old Rumanian who handed himself in to the Mossos d'Esquadra after murdering a 47-year-old female compatriot in Tarragona.
Also in Tarragona, the Mossos d'Esquadra (the regional police force of Catalunya) are investigating the violent death of a woman on Thursday, with the first signs indicating that she could have been the victim of a mugger.
In Madrid, meanwhile, a group of kidnappers and killers who have been described by investigating officers as “evil” were arrested and will face charges related to the kidnap and subsequent murder of 50-year-old businessman José Luis Vázquez Escarpa two years ago. Despite a ransom of 80,000 euros being delivered by the victim’s parents, the kidnappers killed him, dismembered the body and boiled it in order to destroy the evidence.
Also in Madrid, part of the campaign to clean up public parks and pavements is an “excrement map” showing the worst affected areas of the capital. Mayoress Manuela Carmena is also backing a proposal for offending dog owners to be allowed to cancel their fines by opting instead to take on street cleaning duties. The duration of these weekend duties will depend on the payment waived, with a maximum of 28 hours for the worst repeat offenders.
In terms of drugs, the Policía Nacional seized what is reported to be the largest haul of heroin to be intercepted in Europe so far this year close to the border between Spain and Portugal in the province of Pontevedra (Galicia), taking into custody 56 kilos of heroin and arresting twelve people. The drugs, which have a value of almost two million euros, were stashed in various hidden compartments inside a Porsche Cayenne when the vehicle was stopped and searched in the town of Tui.
A similarly important haul resulted from what is being described as the largest ever designer drugs swoop in Spain, in which the Guardia Civil arrested 52 people and confiscated 130,000 doses of illegal substances. The drugs, which are sometimes described as “Legal Highs”, were being marketed under misleading descriptions as “legal euphoria-producing drugs”, “chemical research products”, “plant fertilizer” and even “bath salts”.
Two issues regarding the moral side of legality and criminality were prominent during the week. One of them involved a gay Spanish national who won a rent-a-womb child custody battle in Thailand with his American husband, while the other concerns a woman who was arrested by the Policía Local of Santander on Tuesday for slapping her 10-year-old daughter and pulling her hair after the girl arrived home from school two hours late.
In a week when the parents of an 18-month-old boy who apparently died from blows to the head, have been in court, this case has caused much discussion, and it certainly illustrates the degree to which the issue of violence is now an extremely sensitive one in Spanish society, with members of the public are more and more keenly aware of the need to alert the police to possible cases of abuse.
Wildlife and the environment
A controversial decision by the Ministry of Industry to authorize a uranium mine in the province of Salamanca (Castilla y León) is to be investigated by the national High Court, following an appeal against the project by ecologist platform groups.
The uranium project has been proposed by the Australian mining company Berkeley, and consists of extracting uranium from a mine in the small municipalities of Retortillo and Villavieja de Yeltes, close to the border with Portugal, and treating it at a plant next to the site. If it were to go ahead this would be the first active uranium mine in Spain since 2003.
In the province of Alicante, meanwhile, a 42-year-old building worker died on Wednesday at the Aitana Safari park in Penàguila when he was charged by a buffalo while repairing a fence in an area which is not normally accessible to members of the public.
On Wednesday an exciting archaeological discovery was made by chance in Tomares, in the province of Sevilla, where workers digging a ditch for water supply pipes chanced upon 19 Roman amphorae containing 600 kilograms of bronze coins.
Each of the thousands of coins, which date from the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, weighs between eight and ten grams, and on one side the figures of the Emperors Maximiano and Constantine are featured, but for the time being only around a tenth of them have been studied and catalogued.
Basque and Catalan separatism
The Basque separatist movement was in the news on various occasions this week, one of them being on Monday when former ETA terrorist Fermín Vila Michelena appeared in court to stand trial for a bombing in Madrid in 2001, but refused to give evidence and attempted instead to quote the lyrics of a song in the Basque language.
In Catalunya, meanwhile, the regional government has made it clear that it intends to continue along the route to independence despite the cordial nature of the meeting between Mariano Rajoy and Carles Puigdemont, the regional president of Catalunya. This climate of civilized discussion has at least led to the reported resolution of five conflictive issues between the two administrations this week, meaning that the Constitutional Court will not be required to pronounce judgement on the five issues concerned, but sources at the Generalitat (the regional government of Catalunya) dismiss the agreements reached as referring to nothing more than technical details.
This determination to proceed with the process of separation from Spain is reflected to some degree on the way in which the regional government of Catalunya and many of the leading Town Halls appear to be waging war on the Spanish language, favouring the use of Catalan instead.
The authorities in Catalunya repeatedly pay little or no attention to rulings which oblige them to ensure that education is offered in Castilian Spanish, and in addition it appears that the new regional government which was sworn in January has inherited a policy of stricter application of a law which requires signs in the region to be printed in Catalan.
Last year the regional government’s revenue from fines on companies whose signs were produced only in Spanish came to 140,000 euros, almost three times as much as the 51,350 euros generated in 2014.
