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Spanish news round-up, week ending 17th July 2016
Interview with the British Ambassador to Spain
One of the topics most preoccupying all those who either live in Spain, work in Spain, own property in Spain, are Spanish and work in the UK, export products between Spain and the UK in either direction or work for a Spanish company in the UK is the topic of Brexit. More specifically, how will the UK exit from Europe affect all of us. We interviewed the British Ambassador to Spain and asked for some basic clarification about what happens now: click for Brext interview with British Ambassador Simon Manley.
The heat is on for the political leaders of Spain
As Spain prepares for the first major heatwave of summer 2016, which will see thermometers registering 40 degrees in much of the Iberian Peninsula, hundreds of thousands of people will be travelling to the Costas over the weekend to begin their annual holidays, but in Madrid there is no rest for the country’s political leaders.
While government committees decide whether or not to raise the country’s terrorist threat alert status to its maximum level following the events in Nice on Thursday night, the situation regarding the possible formation of a new government in Spain remains uncertain. Negotiations among the leaders of Spain’s political parties following the general election which was held on 26th June entered a critical phase this week, with acting President Mariano Rajoy of the PP meeting Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos and Pablo Iglesias of Unidos Podemos on Tuesday and Pedro Sánchez of PSOE on Wednesday.
One of the most likely sources of tacit support for a PP government was thought to be Ciudadanos, and this proved to be the case on Tuesday when Albert Rivera announced following the meeting between the two men that his party’s 32 MPs would be prepared to abstain in a second investiture vote.
"We have to find some way of unblocking this situation and we think a technical abstention is better than ... having a third election," Sr Rivera told reporters, adding "I hope other parties can do what we have done today”.
However, this hope which was scuppered by Pedro Sánchez (see image) on Wednesday, at least for the time being. The faint hopes that a quick solution to political deadlock might be reached were dashed when Sr Sánchez informed Mariano Rajoy that he and his 84 colleagues in the new national parliament intend to vote against him at the presidential investiture debate.
The key phrase during Sr Sánchez’s press conference after his 90-minute meeting with Sr Rajoy was "we will vote against Sr Rajoy as a prime ministerial candidate", apparently condemning the acting President’s bid for a second term in office to failure, as it can be assumed that the 71 Unidos Podemos MPs will not be persuaded to allow the PP to govern. At the same time, though, Pedro Sánchez expressed his full commitment to doing anything in his power to avoid forcing Spain into a third election.
Despite all the setbacks, though, Mariano Rajoy maintains that he may still call an investiture debate on 2nd August. The new parliament will be formally convened on 19th June, after which it will fall to King Felipe VI to begin another round of contacts with the party leaders, and it is at this point that Mariano Rajoy will weigh up whether or not it is worth calling an investiture debate, his hope no doubt being that the King can prevail upon Pedro Sánchez and the PSOE to adopt a stance similar to that of Albert Rivera and Ciudadanos.
If the investiture debate does indeed begin on 2nd August, the first vote will be the following day and the second (in which a simple majority rather than an absolute majority is required) would be 48 hours after that.
Should no government be formed, the third general election which no-one admits to wanting is likely to be held on 27th November.
Obama greeted by protesters
The Spanish wing of Greenpeace orchestrated another eye-catching protest on Sunday to coincide with the truncated visit of Barack Obama to Madrid, unfurling a large banner on the Metrópolis building in the capital bearing the slogan “Yes we can stop TTIP”. (Greenpeace is currently campaigning against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which is being negotiated between the EU and the USA).
The protest was carried out by six people who scaled the Metrópolis building in order to make their banner visible to the US President.
Mr Obama’s visit was a lightning one in the end as he hurried home following the events in Dallas, but not as brief as that of the spectacular fireball which briefly illuminated the night sky of much of southern Spain for a few seconds on Friday night, coinciding almost exactly with the US President’s arrival in Sevilla!
Catalunya and separatism
At the same time, it has been an eventful week in Catalunya. The political rule book appears to have been thrown out of the window as the separatist government pursues its goal of creating an independent State and the main political parties are constantly re-defining their own identities and policies.
The latest example of this occurred in Barcelona last weekend, when the Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC) party, which had been in existence under that name since 1974 and which has spent much of the intervening period in power in the regional government, decided that from now on it will be “re-founded” under the name of “Partit Demòcrata Català”.
