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Spanish news round-up week ending 4th November 2016
Spain now has a new government after ten months in limbo
It may have been Halloween and All Saints’ Day a few days ago, and the eyes of the world may be on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, but in Spain there is no doubt it: the big news this week is that after ten months of political manoeuvring Mariano Rajoy was finally sworn in as President of the national government on Monday, with the rest of his new-look Cabinet following on Friday.
This means that ten months of political impasse have finally been broken, bringing a semblance of stability which can only benefit the economy, but at the same time what lies ahead over the next four years is far from certain. The top priority is to establish a budget for 2017 as soon as possible, incorporating the deficit adjustments required by the European Commission, but in other respects how the new government will approach the tasks ahead is not fully clear.
For British nationals in Spain and for residents of Gibraltar perhaps the most important news regarding the formation of the Cabinet is that the man taking over as the Minister for Foreign Affairs as of Friday morning is Alfonso María Dastis Quecedo, a 61-year-old native of Cádiz who has been a professional diplomat since 1983. This may signal a change in attitude from that of his predecessor, José Manuel García-Margallo, whose outspoken comments have provoked anger in Gibraltar over the last few years: Sr García-Margallo appears to enjoy greeting British politicians with the words “Gibraltar español”, accompanied by a broad smile, and in recent months has made it clear that he views the Brexit negotiations as a lever with which to advance the Spanish claims for joint sovereignty over the Rock.
It is of course far too early to say whether the appointment of Alfonso Dastis means a softening of this stance, but the new Minister is described in the press as being the antithesis of his predecessor, with a reputation for being cautious, moderate, reserved and prudent. As a former Spanish Ambassador to the Netherlands, he is well acquainted with diplomacy within the EU, and the task of negotiating health care for UK expats in Spain after Brexit and other thorny issues is now in his hands.
So, a government has been formed, but it is important to remember that it is a frail one. The ability of the PP to rule in minority depends on the party continuing to receive the support of Ciudadanos MPs and the tacit collaboration of the PSOE: in other words, if their policies are not to the liking of other parties, they could be rejected and another election would be called.
For the time being it seems unlikely that the PSOE would initiate a vote of no confidence, as the decision to abstain from the second investiture vote, allowing Mariano Sr Rajoy to be re-appointed, has deeply divided the party. 15 rebels voted against Sr Rajoy, thus failing to toe the party line, and it has emerged this week that they will be fined up to 600 euros each as the PSOE struggles to recover its unity and credibility.
Many of those who took part in the “Rodea el Congreso” demonstration, in which thousands of marchers surrounded the Congress building during the investiture debate, were undoubtedly disillusioned PSOE voters who were against Sr Rajoy being allowed to remain in power.
In the meantime, lest anyone run away with the impression that internal rifts within Spanish political parties are exclusive to the PSOE, it appears that the power struggle in the Madrid branch of new party Podemos is also becoming a bitter and not entirely constructive one.
Ramón Espinar Merino, one of the candidates to lead Podemos Madrid, received a good deal of unwanted publicity on Wednesday when it was revealed that in 2010 he sold a protected apartment in the locality of Alcobendas for 176,000 euros, making a profit before tax of 29,776 euros without ever having occupied the property. This in itself is not a crime, but it appears incompatible with many of the principles Sr Espinar has supported in public since allying himself to the Podemos movement.
Even less acceptable is the fact that Sr Espinar admits that the cash deposit on the property was given to him by his family: his father is currently on trial in Madrid in the Bankia credit card case, where it is alleged that he received 178,000 euros in undisclosed personal expense payments.
If Mariano Rajoy’s focus on attention during the presidential investiture debate was the need to create more employment in Spain, then figures published on Thursday gave his new government a flying start.
Despite the number of people who are officially registered as unemployed in Spain rising during October by 44,865 to 3.76 million, the latest figures summarized a positive month for the job market in almost every respect. The general downward trend in unemployment is amply illustrated by the fact that the year-on-year comparison shows a decrease over the last twelve months of over 400,000, or 9.65%, and on top of this, while the statistics show that more people were out of work in October than in September, they also report, conversely, that the number of people in employment rose at the same time to 17.8 million.