Another snippet from Catalunya, although unrelated to separatism, concerns the small town of Sant Jaume de Llierca in the province of Girona, which until now has been almost unique in that there have been no road signs spoiling the appearance of the streets. Unfortunately, though, a growing population and concerns over the safety of both drivers and pedestrians have now led to this policy being abandoned, and close to 100 “stop” signs and others are to be installed in and around the centre of the town at a cost of approximately 20,000 euros.
Murcia-born Pope Gregory XVIII abdicates
54-year-old Sergio María Ginés Jesús Hernández, who hails from Mula in the north-west of the Region of Murcia, has abdicated from the Papacy of the Palmarian Catholic Church which is based in El Palmar de Troya, a village near Utrera in the province of Sevilla, to spend more time with an activities monitor in Monachil who is reported to be his sentimental partner.
Better known to his followers in the schismatic Palmarian church as Pope Gregory XVIII, Sr Hernández was made Pope by the sect in 2011 but has now left the Church abruptly, without even bidding farewell to his followers.
For those who are not aware, the history of the Palmarian Church goes back to 1968, when it was claimed that a group of schoolgirls had seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary on farmland near El Palmar de Troya. Follow the link above for further details of a Church which venerates Adolf Hitler and general Franco as saints!
Immigration and refugees
Over 100 illegal immigrants managed to gain entry into Spain’s north African enclave of Ceuta on Sunday, taking advantage of low tide and calm sea conditions to cross the frontier from Morocco by swimming around the headland of Benzú and on Friday morning seven migrants made it over the border fence onto Spanish soil when 150 people attacked the fence in the early hours of the morning.
In Palma de Mallorca, on the other hand, the new arrivals in the news were the first three of 42 refugees who will be relocated over the next few weeks to the Balearics, Two adults and their child spent Tuesday night in the hostel of the Playa de Palma, having arrived not from Syria but from Albania, from where they fled to avoid ethnic persecution.
The family are enthusiastic concerning their new life in Mallorca, and as they settle in the authorities in the Balearics are now awaiting the arrival of 38 Syrian nationals who are currently in Greece and one individual from Pakistan.
Sports news: a footballer, a tennis player and a bullfighter
At Fútbol Club Barcelona there are plenty of reasons to be worried at the moment, despite having scored 14 goals in two matches last week to halt a recent slump, and not least among them is the jet-set party lifestyle of Brazilian star Neymar.
The “problem” with Neymar began in March, when he traveled home to attend his sister’s birthday party. Observers claim that since then his form on the pitch has declined noticeably, and on Saturday, following Barça’s 6-0 win over Sporting de Gijón, Luis Enrique gave the side two days off training, and Neymar decided that he would make use of them by flying to a party in London. Once again the tabloid press followed his visit assiduously, and the fear is that he may follow in the footsteps of Ronaldinho, another Brazilian who was a star at Barcelona before his jetset lifestyle dragged his career downwards.
Tennis star Rafa Nadal has been in the news almost constantly over the last week or so, notching up his ninth triumph at the Monte Carlo open, announcing that he will be suing the former French Minister for Sport for slander and buying a 3-million-euro yacht. Now, though, amid all of the controversy, he has been named to carry the Spanish flag at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
In the world of bullfighting, meanwhile, Manuel Díaz González, the famous bullfighter who was born in Arganda El Rey (Madrid) in 1968, has won his 40-year-old battle to be recognized as the son of Manuel Benítez Pérez, another torero, who became famous in the 1960s and 1970s under the name of “El Cordobés”.
Throughout his own bullfighting career Manuel Díaz has used the same nickname on the grounds that he is the biological offspring of El Cordobés, and on Wednesday his long campaign to be recognized as such finally ended in victory when the result of a second DNA test confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt that Manuel Benítez is his father. As a result, the hot news in the celebrity press in this week is that at last it has been confirmed that El Cordobés is indeed the son of El Cordobés.
Spanish property news
The main property market statistics to be published this week concerned the number of mortgages registered in February, and in short it appears that in terms of loans on residential property purchases it appears that the failure to form a national government over the last four months is not slowing down the recovery of the market.
The total of 24,887 mortgages officially constituted was 15.9% higher than in February 2015, and at the same time the total loan capital of almost 2.7 billion euros was 14.4% higher than a year previously.
More encouraging news emerged from a property seminar this week where analysts from KPMG, Deloitte, N+1 and PwC were in agreement that residential property sales are likely to rise in 2016 by between 10% and 12%, reaching approximately 440,000 transactions with a total value of around 20,000 million euros.
Should it be the case that political uncertainty is affecting the property market negatively then there is still time for this to be reflected in the data for the next few months, but for the time being at least it seems that low interest rates, an increased willingness to lend on the part of the banks, low market prices and the decrease in unemployment are still outweighing the doubts over who might be the next President of the national government.
In the rental market, the latest region to join the list of those attempting to regulate undeclared rentals is Extremadura, where Francisco Martín, the head of the regional tourist board, has announced that steps are to clamp down on the practice. Sr Martín’s argument is that undeclared rental activity represents unfair competition for the 1,370 fully legal rental businesses in Extremadura, and that low-quality rentals damage the image of the region as a tourist destination.
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