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Spanish news round-up, 27th June to 4th July 2014
Shock confession may keep Princess Cristina out of prison
The weather doesn’t usually provide much in the way of variety in Spain during the month of July, but this year is already something of an exception. While the weather has been unusually dry in parts of the south, causing severe drought conditions in areas such as Murcia and Valencia, much of the country has been suffering the effects of severe storms, and in midweek a freak cloudburst left up to a foot of hailstones accumulated on the streets of Soria in Castilla y León. At the same time flash floods in the province of Albacete caused havoc on the AVE rail line between Madrid and Alicante, with one train being derailed due to subsidence under the tracks and various others suffering long delays.
Elsewhere, the news has been dominated mostly by the continuation of a series of long-running stories. In the Nóos corruption case the announcement that the sister of King Felipe VI, who has been on the throne for less than two weeks, would appeal the decision of the investigating judge that she should face a criminal trial for tax fraud and money laundering, was followed just hours later by the unexpected confession of the accountant sho ran the books of both companies involved.
Among the consequences of this surprise act is the possibility that Princess Cristina may not have to stand trial after all, but this in turn, firmly shifts the blame to her husband and his former business partner, meaning the outlook for her husband looks extremely bleak, as if his accountant’s statement is believed it appears to leave him with little in the way of defence.
The Caso Bárcenas rumbles on, Bárcenas still in joil after a year without charges being officially lodged, and his former boss was called to give evidence, although exercised his right to remain silent and refused to testify. Also staying silent was the central government delegate to the Murcia Region, Joaquín Bascuñana, who was called to give evidence in the Novo Carthago case, along with the regional minister for agriculture, and in the same region another Mayor, this time from Torre Pacheco was in court on the same day facing charges of perversion of justice.
The tension between Spain and Gibraltar still shows no sign of dissipating: a year after the Gibraltarians’ decision to deposit large concrete blocks in the sea angered Spanish fishermen one of the 70 offending blocks has been removed, but there is no sign of any easing of the situation at the border checkpoint as the Spanish government keeps its stringent checks in place. EU observers were due this week to visit the area, and unfortunately they are likely to find that there has been no change since their last visit.
One of the grievances held by the Spanish authorities is that huge quantities of cigarettes are allegedly being smuggled over the border from Gibraltar, and tobacco company Altadis estimates that 38% of all cigarettes sold in Andalucía are contraband. One of the solutions proposed by Altadis is that tobacco taxes should be raised in Gibraltar, Andorra and the Canaries. In the meantime, customs continue to make regular seizures of contraband.
Other ongoing controversies in the headlines are the plans to prospect for oil off the coast of the Canary Islands and the government’s proposed reform of Spain’s abortion law. Those protesting against the exploratory drilling maintain that the islands’ economy is based on tourism, not on oil, while the heated debate regarding abortion has focused this week on the likelihood that mothers-to-be may not be allowed to terminate their pregnancies in cases where their unborn children are diagnosed as having Down Syndrome.
Meanwhile, among the good news this week were another fall in unemployment figures across the whole country and the reduction of international mobile phone charges within the EU. The European Commission is on schedule to completely eradicate “roaming” charges by the end of 2015, so good news for consumers there.
Also in the headlines this week were the continued attempts of illegal immigrants to make a new life in Spain, with fresh assaults on the Morocco-Spain border and on the Spanish coastline by boat. One rescue out at sea off the Island of Alborán was described as “miraculous” by rescue crews, after the tiny inflatable dinghy, dangerously crammed with nearly 50 people, including women and children, was plucked from a 5 metre high swell. Although medical treatment is administered immediately upon arrival, rescuers are keeping a careful watch on those arriving on Spanish shores as the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa develops, claiming more lives. Last week the first scare on the Spanish mainland in Valencia caused widespread concern and health officials are keeping a close eye on arrivals.
Other borders under scrutiny are those in Barcelona, Madrid and now Málaga airports, as a new system enters service with an automatic ID scanning system for those with EU electronic passports, cutting queuing time as Spain launches into Summer holiday mode.
