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Spanish news round-up week ending 2nd April
Spain continues without a government, UK tourists continue to dominate a booming market and positive news on the property market front
Spain still has no government 3 months after the elections
Once again the Spanish news this week has been dominated by the political situation, with the possibility that the formation of a new “government of change” may be feasible by an apparently friendly meeting between Pedro Sánchez of PSOE and Pablo Iglesias of Podemos on Wednesday.
The meeting began in relaxed mood, with Sr Iglesias gifting the PSOE leader a book about the history of Spanish basketball, complete with the handwritten explanation on the inside cover that it was best to start with topics which unite the two men. This light-hearted beginning was the prelude to two hours of talks which, if the post-meeting press conferences are to be believed, were at last productive.
Pedro Sánchez stated afterwards that the prospect of a “government of change” is now more viable than it was a week ago following the “cordial” exchange of views between the two leaders, and at the same time Pablo Iglesias explained that he is willing to abandon his previous demand to be made the Vice-President of the national government if that is what is required in order for an agreement to be reached.
However, there is a danger of becoming too optimistic: after all, the announcement of a pact between PSOE and Ciudadanos in February was greeted with considerable initial entusiasm, but within days it became clear that the arithmetics of the parliament for which Spain voted on 20th December made that alliance insufficient to gain a working majority. For the “government of change” to become a reality, Pedro Sánchez will have to be able to shake hands (metaphorically) with both Pablo Iglesias of Podemos and Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos at the same time, and given the refusal of Podemos and Ciudadanos to have anything to do with each other until now this is still a very difficult task.
In the 103 days since the election the relationship between Podemos and Ciudadanos has been one of mutual distrust, but after Wednesday’s meeting there is perceived at least to be a chance that before the first week of May a government could have been formed. If this is not the case by 2nd May, it’s back to the polling stations in June.
If and when a new government is eventually formed, one of the most pressing problems faced will be the question of how to reduce the country’s annual public deficit, an issue which grabbed the headlines on Thursday when the final data for 2015 were made public.
The figures show that last year the excess of spending over revenue was 56,608 million euros, which equates to 5.16% of the country’s GDP. This is almost a full percentage point over the limit agreed with the EU in Brussels, and despite a significant improvement compared to the 2014 deficit of 5.8% it indicates that there is still work to be done.
Meanwhile, acting President Mariano Rajoy agreed on Tuesday to go to parliament and report on his latest meetings with the European Council, backing away from an earlier refusal to submit to parliamentary oversight of his caretaker government. Until now he had refused to answer to a parliament that he says does not support him, meaning many bills passed have not become law, but now he has yielded to pressure from opposition parties and will appear before lawmakers on April 6.
Bizarre Easter celebrations in different parts of Spain
Easter Sunday in Robledo is marked by the throwing of stones at a straw-filled figure representing Judas Iscariot, and it has become the tradition in recent years for the figure of Judas to be made to resemble a popular and well-known present day personality. This year it was the turn of Pablo Iglesias, who far from being offended recognized the honour of following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Maradona in 1983, former national President José María Aznar in 1996 and Iñaki Urdangarín, currently on trial in the Nóos Case in Palma de Mallorca, in 2014. Sr Iglesias is certainly canny enough to recognize that, within certain limits, there is no such thing as bad publicity!
The Spanish ingenuity for devising novel ways of celebrating their fiestas was also made apparent over Easter in Aranda de Duero (Castilla y León), where a young local boy dressed as an angel was lifted by crane and lowered towards the figure of the Virgin Mary. When he got close enough he removed Mary’s black veil of mourning, the idea being that she was thus rewarded with the sight of her son brought back to life, and the “Bajada del Ángel” was also celebrated once again in Peñafiel and Tudela.
At the same time, the figure of Judas may have been stoned in Robledo de Chavela, but in Espiel, in the province of Córdoba, traditions are more up to date, and the man who betrayed Christ was riddled with pellets fired from blunderbusses.
The more traditional Easter celebrations suffered a setback in the Sevilla town of Osuna, where a woman attacked the figure of Jesus with a hammer on Easter Thursday in the church of La Victoria, but elsewhere the weather improved and they went ahead as planned, attracting tourists from the rest of Spain and abroad. With the beaches of the Mediterranean also benefitting from the warm spring weather this was the best Easter for tourism in Spain for a decade, from the Costa Blanca resort of Benidorm to campsites across the country.
This follows on from the record number of foreign visitors to Spain in the first two months of the year – the figures rose by 12.5% compared to 2015, with the British once again leading the way - and with almost a million people being employed directly by tourism and travel activities last year in Spain this is one sector of the economy where continued growth seems inevitable this year. Among those adding to the visitor numbers in March was UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who may have been more welcome in Lanzarote than the thousands of British university students descending on the Tarragona town of Salou, but all in all it seems that the relative security of Spain as a destination will contribute to its continuing increase in popularity this year.