Of course a rise in employment is to be welcomed, but a word of caution: according to a report published this week by Oxfam, living and working in post-crisis Spain is now a very different proposition from what it was prior to 2008, with the gulf between high and low earners having grown wider and young people and women especially at risk of falling below the poverty line even when in employment.
At the same time, Spain still has nearly double the average unemployment rate in the Eurozone.
Meanwhile, inflation is on the way up. An inflation rate of 0.7 per cent may not be very high, but in Spain, after a long period where the retail price index has been kept down by falling fuel prices and other factors, the provisional data for the month of October show that this is where the rate stands, marking its highest point for three years.
Against this economic backdrop, one area of the economy which continues to perform outstandingly is the tourism sector. The bumper year in international tourism continued in September, according to data published on Monday, with a total of 7.88 million people visiting this country from abroad and the chief driving force behind the 10.2% increase once again coming from the UK market.
Despite fears that the consequences of Brexit might reduce the number of UK nationals visiting Spain, in the first nine months of 2016 has seen Spain welcome 14.4 million British visitors (13% more than in the same period last year). At the same time, the amount spent by British visitors in Spain this year is now calculated to be almost 13.1 billion euros, 12.2% more than in the equivalent period in 2015.
Brexit or no Brexit, the British love affair with the Spanish Costas clearly shows few signs of cooling just yet, and even the possibility of an “EU entry fee” being imposed after Brexit is unlikely to be a deterrent!
In addition, while some continue to anticipate Brexit having an adverse effect on the Spanish tourist industry, in Benidorm, at least for the time being, it appears that the opposite is the case: all the signs in the Costa Blanca are that Britons are in a hurry to book up and pay for their holidays for next year already. This is because of the generalized perception that when the terms of Brexit become clearer the value of the pound will fall still further, making it advantageous to pay now while the going is still relatively good.
Halloween and All Saints Day
The national holiday on All Saints’ Day this Tuesday in Spain can be seen as a telling indication of how the attitudes of Spaniards towards religion are changing, with a traditionally Catholic society gradually observing fewer and fewer of the rituals associated with the Church. It even seems to some observers that there will come a time when the sacred All Saints holiday is an irrelevance in this country. Nonetheless, with Halloween celebrations growing in popularity there may well be a demand for it to remain a part of the Spanish calendar for other reasons!
In Galicia, meanwhile, ina growing number of localities efforts are being made to revive the Celtic traditions of what is referred to as Samaín, the local version of the Celtic New Year which also incorporates various aspects of local mythology including witchcraft and magic, with rituals being performed to scare away evil spirits.
Unfortunately, the Halloween celebrations in San Martín de la Vega (Madrid) ended in tragedy when a 12-year-old girl died after drinking a whole bottle of rum: click the link for further details.
The issue of Africans attempting to enter EU and Spanish territory is never far from the news in Spain, and on Monday a mass assault on the Spanish border fence in the enclave of Ceuta, in north Africa, is reported to have ended with at least 200 Africans successfully entering EU territory on Monday morning.
And at sea, 109 Africans were brought ashore on Thursday alone in Cartagena, Almeria and Motril on yet another busy day for Spain’s maritime rescue service in six separate operations.
Many of those apprehended will have been taken to the temporary immigrant detention centres (CIEs) which exist in Spain for this purpose, but of late these have been in the spotlight as many call for their closure due to the conditions in which interns are kept. At the CIE in Barcelona a second “mutiny” in ten days was staged by inmates on Tuesday evening, when approximately 70 people attempted to escape via the kitchen before the uprising ended after two and a half hours.
Meanwhile, the recent mutiny at the Madrid centre has provoked a characteristically innovative suggestion from Manuela Carmena, the Mayoress of Madrid, who after visiting the Aluche CIE on Wednesday concluded that it is “not prepared” for the role it is intended to perform, and that the centres throughout Spain “should be closed”. In their place, she suggests that a “semi-liberty” regime be introduced for illegal immigrants, making use of monitored apartments in order to improve the conditions in which they are held.
Catalunya and separatism
If immigration is one of the problems faced by the new Spanish government, then the situation in Catalunya is probably an even more urgent one.
