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Spanish news round-up week ending 30th October 2016
Spaniards begin a long weekend after which a new government will be in place
After a momentous week in Spanish politics a new national government will finally be in place next week – see below for details – but in the meantime the most important issue for much of the population is what for many Spaniards will be a four-day weekend. A large proportion of the country will be taking Monday off to form a “bridge” with the national holiday on Tuesday, and as a result the DGT traffic authorities are preparing for major traffic movements on the roads leading in and out of the country’s major cities both sides of the weekend.
The fine weather forecast for the four day period continues a spell of weather which for northern Europeans is not often associated with the end of October: there have been unusually balmy nights in the province of Alicante and the rest of south-eastern Spain, although this contrasts contrasting sharply with the heavy rain which fell in Sevilla last weekend. In the town of Dos Hermanas a man lost his life after being caught unawares by a flash flood while driving, as the floodwater reached depths of over half a metre in homes and commercial premises.
During Thursday the temperature once again reached almost 30ºC in Valencia and the south-east.
Tuesday’s holiday is in honour of All Saints’ Day (“The Day of the Dead”), and in the light of this it seems somehow appropriate that the Catholic Church this week published a document in which the intention is to encourage people to opt for traditional burial services in holy ground rather than following the recent trend towards preferring cremation. Pope Francis has effectively denied Catholics the right to have their ashes dispersed in private gardens, at sea or at other locations which hold special significance for the individuals concerned and for their families. Instead, they must be scattered on consecrated ground: if not, the document warns, a full religious funeral should not be held, because the “new” burial and cremation practices are “contrary to the Catholic faith”.
But the really big news this week has been in the world of politics, where it has been an extremely interesting few days, culminating in the presidential investiture debate and, after more than 300 days without a government, an agreement between the political parties which will permit the PP party to form a new minority government.
The first vote ended as expected on Thursday evening, with Mariano Rajoy falling six short of the absolute majority he required, but that is not to say that the procedures were without incident as all of the major parties took their opportunity to make what they feel to be important points, with gestures and silences in some cases speaking louder than words.
Sr Rajoy, speaking on behalf of the PP, was uncharacteristically enthusiastic about the possibility of collaborating, negotiating and reaching compromises with other parties in order to maintain a stable government over the next four years, and indeed the caretaker government has already stepped down on the issue of new examinations which it had been proposed to introduce in secondary education. However, Sr Rajoy’s calm was not mirrored during other speeches.
On behalf of the PSOE, Antonio Hernando generally came through a daunting task unscathed, managing to retain his dignity in what has been described as a tour de force of political contortionism by explaining that the decision to abstain on Saturday is for the good of the country. But much of the attention was on former party leader Pedro Sánchez, who resigned earlier in the month and on Thursday affected an attitude of studied boredom and disinterest, failing to applaud Sr Hernando at any point and preferring to deal with what appeared to be more important issues on his mobile phone. Sánchez has refused to accept any compromise with the PP and is now likely to spearhead the disaffected PSOE politicians who are angry about the decision to allow the PP to form a minority government.
The IU Podemos group were keen not to waste their chance to make an impression, the highlight of their generally non-conformist behavioir being a walk-out, after which Pablo Iglesias announced that he would be supporting a demonstration against the governing “mafia” in which Congress would be surrounded by protesters during Saturday’s second vote. Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos then adopted footballing parlance to state that the new government will be taking the legislature “one match at a time”, although on important matters the strongest players are all on the same side.
The Catalan separatist parties represented in the national parliament reiterated the only policy on which they appear to have an opinion at the moment, namely the intention to hold an independence referendum next year, while Aitor Esteban of the Basque nationalist party PNV was rather less blunt, expressing his hope that with his party’s support potentially being crucial for the passing of the 2017 budget there will be an opportunity for dialogue rather than the simple imposition of the government’s will.
As expected the first vote went against the PP, but on Saturday, as promised, sufficient numbers of the PSOE abstained, allowing Mariano Rajoy to form a minority government.
