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Spanish news round up 21st March
Melilla under intense pressure, Andalucía fishermen in waiting, British tourists to Spain up by 10% in first 2 months of 2014
British citizens living in Spain who are thinking about returning to the UK or going on holiday elsewhere this summer are advised to check expiry dates on their passports due to the changes in procedure for applying for new or replacement passports. This week the British Embassy have advised that prices for passports have been reduced due to the new procedures, but have emphasised the length of time required to update your passport as you will no longer be able to pop up to the consulate if time is running short.
Another piece of news which may well interest expats is that the EU Industry Commission has passed legislation which seeks to outlaw abusively high "roaming" charges for mobile phones. Although there is still some way to go until the laws are passed, this could help to cut costs for many UK tourists and visitors travelling to Spain, and conversely, residents going back to the UK to visit family and friends.
Illegal immigrants on Morocco-Spain border
This week the situation in Melilla has continued to feature heavily in the news, with the biggest assault ever on the border between Spain and Morocco. Extra police have been drafted in as the exclaves wait with baited breath to see what’s coming next, all indications being that word has spread that police are no longer using anti-riot measures following the deaths in Ceuta when 15 people drowned and crossing the borders can now be achieved using sheer weight of numbers. It’s a worrying situation both for the Moroccan and Spanish authorities as the numbers waiting for their chance start to grow.
At the moment the immigrant transit centre is totally overwhelmed, with the majority of those now waiting for processing housed in army field tents outside. So critical is the situation that some of those waiting may now be moved to other transit centres on the Spanish mainland to relieve the pressure, while residents wait anxiously to see if yet more illegal immigrants will try to breach defences and enter Melilla.
Exterior ministers from all European countries with Mediterranean borders will meet in Alicante on 16th April to discuss their shared immigrant problem and seek solutions to their current situations.
Andalucia fishermen in waiting
Another story relating to Morocco is that of the Andalucian fishermen still confined to port as they wait for King Mohammed VI to sign the fishing agreement which will once again allow them back into Moroccan waters, agreed in November, yet still waiting for signature. Frustratingly, the document has been in his in-tray since 12th February.
The sea has been a common link for many stories this week, as divers attempted to recover the 6 missing bodies from the wreck of fishing boat Santa Ana which sunk last week. After a frustrating week of poor weather, and having to cut a hole in the side of the boat to try and release the debris inside, only four bodies were recovered, meaning two are still missing. The search continues. And at the same time, four more bodies are now being sought after a military helicopter on a training exercise plunged into the sea off the Canary Islands. Some wreckage has been recovered, although at the moment there is no trace of the missing personnel.
New wave power generator undergoes trials off the Canary islands
In the same area tests are underway to trial a new form of wave powered generator which may provide a practical and inexpensive way of harnessing wave power, and customs have a had a busy week intercepting 15,000 kilos of hashish in just one haul off the Andalucía coastline.
Courts have been as busy as ever, although in Almería they’re clearing out hundreds of thousands of records to make space in municipal archives which are overwhelmed by the sheer volumes of paperwork they’re holding, while in Murcia the “Murcia watermelons case” is a perfect example of why the court systems are so cumbersome, slow and totally overwhelmed with appeals and counter-appeals, all generating……lots of pointless paperwork.
Police have launched a new initiative relating to the “Spain’s stolen babies” cases, saying that the difficulty in obtaining proof due to a combination of factors, including the fact that most of the records are to be found in a paper format, and the absence of living witnesses, means that not one case of a baby actually being stolen has yet been proven, in spite of the high profile this situation has achieved on a worldwide basis.
The Caso Gürtel has also been in the headlines as the alleged ringleaders refuse to give evidence in court, saying they have “lost confidence” in the proceedings.
ETA has remained in the headlines this week as Archbishop Desmond Tutu wades into the argument, making comments which will be welcomed by the Spanish Government like a hole in the head, saying that both the government and ETA should show themselves willing to make concessions and work together to achieve a lasting settlement. The Archbishop made his comments following the recent "decomissioning" of arms by ETA, published by the BBC, in which international verifiers paid 750 euros a day signed a document stating that they had seen the arms allegely being taken out of service by ETA: arms which then left the building still under the supervision of ETA.
Staying with terrorism, the man who facilitated the purchase of explosives from an Asturian miner which were used in the 11-M train bombings ten years ago last week was released from jail having completed his sentence. In spite of having recently married a Spanish national, he was immediately expelled fom Spain and was escorted to Moroccan soil by Spanish police.
