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Spanish news weekly round-up October 18th
Catalan president appears in court for civil disobedience, be careful what you post on Facebook and expats in Spain concerned about BRexit implications
Spanish national news round-up
This week the Catalan independence issue has refused to stay out of the headlines.
The week began on Monday with the annual Spanish National Day celebrations in Madrid and although the national press dutifully published pictures of the Royal Family watching the flypast and military procession, editors were only interested in the political turbulence bubbling around the reception at the palace afterwards. As is normal, an invitation to attend was rebuffed by all the key players in the independence debates, with Catalan premier Artur Mas, and the presidents of both Navarra and the Basque Country all declining the invitation due to their separatist agendas, but a surprise rebuttal came from the leader of Podemos, who rather churlishly declined the invitation, leaving the photo opportunities for his main rival in the run-up to the Spanish General Election in December to Ciudadanos (C’s), the main opponent for Podemos, who are currently starting to hurt them in the opinion polls.
The refusal of regional Catalan president Artur Mas to attend the annual Spanish National Day celebrations in Madrid is nothing new, but this week the president of Cataluña also found himself in court facing an investigation into his activities relating to the “informal consultation” he convened on November 9th 2014 after the Spanish courts had banned him from holding a referendum on independence for Cataluña.
2.3 million people voted in the “informal poll,” with 80% of them favouring independence, but it was not until two days after this year’s regional election on 27th September that the three politicians accused of organising the poll were officially indicted.
On Tuesday former regional vice-president Joana Ortega and Irene Rigau denied contravening any ruling issued by the Constitutional Court or having committed any “economic irregularity.”
Their court appearances sparked off yet more discomfort in the judiciary, entering court accompanied by other members of the regional government and separatist leaders, all of them joining hundreds of demonstrators in singing the Catalan hymn. Needless to say this did not sit well with the court, who described it as a “direct attack on judicial independence” and a deliberate strategy led by government officials.
The Spanish government condemned the behaviour of those called to testify and their supporters.
On Thursday Artur Mas himself appeared before the courts, and although he had stated previously that he had no intention of becoming either a hero or a martyr his progress to court was likened by some commentators as being like the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, surrounded by approximately 400 of Catalunya’s 948 local Mayors and Mayoresses as well as leading pro-independence politicians such as Raül Romeva of Junts pel Sí, Oriol Junqueras of ERC and Antonio Baños of CUP and thousands of cheering supporters. Apart from the anthem being sung again, various flags and banners were waved proclaiming Sr Mas’ innocence and the right of the Catalan people to decide their own political future, the staffs of Mayorship banged together in a rousing show of support for their leader.
His declaration on Thursday morning lasted approximately 90 minutes, and like Sra Rigau and Sra Ortega he answered only the questions asked by the judge, not those directed at him by the prosecution. While fighting the accusations of civil disobedience, misuse of power and misuse of public funds, Sr Mas is also in the throes of negotiations between the Junts pel Sí party, which he represented at the regional election on 27th September, and the CUP, with the aim of establishing a coalition government of which he may or may not be president. No decisions have yet been made and the future of the Catalan government remains uncertain at the moment.
The Spanish government played down the court appearances, saying”no-one in Spain is above the law of justice.”
Although the separatist movement has been loud and vocal this week, other Catalans were out on the streets on Monday protesting against the independence movement and stating their right to remain Spanish during Spanish National Day.
Other areas of Spain involved in separatist campaigning
This week a warning for Facebook users to exercise caution when posting was sent out loud and clear, with two separate cases of “exalting terrorism” through Facebook posts reaching court. In both cases, the accused accepted one year prison sentences for making posts “exalting” the activities of Basque separatist group ETA and mocking their victims.
In Navarra, meanwhile, the local Mayor of Tafalla was brought before the courts on Wednesday to also answer charges of exalting terrorism for displaying a banner supporting the move to transfer ETA prisoners nearer to the Basque country while they serve their prison sentences. The Spanish government enforces a policy of dispersal, spreading ETA prisoners amongst jails well away from the north of Spain and across the border in France. The banner displayed outside the Town Hall during the annual fiestas this year also included the insignia of the pressure group campaigning to transfer the prisoners nearer to their families.
The Spanish government continues its efforts to completely dismantle ETA and last week former leader Santi Potros was sentenced to yet another 94 year prison term for his part in the death of a passer-by during an attack on the Guardia Civil in Barcelona in 1987. Last week a further ETA suspect was arrested in Paris.
