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Spanish News weekly round-up 25th October
Cataluña still without a president, Spain withdraws from Afghanistan and Spanish property is "back in fashion"
Autumn began officially this week,bringing the scents of the season as Spain heads towards the celebration of All Saints and All Souls next weekend. As the 1st November is a Sunday there is no holiday on Monday at a national level, but across the country families will visit the graves of their loved ones, and meet to share the company of family members, filling plazas with seasonal flower markets and stalls selling candles, seasonal sweets and the foods of autumn. In some areas these have become large-scale fairs, and as our own Halloween celebrations gain pace, expect the country to be awash with zombies and spooks over the next few days.
Don´t forget to check for the fruits of Autumn in your local markets this next weekend: butternut squashes are abundant and store for months, seedless grapes crunchy and sweet and a real bargain,and Kakis (or Persimmon) are sweet and can be eaten crunchy or scooped from the shell as a liquid mass to be savoured with ice cream, and of course, its mushroom season, so watch out for woody orange Niscalos as the damp weather brings out the mushroom hunters.
Spanish national news
Catalan elections: Cataluña is still without a president
This week those involved in negotiations to select a new Catalan president failed to reach agreement, although the first regional parliamentary session will take place on Monday. During this first session the administrative body and officials will be appointed, before the first debate relating to the investiture of a new Catalan leader is held, an event which must take place before the 9th November, the anniversary of the “informal consultation” held by Artur Mas after the Supreme Court had banned him from holding a referendum on independence.
Should no one candidate gain sufficient votes to be invested as regional president, then a second debate will take place two days later. Should this again prove fruitless then more debates can be held up to a period of two months, after which elections must again be held to form a new regional government should no regional president be selected.
However, the future of current caretaker leader Artur Mas is looking increasingly uncertain following a series of Guardia Civil raids last week as part of a major investigation into corruption regarding the adjudication of public works contracts in the Cataluña region. Headquarters of the CDC party he represents were raided and the party administrator arrested, along with the Director General of Infrastructure for the Catalan region.
At least 20 other searches were carried out in town halls and private addresses, all related to the awarding of public works contracts to a series of interlinked businesses and the payment of commissions. As with all of these major corruption investigations, the network of people involved and their business associates is hugely complex, but there are clear indications that the payment of commissions was a routine part of the adjudication process and at the centre of the investigations are those in power at the time, namely the CDC party headed up by Artur Mas. The Twitter comment posted by one wag who joked that the “Junts pel Sí” coalition headed up by Mas should be renamed “Junts pel 3” to reflect the 3% commission allegedly paid in the course of the adjudications seems to have gained a footing in the popular media, and is now the main reason why there is so much discord amongst the separatist allies as to who should lead the Catalan government for the next four years, the CUP refusing to pact with the CDC as long as Mas remains at its head. Should the two parties pact, that would give the pro-Catalan Independence parties a parliamentary majority, but it appears that the Mas must be sacrificed if this is to be achieved. Knowing full well that once he loses control, he can be thrown to the lions and blame be heaped at his door for the “Caso 3%” Mas is refusing to go quietly and has simply accused the Spanish government of using the raids as a political pressure point, making his party “the subject of nothing more than a big game hunt.”
Other wags have rapidly pointed out that Mas appears to be “fair game” as either he knew about the commissions paid for lucrative contracts, or if he didn´t know, then he wasn´t in control of his government, either of which makes him fair game.
Elsewhere, the topic of separatism is never far from the media and Barcelona football club (Barca) has been up in arms this week after UEFA imposed a second fine for the behaviour of fans who displayed pro-Catalan independence flags during Septembers Champions League Group E match at home to Bayer Leverkusen. Barca have already been fined 30,000 euros by FIFA in July after supporters waved the flags, known as "Esteladas", and chanted pro-independence slogans at the Champions League final in Berlin. ”All legal means” will now be channelled into appealing the fine.
Other separatist news
This week marked the fourth anniversary of the official declaration of ceasefire by ETA, however, the separatist organisation is still in existence and still holds considerable stores of weaponry and explosives. The general feeling is that although the continued lack of terrorist acts has to be viewed as a success, the failure to conclusively reach an agreement on disarmament and the disbanding of ETA is worrying and in spite of the determined efforts of the Spanish government to completely dismantle the group at all levels there is still considerable support at ground level. Read our special report about the current situation regarding ETA: Fourth anniversary of ETA ceasefire...but has the threat of ETA really gone?
The situation in the Middle East has produced an entirely new security threat for both Spain and the world as a whole, the fear of terror attack by Yihadist extremists a constant source of concern for the security forces.
