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Spanish news round-up week ending 17th February 2017
Princess Cristina avoids being the first Spanish royal to be found guilty in a court of law but her husband is found guilty and given a prison sentence
Without any doubt the biggest story in the Spanish news this week was on Friday morning, when the verdicts were issued at the courts of Palma (Mallorca) and it was revealed that Princess Cristina has been found not guilty of being a knowing accessory to the financial wrongdoings of her husband, Iñaki Urdangarín.
However, Sr Urdangarín, the former Duke of Palma, was handed a prison sentence of 6 years and 3 months for misappropriation of public funds and tax fraud, while his former business partner Diego Torres faces a sentence of eight and a half years.
The attention of the Spanish media was almost exclusively focused on the court on Friday morning, almost exactly eleven years after the scandal regarding Sr Urdangarín’s alleged offences broke in the regional parliament of the Balearics, and eight months after the hearing ended in Palma. King Felipe VI’s sister and brother-in-law awaited their fate amid general expectation that a guilty verdict was almost inevitable in the case of Iñaki Urdangarín, while Cristina started Friday knowing that she could become the first member of the Spanish royal family ever to be found guilty in a court of law.
Shortly after midday the verdicts were published, and the news immediately made the headlines all over the country:
Cristina Federica Victoria Antonia de la Santísima Trinidad de Borbón y Grecia: not guilty.
Iñaki Urdangarin Liebaert: guilty.
Political news and the Catalan independence issue
There has been much debate in recent weeks within the Podemos political party over the direction which should be followed between now and the next general election, but last weekend party members decided overwhelmingly in favour of retaining Pablo Iglesias as their General Secretary rather than appointing Íñigo Errejón in his place.
Sr Iglesias and his supporters received 89% of the votes cast in the poll to decide who should steer the Podemos ship, and in consequence his position as ideological leader of the group is strengthened. He will now directly control 60% of the party management team, leaving Sr Errejón’s future within Podemos in doubt.
What this means, in general terms, is that the more radical left-wing element of Podemos has won the day in the power struggle of the last few weeks, and that Sr Errejón’s calls for a more moderate stance on major issues to be adopted in an attempt to widen the party’s support have not been heeded.
At the same time, Mariano Rajoy, the President of the Spanish government, celebrated his re-election as the leader of the PP party over the weekend by reiterating that he is not prepared to budge from his opposition to the Catalan regional government’s intention of holding a referendum this year on the issue of independence from Spain.
However, if Mariano Rajoy is casting himself in the role of the unmovable object, Artur Mas, the former Catalan president whose 5-day trial on charges of civil disobedience ended last Friday, claims to represent the irresistible force of public opinion in the region. On Sunday Sr Mas warned the Spanish government that the independence movement is not about to raise the white flag of surrender and that “Spain has already lost half of Catalunya”, while also claiming that although at the moment the separation of the region from Spain is a reality only in the minds of the Catalans it will become a fact sooner or later.
The next blow to be landed in the argument over the independence referendum was delivered on Tuesday by Spain’s Constitutional Court, although it could hardly be described as a knockout punch. The Court ruled that the “route map” towards independence which was approved by the Catalan parliament last October, including the resolution to hold the referendum by this September, is unconstitutional, and is therefore annulled. However, it seems unlikely that much notice will be taken of this in Catalunya, where the government has made it clear that they intend to hold the referendum this year whether or not it is with the permission of the national government, a repetition of the scenarion when Artur Mas was in power and for which disobedience he has been standing trial in the last week .
Elsewhere, there was another glimpse of the changing face of Spanish politics at the swearing-in of the new Speaker of the regional parliament in the Balearic Islands. Baltasar Picornell wears his hair and his beard long, although for the occasion on Tuesday the earrings and nose-rings he chose were relatively discreet!
EU raises Spanish deficit forecast for 2017: spending cuts of over 4 billion could be required of the Spanish government as the EC ups its forecast for Spain’s national deficit in 2017 from 3.3% to 3.5% of GDP. The report as a whole is characterized by the word “uncertainty”, due mainly to Brexit and to the advent of the “Trump era”.
Banco de España advocates raising retirement age beyond 67: there are two main proposals in order to set the Spanish Social Security system on a firmer financial footing: one is to increase the monthly contributions made by workers, and the other is to take steps to ensure that they contribute for longer and are therefore retired for a shorter period afterwards. Sr Linde, the head of the Banco de España, weighed up both options on Wednesday, and came down in favour of the latter.