Expats worried about Brexit implications
This week in the UK both sides of the Brexit campaign launched their arguments as to whether the UK should stay in the EU or leave, guaranteeing months of arguments and counter-arguments ahead of us.
Although it’s tempting to look at the hot air rising off the UK as politicians tear into each other, enjoy a cool beer and a beautiful Spanish sunset and think it’s got nothing to do with us over here, think again. Many of the privileges we enjoy as “comunitarios” (right to healthcare for pensioners, right to free entry and exit between Spain and the UK, right to work) are because we belong to the EU. Leave, and we become “extranjeros”, the same as those vast queues outside the extranjería. Most of us currently here ( some on the Padrón and many keeping their options open) have the same voting rights as those officially living in the UK, so the debate is just as important here as it is there. So how does it affect you if the UK leaves the EU? Click here to find out.
Immigrants desperate to reach Spain
As EU members, we can come to Spain and settle if we want to, but there are millions desperate to settle in Europe for whom this privilege is not an automatic right and this week the battle to enter Spain continued. Immigrants were rescued out at sea in several locations, and in Ceuta two exhausted swimmers were saved from drowning as they attempted to swim into the Ceuta exclave. Both Melilla and Ceuta are highly vulnerable entry points, as these Spanish territories are right on the African coastline. A second set of immigrants were caught hiding beneath coach axles and attempting to cross the border checkpoint, and others attempted to scale the razorwire fence.
Traditionally, the immigrants attempting to reach Spain have come from the northernmost tip of the African continent, but wars in Syria have changed the migrant profile and this week the immigrant centre in Melilla was the source of another protest by Syrian migrants angered by the length of time they’re being expected to wait for their applications to enter Spain to be processed. The centre has the same resources as normal, and as is the case in many European nations at the moment, is simply overwhelmed by the volume of asylum applications. Syrians have no automatic right of entry into Spain (extranjeros!) so their cases must be assessed individually and Spain accept them as refugees.
Syrian immigrants were also detained in an immigrant transit centre on Gran Canaria after reaching the Canary Islands by boat, amongst them a woman in a wheelchair claiming to be Syrian.
Some of the illegal migrants who are intercepted by Spanish coastguards can be repatriated back to their country of origin (around half were successfully returned last year, mainly sub-saharans)but the remainder join those “sin papeles” who melt into the countryside and surface to work as low-paid agricultural labourers, or make their way across Europe seeking work.
This week the French authorities highlighted the problems they are now facing as the immigrant camp outside Calais has swollen to around 6,000 people, all trying to find a way to get to the UK, amongst them individuals who have entered Europe via the Spanish border. 16 have died in the last few weeks trying to get through the Channel Tunnel, the latest found by the tracks on Thursday and with the weather deteriorating not only those who have made it to Calais, but also the tens of thousands still trying to work their way in via the Turkey/Greece/Serbia/Croatia route, winter is setting in and conditions are becoming not only uncomfortable, but dangerous. The numbers drowning as they attempt to cross from Turkey to Greece have increased dramatically during the last few days and on Monday morning the Balkan states were under severe pressure from the sheer volume of refugees following the closure of the Hungarian border. German Chancellor Merkel has been in Turkey over the weekend trying to strike a deal to keep more immigrants in Turkey, but her fellow EU member states are reported this morning to be unhappy about the terms being discussed.
And on it goes as the immigrants keep coming.
Record Air Traffic
The political climate in Egypt and Turkey, as well as the shooting of foreign tourists in Tunisia has helped to boost the numbers of tourists choosing Spain as a holiday destination and in September Spanish airports recorded their best September traffic statistics ever as record passenger numbers passed through the Spanish airports network. The year as a whole has been positive, the increased number of tourists providing a welcome boost for the Spanish economy just months from the important General Election on 20th December.
Signs of economic recovery
Over the last few months there have been a number of indicators that Spain is slowly emerging from the economic crisis of the last 7 years, and one of these is the slow recovery in consumer spending (another linked to the airport stats above is the increased volume of domestic flights showing Spaniards are once again starting to travel more domestically).An interesting report this week shows how much the Spanish are now starting to spend online, the first quarter figures just under 25% up from the same period last year, to 4.4 billion euros.
39% of e-sales were made by Spanish websites to customers in Spain, another 18.2% were from Spanish websites to buyers abroad, and 42.8% consisted of Spanish customers buying from foreign websites, bringing about an e-trading deficit of 1,099 million euros.
However, the high street isn´t down and out yet, and this week Primark opened their flagship store in Madrid, the biggest in Spain, showing yes, domestic consumers are spending, but at the same time, shoppers are keen to make their money go as far as possible. With unemployment still well over 4 million people and the highest in Europe, Spain still has a considerable path to travel before returning to former levels of employment.