Positive economic forecasts and good tourism figures
Economic forecasts for Spain have been positive this week, Morgan Stanley revising their forecasts for economic growth in Spain upwards, in spite of Spanish public debt reaching another record high.
And the tourist industry is continuing to deliver excellent results, figures released on Friday morning showing a positive tendency, with nearly 12% increase in the numbers of foreign visitors in just the first 2 months of the year, and foreigners remain an important market for the property market, the numbers of foreign buyers picking up Spanish property, once again making an important dent in the numbers of properties sold.
Tourism is also continuing to deliver positive results, the volumes of air traffic coming into Spain once more delivering increases over traffic for 2013, and tourism figures released on Friday showing that 6.1 million tourists have already visited Spain so far this year, a rise of nearly 12% on the same period in 2013. British tourists have increased considerably: 10.4% in the first 2 months of the year to 1.18 million, representing nearly 20% of the total tourists visiting Spain.
Currency Report this week
Currency exchange rates have improved considerably recently , meaning you get more euros for every pound. Click to see the latest exchange rate news and see how much you could save transferring money to Spain using currency transfer services rather than using a bank.
The Murcia watermelon case in court, Corvera airport latest, burglaries down and tourists up in Murcia
Will Corvera airport open in 2014?
Not according to the regional press, who started the week with an article questioning the optimism of those who feel that the airport can open in time to take advantage of the autumn flight schedules. Although on Friday a small piece appeared indicating that EU Commissioners examining the whole situation relating to the regional government’s plans to help finance the opening of the airport have requested further information about certain points of the proposal, the reality is that there are a significant number of administrative processes which must still be undertaken before the airport can be deemed ready to open, including several vital pieces of paperwork and permissions which are still lacking and cannot be applied for until all the legal processes between the regional government and former concessionary have concluded.
The next flight slot conference allocating flights for the winter period will be held in Abu Dhabi in June 2014, and if ALL of these processes have not been concluded, then Corvera will be unable to apply for its route slots and all routes will be allocated to San Javier and Aena, meaning that even if the airport manages to open in time, commercial flights cannot begin until the next batch of flights, Spring 2015, are allocated. The regional government and concessionary may be willing, but flight slots wait for no-one as the world’s air traffic routes are planned well in advance, and if Corvera isn´t ready, it isn´t ready and can´t be allocated routes. Simple as that.
Tourism is an important industry within Murcia, the combination of residential tourists ( expats buying property to either live here full or part time) and holiday tourism providing plenty of work for the region, so it’s good news this week that the numbers of people working in the tourist sector in Murcia has increased, showing the sector is fairly healthy and continuing to generate opportunity for businesses and workers. Figures released on Friday also show a positive evolution in the numbers of tourists visiting Murcia, the British remaining the biggest international tourists in Murcia.
January house sales figures were a little disappointing, not only for Murcia, but the whole country, with large percentage falls against January last year, the analysts saying that this is mainly due to the fact that there was a big rush at the end of 2012 to buy before the government changed the law and removed fiscal advantages and put up the vat rate. However, the interesting point to emerge from all of the figures released in the last couple of weeks is how important the international markets are down here on the Mediterranean coast and the hard facts that more international buyers are picking up the bargains currently on offer down here in Murcia, which in turn, increases the numbers of “residential tourists” filling up empty properties and buying from expat businesses once again. Good news for all of us.
Staying with tourism, Terra Natura in Murcia welcomed its millionth visitor , although there has been silence about our other potential themed park, the Paramount development in Alhama de Murcia, and another park was also in the news, the Islas Hormigas natural marine park off the coast of Cabo de Palos. After weeks of consultation the environmentalists have won the day and numbers of divers allowed to use the park will be tightly restricted. In a way, this is good for expat divers, who tend to have the luxury of being able to dive at any time, unlike the dive schools who rely on the domestic holiday trade when at peak weekends and during the months of the Spanish holiday season there are easily three times as many divers wanting to dive the site as these new regulations will now permit.
But there are many forms of tourism: language tourism is starting to attract increased numbers of foreign students to the region, and cultural tourism is also gearing up ready for the impending Easter holidays and the Semana Santa activities to come. Full programmes for the region are currently being translated and will be posted soon.
Other news includes the current situation regarding water supply: while reservoirs are nearly full due to abundant rain in other parts of Spain which feed into our reservoirs, Murcian farmers growing dry crops are worried due to the lack of natural rainfall on our coastline. Temperatures have been above average this winter, but Murcia has received virtually no rainfall at all, good and bad news at the same time.
