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Spanish news round-up, week ending 29th July 2016
Spain sees out July in a sweltering heatwave
As the end of July approaches, and millions of people prepare for the start of their annual holidays this weekend, much of Spain is enduring a heatwave, with 25 of the country’s 50 provinces on yellow alert status on Friday for high temperatures and another four in the west being placed on orange alert.
On Friday the situation is forecast to remain much the same, while by Saturday the heat will have spread further east. As of Thursday morning orange alerts are in place for Saturday in the provinces of Teruel and Zaragoza in Aragón and Valencia, and almost all of the eastern half of the country apart from coastal areas is on yellow alert.
Expect the beaches and motorways of Spain to be full this weekend!
Wild fires hog the headlines
Unfortunately, what is beach weather for many people is bad news for the forests of Spain, and it is no surprise that firefighters have been busy over the week, with a series of blazes ravaging the countryside all over the mainland.
One of the emergencies occurred in the province of Cáceres (Extremadura), where last Saturday residents in the El Galindo residential area were evacuated from their homes as a precaution, while in Catalunya theregional fire brigade were called out on Sunday to deal with a fire in Blanes in the province of Girona, again near a residential area, and the official alert status was activated in the coastal municipality of Lloret de Mar.
On Tuesday attention shifted to Castellón in the Comunidad Valenciana, where vegetation in the national park of Serra d’Espadà was under threat from a fire which broke out in the municipality of Artana and which was still burning on Thursday morning. It had been brought partially under control, but one of the fronts re-ignited on Wednesday despite cooler conditions and even a little rainfall helping the firefighters during the day.
At present the amount of land affected is reported to be approximately 1,600 hectares, of which up to half is within the boundaries of the natural park of Sierra Espadán.
Similarly, level 2 emergency status was activated in the province of Zamora (Castilla y León) on Monday, when flames engulfed a rubbish dump in the municipality of Vega de Tera, causing an impressive pall of smoke which locals likened to a “volcano”.
Out of the ashes, though, beauty can sometimes emerge. On a hilltop in the mountains of the province of Barcelona a firefighter with an artistic bent completed a labour of love on Tuesday, putting the finishing touches to a stunning work of art which was inspired by a forest fire which broke out exactly a year previously: click the link for further details.
Rajoy accepts the challenge of attempting to form a government
King Felipe VI of Spain initiated a new round of meetings with the leaders of all of the political parties represented in the new parliament on Tuesday, aware that a change in attitudes will be needed if another failure to form a workable government is to be avoided following the repeat election which was held on 26th June.
This was the fourth such round of meetings to be undertaken in seven months since the first election on 20th December last year, and it began on Tuesday with a visit by Pedro Quevedo of the Nueva Canarias party, who reported that the King appeared to be more worried about the prospect of failure than on previous occasions.
On Thursday it was at last the turn of the leaders of the four main parties, and the day began with Albert Rivera of the Ciudadanos party informing Felipe that his parliamentary group consisting of 32 MPs would be prepared to take part in a three-way government with the conservatives of the PP and the socialists of the PSOE in a bid to unblock Spain's seven-month political stalemate.
However, Sr Rivera stipulated that in order for Ciudadanos to participate in such an arrangement, caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy should be encouraged to step aside if this is what is needed to make a deal possible. He also said that an alternative solution, if a three-way agreement could not be forged, would be for other parties to abstain to allow a minority government of Rajoy's People's Party.
But the left-leaning parties, PSOE and Unidos Podemos, reiterated after the talks with the King that they would oppose Rajoy. "We want to change Rajoy's government and this is why we will vote 'no' in a confidence vote," Pedro Sánchez of the PSOE told journalists: without at least an abstention from the Socialists, Sr Rajoy will find it almost impossible to secure a majority for a second term in office, as his PP party currently has 137 seats in parliament, well short of the 176 needed for an absolute majority in Spain's lower house.
Earlier in the morning Pablo Iglesias had also reiterated to the King that Unidos Podemos will continue to vote against the investiture of Mariano Rajoy.