Tourism and the Jihadist threat
The increase in passenger traffic at Spanish airports showed no signs of slowing down in January 2017, with the record results of 2016 seemingly in danger of being eclipsed this year as the number of people passing through the terminals of the Aena-run airports rose by 10% to 14.25 million.
Year-on-year increases were reported at all 18 of the country’s busiest airports, the sharpest upward movements being at La Palma, Valencia and Málaga-Costa del Sol. This increase meant that Málaga was the fifth busiest airport during the month in terms of passenger numbers, behind Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas, Barcelona-El Prat, Gran Canaria and Tenerife Sur.
Of course the single largest market for international tourism in Spain is the UK, and this makes it worrying that some members of the British press appear to have tried to start a terrorism scare campaign in order to boost readership. Despite reports to the contrary in some newspapers, the Spanish security forces have NOT identified any direct threat to British tourists, and in fact at no point is any direct Jihadist threat to British tourists given any consideration at all in their annual report. This hasn´t stopped the British media. however, from writing an irresponsible and misleading string of headlines which inaccurately claim that IS is directly targeting beaches on the costas in an attempt to drum up internet traffic.
The Spanish security services wage a constant and determined campaign against the spread of Jihadist propaganda in Spain in an attempt to limit the spread of radicalisation on Spanish soil. These efforts were underlined during the week when two more arrests were made in Bilbao and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
On a lighter note, tourism in Cantabria has received an unexpected boost due to the efforts of Emilio Pérez. A few years ago Sr Pérez hit hard times in his work as a pine tree salesman and mountain ranger, and with his daughter unable to find work he set about creating an opportunity for her to find a career. The solution was both innovative and cost-effective: he decided to use his excess stock of trees to create the largest maze in Spain in his home village of Villapresente, in the municipality of Reocín.
The result is almost four kilometres of passages formed by 4,000 trees, and when it opens to the public in April visitors are advised to take a snack and a bottle of water just in case!
500 illegal immigrants storm Ceuta border
At least 400 were injured in one of the biggest mass assaults on the six-metre barbed wire border fences yet attempted, and the next task is to find room to accommodate all of the new arrivals. The official internment centre in Ceuta is officially equipped to house only 512 people, and is usually overcrowded even without mass break-ins of this kind.
Brexit terms could be used to pressurize the UK over Gibraltar
As the UK seeks the best possible terms for its exit from the European Union a new threat has emerged in the shape of some tough bargaining by the Spanish government in relation to the UK Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.
The issue under question is the conditions under which the UK will be allowed access to the EU’s single aviation market, and the likelihood appears to be that the right of British planes to enter EU airspace will be unaffected, but if this is the case then the deal would require the support of all remaining EU Member States. It is therefore worrying that Spanish diplomatic sources quoted in the Financial Times are implying that their government is ready to use this as a lever with which to exert pressure on the matter of sovereignty over the Rock.
Gurtel corruption scam leaders begin 13-year sentences in Valencia prison: it was not a happy Valentine’s Day for the three men found guilty of leading the “Gürtel” corruption ring in Valencia, as they spent the first of what could be many nights in the prison of Picassent, beginning sentences of approximately 13 years each. However, on Thursday Francisco Correa and his companions will leave their cells in order to give evidence at a second trial in the knowledge that they could well see their jail terms extended considerably as a result.
Madrid and Barcelona handed EU pollution ultimatum: it has been calculated that in the whole of the European Union approximately 400,000 people die every year as a consequence of contamination in the air they breathe, and in their efforts to bring this figure down the European Commission issued ultimatums on Wednesday to those countries which they believe systematically fail to reach the target levels of pollution.
Among the worst offenders in Europe are both Madrid and Barcelona, and the EC has therefore given the Spanish authorities a period of just two months in which to adopt efficient measures which will bring down the levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air. These measures could include reducing the amount of motor traffic, reducing speed limits and providing incentives for the owners of electric cars.
Other stories in the news…
64-year-old Burgos woman gives birth to twins: the woman lost custody of her previous daughter on the grounds that she was failing to care for her properly.
