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Spanish news round-up w/e 11th March
Spanish news round-up
Following last week’s failure by Pedro Sánchez to gain the support of parliament in the presidential investiture debates the Spanish news has once again been dominated by politics, but unfortunately, while there has been lots of talk from the political leaders, most of it has concerned which negotiation tables they are not prepared to sit at and who they don’t want to sit next to, rather than actual proposals for the formation of a government.
For the moment King Felipe VI has not initiated a new round of consultations with the party leaders, but as he observes the lack of progress being made the idea surely cannot be far from his mind, and on Friday it has been announced that his official visit to Asia has been cancelled as a result of the prolonged impasse.
In theory, the leaders of all four main parties are claiming to be open to negotiation, but all impose conditions which are unacceptable to their rivals or potential colleagues. Acting President Mariano Rajoy, for example, is prepared to talk to both Pedro Sánchez of the PSOE and Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos, but not both at the same time, and on Wednesday Sr Sánchez announced that he will not be led by Sr Rivera to take part in talks with Sr Rajoy.
If Pedro Sánchez refuses to talk to the PP under Mariano Rajoy this leaves him needing to re-convene talks with other left-wing parties, but Pablo Iglesias of Podemos is refusing to contemplate an alliance which includes Ciudadanos despite Sr Sánchez’s offer of ministerial portfolios in a shared Cabinet.
At the same time, further complexity has been added to the situation by the appearance of potential rifts within at least three of the main parties. Within the PP the highest-ranking representatives have closed ranks around Mariano Rajoy after the comments made by Alberto Garre, the former regional president of Murcia, and there is also a degree of internal disagreement within the PSOE over the terms of the agreement signed with Ciudadanos.
Similarly, for Podemos problems have been caused by differing points of view which appear to be aligning leading members behind either Pablo Iglesias or Íñigo Errejón. At the core of the current disagreements is the question of whether the party should concentrate on coming to an agreement with rivals or on forcing another election, with the second option being favoured by the more radical elements.
While the stalemate continues analysts are beginning to detect signs that the lack of a government is having a negative effect on the national economy, and over the last couple of weeks there have been various signs that this could indeed be the case. The general industrial production index in January was 0.7% higher than twelve months previously, which on the face of it is an encouraging sign but is not so positive in comparison with the increases of 6.1% and 3.5% which were seen in November and December, and with foreign investors showing nervousness over Spain estimates for further economic growth this year are now being revised downwards.
Consumer confidence fell sharply in both January and February during the build-up to Pedro Sánchez’s failed bid for the presidency, and having reached record high levels late last year fell by over 12 points in the first two months of this year.
Corruption and the Nóos Case
Nonetheless, the lack of a government may be worrying the economists, but it is not, it seems, a source of great concern to the general public. A survey published this week shows that only 1.4% of those questioned last month named the political impasse as one of the three most pressing problems facing Spain, with the list being topped by unemployment (78%) and corruption (47.5%), this latter issue having shown a sharp increase of over eight points compared to the month before.
This is no doubt connected to recent allegations leveled against former Valencia Mayoress Rita Barberá and other high-ranking government officials in the Comunidad Valenciana, as well as the high profile being given to the Nóos Case trial in Palma de Mallorca. In Palma the evidence given by Miguel Tejeiro this week appeared to imply the innocence of Princess Cristina but at the same time cast further doubts over the actions of her husband Iñaki Urdangarin and his former business partner Diego Torres.
Sr Tejeiro roundly denied that Princess Cristina had been involved in any decision-making related to either Instituto Nóos or the Aizoon company which was registered as being jointly owned by her and her husband, or that she had been used as a “tax shield” at any point. However, he also asserted that the affairs of Instituto Nóos were not overseen by the royal household as Sr Torres claims, Iñaki Urdangarín and his business partner were in charge of the finances “down to the last cent”.
Northern Spain in the grip of wintry weather
The weather has once again made the national headlines during the week, with snow falling heavily in northern regions for days on end and providing attractive landscapes and road traffic disruption in more or less equal measure. Navarra and Huesca have suffered some of the worst of the snow, and the extreme conditions in the former came close to claiming two lives on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route on Monday, when the regional rescue services came to the aid of a Brazilian woman and her walking companion in the mountains.
The woman attempted to go for provisions and medical treatment for her diabetic companion, but while doing so she fell into a gully and broke her leg, and by the time the rescue team located her she was suffering from symptoms of hypothermia. In addition, the inaccessible location in which she fell and the heavy snow which was falling made her rescue extremely difficult, and a team of eleven firemen took turns to help carry her on a stretcher through the perilous terrain to shelter.
