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Spanish news round-up week ending 7th October 2016
Gibraltar back in the headlines as Spain launches another sovereignty bid
There may have been something of a lull in big news stories during most of September, but the last couple of weeks have seen major developments occurring on a number of fronts, and this week even the dramatic events on the national political scene were overshadowed by other issues of interest, including the proposed independence of Catalunya and the Spanish campaign to achieve joint sovereignty over Gibraltar.
Picardo accuses Spain of attempting to turn Gibraltar into a Spanish colony
A not entirely unexpected new development in the issue of sovereignty in Gibraltar occurred on Tuesday, when Román Oyarzun, the permanent representative of Spain at the United Nations, presented a proposal for joint sovereignty in the current British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.
This was in line with recent declarations made by José Manuel García-Margallo, the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the caretaker Spanish government, and in his speech he stressed the “urgency” of progress being made in the light of the imminent withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.
However, if the speech made by the Spanish Ambassador to the UN was predictable in its content, then so too was the response offered by Fabian Picardo, which can be summarized in just three of the words he used: “No way José!”
Sr Picardo described the Spanish initiative as “a blatant attempt to use the decolonisation process of the United Nations to turn Gibraltar into a new Spanish colony by redrawing the map of modern Europe in front of your eyes and using Brexit as the lubricant to make it happen.”
In a defiant speech he clarified as follows:
“You will never get your hands on our Rock.
Whether the claim is laced with threats or your offers are garnished with benefits, our response to Spain’s claim to our sovereignty is simple and straightforward:
Let me repeat that in Spanish in case anything was lost in translation.
Unsurprisingly, this impassioned speech did not go unnoticed by José Manuel García-Margallo, the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the caretaker Spanish government, and on Wednesday he replied in equally defiant terms. Speaking in a television interview, he answered that he may not get his hands on Gibraltar, but instead will place the Spanish flag there, and far sooner than Mr Picardo thinks. Click for further details explaining Sr García-Margallo’s confidence.
The Catalan independence process
Thursday’s controversial debate in the regional parliament of Catalunya, in which it was decided that a referendum on the issue of independence from Spain will be held in or before September 2017 whether or not permission is given by the national government in Madrid, ended with unusual scenes during the voting process.
As an expression of their refusal to take part in a vote which they hold to be illegal, the 25 Ciudadanos members of the parliament and 11 more representing the PP opted not to oppose the motion, and not even to abstain, but instead to raise both hands in the air to demonstrate that they were not taking part.
The opinion that the regional parliament is acting unconstitutionally by adopting powers which it does not technically have is one which this week has led to legal proceedings being initiated against the speaker of the parliament, Carme Forcadell, and this appears to indicate that the authorities in Madrid are still adopting the stance that the proposed formal independence referendum in Catalunya can be outlawed and stopped
The strategy, it seems, is to inform the regional government repeatedly “you can’t do that”. However, if this is the case, on Thursday the response given by the separatist government was tantamount to responding with something along the lines of “just try and stop us!”
Until the momentous vote on Thursday, media attention in Catalunya seemed to be focused on relatively minor skirmishes rather than on the main issue. This included the Town Hall of Barcelona fretting over the proposal to change street names in the city in order to eliminate the concept of “Hispanidad” (or Spanish-ness) from the nomenclature of thoroughfares and squares and a debate which has begun in Spain’s Constitutional Court which could overturn the ban on bullfighting in the region of Catalunya.
But while these issues made the news, in the background the Spanish government is not in a position to negotiate with the regional government of Catalunya as technically there isn´t a Spanish government, and the referendum project moves closer and closer to becoming a reality.
Hopes for a new Spanish government as PSOE leader resigns
The last few days have been turbulent ones indeed on the Spanish political scene following the resignation of PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez on Saturday afternoon, with fervent speculation rife over both who will replace him at the head of the party and what the repercussions are for the possibility of a national government being formed and a third general election in December being avoided.
The truth of the matter is that since the first election last December the PSOE has worked itself into an almost unsustainable position. On the one hand, Sr Sánchez cannot be accused of failing to stand by his principles, especially that of refusing to allow Mariano Rajoy of the PP to form a new government, but on the other hand, that obstinate refusal has frustrated the electorate as a whole, and appears to have led to the PSOE having lost support.
The fractured PSOE is thus caught between a rock and a hard place: if the current management committee led by Javier Fernández (see image, looking pensive) allows Mariano Rajoy to govern, they lay themselves open to criticism for betraying the intentions of party members and voters. And if they don’t, they practically condemn Spain to a third general election, an option which is not favoured by the electorate, economists or the PSOE itself, since in all probability such an option would see the party’s vote slashed still further.
In this climate, the issue of who the party wishes to appoint as its new leader is almost irrelevant, as given the difficulties faced by the party at the moment the real issue might be who is willing to take on such a seemingly impossible role!