All this will only be of secondary interest to Carolina Godayol, though. Sra Godayol is the managing director of Spain’s History Channel, and two years ago she proposed that one of the two lions which flank the main entrance of the lower house of Parliament should be endowed with testicles. However, after giving the matter lengthy consideration, the Ministry of Culture has rejected her scheme, and the lion known as Daoíz will remain emasculated until sufficient justification for the manufacture of a bronze lion scrotum can be provided.
And they say there’s no important news in the summer!
For full details of these and many other stories, visit www.spanishnewstoday.com
Spanish Property News
The relief with which recent figures showing a slight improvement in the Spanish real estate market have been greeted has been almost akin to euphoria in some quarters, but this week the property news has featured a couple of reminders that the situation in general is by no means prosperous as yet.
Two of the underlying obstacles to prosperity which have yet to be removed are the banks’ reluctance to grant mortgage loans and the huge stock of unsold completed new-builds, and recent reports suggest that both of these problems will be with us for a good while yet. The central statistics unit reported on Monday that in the first four months of 2014 22% fewer mortgages were granted than in the same period in 2013, and of course it has to be remembered that last year’s figures were already among the lowest ever recorded. At the same time, the number of foreclosures in the first quarter rose by a similar proportion, and this is hardly likely to increase the banks’ confidence in extending credit to those purchasing property.
As for the stock of unsold properties, real estate consultancy firm RR Acuña estimate that there are still 1.72 million awaiting a purchaser, and while in some areas the stock may soon be exhausted in others they foresee a worst-case scenario where the flats and apartments built may never be sold. In consequence, the firm predicts that average prices across the country will continue to fall, although more slowly, for the next few years, and while the analysts recognize the possibility that in localized areas the opposite may already be the case their report comes as a sober reminder that the fundamental imbalance between supply and demand is still dragging the market down.
Could EU money revive the Paramount project?
The summer may traditionally be slow in terms of news, but the start of July has been just the opposite in the Region of Murcia this year as a raft of corruption cases set political fur flying.
Nationally, corruption has dominated the main news as the Caso Nóos creaks to an inevitable end, but here in Murcia the words Novo Carthago have stopped being yet another unbuilt urbanisation and become a hot topic, dragging in Joaquín Bascuñana, the central government delegate to the Region of Murcia, who was called in front of the investigating judge on Wednesday, along with the regional minister for the environment. Sr Bascuñana chose to exercise his right to remain silent, an option he also preferred when questioned by members of the press afterwards. Also in court on the same day was the Mayor of Torre Pacheco, Daniel García Madrid, who is on trial for allegedly perverting the course of justice by awarding public works contracts without putting them out to tender as the law requires, and the Mayor of Murcia also made the headlines as the court investigating the Caso Umbra extended the secrecy order relating to his own assets.
However, another Mayor made a different set of headlines, the Mayor of Sucina, José Mercader, spinning bottles and dancing in the streets, as Sucina launched its “I Love Sucina” campaign, which hit youtube with a blast this week as the region opened for summer business and the onset of the summer tourist avalanche.
Elsewhere, other politicians have also been in the news as the regional government continues to push forward with macro-projects which aim to improve the infrastructure of the region for the future. Manuel Campos remains confident that the airport at Corvera will be open before the end of 2014, despite the fact that the EU has still not given the go-ahead for the 177-million-euro loan to Aeromur which would make this possible, and is also optimistic that the AVE high-speed rail service will arrive in Murcia and Cartagena by 2018.
Another grand project, the Paramount theme park in Alhama de Murcia, is still searching for private investors to finance construction, but a central government department is working to help secure European funding to enable work to begin.
Another major infrastructure is back on the priorities list in Cartagena as the former regional minister for public works, Antonio Sevilla, takes over as the head of the Cartagena Port Authority, to tackle the El Gorguel macro-container project which has been fought with such determination by ecologists. His first action being to approve financing to extend the railway line in Escombreras to the existing container terminal, construction of which can now begin.
Elsewhere, the summer season is now in full swing all over the Costa Cálida, despite a week of relatively cool weather and rough seas which saw the red flag flying at various of the Region of Murcia’s beaches on Wednesday. The influx of visitors and the migration of many from the capital to the coast causes a re-structuring of the regional health service, with extra staff being re-located to the beach resorts. At the same time the police and the Guardia Civil perform a similar operation, and of course in larger municipalities like Cartagena extra bus services are now operational.