The final meeting was with Spain's acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who reported afterwards that he had accepted a mandate from the King to form a government, although at the same time he warned that he might fail and left open the date for a potential confidence vote in parliament.
He will now open a round of talks with other parties to try to convince them to allow him to govern: "Spain needs a government now, this government should be headed by the PP and there is no alternative to this," Sr Rajoy told a news conference. "I will try to form this government but not everything depends on me", he went on, adding that "this period should not drag on in such a way that we would not be able to fulfil our European commitments, such as the spending limit, the deficit target and the budget".
Economic news and tourism
The week began with Luis de Guindos, the Minister for the Economy in Spain’s caretaker government, expressing confidence that the EU would not impose a fine on the country for failing to meet its deficit target, and his confidence was borne out later in the weekwhen Brussels announced that initiatives to fine Spain have been postponed for the time being.
More good news came on Thursday, when the latest Active Population Survey reported that for the first time in six years the unemployment rate in this country fell to 20% during the second quarter of 2016. The new figure of 4,574,700 people out of work comes after a decrease of 4.52% between April and June, and more impressive still is the year-on-year comparison, which shows a fall in the total of 574,000, or 11.15%.
Elsewhere, Granada has joined the list of Spanish cities hoping to benefit from Brexit, and is preparing a bid to become home to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which was set up in 1995 and has been based in London ever since. The growing list of Spanish cities showing an interest already includes Alicante, Málaga and Barcelona as well as Granada, and the hopes of Mayor Paco Cuenca are pinned largely on the existence of the “Parque Tecnológico de la Salud” in the city and its status as the recognized “health capital” of Andalucía.
It is now over a month since the voting public of the UK surprised the rest of Europe by electing to leave the EU, and the latest reaction from the IMF in terms of the effect on Spain has been to reduce the forecast for economic growth in this country in 2017 by two tenths of a point to 2.1%, adding that Brexit will “deteriorate” the world economy and weaken investor confidence.
While the tourist sector prepares for its busiest month of the year in August, it should not be forgotten that not everyone heads for the Costas in Spain. One of the most popular inland tourist destinations is Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, where on Sunday night there was an extra influx of visitors keen to witness the annual firework display which acts as a prelude to the feast day of Santiago, a spectacular event which was witnessed by thousands.
In terms of agriculture, wineries in Spain are currently looking forward to a record year, with production set to reach over 50 million hectolitres in 2016 according to organizations representing grape growers and wineries.
The 2016 grape harvest will not begin for around two months, but at present the forecast is that the production record of 52.5 million hectolitres which was set three years ago could easily be broken. Approximately half of that figure is likely to be produced in Castilla-La Mancha alone, and Spain is the world leader in wine exports, over half of the 24 million hectolitres sold abroad being shipped in bulk to destinations all over the world.
Nationalism in the regions of Spain
In Santiago de Compostela this week the focus in Santiago was not only on fireworks (see above): the feast day of Santiago is also the “national day” of the region of Galicia, and on Monday this was marked by a series of events and demonstrations at which the regional flag and slogans calling for more autonomy were prominently displayed. Last year one single event was held, but this time the groups supporting Galician nationalism all held separate open-air meetings at different locations in the city.
In Catalunya, meanwhile, the regional government remains determined to press ahead with its plans to form a separate State and initiate a process of “disconnection” from Spain, and on Wednesday morning a tumultuous session in the Parlament in Barcelona ended with members voting in favour of continuing with secession.
The motion which was passed paves the way for a “unilateral exercise in democracy”, in which the pro-independence government led by Carles Puigdemont intends to hold a formal referendum to allow the population of Catalunya to decide whether or not to culminate the secession from Spain which is being prepared. This was referred to by Inés Arrimadas of Ciudadanos as “a sad day for democracy”, while Xabier García Albiol, the leader of the PP’s parliamentary group in Catalunya (see image), referred to the vote as a direct attack on the rule of law in Spain before leading his colleagues out of the chamber.
During the debate Sr Puigdemont announced that a vote of confidence in his government will be held on 28thSeptember.