Two dead as car plunges into Cantabria marina: a third occupant of the vehicle managed to clamber out, and was taken to hospital in Laredo suffering from symptoms of hypothermia.
Winds of 145 km/h bring chaos to the Canaries: cancelled flights and road closures as winter reached the Canary Islands and outdoor pre-Carnival events were postponed or cancelled.
Melilla cocaine user complains about sub-standard drugs to the police: the man claims he was sold cocaine in poor condition at a Melilla bar, and not only the vendor but also his indignant customer could face charges if it is found that the cocaine was consumed in a public place.
Lleida rappers fined for threatening the Mayor: the Mayor of Lleida was threatened and intimidated by the offensive lyrics of Pablo Hasél and Ciniko.
Barcelona YouTuber fined over toothpaste biscuit incident: a homeless man in Barcelona was humiliated by the immature prankster, who also gave him 20 euros and issued a public apology for his “immaturity”.
Mallorca airport company to pay 12,500 euros compensation after banning Islamic veil: an employee of one of the companies operating at the airport of Palma in Mallorca has been awarded 12,500 euros in damages, on the grounds that her “fundamental right to religious freedom” was violated when her employers barred her from wearing the traditional Islamic “hiyab”, a veil which covers the head and chest. During the dispute the woman has suffered a miscarriage, an event which she appears to attribute to the veil ban, and she claims that the episode has caused her “irreparable moral harm”.
Asturias kennels offer a horse in exchange for a missing dog: the owner of Pumba the bulldog, who went missing from Quintueles over a month ago, describes the offer as “surreal”.
Spanish homicide figures fell below 300 for the first time last year: mixed reaction greeted the publication of the official crime data for last year on Tuesday, with the figure for homicides falling below 300 for the first time on record, but the number of victims of gender violence continues to cause widespread revulsion.
Malaga man received the pension of his late grandmother for 17 years: 200,000 euros were withdrawn from Malaga cashpoints after the woman died before the Social Security noticed.
71-year-old armed robber arrested in Barcelona after 6-day crime spree: six bank and pharmacy hold-ups in under a week by a man with no previous criminal record!
Spanish Police commissioner in Senegal investigated for snakeskin handbag imports: Nicloas Meca attempted to play the card of diplomatic immunity before claiming that 35 handbags were gifts for relatives.
First cannabis smokers club in Catalunya busted by police: ABCDA members are accused of growing marijuana to sell it to users in Barcelona.
Francoist cross removed from Tarragona coastal town: work began on Thursday to remove the monumental cross from outside the 15th century fortress known as the “Torre de Guardiola” in Sant Carles de la Ràpita, in the Catalan province of Tarragona, causing upset and surprise among numerous residents.
12-month suspended sentence for cruelty to dogs in Caceres: 19 dogs were found without food or water in the outskirts of Caceres and an out-of-court settlement kept the offender out of jail.
Heroic school bus driver saves lives while suffering fatal heart attack: the driver safely stopped the bus near Carmona before passing away.
Spanish property news
The fourth-quarter bulletin issued this week by Spain’s property registrars reports that both sales figures and average prices rose last year, confirming that the recovery in the market is not losing momentum.
The summary reports that there were a total of 403,743 residential property sales in 2016, following an increase of 13.9% over the year before, making it the highest total since 2011, and more encouraging news is that in the final quarter of the year sales increased in 14 of Spain’s 17 regions, the sharpest rises being those reported in the Balearic Islands, Catalunya and Asturias.
More good news is that the registrars provide optimistic data regarding prices, concluding that during 2016 the average price per square metre rose by a healthy 5.67%. This continues the “bounce” which began in 2014, and prices are now similar to those which existed in 2004, when they were on the way up, and in 2012, when they were still falling after the property bubble burst in 2007.
Elsewhere, it was reported that last year 13.25% of all residential property purchases were made by non-Spaniards, fewer than in the year before but nonetheless equivalent to around 53,000 transactions, or one in every 7.5.
As is invariably the case, the largest national grouping within the overall total for non-Spaniards was the UK, with 16.4% in the last quarter of the year and 19% in the year as a whole. The proportion of British buyers has been falling slightly for the last year, perhaps partly as a consequence of Brexit, but even so the Brits still accounted for 2.2% of all sales during the last quarter, and 2.5% in the whole of 2016.
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Granada Province: Andalucia
Huelva Province, Andalucía
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