Despite adverse conditions, though, the “Javierada” pilgrimages in Navarra, which are rather shorter than the Camino de Santiago, got under way on Sunday with over 7,000 people taking part in the first of two walks to the castle of Javier, and while the Russian winter may have been sufficient in the past to halt the advances of the forces of Hitler and Napoleon, in Córdoba the cold snap was no match for the 1,000 Roman troops who invaded the town of Pozoblanco. Admittedly they faced no armed opposition, and the southern province of Córdoba was not exactly snowbound, but even so those who marched on the town wearing tunics and plumed helmets deserve applause for their devotion to the cause.
Once again the Basque separatist movement was in the news on various occasions, arguably the most important being the rally in San Sebastián last weekend to celebrate the release from jail of Arnaldo Otegi.
The terrorist group ETA have not carried out any more killings for almost six years and there are hopes that the path of violence may be abandoned definitively during this year, but one of those who advocated stepping-up the attacks in 2006 was back in this country on temporary extradition this week to answer the questions of an investigating judge. Mikel Carrera Sarobe, who carried out the last ETA killing in France in 2010, has been temporarily transferred from the French jail where he is serving life a sentence to Spain in order to face questioning over the attack on the Guardia Civil headquarters in Burgos in July 2009.
While the Basque Country prepares for regional elections later in the year, though, there are still seemingly interminable disagreements over the issue of flags, and the latest this week concerned six Navarra Town Halls where the “ikurriña” Basque ensign was hoisted during the “chupinazo” which marked the start of last July’s San Fermín festivities, which are best known elsewhere for the Pamplona bull runs. The Town Halls of Iruñea, Estella, Leitza, Etxarri-Aranatz, Oteiza and Lakuntza, all of which held their own “chupinazo” events alongside that of Pamplona on 6th July last year, have been found by the courts to be guilty of “evasion of the law” and obliged to pay legal costs, although appeals against the verdict will be admitted if presented.
Earthquakes, falling aircraft debris and other worries
In Melilla the series of earthquakes which began with one measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale on 25th January continues, and three more with an intensity of over 4 have been recorded on Thursday and Friday: the January tremor caused damage of almost 12 million euros, and residents are far from convinced that another big earthquake is not brewing.
A more widespread threat is perceived to be posed by the zika virus, which has now been confirmed in 38 cases in Spain although the first baby born to a woman infected has been declared healthy this week, while localized sources of stress include the planned closure of a copper and nickel mine on the boundary between Andalucía and Extremadura and the contamination of an underground stream in the province of Málaga by the owners, who have been dumping thousands of litres of pig excrement on the land above it.
In Hellín (province of Albacete), meanwhile, residents could be forgiven for harbouring concern about aircraft fuel tanks raining down in the area – the one found this week follows similar discoveries in the north of the Region of Murcia last November – and on the theme of aircraft another hazard emerged on Thursday at Alicante-Elche airport, where a Norwegian airline flight to Munich had to turn back and effect an emergency landing shortly after take-off due to a collision with a flock of seagulls.
International women’s day
Tuesday, as many will know, was International Women’s Day, and amid the numerous vindications of women’s rights across the country a further cause for concern was highlighted in the press, namely the way in which the changing role of women in Spanish society is leading to a population crisis. More and more women are choosing to delay having children while they finish their studies and pursue professional careers, and at present the average age at which women in this country have their first child is 30.6 years, the highest figure in the world and one which is having a dramatic effect on the demographics of Spain.
One mother who is doing her best to redress the balance, however, is the woman who simply couldn’t wait to give birth and ended up doing so on the A-1 motorway in Madrid on Monday. She, her three-kilo baby girl and the two Guardia Civil officers who were pressed into service as emergency midwives are all reported to be relieved and in good health.
Meanwhile, the Spanish press were obsessed with the gesture made by Valencia council, who now have skirted figures indicating to the public that it's safe, or not safe to cross on their pedestrian crossings rather than the traditional stick-man figures more commonly found on traffic light. Incredulous media debated whether this was a step too far towards equality, some went so far as to maintain this was a direct attack on the rights of male pedestrians, while others just viewed the whole situation as a publicity gimmick symptomatic of the "new wave political parties" who kicked out the establishment during the May elections last year. Think of the words "bent, bananas, Brussels" and you'll get the gist of it.
Other motoring news this week includes the kamikaze driver who knowingly joined the A7 motorway in Almería in the wrong direction, causing a serious accident before fleeing the scene on foot, and the perils posed to motorists in Navarra by wild boar straying onto the roads.
It has also emerged that Spain’s traffic authorities are considering plans to introduce a special non-parking driving licence to allow people to take the wheel only in vehicles which are equipped with parking assistance devices. At present nineteen car manufacturers offer auto parking systems in Spain and numerous research programs are under way which could lead to complete auto-drive systems in the future. This would involve the driver simply keying the destination into the onboard computer and allowing the technology to do the rest.