Motoring news and weather
Not all of the news regarding the Easter holidays was positive, though, and one of the least welcome statistics was a death toll of 41 on the roads over the holiday period. This figure was inflated by the Tarragona coach disaster on 20th March, and one of the last victims to be added to the tally was a motorcyclist who died after colliding with a cow in Soto del Real on Monday.
The weather may have brightened up for Easter Sunday, but it has since taken a considerable turn for the worse in northern Spain, particularly in Galicia. There has been torrential rain since the weekend, and after severe flooding parts of the province of A Coruña are requesting disaster area status, with the floodwater in streets and houses reaching a depth of a metre.
Not far away in the north of Castilla y León the body of a 15-year-old boy was recovered by the emergency services from the River Sil in Ponferrada, where he fell into the water on Wednesday while attempting to retrieve a ball while playing with his brother and was carried downstream by the unusually strong current. Also in the north, 6-metre waves battered the coast of Cantabria on Monday and Tuesday, and in the Pyrenees a climber died when he was engulfed in an avalanche in the province of Huesca.
Apart from the Soto del Real cow, other animals have made the news this week for various reasons, not all of them positive. For example, the Madrid police are still flummoxed as to how the dead body of a 1.5-metre dolphin came to be dumped in the Casa del Campo park at least 300 kilometres from the sea, and also in Madrid a vulture is being blamed for the crash of a light aircraft in which three young men lost their lives on Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the red swamp crayfish is causing controversy in the Sevilla town of Isla Mayor. A recent Supreme Court ruling which stiffens the laws regarding invasive wildlife species in Spain is being viewed as little short of disastrous by the population of the town, where the local economy depends heavily on the red swamp crayfish, a species which is native to the south-east of the USA but which has thrived in the swamplands in and around the protected area since it was introduced in the early 1970s. The ruling bans commercial activity in this species as well as others such as the rainbow trout, the American mink and the Atlantic blue crab, and as a result Isla Mayor faces a bleak future.
Unfortunately in Spain the word “animal” is sometimes found in close proximity to the word “cruelty”, and another case of this was in the spotlight on Thursday when a 25-year-old man from Santander was fined 4,000 euros and handed an 8-month prison sentence after being found guilty of kicking a dog to death outside a supermarket in Calle Rualasal. Apparently the victim, a Catalan shepherd dog named Blas, became involved in a fight with a Chinese Shar Pei, and the owner of the latter separated the two animals by kicking Blas repeatedly in the ribs. The fine imposed relates to 1,500 euros for the value of Blas and another 2,500 for the moral damages to his owner.
Meanwhile the controversy over bullfighting rumbles on, and this week eyepatch-wearing Cádiz torero Juan José Padilla was back in the news due to a promotional campaign which has been launched by the provincial government delegation featuring him. According to Podemos, the government campaign is guilty of using “stereotypes” of the land and people of Cádiz, and the choice of a bullfighter is “shameful” on the grounds that it uses the “suffering and death of an animal” as a tourist attraction. In addition, the animal rights party Pacma has demanded the immediate cancellation of the campaign.
Whether or not this demand is met, it seems certain that, as was the case in a similar controversy involving Juan José Padilla in Barcelona in 2013, the attempt to keep the image off the streets will achieve nothing other than to ensure that it is seen by more people than the campaign organizers could possibly have imagined.
Terrorism and the Jihadist threat
So soon after the Brussels attacks it is not surprising that Jihadism and terrorism are never far from the front pages at the moment, and this week began with what many might view as a surprising development when the Basque separatist terrorist group ETA, which has not carried out an attack since 2010, strongly criticized the attacks which claimed 31 lives and injured over 300 people in Belgium last week. The group which killed over 800 people during a 50-year campaign of violence in the name of Basque separatism asserts that killings like those carried out in Belgium “cannot be accepted” as the targets are “simple citizens”.
Meanwhile, there are worries that more Spaniards are being recruited to the Jihadist cause and travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight with the forces of Daesh, and Spain's High Court said on Tuesday it would try six alleged members of an Islamist cell who were arrested in January 2015 in Ceuta on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization. At the same time, the police and the Guardia Civil have once again warned against the scaremongering regarding imminent terrorist attacks which is becoming more and more common on social network sites.