But there’s still money around, and last week a report produced during a national tourism event concluded that Spain is failing to attract big-spending retail tourists from abroad and is missing out on a potentially lucrative market for tourism. The secret is not in the quantity of tourists the session concluded, but in the quality, and by aiming low, Spain is doing a lot of work for not a lot of money (know that feeling!).
For some, however, money is no object, although the number of millionaires in Spain has apparently fallen within the last year and Spain has only 1% of the world’s millionaires.
There are lots more daily news items on the www.spanishnewstoday.com site, along with broader local products on www.murciatoday.com and www.alicantetoday.com for those living in those two areas. All updated daily, along with UK news, International news and sporting news. And all free!
Murcia Today has its own separate weekly news bulletin, with an extensive Murcian news round up in addition to the Spanish and property news information.
Spanish property news round-up
Hot news in the Spanish property market this week has been relatively thin on the ground, providing some relief from the stream of statistical reports and surveys which month after month provide more evidence that real estate in Spain is gradually becoming a viable investment proposition once again.
Instead of sales, most of the focus over the last few days appears to have been on the rental market, which has also been affected by the general housing slump since 2007. At one point, before Spain’s long economic crisis began, the average price of residential rentals reached over 10€ per square metre, but the latest figures produced by Fotocasa conclude that this figure has now dropped to 7.02€, despite a rise of 4% over the last twelve months. This does not indicate rapid inflation or depreciation, and fluctuations around stability are to be expected: in the third quarter, for example, the average is reported to have fallen by 0.7%.
Few with any insight into Spanish property will be surprised to hear that the highest average rental of 12.33€ per square metre is to be found in Barcelona, but alongside such illustrious company it’s nice to see the small town of Olías del Rey in Toledo enjoying a moment in the spotlight as the cheapest place to rent in Spain, at 2.59€/m2.
This bulletin was not the only one this week regarding rental prices. The country’s central statistics unit reports a fall of 0.4% in the average cost of renting residential property (although pointing out at the same time that negative inflation of 0.9% actually makes renting slightly more expensive in relative terms), and a separate survey looking at single room rentals finds an increase of 4% in the prices over the last year. In general, though, all of these slightly positive or slightly negative trends point to one thing: stability.
In fact, stability is becoming something of a watchword as regards Spanish property of late: after all, is that not what the market craved during the seemingly endless seven-year downward spiral? For anyone who is worried that another boom-and-bust cycle may begin if the market bounces back too sharply, the analysts at Grupo Inmobiliario RTV provided a word of reassurance earlier this week with a report which concludes that a natural in-built ceiling is present on any upward trend which might emerge regarding sales figures or prices in the near future.
Certainly, according to managing director Vicenç Ramón Tur, investors are attracted to Spain at the moment as they take advantage of what are perceived as bargain prices, and homebuyers who may have put off their purchases a couple of years ago are also boosting the figures as their confidence in the market grows and interest rates continue close to record low levels. But growth will be limited by the difficulties still faced by first-time buyers in climbing onto the first rung of the property ladder, as their own job insecurity continues to make them unable or unwilling to make long-term financial commitments and reduces their creditworthiness when seeking a mortgage.
In one sense this is a shortcoming of the Spanish real estate market at present: sales figures may rise and prices may have stopped falling, but of what use is this to society if young Spaniards cannot afford to buy a property in their own country? On the other hand, though, from a foreign investors’ point of view, it provides some comfort: while spectacular capital gains may be improbable over the next few years, equally unlikely is the possibility of negative equity brought about by sudden drastic fluctuations in the market, and a steady appreciation in value of real estate assets is a far more likely scenario.
Another indication of the residual difficulties faced by the market after the bursting of the property bubble came in the Region of Murcia, where bad bank Sareb has tested the water and decided that the time is still not right to sell off the property portfolio it has inherited (indirectly) from Polaris World. Sareb is currently making an average of 31 sales per day, most of them to individual buyers, but the Polaris portfolio is still too large a mouthful for any investor to chew, according to the bank’s analysts. Just as well they have until 2027 to offload the assets on their books…
To see a wide range of properties for sale across Spain, go to www.spanishpropertypage.com
To see a wide range of properties for sale or rent in the Region of Murcia from a number of agents and private vendors: go to www.murciapropertypage.com
Currency Exchange rate: Get more Menu del Días for your money!"
This week the Pound Euro currency exchange rate 1.3544€
This 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.
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