Further pressure was put on the political leaders to make progress this week by the findings of the latest barometer survey carried out by Spain’s Sociological Research Centre, with the September data showing that the lack of a national government was named as one of the main problems in Spain by 11.6% of those taking part in the survey. This is the highest figure yet, and in addition, the latest consumer confidence index, also produced by the CIS, showed a sharp drop from 97.3 to 91, returning to a level last seen in April.
Can Jamie Oliver help?
It might seem frivolous at this point to mention TV chef Jamie Oliver, but on Tuesday morning he appears to have single-handedly achieved what two general elections and interminable political manoeuvrings have failed to manage over the last ten months, namely to unite the Spanish public behind one cause. Click to read how he managed to pull off this coup!
Corruption trials in the news
Alleged Gürtel ringleader Francisco Correa could face prison sentences totaling 125 years
This week the various other high-profile court cases going on in Spain have been overshadowed by the start of the first trial relating to the “Gürtel” corruption scandal, which has rocked the PP party since the allegation first came to light in 2009.
Seven years after information regarding the possible misappropriation of public funds by businessmen and politicians first hit the headlines, on Tuesday charges against 37 people were officially leveled in the courts of San Fernando de Henares, in the region of Madrid. Among them is the man believed to be at the centre of a vast network of irregular deals being made to award contracts using public funds and divert some of the proceeds into the pockets of those involved and, in some cases, into the coffers of the PP.
That man is Fernando Correa (see image), who could face a total prison sentence of up to 125 years as a result of the trial which begins on Tuesday, and others facing punishment include Jesús Sepúlveda, the former Mayor of Pozuelo de Alarcón, his ex-wife Ana Pastor, former Minister for Health in the national government, the PP political party and, almost inevitably, former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas.
The Bankia and Caja Madrid black credit card trial
Another trial which has begun is the one relating to the so-called "black” credit cards, in which former International Monetary Fund chief and Spanish finance minister Rodrigo Rato is one of the accused. Rato and 64 other executives and former board members from lender Bankia and its founding savings bank Caja Madrid are accused of illegally spending 12 million euros (£10.4 million) for personal use on the so-called "black cards"between 2003 and 2012.
The case has infuriated Spaniards who endured seven miserable years of economic crisis as the banking system fell apart and Spain itself faced the very real prospect fo being bailed out. Thousands of ordinary people lost money (although some have finally been awarded compensation) on the Bankia shares sale, but Sr Rato denies the charges, saying he thought the cards were part of a legitimate salary package.
Similarly, ex-Caja Madrid president Miguel Blesa maintains that the cards in question were made freely available and were used as a way of providing him and various of his colleagues with a “dignified” salary. This, it should be noted, despite the fact that early in his professional career Miguel Blesa qualified as a professional tax inspector.
Elsewhere, Tuesday also saw the start of the trial of seven police officers who are accused of collaborating with the money-laundering operations of Chinese businessman Gao Ping. So vast was the scale of his operations that they are said to have "distorted the Spanish economy".
British tourists spent 74.6 million euros a DAY in Spain during August
The foreign tourism sector was one of the first to show growth when the Spanish economy began to emerge from its prolonged slump a couple of years ago, and now it appears to be going from strength to strength.
During August foreign visitors to Spain spent almost 10,354 billion euros during their stays, a new record monthly total and an increase of 3.8% compared to the same month last year. This amounts to 334 million euros of economic activity per day and of course the creation of numerous jobs, and once again during the busiest tourism month of the year the UK market was the largest single contributor.
Visitors from the United Kingdom accounted for 22.3% of all tourist spending, or 2.3 billion euros (74.6 million per day), following a year-on-year increase of 3.5%, far ahead of the totals for the next most significant markets.
In general, the figures for the year to date tell an even more positive story, with the cumulative total of almost 53.3 billion euros representing an increase of 7.1%. Again the figures for British visitors are the driving force behind the improvement, and after eight months of this year the amount spent by foreign visitors to Spain is already practically the same as the total for the whole of 2012.
There is still no sign as yet of any let-up in the steady flow of would-be immigrants attempting to cross from Africa into EU territory, and during the weekend at least another 200 were intercepted as they made their way towards the southern coast of Spain.
Among them were 121 who were rescued after they crammed onto four inflatable launches for their perilous crossings, and were eventually brought shore exhausted but safe in the port of Motril (province of Granada).
The first to arrive were 89 who had been picked up from three separate boats by the Sasemar Polimnia, and included eleven women and an albino man who was fleeing persecution in Madagascar.
The number of people registered as out of work in Spain rose by 0.62 percent in September against the August figures, leaving the total at 3.72 million.