Terrorism of a different kind was also the subject of a High Court trial which has ended with Chilean anarchists Francisco Javier Solar and Mónica Andrea Caballero being handed 12-year prison sentences for their part in the planting of a bomb which exploded in the Basílica del Pilar in Zaragoza on 2nd October 2013. Fortunately only one woman was injured in the attack: she has been awarded 22,000 euros in damages, and the couple known as “Cariñoso” and “Moniquita” are also required to pay 182,601 euros to the cathedral chapter of Zaragoza for the damage caused to the building, which is one of those most closely associated with the national identity of Spain.
At the end of the trial Mónica Andrea Caballero took advantage of her right to have the last word by shouting “Long live anarchy, and death to the State”.
Other criminals in the news this week include a 79-year-old cocaine dealer who was arrested after a search of his home in Málaga and 20 drug traffickers who were arrested in various swoops all over Spain and which resulted in the detention of a helicopter pilot who was flying shipments of drugs to Spain from Morocco while on weekend permits from prison. In Santa Coloma de Gramanet a Georgian man grabbed a policeman’s firearm and shot him in the stomach – fortunately the officer was wearing a bulletproof vest – and back in Málaga a 31-year-old man faces charges after leaving his seven-year-old daughter asleep in the car. Not too much wrong with that on the face of it, some might argue, except that he did so while taking part in a behind-closed-doors drinking session until 4.30 in the morning, when the girl woke up, crossed a main carriageway and pleaded for help from a passer-by.
Finally, a word about Blas de Lezo, one of Spain’s greatest military heroes, who led the resistance of Cartagena de Indias to a British Royal Navy siege in 1741.
The UK’s Natural Environment Research Council is now seeking the opinion of the public on a name for their new polar research vessel, and a mischievous campaign by Spaniards to have it named Blas de Lezo is reported to have amassed 40,000 supporters so far. However, it seems that the NERC will not be forced to adopt such a potentially embarrassing title as "RRS Blas de Lezo" for its latest acquisition, as at present the most popular name being voted for is the far less controversial “RRS Boaty McBoatface”.
It may just be that not everyone expressing their opinions on this issue is taking the matter entirely seriously.
Currency Exchange Rate this week
It's important to keep an eye on the exchange rate if buying a property or transferring your pension
This week a combination of factors have pushed the exchange rate for those bringing money over to Spain from the UK down even further, as factors such as the decision to sell Tata steel sparks fears that there could be further job losses in the UK manufacturing sector.
This means that the standard of living enjoyed by expats in Spain is affected by events back home and across Europe, as those transferring Sterling to Spain and buying euros, get less for their money.
Anyone exchanging their pension from Pound Sterling to Euros or buying a property will be aware of just how much difference the rate can make to the amount they will have to spend and for major purchases, such as a property, transferring cash at the right moment can make a difference of several thousand Euros.
Spanish property news
The property market news this week has contained a couple of reports which on the face of it contain encouraging signs, but which also include indications that the recovery continues for the time being to be localized and patchy.
On Thursday leading Spanish property valuation firm Tinsa reported that the average price of residential property in this country during the first quarter of 2016 was 1.4% higher than in the same period last year, with the most significant regional rises being those in Catalunya (8.2%), Madrid (7%) and the Balearics (3.8%). At the other end of the scale, though, sharp falls were recorded in Aragon (3.5%), Galicia (3.1%) and Extremadura (3.1%), and in terms both of the 50 provinces of Spain and the provincial capitals the story is a similar one.
The rise in average prices since the first quarter of 2015 is reported to be 9.2% in the city of Barcelona and 7.5% in Madrid, while in other large cities prices still appear to be falling at similar rates, as is the case in Vitoria (7.8%) and Zamora (6.8%).
This unevenness of the market in Spain is further illustrated by the amount by which prices have fallen since the peak of the property boom in late 2007. In La Rioja, Aragón and Castilla-La Mancha prices are now more than 50% lower than eight years ago, whereas in the Balearics the differential is “only” 28.9%. Given such a disparity of behaviour during the years of market slump, it would hardly be reasonable to expect all regions to behave similarly during the recovery!
Earlier in the week the government’s central statistics unit reported that 23,275 new mortgages were registered in January, 10.6% more than in January 2015, and that the loan capital involved rose by a similar percentage. Again there are differences from one region to another, but the general upward trend in mortgage activity appears to be steady and consolidated.
Further optimism was voiced in report published by CBRE, whose analysts forecast that during this year average property prices are likely to go up by 5.9% and that sales figures will continue to rise by another 20%. In addition, the reactivation of the residential construction sector will bring the total of new homes started in 2016 up to approximately 60,000, a prediction echoed in the Tinsa report on Friday.
CBRE also forecast that as well as Spain’s two largest cities the construction and sales cycle will also be more dynamic over the next couple of years in large conurbations such as Valencia, Málaga and Bilbao.
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