If these programs are successful and auto-drive becomes a reality, the DGT will presumably have to consider the option of driving licences for those who don’t know how to drive at all!
Looking forward to the Fallas and Semana Santa
With the weather forecast indicating an improvement in conditions across the country over the weekend much of Spain is now looking forward to the forthcoming Easter and Semana Santa celebrations, an issue which is causing headaches for the Town Hall of Málaga as uncollected rubbish continues to pile up in the streets of the city. The rubbish collectors’ strike is now in its eleventh day and no agreement has been reached, and if no progress is made this year’s processions threaten to become a smelly and unpleasant affair.
In Valencia, though, the main event this month is the Fallas, for which preparations are already under way, and for most people there is no questioning the degree to which this end-of-winter celebration is an essential part of the regional cultural identity. It is therefore surprising to learn that the regional government of Catalunya, where attempts are being made to initiate a process leading to independence from Spain, lists the Fallas in their catalogue of “popular Catalan fiestas”.
Perhaps this seems less surprising if it is borne in mind that the Catalan government also claims for the region the San Juan bonfires in Alicante, and on their website historians can learn that the Moorish occupation of Catalunya began in Orihuela (province of Alicante) in the year 713, an assertion which geographers would dispute hotly. It will be curious to see whether these references to places hundreds of kilometres south of Catalunya are maintained on the regional government’s website if and when they are in a different country.
Currency Exchange Rate this week
It's important to keep an eye on the exchange rate if buying a property or transferring your pension
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.
Currency rates have recovered a little from the fears of a BRexit and the exchange rate for those converting Sterling to Euros has improved further this week.
Spanish property news
Despite concerns that confidence in the property market and the economy as a whole could be suffering from the political uncertainty regarding the national government in Spain, this week has seen the publication of more data which indicate that both the level of activity and the market prices are still recovering.
On Thursday the Ministry of Development reported that the number of residential property sales registered in Spain last year exceeded 400,000 for the first time since 2010, following a 9.8% year-on-year increase, and that at the same time the fourth-quarter figure was also the highest for five years. Certainly these figures relate almost entirely to the period prior to the general election in December, but even so they provide optimism that the level of activity in the property market will continue to intensify during 2016.
At the same time, the Ministry reports that non-Spaniards accounted for over 17% of all property purchases in 2015, showing once again the degree to which foreign purchasers are providing impetus to the recovery. Unsurprisingly, this is especially the case in coastal areas, and in the province of Alicante the foreign market accounted for as many as 50.6% of all sales. The other most significant proportions were those reported in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Málaga, the Balearics, Girona, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Murcia and Almería.
A further illustration of how foreign purchasers dominate the market in coastal regions is that the Costa Blanca municipality of Torrevieja had the seventh most active property market in Spain during the fourth quarter, behind those of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Zaragoza, Sevilla and Málaga.
The data provided by the Ministry do not entirely agree with those supplied earlier in the week by the government’s central statistics unit, who on Tuesday reported that during the month of January the number of transactions inscribed at the country’s property registries during January was 32,417. This means that the twelve-month cumulative running total now stands at 353,153, substantially short of the 400,000 mark although the year-on-year increase of 9.8% coincides exactly with the Ministry data for 2015.
Much has been made in the press of the fact that the January total shows a fall of 2.9% in comparison to the same month in 2015, but this does not necessarily reflect any real decline in activity, as is shown by the fact that the figure was the second highest in the last twelve months and the fourth highest in the last four years. There may indeed by a slowing down of the market, but if there is then it cannot be deduced from this isolated figure.
As for prices, The latest set of data produced by the Spanish government shows that in the final quarter of 2015 the residential property price index was 4.2% higher than twelve months previously, the seventh successive year-on-year increase following the seven-year slump in the market. Between October and December there was a minimal 0.1% decrease in average prices, according to the quarterly report, but even so this is the third consecutive quarter in which average prices have been between four and five per cent higher than a year previously.
Encouragingly, the fourth quarter figures show year-on-year price increases in all seventeen regions, with the leading performers being the regions of Madrid with a rise of 7.3%, the Balearics (7%) and Catalunya (5.9%).
Finally, a mention for the fully covered bull ring of Atarfe, in the outskirts of Granada, which was built during the optimistic years of the property boom but has now fallen on hard times. The building has been placed under bank embargo following the accumulation of a debt of 9.6 million euros by the Town Hall, and its future is uncertain just eleven years after it was officially opened.
In the intervening period the arena has hosted concerts by artists such as Deep Purple, Leonard Cohen and Mark Knopfler, but now, in a curious reversal of roles, the Coliseo of Atarfe is in dire straits, rather than vice versa.
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