That this debate was possible was due to last weekend’s PSOE Federal committee decision that the 85 Socialist MP’s would abstain en bloc in an investiture debate.
So, a period of turmoil in Spanish politics appears to have ended, with Javier Fernández, the temporary PSOE leader, having been successful in his stated aim of steering the party towards the option he sees as the lesser of two evils (the other being to force a third general election which would most likely have proved calamitous for the PSOE). But within the Socialist party the turmoil is likely to continue: the party faces a very different problem in most of the Autonomous Communities of Spain where they currently hold power in the regional governments.
In Asturias, Extremadura, the Comunidad Valenciana, Aragón and the Balearic Islands they govern in minority due to the cooperation of the regional IU and Podemos groups, and these latter formations are far from happy with the PSOE’s Federal Committee’s decision to hand power to the PP at a national level.
There will be a new government in Spain on Monday, but there is little to guarantee that it will last for four years, and even less to indicate that a period of political stability is about to begin.
The day after Mariano Rajoy announced during the presidential investiture debate that he is prepared to negotiate almost all of the PP’s most controversial recent legislation except the revised labour laws, citing as his reason the creation of half a million jobs per year, the data published on Thursday morning in the Active Population Survey for the third quarter of 2016 would appear to vindicate his stand.
For the first time since 2010 the unemployment rate among the workface of Spain fell this summer to below 20%, ending a period of six years above that threshold, and at the end of the quarter it is reported that the number of people out of work stood at 4,320,800, following a fall 10.93%, or 530,000, over the last twelve months. Certainly some of that decrease is due to people leaving the country and to the ageing of the population, but the survey also reports that a total of 478,000 jobs have been created over the last year.
If the unemployment figures are gradually improving, though, that doesn’t mean that the economy can be left to look after itself, and this week the EU authorities in Brussels have left a message for the new government making it quite clear that the first few days and weeks after Mariano Rajoy’s swearing-in as President will be no honeymoon. The message reiterates that further budgetary adjustments of 5,500 million euros for 2017 need to be made “as soon as possible”.
After a summer in which the attempts by would-be African immigrants to cross the Mediterranean into Spanish territory have been in the news on an almost daily basis, there are more and more indications that the facilities to deal with those who are intercepted are being stretched to or beyond the limit.
This impression was strengthened still further this week with the news that 69 interns in Barcelona, all but one of them Algerians, have begun a hunger strike in protest at being held for as long as 60 days before being repatriated. At present no violent incidents of any kind have been reported, but this latest incident has highlighted the repeated demands of political parties including IU, Podemos, Equo, ICV and Alternativa Galega de Esquerda for the European Commission to close down all of the CIE centres in Spain, on the grounds that the conditions in which immigrants are housed are demeaning and insufficient.
The fight against Jihadism
Imams, a hairdresser, a tea-shop owner and a TV actor are all in the headlines
Jihadist activity in Spain has been in the spotlight on a couple of occasions this week, firstly with the arrest of two imams in Ibiza for inculcating extremism in youngsters while carrying out their religious and other duties at the mosque of “Masjid al Fath” in the tourist resort of Sant Antoni de Portmany.
At the same time it has been confirmed that both were arrested six years ago for maltreating pupils in the Koran school at the same mosque, where reports were received of students being beaten with a stick.
The following day another man was arrested in the region of La Rioja on charges of preaching the message of Daesh and IS, and has been identified as a Moroccan hairdresser. This latest arrest is connected with the detention on 11th December last year of 32-year-old Salim Aghmir, a tea-shop owner in Pamplona who was on the point of travelling to Syria to join the forces of the “Caliphate”.
This latest arrest brings the number of detentions related to Jihadism in Spain since last year to 157, and the trail of one of those who face charges began in the National Court on Tuesday. Farid Mohammed Al Lal, who was arrested in Ceuta in January 2015, is accused of having been the leader of a Jihadist cell, but denies having been radicalized while serving a previous prison sentence and maintains his innocence.
During his court appearance on Tuesday he claimed. Somewhat bizarrely, that “I am here not because of Daesh but because of José Coronado”, referring to the actor who starred in a TV series where the presence of Jihadism in Ceuta was one of the plot threads.