September marked the second straight month of rising unemployment as the jobs boost of a strong tourist seasons wears off. September is traditionally a month in which unemployment rises as temporary contracts for the summer season end and although the figures do reflect a rise in unemployment, this is the lowest September figure since 2009.
Other economic news stories:
Manufacturing activity grew in September at the fastest rate since April, a survey showed on Monday, with new orders expanding rapidly and little sign of any impact from a nine-month political impasse. Click to read full story
Spain is one of the biggest beneficiaries of EU infrastructure funding: Nearly all of the EU's 315 billion investment fund has gone to the richest countries in the EU.
Inflation returns to positive territory after 14 months: The rate of 0.3 per cent in September was due to higher fuel and electricity prices.
Historical Memory Law
In the central Spanish city of Valladolid, (Castilla y León) the council has authorized and paid for excavation work to start uncovering graves which archaeologists believe conceal more than 1,000 men and women executed and buried in an unmarked spot in the cemetery during the Spanish Civil War.
Since April, workers have emptied three graves of 185 bodies to be sent to a forensic archaeologist for analysis that may help identify the dead. They have started examining the area with radar pulses to find more unmarked mass burial sites. Click to read full report
Environmental and agricultural news
Emaciated bears spotted in the forests of Asturias: the Asturias government and the unusually dry summer are held to blame.
Vine robot could take the luck out of choosing when to begin grape harvests: scientists from La Rioja and Valencia are hoping to perfect the robot by 2017.
Warm weather likely to cause plague of processionary caterpillars: next spring’s larvae are feeding up in the warm autumn weather.
Huesca man arrested for setting illegal hunting traps: the devices in Hoya de Huesca were designed to snare animals indiscriminately.
Crime and punishment
Driving fines in Spain to be notified by email and text message: eliminating traditional mail is intended to make the system more efficient.
Body of newborn baby found in Pilar de la Horadada bin: the mother was among four Rumanians arrested the following day.
Asturias sock fraudsters thwarted: the feet of Asturias shoppers are now less likely to be clad in hosiery which is masquerading as something which it is not.
90 injured in Velez Malaga butane gas explosion: a quick-thinking cook saved lives during the local fiestas of Velez Malaga.
West Nile virus scare prevents donors from Andalucia giving blood elsewhere in Spain: the Transfusion Centre in Madrid imposes a 28-day ban on donors from Cadiz, Huelva and Sevilla.
Russian bomber aircraft escorted away from Bilbao: two Tupolev bombers were trailed by Nato forces from Norway to the coast of Spain.
Human tower competition in Tarragona draws huge crowds: the spectacle fills the Tarraco Arena stadium in Tarragona every year.
Estepona hotel evacuated by spectacular burst water main: a tsunami-like wave coursed through the gardens and the ground floor.
Roman lead ingot discovered in Rio Tinto silver mines: the silver mines in Huelva were the most important in the Roman Empire.
Decomposing body found in the Pyrenees in Huesca: all the signs are that it belongs to a 36-year-old mountaineer who went missing in the area on 23rd April.
Nerja hotel offers “prehistoric menu”: the Caves of Nerja were inhabited at least 25,000 years ago.
New painting completed on Estepona Artistic Murals Route: the 420-square-metre painting by Anula Mixtura shows a lighthouse and choppy seas.
Woman gives birth on the hard shoulder of the M-30 in Madrid: the father of the baby received midwifery instructions by telephone.
Spanish property news
The latest quarterly Local Markets Report published by leading Spanish property valuation firm Tinsa last Friday confirms the uneven nature of the recovery of the market, with the overall national 0.8% increase between the third quarter of last year and September just ended masking considerable variations among the 17 regions.
The majority of analysts concur that the renewed buoyancy in the market is most apparent in the regions of Madrid and Catalunya, and this is reflected by Tinsa’s observation of twelve-month average rises in value of 4.8% and 6.5% respectively. On the downside, though, significant decreases are reported in other regions: click for further details.
As for sales figures, the latest government stats for the month of August show another sharp rise, with the total of 35,501 marking an increase of 20.3% over the same month in 2015 and the highest August total since 2010. The sharpest rises were in the regions of the Balearics, Catalunya, Navarra and La Rioja, and the cumulative total of sales registered in the first eight months of 2016 now stands 14.8% higher than after eight months of 2015 at just over 276,000.
Other property news includes speculation that the Euribor rate could remain below zero for two more years, and that as a result fixed rate mortgages are likely to continue growing in popularity in Spain.
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Cádiz Province, Andalucia
Granada Province: Andalucia
Huelva Province, Andalucía
Jaén Province, Andalucia
Málaga Province, Andalucía
Region of Andalucia
Seville Province, Andalucía
Córdoba Province, Andalucia
Autonomous Community of Galicia
Castilla La Mancha
Castilla y León
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