We’ve also had reports of a decline in burglaries at the start of this year, and less cats and dogs being picked up off the streets, but again, there is always another side to every story, as the amount of livestock and larger animals such as horses being set loose by their owners who can no longer afford to feed them has increased, and disturbing cases such as the horrific discovery of dead pigs in Calasparra also crop up due to the difficult economic situation.
The economic problems show in tiny ways: this week the regional president has been trying to unblock the refit of the Tramontana submarine in Cartagena to generate much needed work for the local shipyard and many local contractors who rely on it for their livelihood and the regional government has given 20,000 euros to help disadvantaged families pay their rents.
Marine reserve to be increased around Tabarca, low cost airlines booming, Elche palm braiders preparing for Seman Santa
After the excitement of the Fallas in the regional capital last week thoughts are now beginning to turn to the summer and the arrival of increased numbers of tourists, particularly in the Costa Blanca. The weather is most definitely reminding us that spring is just beginning, and the hopes for another improved year in the tourism sector are high.
In order to provide a further boost to two markets which grew spectacularly last year, representatives from the Costa Blanca tourist board have been attending two tourism trade fairs in Moscow and another in Sweden this week, and despite the fact that regional president Alberto Fabra cancelled his own plans to attend one of the Moscow events in protest at the Russian decision to recognize Crimea as an independent sovereign state, the plans to promote tourism to Alicante so far remain unaffected by political developments. Little of this increased international tourism would be possible, of course, without the airports, and figures have been published which demonstrate that both the overall number of passengers arriving on international flights and the proportion of them using low-cost airlines are higher so far this year than in 2013: an increase of around 10% bodes well for the rest of the year.
On the subject of foreign interest in the region, and especially the province of Alicante, more statistics relating to the property market have been released this week showing that the level of sales in the Comunitat Valenciana in January was buoyed by the relatively good performance of its southernmost province, and that in Alicante the market is attracting more and more non-Spanish buyers. In fact, according to the latest report issued by Spain’s notaries, in 2013 almost a third of all property purchasers by foreigners were in the Comunitat Valenciana, and while the domestic market remains stagnant sales to foreigners continue to increase, with the number of British buyers reaching its highest level since 2007.
As usual, crime and crimefighters are also prominently featured in the news. A gang of Colombian nationals responsible for at least twenty burglaries, most of them in Murcia and Alicante, have been arrested, while other wrongdoers meeting their comeuppance have included those tapping into the main pipeline supplying oil to Castellón, electrical cabling thieves in Almoradí, a huge network of unscrupulous fraudsters posing as gas fitters and repair workers and an individual arrested for multiple internet second-hand car sale fraud in Rojales. Meanwhile, in what appears to have been a spectacular act of personal vengeance, a man in Benidorm expressed his annoyance with a couple by throwing two Molotov cocktails into their home and then firing rifle bullets at them as they fled the flames.
On the other side of the “thin blue line”, the Policía Local in Pilar de la Horadada are reporting great success in their attempts to establish a closer working relationship with members of the public: over 4,000 Facebook followers stand as testimony to their internet popularity!
Nature lovers will be pleased to hear that the marine reserve of Tabarca off the coast of Alicante is to be afforded extra protection, and also that an eagle survived a crash landing in the tigers’ pen at the Terra Natura park in Benidorm. Also on the subject of the natural world, there are a couple of interesting stories regarding trees in the region this week: while in Orihuela the dreaded red palm weevil has destroyed another fifty palm trees in the coastal part of the municipality, further up the coast pine trees are suffering from a different form of blight, less serious but still a worry for the authorities. In Elche, meanwhile, exponents of the traditional craft of white palm-leaf braiding are preparing over 10,000 decorative items for the forthcoming celebration of Palm Sunday on 13th March: recipients of these adornments as gifts will this year include the Queen of Spain and the Pope, no less!
inally, to Orihuela: during this week a local petrol-station owner had a Tuesday to forget, when thieves stole 26,000 in cash from him and then he crashed his car while giving chase, but the saga dominating local news over the last few weeks may at last be reaching a conclusion with the announcement that, for the moment at least, the Town Hall’s plans to re-locate the weekly Saturday market to the city centre have been shelved. Opposition to the re-location has been fierce and, it seems, practically unanimous ever since the plans were announced, and now it appears that the local councillor in charge of the municipal markets may in the end be forced to climb down. Local politics doesn’t always follow a predictable path, though: watch this space!
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