Carles Puigedmont, the president of the regional government of Catalunya, wasted no time in making his presence felt following the swearing in of Mariano Rajoy, and is already planning to request a meeting with the President in order to demand permission to hold an independence referendum next year.
As he prepares to produce a 2017 budget which is acceptable to the European Commission it would be wrong to imagine that Sr Rajoy will be able to put the issue of Catalunya to the back of his mind at any stage. There is no sign of the Catalan government’s process of “disconnection” from Spain slowing down, and Sr Puigdemont’s haste in asking for a meeting merely underlines that this will be one of the key concerns over the coming months in both Barcelona and Madrid.
As the war of words goes on it has been announced in Barcelona that Sr Puigdemont will become the first ever regional president not to attend a meeting of the “Presidents Conference”, an event which has always been included all seventeen presidents of Spain’s regional governments. The first such conference was called in 2004, and there have since been four more.
Other news related to the Catalan independence issue this week is that former regional president Artur Mas will not after all face charges of misusing public funds in the Catalan independence poll held on 9th November 2014: the public prosecutor’s office, having examined the facts of the case, insists that he has no charges to answer in terms of this allegation.
That is by no means the end of the case, as Sr Mas still faces charges of disobeying the highest court in Spain, but it is still a defeat for the PP lawyers who claimed that taxpayers’ money had been used illegally to defray the costs of the 2014 poll.
Anti-drug smuggling barrier in Cádiz breached: the problem with the new “anti-narcos” barrier across the River Guadarranque is that it doesn’t work.
Madrid Town Hall implements anti-pollution traffic and parking restrictions: the measures were suspended on Tuesday as the long weekend ended.
Bilbao construction worker plummets to his death: the man fell ten metres through the skylight and onto the floor of the main entrance hall.
Black panther found in Almeria animal centre: the panther was among various animals found in Arboleas.
74-year-old Galicia woman drove without a licence for 53 years: the woman from El Ferrol was sentenced to only 32 days of community service
Using contraceptives is a mortal sin in Albacete: and so is non-payment of taxes: click for more details!
Wi-fi to be made available on the AVE high-speed rail network of Spain: films and internet connection at speeds of 300 km/h throughout Spain
Two rescued after accidents in the Pyrenees of Huesca: A skier and a walker were rescued after falls in the north of Aragon
Smuggler dies after two pellets of cocaine burst in his digestive tract: a further 97 were found intact in his digestive tractand two others were arrested for smuggling cocaine to the Canaries
Roman aqueduct in Segovia is younger than had been thought: archaeologists now believe the Segovia aqueduct was built under the rule of Hadrian
15-year-old murdered and thrown into a gorge in Valencia: 21-year-old Rubén Mañó Simón confessed to disposing of the body in the gorge of the River Sellentin Chella.
Spanish property news
Figures published on Monday suggest that the construction sector is at last beginning to benefit from increased residential property sales in Spain, with the figures for August revealing that building licences were requested for 3,291 new residential properties, an increase of 20.2% over the same month last year.
This maintains an upward trend which has seen year-on-year increases for the last 17 months, and even more tellingly, the year-to-date total after eight months of 2016 stands at 42,869, which is 35.7% higher than at the same point in 2015. Of course it must be remembered that the residential construction sector is recovering from disastrously low levels of activity in recent years, but even so this is encouraging news.
At the same time, it is interesting to note that the latest data published regarding residential property mortgages in Spain report that during August, when the number of loans contracted rose by 6.4% in comparison to the same month last year, the tendency towards fixed interest rate deals rather than variable rate agreements gathered still more momentum.
In the past fixed rate mortgages have accounted for under 10% of all those constituted in Spain, but the latest figures report that in August that proportion rose to 28.3 per cent.
For buyers, the attraction of fixed rate deals is that they are protected against any increase in the Euribor, the rate on which almost all of Spain’s variable-rate repayment schedules are based. At the same time, though, for the banks there are also good reasons to push fixed-rate loans: firstly, they can set rates which are higher than those which are currently prevailing on variable rate mortgages, and secondly, of course, they are giving their customers what they want: security.
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