Here in Spain security forces are eternally vigilant and intolerant of any signs of radicalism on social networks and this week arrested a 22 year old Spaniard at Barajas airport as she prepared to travel to Turkey and then onwards to join IS. She is the fifth person to be arrested here this month and the 157th in the last four years.
Spain withdraws troops from Afghanistan
This weekend the Spanish Vice-President flew to Afghanistan to receive the Spanish flag as Spain officially withdrew its troops from Afghanistan. Although this is a scheduled withdrawal and maintains the commitment made by the government to bring its troops home, it is also overshadowed by the recent surge in fighting as the Taliban continues to battle with government troops. The US has decided to prolong its own engagement in Afghanistan due to the current level of military confrontation and the obvious inability of Afghan forces to counter the Taliban attacks without further training and support, and the US will maintain a force of 9,800 troops throughout most of 2016. President Obama was philosophical about the “need to make adjustments” in planning and said that this “probably won´t be the last time” such a decision has to be made, leaving the troop withdrawal to be handled by his successor.
NATO meanwhile, is involved in its largest military exercise in years, Trident Juncture, bringing together thousands of troops and military hardware in a large-scale show of military force throughout the Mediterranean. Spanish troops are involved and Spanish ports are busy with the comings and goings of military vessels, although the main action is based in Italy and Portugal. NATO views this exercise as a crucial show of strength, due to the scale of Russian troop build-ups and activity in key areas of conflict. The Sunday Special “Russian military mission to Syria brings history full circle” is interesting for its background insight into why Russia is becoming so active in the Syrian conflict. Last week Russia also announced plans to build a military base on the Kurile islands, a group of Pacific islands it seized from Japan at the end of World War Two, as well as a series of new Arctic military bases on Wrangel Island, Kotelny Island and at Cape Schmidt.
This week the US Secretary of State visited Spain, one of the topics on his list being the nuclear incident in Almería back in 1966 at Palomares.
It’s a fascinating story, involving an American B-52 bomber which crashed following a mid-air collision while carrying four Mk-28 hydrogen bombs, three of which ploughed into farmland in Almería, releasing some of their radioactive charge. It’s a miracle there were no major casualties, as each of the bombs on board was more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 5,500 containers of contaminated soil were removed and shipped to South Carolina from Cartagena in the Region of Murcia, but scientists have now discovered further deposits which must be cleared and this week an agreement was signed between Spain and the US for this to take place. Thousands of lorryloads of soil will now be transferred to Cartagena for safe disposal and shipping back to the US by sea, and although the exact details have yet to be confirmed, this will mean that lorries must travel right through the centre of the Murcia Region to reach Cartagena port.Needless to say, the municipalities through which an estimated 6,000 lorryloads of contaminated waste much travel to reach the shipping port are less than enthusiastic about the prospect, although nobody, including the coiuncils involved, has apparently been able to garner any further details at this point.
Military helicopter crew missing
A major drama has been unfolding since Friday when a military helicopter crashed into the sea 40 kilometres off the Moroccan coastline. Initially reports indicated that the three personnel on board had been picked up by a fishing boat but they have since disappeared without trace and a massive search is underway to try and find them as fears grow that they may have been kidnapped by a group involved in illegal smuggling of some description.
Spain’s past just won’t go away
This week an old subject has been back in the news as the ruling government rejected yet another attempt to make it possible for 17 people accused of crimes against humanity during the dictatorship of General Franco to stand trial in Argentina. The extradition request made by Argentinian judge María Servini has been rejected by the ruling PP party, on the grounds that it would be inappropriate to “look backwards and re-open old wounds”.
However, all around Spain there are new initiatives to deal with the past by complying with the Historical Memory Law which have resurged since the May elections blasted some of the older, established PP councils out of power. Examples this week in the Murcia region included the councils of San Javier and Blanca announcing that they would be joining Cartagena and Totana in renaming streets which bore references to the Franco era, and in the Comunidad Valenciana there were two stories this week, one relating to the decision to create a commission in Alicante city to examine street names and monuments which could breach the law with a view to removing and re-naming, as well as possibility that the region as a whole would adopt a Democratic Memory Law similar to that passed by the Andalucian government last week.
Town changes its name in order to not offend Jewish visitors
One town keen to brush off its past has finally changed its name this week: Matajudíos (which translates roughly as “jew killer” is now Mota de Judíos, a name referring to the historic castle and Jewish district which formerly existed in Mediaeval Spain.
Numbers of smokers in Spain falls
Latest figures released this week showed that the number of regular smokers in Spain has fallen from 26.2% in 2009 to 23% last year.
The reasons for this decrease are most probably the increased cost of cigarettes and the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, although of course increased awareness of the health risks is also an important factor.