The CDC was initially led by Jordi Pujol, who headed the regional government for 23 years until 2003. Sr Pujol then handed the reins to his protégé and successor Artur Mas, who was president of the regional government from 2010 to 2016 before his resignation in January of 2016, when he resigned in order to facilitate the coalition government which is now headed by another member of the party, Carles Puigdemont.
Just days after the re-foundation of the party, though, it emerged that the new name which was decided upon after much debate will not be allowed by Spain’s Ministry of the Interior.
The reason is that the new name of “Partit Demòcrata Català” is too similar to that of another political formation, Demòcrates de Catalunya, which was officially registered as such in July 2015, and the Ministry believes that the similarity of the two names causes a risk of confusion among voters.
Monty Python fans will no doubt be reminded of the People’s Front of Judea and their numerous rival groups…
On Wednesday attention shifted to Town Hall of Barcelona, where an uncharacteristically moderate approach was shown by the Barcelona en Comú party when a proposal to declare King Felipe VI “persona non grata” in the city was rejected by the council.
The annual tension which seems to surround the issue of sovereignty in Gibraltar every summer was made manifest on Tuesday when José Manuel García-Margallo, the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the caretaker government of Spain, chaired the first governmental meeting on the subject since the result of the Brexit vote on 23rd June became known, and this coincided with the fallout of the latest “incident” in the water off the Rock last week.
The day before Sr García-Margallo’s meeting, the British Ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, was called to an emergency meeting with the Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who communicated the Spanish government’s dissatisfaction with the events of last Friday. It is claimed that a patrol vessel belonging to the Royal Gibraltar Police set a collision course towards a Guardia Civil launch which was heading for the beaches of La Línea de la Concepción.
One of the outcomes of the meeting in Madrid on Tuesday was a clear difference of attitudes towards the issue of sovereigntyin Gibraltar between the Minister and representatives of the regional government of Andalucía. On the one hand, Sr García-Margallo has been quoted in the Spanish press as saying that the Brexit vote on 23rd June has presented Spain with its best opportunity to achieve re-possess Gibraltar since the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. On the other hand, though, Miguel Ángel Vázquez, who represented the regional government of Andalucía, expressed disappointment that the issue of sovereignty was “practically the only item on the agenda”, adding that this is far from being the most important issue.
Meanwhile, Fabian Picardo, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, is reported by the government of the Rock to have taken full advantage of his visit to London in the company of Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph García in order to put across their views on a whole range of issues.
The Spanish tourism authorities are confidently predicting that in 2016 new records will be set for the number of people visiting this country from abroad, forecasting that the “tidal wave” of tourists who have abandoned plans to spend their holidays in other destinations such as Turkey will send figures soaring to previously unknown heights.
Between them, Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt “lost” 4.6 million visitors in the first five months of this year, and at the same time Spain has gained 2.2 million.
As for the effect of Brexit on the Spanish tourist industry, at present Exceltur report that it is minimal and that a negative effect of only 0.1% on the sector’s GDP is expected this year, although as yet there are too many unknowns to quantify the longer-term consequences.
Back to the present, and this week the number of Blue Flags awarded to the beaches of Galicia in the north-west of Spain in 2016 has been reduced from 141 to 137, following the decision by the Adeac organization to withdraw the honour from three locations in the municipality of Miño (province of A Coruña) and one in Barreiros (Lugo). The reason for this change of heart is that although it is almost the middle of July there are insufficient lifeguards on duty at the four beaches concerned.
Christmas is coming… !
The not particularly cool and blustery date of 12th July might seem an inappropriate one on which to start talking about the 2016 “El Gordo” Christmas lottery in Spain, but in fact it was on Tuesday that tickets for the draw on 22nd December officially went on sale throughout the country.
The early start is because there is a tradition in Spain for holidaymakers on the Costas and elsewhere to take back lottery tickets when they return to their homes to work at the end of the summer, and this year the summer promotional campaign for El Gordo focuses on the Almería coastal locality of Roquetas de Mar, where the winning tickets were sold last year
Crime and emergencies
Among the distinctions held by the River Guadarranque, which runs through the Campo de Gibraltar and enters the Mediterranean in the Bay of Algeciras (province of Cádiz), is that it is the main entry point for illegal drugs into southern Spain.