But the Spanish government in Madrid is not the only one with which the Catalan parliament is currently in disagreement, and on Monday a deadline expired which highlights a battle for custody of valuable religious works of art and other items with the government of the neighbouring region of Aragón.
The 97 works of art concerned include religious mural paintings which were originally created in the chapter room of the convent in Sijena, and many date from the 14th century.
Franco and the Spanish Civil War are still in the news
The Town Hall of Málaga has a reputation for being one of the most scrupulous in enforcing the Historical Memory Law, which establishes means by which the victims of the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent dictatorship are to be honoured and respected, but has come in for criticism of late over the decision to create a dog-friendly park on the site of one of the most important mass graves dating from the conflict between 1936 and 1939. This, according to critics, constitutes a disrespectful attitude towards those who died on account of their political beliefs or otherwise, since there is nothing to prevent dogs from emptying their bowels and bladders on the burial site.
In Madrid, meanwhile, archaeologists believe that they have found evidence which will cause the history of the Civil War to be re-written slightly: the Battle of Madrid in November 1936 may actually have finished over a kilometre away from the spot which until now was thought to mark the point where the Republican government managed to halt the advance of Franco’s nationalist forces. Of course this doesn’t alter the outcome, but according to team leader Alfredo González Ruibal it does change history a little!
The trenches in Madrid were home to the Republican fighters for most of the following two and a half years after the Battle of Madrid, an event which was the first time that a capital city had been subjected to conditions of modern warfare.
And as if that were not enough of General Franco in the news this week, the Town Hall of Barcelona has identified Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former head of the International Olympic Committee, as its latest target, deciding to remove his name from the plinth on which a statue he donated to the city following the 1992 Olympic Games stands. The reason is that earlier in his career Sr Samaranch was associated with the dictatorial administration of Francisco Franco: he was Minister for Sport between 1967 and 1971, and the president of the provincial government in Barcelona from 1973 to 1977.
Daesh supporters, a Polish arms dealer and a Pokemon parkour fan arrested
Spanish police arrested two brothers in the northern city of Girona accused of helping to fund Islamic State's operations in Syria and Iraq, the Ministry of the Interior said on Wednesday. The two Moroccans, aged 22 and 32, diverted funds from Europe to pay for the transfer of members of the militant group into conflict zones, the ministry said.
In Ibiza the main crime story of the week concerned Konrad Dadak, a 40-year-old former soldier in the Polish army and latterly a multi-millionaire as a consequence of his arms dealing activities, who was arrested at his mansion following a lengthy operation in which Europol played an important role.
A less serious offence was committed in Barcelona, where the latest example of Pokemon Go mania consisted of a man who was spotted by passers-by in Barcelona leaping from ledge to ledge on the façade of the Hotel Arts. It later emerged that Jason Paul is a specialist in Parkour, but by that time various members of the public had reported him to the police. The risks some people go to in their search for Charmanders and Pikachus!
Spanish property news
After two and a half years of investigation using satellite imagery similar to the kind which is available on any normal PC, as well as drones, the Catastro property registry authorities of Spain have detected a total of 1,691,000 irregularities regarding property registrations all over the country, amounting to 8.6% of the 18.7 million homes so far scrutinized.
All property owners and purchasers in Spain are urged to ensure that their homes are fully and completely registered on the Catastro records!
Meanwhile, more evidence was provided on Thursday morning of the consolidation of the recovery in the Spanish residential property market, with the latest data showing that in May a total of 26.579 mortgages were inscribed, an increase of 34.1% in comparison to May 2015. This is the twenty-fourth consecutive year-on-year increase.
In the province of Almería, though, the big story was that at last there is some relief for the owners of illegally built properties which they purchased in good faith, believing them to be legal. On Wednesday 20th July the Parliament of Andalucía approved a bill to modify three articles of the planning laws of Andalucía (LOUA) to permit the regularization of isolated residential properties located on illegal land divisions (“parcelaciones urbanísticas”) on non-urbanizable land (suelo no urbanizable).
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