Royal Ferraris up for auction
Another element of Spain keen to move out of the past is the monarchy, which has adapted to the demands of a modern society and changed considerably since the abdication of King Juan Carlos I. This week it was announced that two Ferraris given to the former King by the United Arab Emirates were to be auctioned off by the state. Bids upwards of 345,000 euros can be placed if anyone has a few quid lying around to spare.
Economic indicators remain positive in Spain, and this week the EU statistics unit Eurostat, reported that Spain’s deficit for 2014 came to 5.8% of GDP (61,319 million euros, meaning that the country exactly matched the target established by Brussels without taking into account the aid given to the banking system.
Other positive news was the reduction in unemployment, the quarterly EPA report indicating that the percentage of the active population not working had fallen to its lowest level in four years, although it is still over 21% of the adult population and up there with Greece at the top of the European unemployment league. However, the figures are heading in the right direction, boosted by the excellent summer enjoyed by the tourist sector, which has helped hotels maintain employment levels.
New highs for tourist figures
This week the latest visitor figures were presented, the total of 54.4 million visitors from abroad in the first nine months of the year being the highest yet recorded following four years of consistent growth in the sector. 31.8 million foreign tourists chose Spain between between June and September, the British yet again leading the way. 23.4% (12.74 million) of these are from the UK and in September a quarter of all foreign visitors were British, 25.9% , and1.85 million people. Figures will now follow for how much they spent, and again this is expected to show a serious boost for the Spanish economy, following the expenditure of 3 million euros an HOUR by the Brits here in Spain during August.
Barcelona planning local currency
This week Barcelona is preparing a new initiative to launch a local currency. This aims to ensure that those receiving social aid are paid their grants in a local currency which can be spent on useful products obtainable from local stores, thus supporting local businesses and making sure the money given to families is spent on necessary items to improve daily living standards.
Rabies alert in Melilla
Authorities in the north African Spanish enclave of Melilla have issued a general warning to the public after an abandoned cat in the city was found to be suffering from rabies. Rabies has been eliminated from the Spanish mainland but is still occasionally detected in the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the north- African coast. The only instance of rabies to have been reported in mainland Spain in the last 25 years occurred in Toledo in 2013, when a non-vaccinated pit-bull cross returned from a trip to Morocco with its owners and bit four children and one adult in different areas of the city. The dog was captured and put down on the same day, and the owner was prosecuted for falsifying vaccination paperwork. Vaccination against rabies remains a legal requirement for all dog owners in Spain and the transportation of pets between countries can only be undertaken with a pet passport proving vaccinations are up to date.
Netflix launches in Spain
Netflix is now finally a reality in Spain with monthly fees of between 7.99€ and 11.99€ (or free for a trial period of six months for the 821,000 users of Vodafone TV).
As of Tuesday Netflix is available to members of the public via intelligent TV sets, tablets, smartphones, PCs and various videogame consoles and internet de-coders, as well as via Apple TV and Google Chromecast. It is also available in High Definition and Ultra HD 4K, and Spanish subtitles and dubbing are optional.UK subscribers can continue using their service while in Spain!
Technology was also in the news as one youngster was electrocuted in Barcelona while trying to take a selfie on top of a train and a second was fined for taking selfies while hanging from bridges and viaducts in Alicante, endangering both himself and the general public in the process, begging the question, is the world going mad or am I just getting old?
2016 red days confirmed
Those who like to book in advance can now book flights for next year as the government has confirmed the official bank holidays for 2016. Local and regional holidays will be finalised at a regional level by local authorities. The government has backed down from changing the system of “Puentes” which are such a nuisance for those trying to run businesses, so if a holiday falls on a Wednesday it will remain on a Wednesday and not be moved to a Monday or Friday in order to make it easier for businesses to manage staffing as had been mooted. A topic to be left alone until after the General Elections in December!
England-Spain tickets sold out in 10 hours
The 8,000 tickets which were put up for sale online by the RFEF Spanish football federation for the game on 13th November at midday on Wednesday were snapped up in just ten hours, reflecting the interest in the fixture among both Spanish and English fans. The FA has an allocation of 5,000 tickets which are on sale for official fans and tickets have also been allocated for home supporters who hold season tickets at the Alicante stadium where the game will take place. Any left-overs will be sold by the stadium box office on the 5th November. Large numbers of British fans are expected to head for Alicante in the hope of finding tickets, but other than buying them on the black market or from re-sale internet ticketing sites, there will be no tickets on sale at the ground for the match. Tourism officials however, are confident that the game will bring considerable numbers of football fans to Spain in spite of there being no chance of actually seeing the match from the stadium.
Jury deliberates as parents stand accused of murderig their 12 year old daughter
At last the trial of the parents of Asunta Basterra, who are accused of murdering their 12-year-old adopted daughter two years ago in Galicia, is drawing to a close following detailed scrutiny in the Spanish media, and has this Monday reached the stage where the jury are retiring to consider their verdict after hearing 90 hours of evidence and cross-examination in court in Santiago de Compostela.