Alongside these incidents, it has been reported that Spain is at risk of becoming the main point of re-entry into Europe for “Foreign Fighters” recruited to the Daesh forces in Syria and Iraq: the ports of Almeria, Valencia and Alicante are thought to be likely destinations.
Lively debate over proposals for Spain to return to GMT: the government of the Balearics has expressed its desire to remain on Spanish Summer Time, an opinion shared by the region of Valencia.
Five arrested for organizing brutal dog fights in Huesca: one of the combat dogs was also taken into custody in Jaca.
Valencia breakers yard owner employs guard bull: 7 break-ins at a yard in Montserrat lead the owner to resort to extreme measures.
Asturias yew could compete for 2017 European Tree of the Year award: theBermiego yew is known to be over a thousand years old.
Largest ever marijuana plantation in Aragón busted by Teruel police: 8,000 plants occupied a total area of around 12,000 square metres in the rural municipality of Villarluengo.
Death of man crushed by tree in Asturias is not an open and shut case: initially the authorities found it hard not to associate his demise from the fact that a large eucalyptus tree had fallen on him.
Barcelona mammoth museum closes down: bargain hunters can buy unwanted tusks in Barcelona as the museum has followed its chief exhibits along the path to extinction.
Gürtel trial goes on with Fernando Correa’s alleged sidekick facing questions: Pablo Crespo could face 85 years behind bars.
Ministry of Defence releases UFO sighting data: the events include four notable ones which incidents in the sky over the Comunidad Valenciana.
Long-lost statue found in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: the figure was deposited in its underground chamber around 500 years ago, when the medieval façade was dismantled.
Spanish court rules in favour of VW client in first emissions software verdict: this is the first such verdict in Spain and could open the floodgates to a host of cases.
All eyes on a Basque beach for Game of Thrones fans: the return of Davos Seaworth is confirmed at the beach of Itzurun in Guipuzcoa.
Russian fleet withdraws refuel request to Spain after NATO outcry: NATO allies said the carrier battle group could be used to target civilians in Syria.
Valencia nature reserve manager accused of killing bison through negligence: Carlos Alamo is accused of cutting off the head of a bison to hide death by malnutrition.
Only four Spanish regions have cut greenhouse gas emissions since 1990: emissions were cut in the EU by 24.4% while in Spain an increase of over 15% was observed.
Felipe VI finds time to visit traditional Asturias villages: the Monarch preceded his political meeting with a visit to the Los Oscos area of the northern region of Asturias.
Madrid Mayoress sees sheep as a grass-mowing alternative in the Casa del Campo: 2,000 sheep arrived in the capital after a seven-day walk from Ávila and Badajoz.
Barcelona Mayoress expecting her second child: Ada Colau vows to work to improve the city for future generations.
Spanish property news
Statistics published by Spain’s notaries show that the market upturn continued in the second quarter of this year, in terms of both the number of sales completed and the average market price.
More specifically, the notaries report that in the country as a whole the number of sales was 13.3% higher than in the second quarter of 2015 at 122,776, while the average price paid per square metre rose by 1.3% to 1,314 euros.
However, as has become customary in the field of Spanish property market statistics, both of these national averages hide considerable variation among the seventeen regions of Spain. In terms of sales volume the picture is at least more or less uniform, but the situation regarding price is less clear. The regional map shows that almost all of the areas in which the market value of real estate has risen over the last year are in the eastern half of the country, the exception being the Canary Islands, while in the west of mainland Spain the trend is universally downward.
More positive news published on Thursday was that the amount of mortgage activity on residential property continues to rise, with the 20,309 new loans registered in August representing an increase of 6.4% in comparison to the same month last year.
This is the 25th of the last 26 months in which an increase has been reported, and the underlying upward trend in these data is illustrated by the fact that the 186,000 new residential property mortgages in the first eight months of 2016 reflect a 13% rise in comparison with last year, while the rolling 12-monthly total now stands 14% higher than a year ago at 268,000.
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