Last week the Region of Murcia played host to a VIP visitor in Liam Neeson, who left a trail of destruction in his wake, and this week if anything the prestige of the man who attended a friend’s funeral in the regional capital was even greater: just twelve days after his proclamation King Felipe VI came to Murcia for the second time in two months, albeit for sad reasons.
Some of the Region’s economic indicators continue to suggest that the situation is slowly improving: unemployment fell again to 135,000, although some reports suggest that the drop was less significant than it might have been as agricultural workers have been laid off because of the drought and the devastating hailstorm in Cieza. On the subject of the drought, theories that the Region’s rain is being “stolen” have resurfaced in Jumilla and Yecla, where questions are being asked about possible cloud-seeding to avoid storms like the one in Cieza.
Other stories to make the news this week include the regional government’s latest attempt to auction off the old Los Arcos hospital in San Javier – 6.2 million euros is the asking price, for anyone who might be tempted – and the lightning strike which caused a wildfire in the mountains of Moratalla, just as the fiestas to celebrate the Cristo del Rayo are getting under way.
More details of these and many other stories can be found in the regional news section of Murcia Today.
Sales, whales and violent storms as the summer’s music festivals begin
The beach season is now well and truly under way throughout the region of Valencia, and despite the unseasonal heavy storms which disrupted the AVE rail services inland the coastal resorts are now experiencing their annual population increase as visitors flock to the Mediterranean. Among those coming from abroad the British lead the way, and during a visit to the regional capital this week the British Ambassador to Spain highlighted the contribution made by UK visitors to Valencia’s economy: 1.6 billion euros in 2013 is certainly not a figure to be sneezed at!
However, some of those in the regional government are still clearly unaware that a large proportion of those who make tourism one of the largest sectors in the economy don’t speak Spanish. 200 new signs pointing out places of interest in the Vega Baja are to feature only Spanish texts, and while on the one hand this has angered people who believe that Valenciano should also be used, it’s also fair to say that some concession to the millions of non-Spanish tourists could have been made.
If the population on the coast temporarily mushrooms during July and August, a more permanent phenomenon throughout Spain is that the number of people living in the country is falling, and this is equally true in the Comunitat Valenciana. During 2013 the population fell by almost 24,000 to 4,963,000, due in large part to non-Spaniards either returning home or leaving to seek work elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the sales have started in all of the region’s main stores, and those who aren’t spending money at the beach may well be doing so in shopping malls throughout the region. The major stores are expecting 1.5 million customers in the first week of the season, and this boost to the economy is certainly needed: while at least the pharmacists in Valencia have at last been paid the 137 million euros they were owed for medicines dispensed in March and April this has only been possible with the help of central government subsidies, and although the unemployment figures are still coming down from the all-time highs reached last year it could hardly be said as yet that the situation is prosperous.
Elsewhere in the region of Valencia, a Town Hall councilor in the tiny municipality of Rugat has been deported to Germany where his alleged attempt to murder his former girlfriend’s new partner is under investigation, the city of Alicante has resisted the temptation to join the anti-bullfighting movement with councillors voting to maintain the tradition in the provincial capital, and two shoppers were injured in Torrent when the roof caved in on them as they browsed in the greengrocers.
Police have been busy hoovering up a motley assortment of criminals, although their most striking act of the week was in defence of their own working conditions, when police staged a mock crucifixion and Via Crucis, with an officer dragging a wooden cross through the streets of Torrevieja before being hoisted up in front of the window of the town hall, where the council were in full session. Needless to say, the council failed to see the inventiveness of the officers concerned and promptly fined the crane owner 1500 euros.
This week currency exchange rates remain high for those changing money from sterling to euros, making Spanish property even better value and giving those who transfer their pensions across to Spain more for their money. If you still use a bank to transfer money, ask for a quote to use a money transfer service, youll be amazed how much more you get for your pounds using this method!
Click for this weeks currency round up showing the exchange rate between Sterling and the Euro.
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