During their deliberations the nine members of the jury will be taking into account all of the evidence they have heard, much of which appears to incriminate both Alfonso Basterra and Rosario Porto, the couple who adopted the murder victim when she was an infant.
What has emerged clearly from the trial is that prior to her death on 21st September 2013 Asunta swallowed a large number of anti-anxiety pills, but what is not clear is who gave them to her, whether there was a pre-meditated plan to end her life and, above all, exactly what happened between 14.00 and 20.00 that afternoon when she was sedated and then suffocated.
Vaccinations campaign underway
A good number of the Autonomous Communities began their annual flu vaccinations campaign this week, so if you belong to an “at risk “ group, ie a retiree,or with pre-existing medical condition, and are registered with the heath service, then get vaccinated!
Even those not included in these groups, though, can purchase doses of the vaccine over the counter at chemists’ throughout Spain for no more than around 5€, and the recommendation is for all members of the public to avail themselves of the opportunity to get protected against a possible bout of flu over the next few months. Its particularly advisable to get vaccinated if you work in a position where there is a high chance of being exposed to coughing and sneezing members of the public!
Spain ready to receive first immigrants
The group which is set to arrive in Italy on Monday is equivalent to no more than a bus-load, which in the context of the vast marches across the Balkans which we see on TV footage is a tiny drop in the ocean. Spain has agreed to accept 19,323 refugees during the next 2 years, and although the EU is keen to rehome as many as possible via an agreed settlement programme there are still huge concerns about the volume of immigrants arriving in Europe in spite of the onset of winter and where to house them.
Germany is the most generous host and is this year spending between 6 and 7 billion euros on providing homes for 800,000 refugees.
Spanish Property round-up, week ending 23rd October 2015
Bad bank Sareb continues to make inroads into its stock of unsold properties
In a week during which few figures were released regarding residential property prices and sales figures it could be said that Spain’s “bad bank” Sareb grabbed most of the real estate headlines.
Sareb has an extremely important role to play in cleaning up the mess left by the bursting of the Spanish property bubble in late 2007 and 2008, and the task of finding purchasers for the vast stock of unsold homes which the bank inherited was never going to be an easy one after seven years of almost uninterrupted falls in the price of housing in Spain. In the light of this it is interesting to see that during the first half of 2015 the bank managed to sell an average of 30 homes per day to individual buyers, fewer than in the same period last year but still enough to maintain hopes that in the long term they will come close to achieving their goal.
Apart from reviewing residential property sales, Sareb managing director Jaime Echegoyen also revealed during his presentation of the results for the first half of the year that the bank intends to double the number of homes being made available for social housing to 4,000, thus not only providing a use for properties which are currently lying empty but also addressing the needs of Town Halls in attempting to help those residents who are unable to support themselves financially.
However, in some cases there are doubts over whether all of the homes included in the massive Sareb portfolio are commercially viable, and this issue was raised during the Barcelona Meeting Point event last week by Professor Gonzalo Bernardos of the University of Barcelona. In Professor Bernardos’ opinion the Fitch analysis which recently concluded that a quarter of the stock of unsold properties in Spain is unsellable may be erring on the side of optimism, and that up to a third of all completed unsold properties might never be sold unless they benefit from reform work.
At the same event in Barcelona, however, there was a noticeably bullish mood concerning the activity of international institutional property investors in Spain. The general feeling among investment funds is that the time is right to acquire all kinds of property in this country – office space and commercial premises as well as residential real estate – and that there is a genuine shortage of quality investment property available. Spain is currently back in fashion among these investors but most of the most enticing bargains have already been snapped up, and the resulting demand for property could prove to be good news both for the property market and for the construction sector which underpins it.
Currency Exchange rate: Get more Menu del Días for your money!"
This week the Pound Euro currency exchange rate 1.3763€
This has moved back up again this week and is a good rate, meaning those who transfer their pensions or buy a property across Spain are getting more euros for every pound sterling at the moment than they have for many years. This also makes Spanish property even cheaper for those buying with Sterling, because with the historic currency exchange trading rate for the Pound Euro having been at 1.18 / 1.16 not so long ago, if you exchanged 100,000 Pounds now to Euros you would be over 20,000 euros better off. But rates change constantly, so you need to keep an eye on currency rates if you are planning to make a transfer any time soon.
Click for this weeks currency round up showing the exchange rate between Sterling and the Euro.
If you still use a Bank to transfer money, ask our currency experts for a quote to use a money transfer service, youll be amazed how much more you get for your pounds using this method and its really easy to do!
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