The latest scheme by which it is hoped that small boats can be prevented from making their way inland up the Guadarranque was finally scheduled to get under way on Monday, when the civil engineering company Tragsa was due to begin work on the construction of an “anti-narcos” barrier across the mouth of the river.
Other criminal activities to hit the news this week include the raids on three clandestine cigarette factories in the provinces of Málaga, Toledo and Salamanca, resulting in the confiscation of 39 tons of chopped tobacco following an investigation which was carried out in collaboration with the Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior.
Apart from featuring in our Gibraltar and crime sections, the municipality of La Línea de la Concepción was back in the news on Tuesday when a wild fire caused the evacuation of 420 residents and tourists from their homes and hotel accommodation. At the same time, the authorities in Tenerife were dealing with an incident in which approximately 150 people were trapped in the mountains of the north of the island when part of the TF-445 road collapsed, forcing its closure to all traffic in both directions.
Bulls, bullfighters and parakeets
The last bull run of the nine-day 2016 San Fermin festival in the city of Pamplona on Thursday resulted in eight people being taken to hospital with minor injuries, though no one was gored. In total this year's festival left a total of eleven runners gored, with the worst day being July 8th when six people were caught on the horns of the half-ton animals, though there were no fatalities.
One who did meet an untimely end, though, was bullfighter Víctor Barrio, who was gored in the chest by a bull in the ring of Teruel last Saturday. This caused a storm of reaction on social network sites, with personal attacks on Víctor Barrio causing unnecessary offence to his friends and family, including his 31-year-old widow.
One of those who have suffered the consequences of their over-zealous reaction to the death of the Segovia bullfighter is a “youtuber” known as JPelirrojo. This 30-year-old animal rights activist commented that of course he does not place the same value on the lives of a bull and a bullfighter, explaining that the bull has no intention of harming anyone and is therefore worth more.
This caused discomfort not only to the family of Víctor Barrio, but also to confectionary company Nestlé, who have subsequently announced that they will no longer be using the image of the popular campaigner to promote their Maxibon ice-creams.
Another animal in the news this week was the rose-ringed parakeet, a native of tropical regions of Africa and the Indian sub-continent which in recent years has become a common sight in the wild in various parts of Spain. The SEO Birdlife ornithology organization has just released the results of its first nationwide census, concluding that there are rose-ringed parakeets living in the wild in as many as 150 municipalities all over Spain, and that the total population has now risen to approximately 3,000.
There is no disputing the fact that these exotic birds are visually attractive, but in some places they are also becoming something of a nuisance on account of the noise they make and the mess they leave on the pavements. The result could well be a campaign to reduce the numbers of these immigrants or even to eliminate them completely, as has been the case with the Barbary sheep population in the Region of Murcia and the red swamp crayfish in the province of Sevilla.
Spanish property news
The latest monthly report published by leading Spanish property valuation firm Tinsa concludes that the average price of housing in this country rose by 1.5% between June 2015 and June 2016 and by 2.2% in the first half of this year, maintaining the gradual recovery which has become more and more apparent over the last 18 months.
The year-on-year increase in June was most pronounced in the category of regional capitals and other large cities, where the price of residential property is reported to be 3.6% higher than a year ago, and in the Balearic and Canary Islands, where a sharp rise of 8.7% in the first half of 2016 has led to a 1.8% yearly increase.
Similarly, data published by the EU statistics unit Eurostat this week report that the average price of housing in the Eurozone rose by 3% during the 12 months ending in the first quarter of 2016, and that in Spain the increase was 6.3%. The figures for Spain are the most positive since the third quarter of 2007, when the property bubble began to burst in this country, and this is the eighth consecutive quarterly increase after six years of falling value.
Meanwhile, the Spanish banking sector breathed a collective sigh of relief on Wednesday when lawyers at the Court of Justice of the European Union pronounced themselves to be opposed to the proposal that all of the excess interest payments paid by customers on mortgage loans due to the controversial “interest rate floor” clauses should be paid back to borrowers.
This could save Spanish banks between 3,000 and 5,000 million euros, avoiding potentially devastating effects on balance sheets and profit and loss accounts within the banking sector.
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Cádiz Province, Andalucia
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Huelva Province, Andalucía
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